I am delighted to be present here today at the 2nd edition of the United States–Africa Business Forum. I wish to thank the United States Department of Commerce and Bloomberg Philanthropies for organizing this event and for giving me this opportunity to address this august gathering of Political and Business Leaders from the United States of America (USA), Africa and other regions of the World. I believe all of us will take advantage of this Forum to establish and strengthen business relationships; share valuable experience; and collaborate for mutual benefits.
The United States has historically been one of Nigeria’s top trading partners; for decades, the US was the biggest importer of Nigeria’s crude oil. In the last two years, however, the sharp decline in US imports of our crude, on account of rising domestic production of Shale, has altered the trade balance between our two countries. But it has also thrown up opportunities for Nigeria to increase its non-oil exports – especially in agricultural products – to the U.S.
Today, Nigeria enjoys a mutually beneficial trade and investment relations with USA. This relationship has culminated in massive inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into Nigeria. There are several US Companies doing business in Nigeria, including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, Pepsi Company, British-American Tobacco Company, UPS Courier Company, BCG, Johnson Wax Nigeria Ltd, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, to name a few.
These are no doubt challenging times for the Nigerian economy. But let me use this opportunity to boldly affirm our conviction that there is no crisis without an accompanying opportunity. In our case, we see Nigeria’s ongoing economic challenges – occasioned mainly by the fall in oil prices – as an opportunity to set the economy firmly on the path of true diversification, sustainable economic growth, and shared prosperity.
Since the inception of my Administration in 2015, all efforts have been aimed at ensuring that all Nigerians enjoy rising standards of living. We campaigned for and came into office on the back of three fundamental issues: One, Securing Nigeria from terrorism and banditry, Two, Fighting corruption and ensuring that public funds work for the public good, and Three, Revamping an economy that was dangerously dependent on crude oil, and afflicted by rising inequality and jobless growth. We are pleased to note that our efforts are yielding fruit.
(On Security) – Hundreds of communities and thousands of people have been liberated from the clutches of the terrorists, under our watch, and are now getting a chance to, with support from the government and the international community, rebuild their homes and their lives.
(On corruption) – Our quest is to ensure, through a combination of institution-building and judicial efforts, that public funds work for the public good, and that persons responsible for overseeing the use of these funds come to this task with the utmost sense of transparency and accountability. Earlier this year we signed up to the Open Government Partnership, a clear demonstration of our commitment to a radical departure from a past characterized by large-scale state-enabled corruption. Let me also assure that we will continue to strengthen Government institutions established to address investors’ concerns.
(On the economy) – We are weaning ourselves from a historical dependence on crude oil, diversifying our economy, and putting it on the path of sustainable and inclusive growth. To this end, we have embarked on policies aimed at establishing an open, rules-based and market-oriented economy. We will continue to actively engage with the private sector at the highest levels to listen to your concerns and to assure you of our commitment to creating enabling policies in which your businesses can thrive. Indeed, we have constituted a Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, which is working on a wide range of business environment reforms, ranging from making our planned visa-on-arrival regime a reality, to ports reform, to improving the speed and efficiency of land titling and business registration. We aspire to make Nigeria one of the most attractive places to do business.
Let me now focus on the priority investment sectors for our administration: Infrastructure, Industry, Agriculture, Mining and the Digital Economy.
Infrastructure: For far too long Nigeria has under-invested in the critical infrastructure necessary for a modern economy. Now, that is set to change. We are working hard to bridge an electricity deficit of several thousands of megawatts, which will require substantial private sector investment, especially in Transmission. Our railway system is being opened up after decades of a government monopoly that has hindered the needed private sector investment. We are well on course with a concessioning deal that will see General Electric take over hundreds of kilometers of existing rail assets, and invest billions of dollars to upgrade assets and services.
