Amb. Robin R. Sanders
I appreciate the opportunity to address this august gathering at the Petroleum Club, still early in this New Year. 2010 promises to be an important and special time to Nigeria and the entire African continent. In October, Nigeria turns 50.
The half-century mark is an important milestone for any individual or country, a time for honest stocktaking of where one stands, and where one should or would like to be going. I could speak today without beginning or making and reference to what is happening in Nigeria today. But I won’t, so let me offer these opening.
I know these are uncertain political times for Nigeria, as your Acting President needs your support in ensuring Nigeria’s democracy not only continues to mature but also so that the country remains stable. The U.S. Government cares deeply about Nigeria. Not only how it is doing as a nation, but where it is going, and how it is planning to get there.
We wish you success as you continue to chart a way forward during these uncertain political times as you decide as a nation how to address the issues at hand, from the dignity for an ailing President to reports that a small group is being less than transparent about his status. Your Acting President needs the support of the entire nation at this time to ensure that the way forward for Nigeria is not only democratic and maintains unity of purpose, but also inspires the right actions on election reform and addressing the fundamental areas of development particularly in the Niger Delta, and including encouraging more transparency in the Petroleum Industry and Local Content Bills for the energy sector.
I know this audience is primarily filled with business persons active in the dynamic commercial sector of Lagos. But it doesn’t mean that your voices should not be heard at this crucial political time for Nigeria. You know as well as I do that investment and economic growth don’t like uncertainty, so what is going on now politically in either the short term or the long term does affect your interests so your voices need to be heard. That being said, the U.S. Government wants to assure you that we support the democratic efforts to find a way out of these uncharted waters. We are still your friend and I speak today as a friend of the nation. So I want to tell you some of the things we are still doing to be helpful and supportive during this critical time, in the areas of energy, banking, ICT, and agriculture.
Friendship The U.S. Government is collaborating with the Government of Nigeria and with the Independent Power Providers Association of Nigeria (IPPAN) to implement one of its top priorities, increasing electricity generation to 10,000 megawatts by 2011, through an agreement I signed last week and through the Nigerian Energy and Climate Change project ( a U.S. Government effort to help Nigeria generate clean power, generate power from flared gas, and assist independent wind and solar firms to develop bankable investments).
Our help in the energy sector also includes providing capacity building assistance to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (or NERC), and a grant by the U.S. Government Agency, USTDA, of $162,000 to assist his Nigeria – a local company that manufacturers towers for cellular, microwave, and radio uses – improve its efforts to evaluate energy alternatives, for renewable energy solutions, and in the ICT sector. In banking, we are working with the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) Information Technology department to help on cyber-security solutions and security best practices in the banking sector.
In agriculture, Nigeria is the largest agribusiness market in Sub-Saharan Africa for the United States. We are working to deepen U.S. – Nigeria agribusiness ties through trade and development programs. Each year, hundreds of Nigerian agribusinesses participate in industry – specific events in the United States to source products, services, and technical know-how for their operations. We support and sponsor various agricultural technical exchange between U.S and Nigerian institutions through programs including USDA’s fellowship and faculty exchange programs. These offer short-term agricultural training opportunities for mid-level managers from the government and NGOs. As part of the U.S. $25 million Global Food Security Programs for Nigeria, we are working with federal, state, and private sector institutions to build capacity in agricultural productivity, markets, linkages, and building agricultural yields in cassava, rice, and cow peas.
Nigeria’s agricultural future is vital to this country’s well-being, and I am pleased that I have had an opportunity to meet with Nigerian farmers all over Nigeria to see how our technical assistance has helped farmers to produce protein enriched cassava and cow pea flour, and better rice. This past Tuesday in Ogun State, I visited and innovative public-private partnership between Ekha Agro and the U.S. Government through USAID which is helping over 1,000 Nigerian cassava farmers produce glucose from cassava, the first agro-business of its kind in Nigeria and the first in all of West Africa. Small scale farmers will double their productivity and increase their net incomes by over 150 percent thanks to better yields and higher prices. In Benue’s Olam farms we have also helped a 200-members farmers’ cooperative improve rice yields and increase exports. In Ondo State, an agro-business is making cassava flakes for export. All of these projects are using, and using, and are advancing, with U.S. – funded technical assistance and capacity building.
