Trade Minister: How Nigeria can kick oil habit and become a global player

Falling oil prices have plunged Nigeria into sustained recession and a foreign currency crisis.

Story highlights

  • Nigerian trade minister wants a closer union with Africa
  • US Immigration issue "should be resolved in a responsible way"
  • Economic recovery plan will see manufacturing boosted and less dependence on oil

(CNN)"Never waste a good crisis" is a motto for Dr. Okechukwu "Okey" Enelamah, the Nigerian minister of industry, trade and investment.

Right now, he has plenty to work with.
    One of the largest economies in Africa is shrinking. Collapsing oil revenue has plunged Nigeria into a full-year recession for the first time since 1991, and caused a damaging foreign currency shortage.
      Storm clouds are gathering over crucial trade and development relationships with Britain and the US, as the former contemplates an uncertain future outside the European Union, and the latter signals a shift to "America First" protectionism under President Donald Trump.
      Enelamah, an experienced private sector banker, only entered government in November 2015. But the new minister believes he can chart a course through the turbulent waters, and discussed his plans with CNN in London.
        Dr. Okechukwu "Okey" Enelamah, the Nigerian minister of industry, trade and investment.

        Britain and the Commonwealth

        Enelamah was in London for the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Minister's Meeting, a gathering of officials from the former British colonies that make up the Commonwealth.
        The host nation is keen to forge new trade alliances as it retreats from Europe. The 52 Commonwealth states -- representing a combined population of more than two billion people - offer an attractive alternative.
        Critics have attacked the event as an exercise in colonial nostalgia, branding it "Empire 2.0."
        But Enelamah is satisfied that Britain is not seeking a new era of exploitation, and sees opportunities for Nigeria in deeper partnership with the UK.
        "My experience so far with Britain and (Trade Secretary) Dr. Liam Fox has been very equal and collaborative -- I don't sense an imperial mindset," he says. "Any agreement would have to be a 21st century agreement, accounting for where countries are today, not where they were 100 years ago."
        Enelamah hopes Britain will support advanced industrialization in Nigeria, so the country can move further up the manufacturing value chain and away from relying on the export of raw materials - predominantly oil. He also believes British expertise can improve quality control for Nigerian exports, which would improve access to markets.

        Trump and the US

        The minister is warier about relations with the US. He has followed the progress of the new administration with some concern, particularly as Nigerian nationals were denied entry to the US.
        "We hope this is resolved in a responsible way or there will be negative effects," he says.
        But Enelamah points to a reassuring statement from the US embassy in Nigeria, and a friendly call between President Trump and Nigerian Premier Muhammadu Buhari, as cause for optimism.
        "We both understand and acknowledge the strategic importance of our countries to each other," he says. "We intend to do more not less with the US."
        At a time of growing instability, the minister emphasizes the value of cultivating a wide range of alliances. Should the US retreat from commitments such as a major investment in the energy sector, Nigeria could lean more heavily on its burgeoning relationship with China, which underpins much of the state's infrastructure development.