On Industry, there is the Nigerian Industrial Plan that is being implemented. The implementation is directed at interventions to improve productivity and output in five industry groups, namely: agri-business and agro-allied; solid minerals and metals; oil and gas; construction, and light manufacturing. Currently, investments and partnerships are being directed to leather and leather products; sugar; palm oil processing; food processing, specifically tomato and fruit processing. Automobile assembly and manufacturing are important to the diversification of the Nigerian economy. Industrial zones and parks are being established. This is work in progress.
In Agriculture, through our Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP), we are prioritizing the improvement in domestic production of rice, wheat, maize, fish, dairy milk, soya beans, poultry, fruits and vegetables, and sugar, as well as the export of cowpeas, cocoa, cashew, cassava (starch, chips and ethanol), ginger, sesame, oil palm, fruits and vegetables, beef and cotton. To achieve these goals, we are ready to partner with and support willing private investors, by creating an environment that is stable, safe, and competitive. I am pleased to note that Coca Cola has recently invested substantially in one of Nigeria’s best-known dairy and fruit juice companies, and is looking to increase its stake over the next few years.
In Mining, Nigeria is determined to build a world class minerals and mining ecosystem designed to serve a targeted domestic and export market. To accomplish this, we are prioritizing exploration, local processing and beneficiation of our mineral assets with provision of generous incentives including favorable tax regimes and royalties to investors interested in our market. We have as part of this identified mineral resources, which exist in commercially viable quantities, and designated them as strategic priorities for Nigeria’s domestic Industrialisation and Infrastructure requirements.
In the Digital Economy, which, like Infrastructure, has a multiplier effect that touches every part of the economy, opportunities abound. We have welcomed and continue to welcome investors willing to take a stake in one of the world’s largest and fastest growing telecoms markets – a market which has attracted more than $35 billion in FDI over the last decade and half. The Nigerian Communications Commission will shortly commence a licensing process for the deployment of broadband infrastructure across metropolitan areas in the country.
Young Nigerians are increasingly demonstrating that they have the talent and the passion to leverage the digital economy for solving our most pressing challenges. We are seeing a lot of activity in that space, and not just in Lagos, but even in cities further afield, from Uyo to Abuja. There are currently 150 million active mobile phone lines in the country – sixty percent of which are connected to the Internet. I can confidently say that Nigeria is in the early stages of a domestic technology revolution, and the government is paying serious attention and offering its full support.
Three weeks ago, I hosted Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder and CEO of Facebook, which is now used regularly by 17 million Nigerians, more people than in any other country in Africa. A few months ago Mr Zuckerberg invested $24 million in Andela, a technology company that has Iyin Aboyeji, a 25-year-old Nigerian as one of its co-founders, and maintains its main campus in the city of Lagos. On the same day that Mr Zuckerberg visited I also welcomed and interacted with 30 of the most exciting technology startups in the country; among whom lie tomorrow’s billion-dollar corporations.
In terms of Trade, Nigeria is keen to more effectively leverage the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) opportunities to boost exports to the US Market. In collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) we have developed an AGOA Response Strategy to boost exports under AGOA. We are willing to collaborate with willing development partners to address some of the constraints to accessing the US Market under AGOA, such as our inability to comply with US requirements. With our U.S. counterparts, we are also working on a post-AGOA framework. Nigeria will continue to work closely with the U.S. to ensure that trade works for development.
I urge the American businesses present here to take advantage of the investment opportunity that Nigeria represents. Nigeria remains the number one investment destination in Africa, with total FDI inflow of about US$3.64 billion in 2015. Apart from our domestic market of 170 million, the largest in Africa, we are also the main gateway to a combined West African consumer market that is about as large as ours. With a median age of 19, and with 70 percent of the population below the age of 35, Nigeria’s greatest potential lies in the talent and energy of her youth.
Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we recognize that the economic benefits of our trade and investment relations with the United States and other partners are unambiguous. In order to encourage private capital inflow, we have packaged some fiscal investment incentives which include the following: up to 5 years of tax holiday for activities classified as ‘pioneer’; Tax-free operations; no restrictions on expatriate quotas in Free Trade Zones; Capital Allowances (Agriculture, Manufacturing and Engineering); a low VAT regime of 5 percent; among others.
