Nigeria’s biggest export is crude oil, a commodity that represents three-quarters (75.4%) of its total exported goods by value.
Based on the average exchange rate for 2020, the Nigerian naira depreciated by -41.5% against the US dollar since 2016 and declined by -16.9% from 2019 to 2020. Nigeria’s weaker local currency makes its exports paid for in stronger US dollars relatively less expensive for international buyers.
The latest available country-specific data shows that 71.3% of products exported from Nigeria were bought by importers in: India (15% of the global total), Spain (10.9%), Netherlands (8.6%), South Africa (7.6%), China (5%), France (4.5%), Portugal (3.7%), Cameroon (3.5%), Italy (also 3.5%), Turkey (3.3%), United States (3.1%) and Ivory Coast (2.6%).
From a continental perspective, 39% of Nigeria’s exports by value were delivered to European countries while 34.4% were sold to importers in Asia. Nigeria shipped another 19.1% worth of goods within Africa. Smaller percentages went to North America (5.4%), Latin America excluding Mexico but including the Caribbean (1.4%) and Oceania mainly Australia (0.6%).
Given Nigeria’s population of 206.1 million people, the total $33.5 billion in 2020 Nigerian exports translates to roughly $160 for every person in the West African nation.
Nigeria’s Top 10 Exports
The following export product groups represent the highest dollar value in Nigerian global shipments during 2020. Also shown is the percentage share each export category represents in terms of overall exports from Nigeria.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$29.7 billion (88.6% of total exports)
- Ships, boats: $2.1 billion (6.3%)
- Oil seeds: $346.4 million (1%)
- Cocoa: $338.1 million (1%)
- Fertilizers: $183.5 million (0.5%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $169.1 million (0.5%)
- Fruits, nuts: $130 million (0.4%)
- Tobacco, manufactured substitutes: $64.5 million (0.2%)
- Raw hides, skins not furskins, leather: $62.8 million (0.2%)
- Machinery including computers: $46.8 million (0.1%)
Nigeria’s top 10 exports are highly concentrated accounting for 98.9% of the overall value of the country’s global shipments.
Machinery including computers represents the fastest grower among the top 10 export categories, up by 417.9% from 2019 to 2020. In second place for improving export sales was aircraft and spacecraft via a 141.5% gain. Nigeria’s shipments of fertilizers posted the third-fastest gain in value up by 20.8%.
Year over year, the severest decliners among Nigeria’s top 10 export categories were tobacco including manufactured substitutes (down -37.8%), mineral fuels including oil (down -36.3%) and the highly capital-intensive ships and boats product category (down -33.9%).
Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more granular view of exported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of Nigeria’s Most Valuable Export Products further down near the bottom of this article.
The following types of Nigerian product shipments represent positive net exports or a trade balance surplus. Investopedia defines net exports as the value of a country’s total exports minus the value of its total imports.
In a nutshell, net exports reflect the amount by which foreign spending on a home country’s goods or services exceeds or lags the home country’s spending on foreign goods or services.
- Mineral fuels including oil: US$21.6 billion (Down by -45.2% since 2019)
- Ships, boats: $1.8 billion (Down by -24.3%)
- Oil seeds: $337.2 million (Up by 25.3%)
- Cocoa: $315.3 million (Up by 6.9%)
- Fruits, nuts: $46.2 million (Down by -25.4%)
- Aircraft, spacecraft: $40.7 million (Reversing a -$65.5 million deficit)
- Lead: $26.4 million (Down by -39.5%)
- Ores, slag, ash: $7.9 million (Reversing a -$6.6 million deficit)
- Live trees, plants, cut flowers: $5.5 million (Up by 11%)
- Meat: $759,000 (Reversing a -$366,000 deficit)
Nigeria has highly positive net exports particularly in the international trade of crude oil and petroleum gases. In turn, these cashflows indicate Nigeria’s strong competitive advantages under the mineral fuels including oil category.
Nigeria incurred an overall -$19.4 billion deficit for 2020 reversing a $6.2 billion surplus in 2019.
