Efem Nkam Ubi, Acting Director of Research and Studies, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs

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Subjects of Interest

  • Economic Development
  • Geopolitical Analysis
  • International Affairs
  • International Trade

Why Nigeria's membership of BRICS+ is indispensable 10 Nov 2023

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), which meet intermittently annually, held their 15th meeting on 22–24 August 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The theme of the meeting was, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism." It essentially called for solutions to the challenges of the current global economic order.

The BRICS countries together account for 41 percent of the world's population and 30 percent of the global territory. The bloc collectively accounted for about 31.67 percent of the global GDP in 2022, which was larger than the share of the G7 economies of about 30 percent. In financial terms, the BRICS economies were worth over $26.03 trillion in 2022. The projection is that the countries will collectively contribute over 50 percent of global GDP by 2030.

Over 40 countries have expressed an interest in joining the expanded bloc. However, only six of them were invited to join during the August meeting, namely Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Their full membership will take effect on 1 January 2024. Nigeria did not make the number of the invitee countries, and this raises question on why an invitation was not extended to the country.

Nigeria remains the largest economy in Africa with a GDP estimated at $477.39 billion and ranks among the world’s top 30 economies. On this economic metric, nothing should have stopped the country from being a member of the BRICS+ countries. South Africa, and the two prospective African countries to become members of the BRICS+, each has lower GDP than Nigeria. While South Africa has a GDP of $405.7 billion, the second-highest number in the continent after Nigeria, Egypt and Ethiopia have GDP values of $404 billion and $111.3 billion, respectively. In fact, the Ethiopian economy is less that one quarter of the Nigerian GDP.

Notwithstanding the relative strength of the Nigeria economy, some odds played against the country’s membership of the BRICS+. The factors are subsumed under two categories. The first is broader economic considerations. In my article in the September 2018 issue of Financial Nigeria, titled “BRICS growing clout and why Nigeria is still excluded,” I discussed how Nigeria fell short on several important economic metrics beyond GDP size. The economic challenges are even more acute today.

For instance, the 2016 Human Development Index (HDI) report ranks Nigeria in the 152nd position out of 188 countries. In the 2022 report, Africa’s biggest economy retrogressed, ranking 163rd. Even more serious, Nigeria is currently ranked the 5th most insecure countries in the world, according to the Fund for Peace's Security Threats Index. In another measure, Nigeria’s score on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has dropped from its recent peak in 2016; the country is the second most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea-Bissau in the 2023 ranking.

The Nigerian economy is also not resilient to crises. Since 2016, the economy has twice fallen into recession. Despite its GDP value, Nigeria is home to the highest number of poor people in the world, with 63 percent of the citizens multidimensionally poor. Any projection of Nigeria’s economic strength on account of its GDP size in Africa is further undermined by the current instability in the value of its currency.

The second factor that resulted in Nigeria’s exclusion from BRICS+ was diplomatic. A country interested in the membership needed to lobby to join the bloc. This must lead to a member-state inviting the prospective new member. But there were no indications that Nigeria tried to meet these conditions. Nevertheless, the diplomatic hurdle that Nigeria faces in joining BRICS+ may be considerable. South Africa may not be inclined to invite Nigeria and may attempt to block an invitation for its geopolitical and economic rival to the bloc so as to preserve its influence amongst African members of BRICS+.

The good news, however, is that at the recently concluded Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) meeting in Beijing, President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China promised to invite Nigeria to BRICS+, in cognisance of the country’s geopolitical and economic strengths. This suggested that Nigeria was actually not disinterested in becoming a member-state of the bloc. The absence of a diplomatic push ahead of the August meeting could have been as a result of the transition in government in the country a few months earlier.

Despite the discomfort to South Africa and in the larger interest of the bloc, any one of the BRIC countries should have invited Nigeria in August. South Africa was not originally a member of the bloc. Nigeria’s influence may be weakened by certain dysfunctions at the moment, but the underlining strength of the country remains. If the BRICS countries want to build a much stronger bloc involving the global South, Nigeria’s population, geography, and underlining economic strength recommend its membership of the BRICS+.

In his address at the 78th UN General Assembly, President Bola Tinubu alluded to “longstanding internal and external factors” that have impeded economic development in Africa. This found resonance with other views on how the advanced countries of the West have done precious little to promote economic development on the African continent and continued to exert control over the institutional architecture for global economic and investment governance.

To sidestep this impediment, developing countries may have to find a common purpose in alternative global frameworks like BRICS+. This could even force substantial voice and quota reform at the IMF and World Bank, making such global institutions become more sensitive to the needs of their members in developing countries.

On Nigeria's pact, it is imperative for the country to retool its economic and diplomatic policy tools. Our foreign policy should become more strategic and focused to serve the needs of the country and make the economy more globally competitive.

Efem N. Ubi, PhD, is Associate Professor and Acting Director of Research and Studies at Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, Nigeria. He is a Non-Resident Fellow, Institute of African Studies, Zhejiang Normal University, Jinhua, China.