Let me use this occasion to announce the commencement of the latest in a series of bilateral engagements between the United States and Nigeria: the U.S. Nigeria Commercial and Investment Dialogue. This Dialogue, which will focus on Infrastructure, Agriculture, the Digital Economy, Investment and Regulatory Reform, will be jointly led by the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, and the US Commerce Secretary, and will include business executives from both countries. By strengthening existing trade and investment ties between our two countries, as well as opening up new vistas, it will complement the work currently being done by the US-Nigeria Binational Commission, the US-Nigeria Trade and Investment Framework, and similar initiatives. We very much look forward to the mutual benefits that will accrue from this Dialogue.
On this note, I enjoin investors here today to take advantage of this Forum to build synergies that would translate to increased trade and investment flows between Nigeria and United States of America. Nigeria welcomes you.
I wish you a fruitful deliberation. Thank You for listening.
Apprehension Over AMCON MD’s Visit to EFCC
By Aduragbemi Omiyale
The visit of the Managing Director of Assets Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Mr Ahmed Kuru, to the office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is already causing apprehension.
Mr Kuru was reportedly grilled by the anti-graft agency on Wednesday after he was invited by the organisation for questioning.
Already, it is being speculated that his ordeal with the EFCC may be connected with the plans by AMCON to name and shame chronic debtors, who took loans from commercial banks but refused to repay as promised.
Yesterday, the AMCON MD was grilled by the agency over allegations bordering on the diversion of assets and the sale of the properties to his associates at ridiculous prices.
According to reports, Mr Kuru allegedly sold properties valued at billions of naira belonging to Atlantic to another despite a court case on the assets.
Atlantic was accused of loan default with Skye Bank and the properties in collateral were seized and allegedly sold below the prevailing market value while the action was instituted in court.
Amid these accusations, the EFCC is yet to comment at the time of filing this report.
AMCON is an agency set up by the federal government to acquire all toxic loans of commercial banks, with the aim of recovering them.
In November 2021, the agency submitted a list containing its top 1,000 obligors owing N4.4 trillion to the National Assembly.
Mr Kuru had said with the support of the parliament and the Judiciary, recovering the total current exposure on all Eligible Bank Asset (EBAs), which stands at N4.4 trillion, may be possible before the sunset period.
He had lamented that more recently, due to the socio-economic downturn, the market values of assets have significantly reduced, lower than the valuation at the point of EBAs purchase, making it extremely difficult to consummate sales transactions.
“To enable AMCON to succeed in its national call to duty, AMCON solicits the continued support of this Distinguished Committee. The Judiciary must be encouraged to respect the provisions of the law that require them to fast-track cases before them, issue certificates of judgement on properties, which the Corporation has no collateral and demand debtors to deposit Judgment sum before proceeding to appeal any judgement,” he had stated.
NSCDC Denies Operating Illegal Oil Bunkering Site
By Adedapo Adesanya
The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has debunked the rumour that its marine exhibits yard in Ogbogoro jetty, Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, was an illegal oil bunkering site.
This was made known by the Rivers State Commandant of NSCDC, Mr Aliyu Bature, who explained that the Ogbogoro jetty has remained its marine exhibits yard for over 10 years.
He added that every marine exhibit like boats, vessels, barges drums, arrested by or handed over to the Corps by sister agencies for oil theft are usually detained at the yard, pending investigation and court prosecution.
This follows claims made by Obio/Akpor LGA Chairman, Mr George Ariolu, that the NSCDC marine exhibits yard in Ogbogoro was being used for illegal bunkering activities.
In the reaction to the allegation, Mr Bature disclosed that the NSCDC Commandant General, Mr Abubakar Audi, in December 2021 visited the said yard, maintaining that it was a known fact that the yard has been the Corps’ marine exhibits yard.