Below are exports from Nigeria that result in negative net exports or product trade balance deficits. These negative net exports reveal product categories where foreign spending on home country Nigeria’s goods trail Nigerian importer spending on foreign products.
- Machinery including computers: -US$9.8 billion (Up by 9.6% since 2019)
- Vehicles: -$5.3 billion (Down by -5.1%)
- Electrical machinery, equipment: -$3.7 billion (Down by -0.6%)
- Pharmaceuticals: -$2.8 billion (Up by 94.7%)
- Plastics, plastic articles: -$2.4 billion (Up by 60.1%)
- Cereals: -$2.2 billion (Up by 70.6%)
- Other chemical goods: -$1.3 billion (Up by 78.4%)
- Fish: -$1.23 billion (Up by 62.6%)
- Optical, technical, medical apparatus: -$1.15 billion (Down by -65.6%)
- Iron, steel: -$1.1 billion (Up by 66.1%)
Nigeria has highly negative net exports and therefore deep international trade deficits under the machinery including computers category.
Nigerian Export Companies
Five Nigerian corporations rank among Forbes Global 2000 including three regional banks, an insurance conglomerate and a construction materials firm.
- Dangote Cement (construction materials)
- Equity Assurance (financial institution)
- FBN Holdings (regional bank)
- Guaranty Trust Bank (regional bank)
- Zenith Bank (regional bank)
Wikipedia also lists exporters from Nigeria. Selected examples are shown below.
- Julius Berger Nigeria (construction materials)
- Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (oil, gas)
- Oando (oil, gas)
- ROCAD Construction Limited (oil, gas)
- Shell Nigeria (oil, gas)
Searchable List of Nigeria’s Most Valuable Export Products
The following searchable table displays 100 of the most in-demand goods shipped from Nigeria during 2020. Shown beside each product label is its total export value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2019.
|Rank||Nigeria's Export Product||2020 Value (US$)||Change|
|4||Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks||$754,507,000||+8%|
|9||Cashew nuts, coconuts, Brazil nuts||$117,001,000||+4.2%|
|10||Processed petroleum oils||$83,715,000||-25%|
|13||Cruise/cargo ships, barges||$41,497,000||-79.7%|
|15||Cocoa butter, fat, oil||$35,317,000||-21.2%|
|17||Tugboats, pusher craft||$31,387,000||-96.9%|
|18||Crustaceans (including lobsters)||$28,044,000||-11.5%|
|22||Spices including ginger, saffron, turmeric, thyme, curry||$20,115,000||+93.5%|
|23||Refined copper, unwrought alloys||$17,089,000||-45.4%|
|26||Soya-bean oil-cake, other solid residues||$16,780,000||+333.8%|
|27||Pulley tackle, hoists, winches, jacks||$15,688,000||+3,923%|
|29||Cotton (uncarded, uncombed)||$13,887,000||+366.2%|
|31||Fixed vegetable fats/oils||$12,899,000||+21%|
|32||Rafts, other floating structures||$12,638,000||-41.5%|
|36||Zinc ores, concentrates||$7,895,000||-3.5%|
|37||Soups, broths and similar preparations||$7,853,000||-28.2%|
|38||Organic surface-active goods, soap||$7,428,000||+75.2%|
|39||Concentrated milk, cream||$6,851,000||-14.6%|
|40||Beet-pulp, brew/distilling waste||$6,527,000||-32.7%|
|41||Miscellaneous articles made from zinc||$5,963,000||+646.3%|
|42||Fresh or dried flowers (for bouquets, ornamental)||$5,273,000||+0.8%|
|43||Lead ores, concentrates||$4,945,000||-63.6%|
|45||Organic surface-active goods, soap||$4,414,000||-46%|
|46||Wigs, false beards, eyebrows, eyslashes||$4,392,000||-53%|
|48||Cocoa shells, husks, skins||$4,283,000||+0.8%|
|51||Oil seed flour/meal||$4,149,000||+682.8%|
|52||Other food preparations||$3,843,000||-62.5%|
