NIGERIAN DECREE OPENS MOST FIRMS TO UNLIMITED FOREIGN INVESTMENT

NIGERIAN DECREE OPENS MOST FIRMS TO UNLIMITED FOREIGN INVESTMENT

The much-trumpeted opening of Nigeria's economy to foreign participation has been backed by a decree allowing foreign investors to buy unlimited stock in most local businesses, officials said.

However, the decree said petroleum enterprises, which make up Nigeria's economic lifeline, as well as those involved with arms and ammunition and drugs were exempted from such foreign participation."A foreign enterprise may buy the shares of any Nigerian enterprise in any convertible currency," said the decree, which was published over the weekend.

"This is the actualization of the policy announced in the 1995 budget to open our doors to foreign investors," a Finance Ministry official said Monday.

Nigeria's economy, one of Africa's biggest, has been hard hit by several factors, chiefly political instability, foreign debt of $31.9 billion and falling income from the main export, crude oil.

The oil industry is operated by multinational oil companies in joint ventures with state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

As part of the 1995 budget, Nigeria's ruler, General Sani Abacha, in January announced the new policy to attract foreign investors. He also legalized the autonomous foreign-exchange market, in which the naira currency trades freely at a quarter of its official value.

In addition to the decree allowing foreign ownership of Nigerian businesses, the government published a decree supporting the autonomous foreign-exchange market.

Foreign currency bought or sold in the market may now be repatriated without further approval, and amounts above $5,000 are to be declared for reasons of statistics only.

Similarly, dividends or profits from foreign investments can be transferred abroad, the new decrees said.

Business executives said that although the decrees cleared the way for more foreign investment, Nigeria's long-running political crisis could dampen potential investors' enthusiasm.

The country has been in turmoil since June 1993, when the military an

ed a presidential election.

Further tension came with the conviction of 40 people in July, after a secret trial, for allegedly plotting to topple General Abacha in a coup on March 1.