Mini-S'pore coming up in Nigeria

NIGERIA - Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, will be building a "mini-Singapore" in the heart of its capital Abuja, with the first buildings up by 2015.

Designed to be the continent's first "smart city", it is being modelled partly after Singapore, said Mr Louis Tay, a managing director of local consultancy firm Surbana, which is handling the project's masterplan.

Surbana signed a memorandum of agreement with Nigerian counterparts Smart City Private Limited last week - one of several collaborative deals inked between both countries during the inaugural Nigeria-Singapore Business and Investment Forum.

"It will be like building a mini-Singapore in our capital," said Nigerian High Commissioner to Singapore Nonye Rajis- Okpara, in an interview with The Straits Times after attending the signing ceremony.

Mrs Rajis-Okpara, who has been here since September last year, recommended Singapore as a model six months ago. This was after realising that "what the project was seeking to build was almost like what I see in Singapore - great urban planning, greenery, superb architecture and city management".

The city, which will feature high levels of automation in buildings and monitoring systems to track energy consumption, for instance, will sit on more than 60ha of Abuja's prime land.

It will be "a very liveable place that can attract talent and investment much like Singapore", said Mr Tay. "But Nigeria needs a Nigerian solution, so we cannot copy wholesale from Singapore but can pick out good aspects to adapt."

Management of the city will, for instance, be handled "in a town council-like system", and Singapore's Building and Construction Authority's Green Mark scheme promoting environment- friendly buildings will be adapted.

The city will include some 5,000 to 6,000 "high-end" apartments, worth up to about US$2 million (S$2.5 million) each and styled after Singapore's "high- end condominiums", said Mr Tay.

Once the project is up, "we'll be looking to get more Singaporean investors and businesses involved", he added. The project comes amid growing business ties between Singapore and Africa.

Singapore's 2011 investments across the whole of Africa totalled US$43 billion, a 22 per cent increase from 2009. Trade between Singapore and the continent also reached US$14 billion last year, a 56 per cent rise from three years before.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, during his speech at the launch of last week's three-day forum at Resorts World Sentosa, said he was happy that relations between both nations "have grown by leaps and bounds".

He pointed out how trade with Nigeria alone "has increased more than three-fold from 2003, to S$418 million last year".

Nigeria, with its vast supply of natural resources and sizeable economy, has been particularly attractive to investors.

The country currently has the second-largest economy in the continent behind South Africa, and is projected to take the top spot in 2014. It is also Africa's leading oil producer, and 13th in the world.

African leaders are very keen on partners from Singapore in particular, said Mr Cody Lee, Singapore Business Federation's director of Middle East and Africa.

He said: "They want to know how such a small country with no resources has achieved what it has today."

But the relationship is far from one-sided.

Investors from Singapore, such as petrochemical producer Indorama, said they are drawn by prospects of "returns that are better than those in developed economies such as Europe and the US", because there is now scant competition in Africa's vast markets.

In 2007, a group of Indorama senior foreign employees were kidnapped by a Nigerian militant group, but the "huge risks with political instability and security concerns" are worth the high returns, said the company's vice- president Prakash Kejriwal.

Since 2006, his firm has invested "hundreds of millions of dollars" in Nigeria alone, he added.

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