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  The year 2023 has asked strong questions about the resilience of Nigeria’s businesses. Starting very early on, it presented challenge after challenge to the millions of MSMEs spread across the country, causing many to readjust their strategies, and forcing not a few to close shop. But some ventures did thrive amid the hardship. A thorough review of the past 12 months reveals a mixed picture for business in sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy.
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What follows is a list of our top 10 events that shaped Nigeria’s business scene in 2023. It covers key occurrences in policy-making and the socio-political realm that have impacted business, as well as happenings within the commercial and industrial spaces proper. Here they are, discussed in no particular order:

The Redesign of the Naira

Back in October 2022, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced that it would be redesigning the ₦200, ₦500, and ₦1,000 notes. It initially set the deadline for swapping old notes for new ones for January 31, claiming that the new policy was instated to combat insecurity and corruption. After a couple of deadline extensions, the CBN declared in March that the old notes would remain legal tender until December 31, in line with a Supreme Court ruling on the matter. In the months leading up to this resolution, Nigerian businesses struggled under the weight of a cash scarcity due to the abrupt introduction of the naira redesign policy.

The General Elections

The General Elections took place in 2023, in two months. The Presidential and National Assembly elections happened in February and the gubernatorial and state house of assembly elections were held in March. The outcomes were significant for business, as the leaders who emerged victorious have gotten to propose and enact policies that affect commerce and industry in the country. At the Federal level, Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared duly elected and was sworn in as President in May.

Introduction of Open Banking Regulations

Nigeria became the first African country to adopt Open Banking regulations when the CBN rolled out its Regulatory Framework for Open Banking in March. The regulation allows banks to share customer data with third parties such as FinTechs and mobile money operators. This move has been hailed as potentially transformational, because it hands more power to the users of financial services, and enables FinTechs to tailor their solutions to the needs of individual customers.

Removal of the Longstanding Fuel Subsidy

Right after he was sworn in, President Bola Tinubu declared that the subsidy on petrol, which has been in place for decades, was “gone”. The removal of the subsidy has led to a sustained increase in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS, or ‘fuel’). This in turn has impacted businesses, forcing many of them to seek energy alternatives to power their operations, while also passing on some of the extra cost to final consumers in the form of increased product and service prices.

Devaluation of the Naira

A major policy pivot of the current administration has been its devaluation of the naira. The post-Emefiele leadership at the CBN has let the naira exchange for more than 40% lower than it did against the dollar back in June. The apex bank’s decision may have been based on the paucity of FOREX needed to defend the naira’s value in the first place. At the parallel market, a dollar now exchanges for over ₦1,200. All of this has meant more expensive imports and a resultant increase in the prices of products and services across the board.
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The Nigerian Data Protection Bill Signed into Law

In June, President Bola Tinubu signed the Nigerian Data Protection Bill into law. This piece of legislation seeks to safeguard the rights of Nigerians whose data are domiciled with such entities as Internet Service Providers, data centres, and others, and protect their interests from being infringed upon by third-party actors in these and related domains. The act lays out the ground rules for many businesses in the ICT space.

Stock Market Rally

The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NGX) has broken records this year. It has rallied by a remarkable 45.37% since January (as of the time this article was written), with many listed companies doubling or tripling their market value in the process. Investors in the NGX have reaped handsomely this year; they’ll be hoping that 2024 yields similar fortunes.

Artificial Intelligence Goes Mainstream

It’s been a big year of Artificial Intelligence. This revolution has been brewing for years, as businesses slowly but increasingly began to utilize chatbots as Customer Service assistants across digital platforms. In 2023, AI arrived at the doorstep of the general population big time, thanks in part to the mainstreaming of tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney. And businesses are finding more ways to leverage their powers to their advantage.

A Slew of Acquisitions

There have been some key business acquisitions this year. Perhaps the most important of them have been Access Holding (parent company of Access Bank) taking over the sub-Saharan operations of Standard Chartered Bank, and Oando acquiring the Nigerian Agip oil company. There have been others. In the crypto space, we saw UAE’s BlockFinex buy out Nigeria’s Fluidcoins, and Bitmama purchasing payments startup Payday; in WealthTech, Rise Vest acquired Chaka.

Lifting of Restrictions on Crypto Transactions

In a late win for Nigeria’s crypto enthusiasts, the CBN in December lifted its ban on crypto transactions. It also outlined guidelines for opening crypto-related accounts, settlement services, and channels for FOREX inflows and exchanges, among others. It will be interesting to see how these new rules determine the trajectory of the crypto business in the country.
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Final Words

It’s been a year of ups and downs for business. We would probably not have predicted many of its high and low points if we tried back in its early days. Hopefully, 2024 brings with it much brighter prospects for Nigeria’s economy, and for the millions of businesses within it.
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This article was first published on 4th January 2024


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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