Impact of capital flight on the Nigerian domestic investment in a financially globalising world




1.1 Background to the Study

Countries have been known to develop through the accumulation of savings that have been profitably invested to yield returns and increase production in different sectors of the economy. Such investments could be social or soft in outlook (housing, health and education), while others are infrastructural or hard (transport, power and water), and yet others are purely economic, which the private sector undertakes for private capital accumulation. This has made monetary authorities promote the domestic savings within the economy, since it seems that the primary source of finance for investment is savings. Such accumulated capital has been allowed to freely flow from their countries to others over the years and this has been on for centuries. Such capital flows however became quite pronounced during the nineteenth century, especially during the upheavals in Europe, between the countries and continents of the Northern Hemisphere.  At that time, capital moved from those countries of Europe to the Americas in search of higher returns (Cardoso and Dornbush, 1989).

Following a retreat to nationalism and redirection of resources to winning the two world wars, capital flows between countries resumed after the World War increasing gradually to the level it has assumed in recent times. The process of financial globalization, and some other factors, from which every economic unit attempts to maximize returns, seems to have accentuated this trend as capital flows and movement became more fluid and pronounced after Second World War, especially from the 1960s.  The trend of movements from the countries of the North to the South existed up to the early 1970s but has been later replaced with a South to North trend. While capital flows within the Western world seemed to have been continuous overtime, the case of capital flows out of the Less Developed Countries to the Western world became noticeable from the early 1980s. Since then, these unusual flows have become a source of concern because of the macroeconomic challenges facing these countries, and as a result of the paucity of much needed capital to develop and promote growth in these countries.  This unusual flows of capital from poor to rich countries is termed capital flight

Capital flight specifically refers to the movement of money from investments in one country to another in order to avoid country-specific risks (such as hyperinflation, political turmoil and anticipated depreciation or devaluation of the currency), or in search of higher yield. Capital flight has become an issue in recent times in the Nigerian financial environment such that three national dailies (The Guardian, Daily Vanguard and The Sun) ran editorials on it between April 11th and 20th 2010. Flights of capital in Nigeria manifest themselves in many ways, among which is the country’s loss of an estimated sum of $95 million (₦655.46 million at $1/₦145.00) as payments to counterparties outside the country over the last twenty years (between 1986 – 2006) due to lack of indigenous technology (see –  The Guardian editorial of 8th of February, 2007.  Empirical studies of the Nigeria situation reveal that a total nominal sum of $107 billion of Nigerian assets was reported to have flown out of the country according to Lawanson (2007) for  the period of 1970 to 2001, while Collier et al (2003) estimates capital flight out of Nigeria to be about $75 billion for the period of 1970 – 2000. These two figures are far from being close, because of the numerous reasons and different estimates of capital flight, the fact that capital flight continued unabated and the different estimation methods adopted by each of the studies.

Trillions of US$ (dollars) move around the world in response to the stimuli of return and safety (IMF, 2006). The International Monetary Fund further reports that offshore held assets amounted to some $11.6 trillion and income from such assets was $866 billion as at year end 2005. As a result of this, about $255 billion is lost in tax revenue regularly by countries suffering from capital flight – being a proof of the effect and the challenge of capital flight. The IMF has expressed concern over this issue: “….in light of the conventional wisdom suggesting that capital normally flows from capital-rich (developed) and mature markets to capital-scarce (developing), emerging markets”.

An estimate of capital flight at this period is important in order to know the relationship existing between it and domestic investment in Nigeria.  While many studies have been done on the topic, very few of these studies have been undertaken in relation to investment by Nigerians themselves. The studies of Ajayi (1990) which covered the period between 1970 and 1989 need a revisit. The studies of Onwudoukit (2001) did not provide any estimate and that of Lawanson (2007), was basically on capital flight with no relation to any other economic variable. These studies provided estimates to show the impact of trade misinvoicing or trade faking.   The producer price compounded figures for trade misinvoicing were put at $316,888 million ($316.9 billion) and $436,092.3 million ($436 billion) by Morgan Trust and World Bank respectively as at 2001 using the residual methods. These figures are at variance with Collier’s, and need some clarifications. However, none of these studies empirically studied capital flight with its impacts on investment in the domestic economy.

