Nigeria: MINTed beyond the BRICs?

Bayo Adekanmbi


This paper explores and evaluates the relevance and importance of Nigeria’s inclusion within the acronym MINT, which represents four nations that have been identified by Jim O’Neil of Goldman Sachs as being those most likely to reach developed nation status in the next decade. Insights and trend on national classification, Nigeria’s potential and essence of the ongoing GDP rebasing were reviewed in broader academic and macroeconomic context.

Bayo Adekanmbi
Bayo Adekanmbi

The concept of national classification: rationale, basis and relevance
There are numerous methods of classifying countries and of categorising them in terms of their socio-economic positions and these include classification by factors such as the extent of or lack of potential to grow economically, the anticipated pace of that growth, the potential to dominate a region etc. Some are done in a static manner, reflecting the position that the nation holds now, for example the World Bank (2014) categorises nations based on their gross national income (GNI) per capita and there are four categories, namely low income ($1,035 or less), middle income ($1,036 - £4,085), upper middle income ($4,086 - $12,615) and high income ($12,616 and higher).

The United Nations uses slightly more sophisticated criteria for their classification of nations, for example those that are least developed, those that are landlocked developing countries, small island developing states, transition countries, developed regions and developing regions (Pasquali and Aridas 2012). The OECD has two classification groups based on “maximum repayment terms and maximum weighted life,” with a smaller group of 31 developed nations in one category and 184 less developed nations in the second (OECD 2011) as well as two further sets of classifications, one which lists nations that are and are not eligible for “tied aid and partially united aid” and a third categorisation, which lists one group of nations that are  high income OECD countries and another which contains high income euro area countries (OECD 2011).

The classification of nations is not a new phenomenon and the various ones used sprang from a now less used system of classification which highlighted first world countries (advanced nations), second world countries (the former Soviet Union and its allies), third world countries (poor and non aligned nations) and fourth world groups (that could either refer to nations that were in extreme poverty or to stateless groups such as Aboriginal groups) (Pasquali and Aridas 2012). Another more recent trend is to classify nations by potential or in terms of some common characteristic regarding the likelihood of growth or even of decline.

Thus, we have nations that are (or have been) perceived as having the potential to be regional or even world economic super powers (BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India and China or even BRICS, which includes South Africa), those who may form a following wave of less dominant but nonetheless potentially strong future developed nations, for example CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) (Allen 2011) and PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – Ireland constitutes a second ‘I’). Each of the nations within the groups are considered to have commonalities, for example BRIC countries are believed to have the resources and populations to rival the US, CIVETS nations all have young populations, diverse economies and “sophisticated financial systems” (Allen 2011) while PIGS are all peripheral members of the euro whose economies are not aligned with those of the core euro nations and have therefore suffered from not being able to conduct their own monetary policies.

Further groups include MIKT (or MIST), which includes Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey, VISTA (Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey and Argentina) and Next Eleven (Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Turkey, South Korea and Vietnam). Apart from the fact that some nations appear in more than one group and that at least two of the acronyms were first articulated by one person (Mr Jim O’Neil of Goldman Sachs), one question that rises is what the underlying rationale and reason for these groupings are? In a general sense, the rationale is based in the potential for economic growth in the classified nations (others than PIGS) when compared with, for example, the five currently richest nations (the US, the UK, Germany, Japan and France), whose potential was severely undermined due to the financial crisis and its aftermath (Sledzik 2011).

Support for such a belief comes from a noted macroeconomic theory developed by Solow (2000) in which it was argued that provided certain conditions were met such as sufficient capital accumulation, a sufficient pool of labour and stable institutions and politics, a less developed nation de facto had the means to grow quicker than a developed one and ultimately convergence would occur. Yet further support can be found from the field of international relations and international political economy theory, which holds that it is in the interests of nations that are less developed to trade and do business with each other rather than with those that are more advanced (because they will be exploit their advanced positions) (Jackson and Sorenson 2010). Therefore, it is argued, those developing and emerging nations with similar potential and with similar resources should be grouped together and their progress accordingly analysed.