The agency said some of the exhibits, including 220 drums of AGO and eight Cotonou boats in the yard were seized by the Nigerian Navy and handed over to the NSCDC last week, while other vessels were taken by operatives of the Corps.
He disclosed that the agency has got an intelligence report that hoodlums were planning to attack the yard, by setting it ablaze in order to destroy the exhibits, assuring that such plans will be strongly resisted.
“This place is our marine exhibits yard and not an illegal dump. Most of the exhibits here were arrested by the Navy and handed over to us, while some of the arrests too were made by us.
“The commandant general was here in December and he’s aware that this place is our exhibits yard.
“The Commandant General has deployed personnel to ensure the place is secured, Ogbogoro jetty is a no-go area for anybody because destroying this place means destroying the exhibits to prove that these products were all stolen.
“We had it on good authority that hoodlums were planning to attack this place in order to destroy the exhibits and we will not allow that,” the statement said.
The NSCDC also urged members of the public to report any personnel of the organisation who is involved in the business of aiding and abetting oil theft, illegal bunkering and vandalism, warning that the agency will not hesitate to show such person the way out.
“If any of our personnel is caught, please report the person to us and we will discipline the person accordingly.
“The NSCDC leadership does not in any way condone acts of indiscipline. We are charged to protect critical national assets and if any of our personnel is involved, we will not take it likely.
“That is why those who were in charge of the anti-vandal unit have been disbanded, and are being investigated currently by the committee set up by the Commandant General,” the statement said.
Senate Re-amends Electoral Bill, Okays Direct, Indirect, Consensus Primaries
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
The Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which passed by the National Assembly on November 18, 2021, and sent to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent but was rejected, has been re-amended.
The President declined assent to the bill because the parliament inserted a clause that makes it mandatory for political parties to elect candidates for elections only through direct primaries.
On Wednesday, the Senate adjusted this clause and approved direct, indirect primaries or consensus as to the procedure for the nomination of candidates by political parties for the various elective positions.
The upper chamber of the legislative arm of government, in a statement signed by Mr Ezrel Tabiowo, the Special Assistant on Press to Senate President, Mr Ahmad Lawan, said the recommended Clause 84(3) was also approved.
The section stated that “a political party that adopts the direct primaries procedure shall ensure that all aspirants are given equal opportunity of being voted for by members of the party.”
Clause 84(4) further provides that “a political party that adopts the system of indirect primaries for the choice of its candidate shall adopt the procedure outlined below; (a) In the case of nominations to the position of Presidential candidate, a political party shall, (i) hold special conventions in each of the 36 states of the federation and FCT, where delegates shall vote for each of the aspirants at designated centres in each State Capital on specified dates.”
The clause provides that a National Convention shall be held for the ratification of the candidate with the highest number of votes.
The amendment followed a motion for its re-commital to the Committee of the Whole, which was sponsored by the Senate Leader, Mr Yahaya Abdullahi.
In his presentation, the lawmaker noted that the rationale for Mr Buhari withholding assent bordered on his observation in Clause 84.
President Buhari in the letter dated December 13, 2021, and addressed to Mr Lawan had explained that his decision to withhold assent to the electoral bill was informed by advice from relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government after a thorough review.
According to the President, signing the bill into law would have serious adverse legal, financial, economic and security consequences on the country, particularly in view of Nigeria’s peculiarities.
He added that it would also impact negatively on the rights of citizens to participate in government as constitutionally ensured.
Mr Abdullahi, however, explained that the motion for re-commital of the bill to the Committee on the Whole was against the backdrop of the “need to address the observation by Mr President C-in-C and make necessary amendment in accordance with Order 87(c) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended); and relying on order 1(b) and 52(6) of the Senate Standing Orders, 2022 (as amended).”
Accordingly, the chamber rescinded its decision on the affected clause of the bill as passed and recommitted same to the Committee of the Whole for consideration and passage.
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