The uses to which capital in flight are  deployed are many, and became noticeable when developing countries’ holdings of earning assets in form of Certificate of Deposits (CDs), real estate or negotiable bonds became significant and could no longer be ignored (Cardoso and Dornbush, 1989). Nigeria, a country with a large poor population is classed among the developing countries of the world, though she earns much foreign exchange from crude oil exports, she is still in need of capital to develop, maintain and upgrade her infrastructure. Nevertheless, the country has been faced with continuous outflow of capital, which has made some scholars conclude a priori that the country is facing capital flight challenges.

Capital flight studies are so important to emerging financial markets that it has become difficult to have a uniform definition or estimates because of peculiarities of each country. Each study finds a definition for its country of study. While it can result from an immediate and spontaneous reaction to the changes in the economic circumstances of a country, it can also be a continuous challenge. The components of the capital fleeing the country need to be fully analyzed, their routes need to be known and the legitimacy or otherwise of these routes, as well as their residency status and the methods adopted for it.

For these reasons, there are many definitions and estimations, which are included in the works of Cuddington (1986), Morgan Trust and Banking Company (1987), Cumby and Levich (1987) to Lessard and Williamson (1987). Each of the definitions has its own peculiar way of measuring or estimating capital flight and the various components that make it. Each of these definitions is not exactly like any other one. This is one reason researchers in this area would calculate many figures to form a band that suggests that, capital flight for a specific country, is between one estimate and the other.

Since the methods adopted for capital flight appear to be discrete and assisted by domestic and foreign financial institutions through which these funds leave, the degree of openness and transparency of such transactions are limited. This has made the topic even more interesting, and discussions unending, especially against the backdrop of lack of capital resources for various investment needs in the economy. Walters (2002) describes capital flight and other flows as follows: “International flows of direct and portfolio investments under ordinary circumstances are rarely associated with the capital flight phenomenon. ‘….rather, it is when capital transfers by residents conflict with political objectives that the term ‘flight’ comes into general usage.” This description becomes instructive in the light of macroeconomic changes in Nigeria in the past seven to ten years (2000 – 2007). Walters describes capital movements as activities involving:

  1. Transfers via the usual international payments mechanisms, regular bank transfers are easiest, cheapest and legal.
  2.  Transfer of physical currency by the bearer (smuggling) is more costly, and for many countries illegal.
  3.  Transfer of cash into collectibles or precious metals, which are then transferred across borders.
  4.  Money laundering, the cross-border purchase of assets that are then managed in a way that hide the movement of money and its owners, and
  5.  False invoicing in international trade transactions.

Meanwhile, within the domestic economy, the importance of investment has been realised by successive administrations long time ago, especially of foreign direct investment. This has made many successive governments to do something about the encouragement of its inflow. Various governments have encouraged inflow of foreign investment through policies enunciations rather than concrete steps to implement policies formulated and establish a culture of encouraging domestic investments by residents as a way of life.  Various administrations have employed public image-makers to polish Nigeria’s image, with the heads of government travelling around the world to canvass for foreign investors. In addition, various laws have been enacted to establish institutions and special units (such as Nigeria Investment Promotion Council) to foster economic and investment growth, among many others that have been done to encourage investments but to no avail.

Investment in the domestic economy by indigenous investors has been low because of the preference to invest outside the economy. There are various reasons for this preference. Successive governments’ efforts to improve and encourage domestic investment by indigenous investors have not yielded the desired results; but have showed deeper interest in the encouragement of inflows of Foreign Direct investment (FDI) into the economy. While the advantages of FDI in terms of its additions in form of entrepreneurial possibilities, advantages, marketing and managerial expertise that come with it cannot be overlooked, the failures of domestic investment promotions is disturbing and cannot encourage economic growth and development. However, the promotion of Foreign Direct Investment inflows to the detriment of domestic investment is inappropriate since charity should begin at home. Meanwhile, the encouragement of domestic investment in the face of various daunting risks has proved to be impossible and has been unsuccessful.

Domestic investment is only possible with aggregated domestic savings which itself is a function of the level of income. However, the rate of investment vis a vis growth has proved to be negligible. Uchendu (1993) found that there is a positive but low correlation between savings and investment in Nigeria. The Nigeria financial environment records low savings resulting from low income; low income itself is as a result of low investment which can only generate low savings – thereby forming a vicious circle. Given that the available domestic resources are the only sources of investment, then the rate of investment committed would be low. However, other sources of investment, such as foreign inflows of capital can be used to supplement domestic investment.