Challenges These examples show Nigeria’s boundless potential, and the importance of the diversification of your economy, particularly back to strategic sector like agriculture and manufacturing. Some reforms that have been passed by the National Assembly – the Petroleum Industry Bill for example, and the Local Content Bill – are key for your future, but do present some challenges.
Privatization of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is one of those important reforms. In addition, it would be useful to have a true joint venture where both Nigerian and International partners can obtain international financing together and clear up overlapping laws and regulations from the last 50 years of oil production, ensure contract sanctity, and provide fairness for both small and large companies. Like the PIB, the Local Content Bill (LCB), will also have to address some of these same issues, particularly on technology transfer. We understand that these Bills are moving forward but we also understand there are some pitfalls in them could hurt Nigeria with unrealistic timelines for your partners.
I would be remiss if I did not say something about corruption as a major impediment to investment and development, but we also recognise that combating corruption is a difficult task. In the United State, we have taken serious steps to combat participation of U.S. companies in corrupt practices, as evidence by the prosecution of several high-profile cases in recent years. We have worked to provide and share information with Nigerian authorities and encourage them to move forward on their own cases. Successfully combating corruption takes a long-term commitment from both government and the private sector alike, and we look to you Nigeria’s business leaders, to help confront this important challenge, and speak out on the challenges in both the PIB and Local Content Bills.
On trade, Nigerian exporters have a competitive advantage in exporting to the United States through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA. The challenge for Nigeria is to take better advantage of the benefits provided through AGOA. For example, 2009, the United State imported over $36 billion worth of goods from Nigeria, but just over 1 percent of those goods were non-oil products. I know Nigeria is capable of selling more goods to the United States, and we want to work with you to make this happen.
We have opened an AGOA Resource Center on Lagos Island with the Bank of Industry and hold an annual major business event called POTICO to help Nigerian businesses link with U.S. companies, along with supporting numerous trade missions to the United State and supporting Nigerian going to U.S. trade shows. (For example, there will be an upcoming group of shippers from Louisiana in March, and in April, Nigerian business persons will travel to Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta to meet with prospective buyers.)
Country of Interest My last point is on the “Countries of Interest” list. Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with their inclusion on the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s ‘Countries of Interest’ List.” I recognize that some Nigerians, viewed this TSA action – which actually focuses on country of origin, not nationalities – as collective punishment for the actions of one person, when in fact Nigerians shared our outrage about the failed December 25 attack and have been providing assistance to the ongoing investigation. We have recently signed an air marshal’s agreement with your government. However, I think that the complaining needs to be put in perspective.
You do have outside extremists that have a foothold here in Nigeria and your energies need to be focused on addressing that issue more so than having to take your shoes off twice or being asked additional questions. I face these same things and what is more important to me is the safety of the flying public, and that should also be more important to you. Everyone here should be grateful, as I am, that 278 people did not perish on that day, you citizens and mine. If I have to take my shoes off twice to ensure this doesn’t happen again, I am comfortable with doing so. We also want to encourage you to pass counterterrorism legislation so that you have laws to protect yourselves and your country, as no country today is immune from global terrorism or the efforts of global terrorists to operate in their country. America is not and neither is Nigeria.
Renewing Our Friendship in 2010 and Beyond In renewing our friendship after December 25, 2009, I want to stress that Nigeria matters mightily to the United States and we want to see you succeed in everything, whether it is as global partner on terrorism, a stable democracy, and an economic powerhouse. Nigeria has within its reach the opportunity to become all of these things, it is manages election reform with good leadership at the helm of INEC, its hydrocarbon resources wisely, taps into its agricultural bounty and oversees its manufacturing potential.
The United State is committed to being a good partner with you in all of these endeavors as our friendship today is based on a long and strong tradition and foundation of shared values, politically, democratically and economically. Nigeria in 2010 will weather this political uncertainty stronger than ever and your friend the United States will be there with you.