The evolution and the confusion of national classification: “the big lie, or the big ploy?”
However, there may be some ways in which the rationalisation and classification of countries into blocs of economic optimism does not add up, indeed that there may be more sinister and self-interested reasons for the acronyms. One point in this regard is that, led by O’Neil at Goldman Sachs, the now numerous groupings have been initiated by staff at investment banks and these institutions have an interest in tempting investors towards potential opportunities away from the traditional ones in which they invest their money. As Suryodiningrat (2014) puts it, “despite the weight of research and intellect behind them, these catchy phrases were largely marketing ploys, presentational tools to ease investors into parting with their money in lands they were unaccustomed to.”

Using Indonesia and an example of a commonly cited member of these selected nations, Suryodiningrat (2014) notes that there are a number of reasons why that nation is unlikely to be a beacon of growth, and cites one in particular. This is that while it has appropriate levels of procreation and while most of its population is potentially economically active, it lacks education, to the degree that this factor alone would limit its growth potential. To substantiate this point, Suryodiningrat (2014) notes that Indonesia is currently last in a list of 50 countries with regard to the standards at its universities, that its students were placed second to last among 65 countries in their abilities in maths, science and reading and that there is relatively little room for improvements via further investment in education as this sector already consumes in excess of 20 per cent of the state budget, with teacher salaries accounting for most of it. This is hardly a scenario for exponential future growth.

BRIC and then BRICS
It is now nearly 13 years since the acronym BRIC was articulated by O’Neil and it is easy to see why Brazil, Russia, India and China (later South Africa) were separated from other emerging nations. Based on their sheer size, demographics and endowment with natural resources, these nations have the advantages that the United States has had since it became one federated entity and the political and institutional reasons which may have hindered their previous development have now, it can be argued, been largely removed. The potential of the four BRIC nations can be shown by the estimate that they have a combined population of approximately 2.8 billion people, cover more than a quarter of the land mass of the world and already account for more than 25 per cent of the World’s GDP (Global Sherpa 2014).

Between 2000 and 2008 the global share of output of the BRIC nations rose from 16 to 22 percent, they accounted for 30 per cent of world economic growth in that period and China, India and Brazil more than doubled their spending on research and development between 2002 and 2007 (Global Sherpa 2014). In recent years, however, the sustainability of such growth has been brought into question, with Brazil falling to an estimated real GDP growth of 0.9 per cent in 2012, Russia to 1.8 per cent in the same year and India to a little over 4 per cent. Reasons cited for this include that Brazil (and to an extent Russia) have become increasingly prone to ‘Dutch Disease,’ a phenomenon which means that an over-reliance on commodities (oil and gas) can lead to inflated currency exchange rates and wages, which in turn has a negative impact on other sectors of the economy, particularly manufacturing (Badkar 2013). Attempts at boosting the economy by cutting interest rates have led to the unwished for return of inflation, a raditional problem with the Brazilian economy.

Apart from its dependency on oil, gas and other commodities, Russia’s corporate sector is still “dominated by state-run companies” (Badkar 2013) and it has still to deal with this as well as other institutional and structural problems. In a similar sense, India has not dealt with the overbearing role of the state, very restrictive labour laws and has  widening “fiscal and current account deficits” (Badkar 2013). Although China has dipped slightly in terms of economic growth, it is still around the 7 per cent mark and the general view is that it is succeeding in transforming from an export led to a domestic consumption based economy.

Thus, it can be suggested that the BRIC nations, with the likely exception of China, have failed to live up to the requirements and the incremental changes and reforms that are necessary for the levels of sustained growth to become economic super powers. This leads to a consideration of a more recently coined acronym, namely MINT.

The emergence of MINT
Bearing in mind the frailties that exist within the nation (discussed above), the inclusion of Indonesia within MINT suggests that it may, indeed, be another term that is useful as a marketing tool aimed at investors by investment banks but not necessarily a guide to excessive economic growth and convergence with advanced countries. However, while Turkey may have too many weaknesses with regard to inflation, a deficit problem and a weak currency, there are aspects of the economies of Mexico and particularly Nigeria which may be signals for genuine optimism (Wright 2014).