|54||Sauces, mixed condiments, seasonings||$3,056,000||+16.3%|
|55||Ground nut oil||$2,853,000||+788.8%|
|57||Other organic cleaning preparations||$2,439,000||-31.5%|
|58||Plastic packing goods, lids, caps||$2,368,000||-40.5%|
|61||Bran, other residues||$1,952,000||+27.7%|
|63||Manganese ores, concentrates||$1,927,000||+17.6%|
|64||Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips||$1,856,000||-25.1%|
|65||Oral/dental hygiene preparations||$1,803,000||-32.4%|
|66||Buttermilk, curdled milk, yogurt||$1,732,000||-11.8%|
|68||Glass bottles, flasks, jars, pots||$1,621,000||-79.4%|
|69||Sheep/lamb skin leather||$1,516,000||+1.1%|
|70||Alkali/rare-earth metal, mercury||$1,464,000||+2,715%|
|74||Inorganic acids, non-metal oxygen compounds||$1,253,000||+230.6%|
|75||Dried shelled vegetables||$1,248,000||+151.1%|
|76||Float/ground/polished glass in sheets||$1,192,000||-7.4%|
|77||Wrist/pocket watches (precious metal case)||$1,129,000||-19.6%|
|79||Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries||$1,021,000||-54%|
|80||Stoppers, caps, lids, corks||$985,000||+39.3%|
|81||Sowing seeds, fruits, spores||$970,000||+66.4%|
|83||Chocolate, other cocoa preparations||$950,000||-7.2%|
|84||Niobium/zirconium ores, concentrates||$919,000||-71%|
|86||Yarn (85%+ cotton)||$837,000||-67%|
|87||Sugar-preserved vegetables, fruits, nuts||$808,000||+1%|
|89||Perfumes, toilet waters||$680,000||+27.8%|
|90||Sugar confectionery (no cocoa)||$649,000||-44.5%|
|91||Flour/meal/starch/malt extract food preparations||$584,000||+57.8%|
|92||Plastics waste, scrap||$561,000||-5.6%|
|93||Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings||$538,000||-7.6%|
|95||Electric generating sets, converters||$527,000||+41.3%|
|96||Limestone, other calcereous stone||$513,000||+12,725%|
|97||Tin ores, concentrates||$501,000||+1,331%|
|98||Cereal flours excluding wheat and meslin||$489,000||+1,428%|
|99||Fish fillets, pieces||$479,000||+941.3%|
These 100 exported goods were worth a subtotal of US$33.5 billion or 99.9% by value for all products exported from Nigeria during 2020.
In macroeconomic terms, Nigeria’s total exported goods represent 3.1% of its overall Gross Domestic Product for 2020 ($1.069 trillion valued in Purchasing Power Parity US dollars). That 3.1% for exports to overall GDP per PPP in 2020 compares to 4.4% for 2019. This suggests a relatively decreasing reliance on products sold on international markets for Nigeria’s total economic performance albeit based on a short timeframe.
Another key indicator of a country’s economic performance is its unemployment rate. Nigeria’s unemployment rate was 33.3% at January 2021, up from an average 22.562% for 2020 per Trading Economics.
See also Top African Export Countries, Nigeria’s Top 10 Imports and Nigeria’s Top Trading Partners
Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook Africa: Nigeria. Accessed on April 16, 2021
Forbes Global 2000 rankings, The World’s Biggest Public Companies. Accessed on April 16, 2021
International Monetary Fund, Exchange Rates selected indicators (National Currency per U.S. dollar, period average). Accessed on April 16, 2021
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on April 16, 2021
International Trade Centre, Trade Map. Accessed on April 16, 2021
Investopedia, Net Exports Definition. Accessed on April 16, 2021
Wikipedia, Gross domestic product. Accessed on April 16, 2021
Wikipedia, Nigeria. Accessed on April 16, 2021
Wikipedia, Purchasing power parity. Accessed on April 16, 2021