Three key points are made by Wright (2014) concerning the Mexican economy, namely that it has benefitted from “market friendly reforms,” is in a very good geographical position and is an increasingly attractive alternative to Brazil. Apart from the prospects of being Africa’s largest economy following a forthcoming GDP re-basing (see below for a more comprehensive discussion of this), Nigeria has managed consistent average GDP growth since 2000 of more nearly 7 per cent and is currently going through reforms, led by a capable finance minister and central bank governor, which are only likely to enhance this position (Wright 2014).

Other writers, however, strike notes of caution concerning the potential of Nigeria to consistently outperform other emerging countries by focusing on the levels of wealth inequality that continue to exist, for example that “more than 60 per cent of the population exist on less than $1 a day” and question the extent to which the extended wealth would actually “trickle down to the lower reaches of Nigerian society” (Chisholm 2014).

Will Nigeria ever rise to MINT Expectations?
There are clearly differing views on the prospects for MINT nations and it is relevant to note how the person who initiated the enthusiasm for BRIC and now MINT, Jim O’Neil, explains the position he has taken. One important aspect of this view is the playing down of the problem of corruption and political unrest, with the point being made that every country suffers from this and with other problems in one form or another. This point is expanded upon with examples from numerous nations, for example that 500 municipal lawmakers in China stepped down in 2013 over election fraud, that South Korea has to contend with its nuclear armed neighbour, North Korea, and that the UK is facing the prospect of Scottish secession; that India has to deal with corruption as well as with the constant prospect of conflict with Pakistan and that Turkey has demonstrated economic resilience despite corruption scandals, the most recent in 2013 involving members of the government (Elenwoke 2014).

The remainder of the prognosis provided by O’Neil and explicated by Elenwoke (2014) effectively deals with selected comparisons and ‘why not’s,’ for example if India can elect a successful president from a minority group (Manmohan Singh), why can’t fragmented Nigeria? If other countries can successfully develop their R & D capabilities, why not Nigeria? If other nations can harness the productive capabilities of their populations, why not Nigeria? In another consideration of the opinions of O’Neil, Ohu (2014) adds one which suggests that Nigeria, along with Mexico and Indonesia, will benefit greatly in the future because they are all large commodity exporters. The biggest hurdle that O’Neil identified is the fact of not having an effective power grid, which means that businesses in Nigeria have to generate their own power. However, optimism is even expressed in this direction as “Nigeria is now privatizing both the generation and distribution of power” (Ohu 2014).

In contrast to these optimistic views, other writers note several enduring aspects of Nigeria which may continue to limit its potential to make the leap forward implicit in the MINT concept. Ndibe (2014) agrees that the people of Nigeria are “extremely bright” and that the country is “full of industrious men and women.” However, while this is and has been an enduring strength, it does not change a belief that the way that the country is led has not fundamentally changed and therefore, unless or until there is a change in that direction, the economy and the mass of people in Nigeria will continue to languish – “the ‘N’ in Mr O’Neil’s MINT will become yet another mirage unless Nigerians find a way to reverse the toxic culture that validates corruption and venerates mediocrity” (Ndibe 2014).

Although striking a somewhat more optimistic tone, Chiakwelu (2014) also cites a number of key necessities if Nigeria is to become a leading economic nation. These include corruption, self-doubt and “spending over-reaching” as well as a challenge that the government must face with regard to the youth of the nation, who must be “trained educated and fed” if they are not to become delinquent, idle and disruptive and thereby turn the dream into another round of demise and destruction from within. Political instability and a clear and successful economic diversification policy that moves the nation further away from oil dependency (Chiakwelu 2014) are also key requirements in the essential but often elusively defined mix that will enable sustained and speedy development.

This mixture of views, perhaps reflective of lived experiences through periods of hope and apparently inevitable despair, cannot be conclusive, as most if not all opinions of human behaviour and societal ambitions cannot be conclusive. One aspect of the present potential of the Nigerian can, however, be more objectively evaluated, namely the rebasing of national GDP.

What will national GDP rebasing do?
The rebasing of the economy of Nigeria from a base year of 1990 to the use of 2010 (as the base) may at first sight seem like a not particularly exciting exercise in updating financial and growth records. However, such a view would overlook some very important consequences. As we know, it is impossible to measure the value of every product or service created by a nation or to estimate the precise values of imports and exports; therefore, indices are used and representative samples from surveys are taken from these indices of the sectors of the economy. If they are based in 1990, important new sectors are not represented, for example telecommunications and film-making (This Day Live 2014). Conversely, sectors such as agriculture, if the base year is 1990, are over-represented while the service sector, which has grown considerably in proportional terms since 1990, is significantly under-represented.

These misalignments can, and probably have, led to policy makers making “unrealistic projections” (This Day Live 2014). With regard to country classification, furthermore, Nigeria may be inappropriately categorised, for example as a low income country (organisations such as the World Bank, using a wider range of measures, for instance, classifies Nigeria as a lower middle income nation). The extent to which Nigeria is oil-dependent is also likely to be seen to be exaggerated when the base year is revised to 2010, to the extent that it may be lower than the estimated 14.7 per cent of GDP in 2013 (Uzor 2013).

Alongside the likelihood that the rebasing of Nigeria’s GDP will show that Nigeria has been Africa’s largest economy since it is believed to have overtaken South Africa in 2012 or 2013 (Wright 2014), the points made above may suggest that this practical exercise could be more convincing even than the optimistic statements of Mr O’Neil in showing that Nigeria is rightfully a member of MINT within the intrinsic meaning of the acronym, rather than in its marketing-based superficiality. However, it is still important to consider the fundamental issues that must be addressed for the obvious economic momentum that Nigeria currently has to be maintained. The fundamental issues with the Nigerian economy must be addressed in order for MINT expectations to be realised

Much is made in articles about a trip made by Mr O’Neil to MINT nations in the course of making a documentary for the BBC, and while his optimistic views concerning the nations takes up much of the reporting, a considerable amount is devoted to why Indonesia was left out of his original BRIC acronym. O’Neil defends his original prognosis by suggesting that Indonesia was not economically ready a decade or so ago but is now – hence its inclusion in MINT (Boesler 2013). Despite this, it could be sardonically suggested that BRIC sounds better than BRIIC but fits better in MINT, the point being that even if this is a little unfair on Mr O’Neil’s capacity to predict the future economic performance of nations, there is a slightly theatrical air to the creation of nicely rounded acronyms to describe groups of countries.

However, taken loosely, such categorisations do highlight the fact of a changing world, and one where some emerging nations are able to grow at the relative expense of those that developed in an earlier phase of economic history, China being one good example (This Day Live 2014a). With regard to Nigeria, the potential of the country has never been in doubt but it is the institutional and political aspects that are perceived as being the drawbacks and therefore commentators rationally seek fundamental changes in these areas, often (as has been noted) finding them lacking. However, it is possible that such commentators are taking an all or nothing approach and overlooking the fact that since democracy, and since fundamental reforms to the Central Bank, there has been a consistent path of high levels of economic growth, regardless of these obstacles.

The evidence that this may continue can be seen in the levels of FDI that have risen from $1 billion in 1990 to $8.9 billion in 2011 (Clark 2013) and that these levels are continuing to rise despite forthcoming elections in 2015 (This Day Live 2014b). However, these are known’s but what is unknown is the extent to which such impetus can be maintained in order that Nigeria can avoid spinning itself “in circles, going nowhere fast” (Di Louie 2013).

Investors in stock markets cannot predict the future price of shares based on past performances only and, in the same way, neither investment bank marketers nor serious economic analysts can predict the future performance of nations. However, investors can and do usually base their investments of the past and on future predictions. In this sense, and provided the present impetus is maintained and fundamental reforms continued, Nigeria is indeed a worthy member of MINT.

Bayo Adekanmbi is an end-to-end Strategy, Analytics and Marketing professional. He is General Manager, Business Intelligence at MTN Nigeria, where he leads strategic knowledge management, enterprise-wide customer/business analytics and commercial strategy development. He had also sojourned in the “soft” side of Marketing, having worked as Global Brand Strategist with MTN Group in South Africa and as Executive Strategy Director with a leading communications consulting group in Nigeria. Bayo is a Chartered Marketer of South Africa (CMSA), a certified SAS Data Programmer/Statistical Analyst and an alumnus of the University of Reading Postgraduate School, UK, where he graduated with Distinction. He is currently a doctoral researcher in BoP pricing optimization using Big Data algorithms. Bayo shares his thoughts about technology convergence at

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