TAG | Keynote Speach
The Chairman of the occasion,
Mr.The Chairman, African Heritage Foundation
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honor and privilege for me to be invited to participate in this historic conference of Bridging the Gap and Building the Bridge, ably organized by the management of the African Heritage Foundation and supported by the African Union. The African Heritage Foundation has since after the Olympics of 1996 in Atlanta during which Nigeria won the coveted gold medal trophy in soccer remained a cultural icon in the city of Atlanta and its environs. This is evident in its hosting of important dignitaries, including Heads of State, and prominent citizens from around the world who visit to promote a number of significant initiatives with primary focus on culture, tourism, investment, trade and economic opportunities.
2. Perhaps, it is appropriate to use this forum to congratulate the Chairman of the Foundation/CEO of the African Heritage Foundation, Chief Tunde Adetunji, for his untiring efforts and zeal towards the successful hosting of this Conference. I am particularly elated because this landmark event would open new opportunities for genuine partnership, networking and increased interaction between Africans and the United States of America. I have no doubt that the Foundation given the vital historical and cultural links between Africa and USA would use its platform for the creation of an African village in Atlanta under the auspices of the African Union.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen,
3. As you may be aware, the year 2007 has been historic for the government and people of Nigeria because Nigeria against all odds, successfully prosecuted the first-ever civilian-to-civilian transition to democracy in her 47 years history. Democracy is a learning process and Nigeria is willing to work with friendly nations, groups and institutions that have good advice and what it takes to assist Nigeria move forward. H.E. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua by his pronouncements and action is determined to lead by example, ensure good governance, rule of law, vibrant civil society activities, human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as constructive opposition. On these grounds, momentous developments taking place in Nigeria today cannot be ignored or taken for granted.
4. The Administration of President Yar’Adua has improved upon the comprehensive reform programme of the last Administration at the macro and micro economic levels. The objective is to eradicate poverty, reinvigorate the private sector and align the economy to the global market place. In the past, our financial sector was weak in supporting economic development due to the fragmented nature and weak capital base of our banks, but the financial reform by the Central Bank of Nigeria that has increased our capital base to the equivalent of $3 billion from the capital market and attracted $652 million of FDI has been adjudged by the World Bank as an excellent model. Today, Nigeria has achieved debt free status from the Paris and London Club of creditors. The Yar’Adua Administration is also desirous of achieving 13% target economic growth rate overtime anchored on a 7-point agenda, namely; power and energy, food security, wealth creation, transport, land reforms, security and education, adherence to rule of law and resolving the Niger Delta crisis. The objective here is to ensure as Goldman Sachs stated that if this momentum is sustained, Nigeria would grow to rank among the league of the 20th largest economies in the world by the year 2020.
Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
5. Strategically located on the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria is the gateway to West and Central Africa. It is a melting pot country of 40 million of hard working people and the largest black nation in the world. Nigeria’s economy is larger than all the 15 economies of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Nigeria is rich in oil and numerous natural resources including solid minerals. It is also Africa’s largest producer of hydrocarbon resources namely; Oil and Gas. Nigeria remains the 6th largest producer of crude oil in the world. As the US 14th largest trading partner, Nigeria supplies 15% of US oil needs. Expectedly, with the faithful implementation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) framework, bilateral trade links and relations between the United States and Nigeria would grow in leaps and bounds.
6. Still on economic growth, given the recent reforms by the government, and the challenge of transforming Nigeria economically with the deadline of the year 2020, the Organized Private Sector (OPS), is charged not only as the catalyst, but also as the engine room for the turn-around of the economy. Thus, the government can at best perform the role of the enabler and facilitator. It was this objective reality that informed Nigeria’s economic reform policy of the last few years. The paradox however, is that Nigeria is an extremely rich country and at the same time relatively poor. Notwithstanding, we are confident that Nigeria is already on the way to full economic recovery.
7. Indicators to this effect are to be seen in the areas of progress made in the establishment of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) as a one-stop agency for doing business in Nigeria. The idea was to save time by allowing investors to deal with one agency for all licenses, permits and other requirements. As a significant sign of the liberation of our investment climate, in April this year, African Premier Resort, TINAPA located at the Calabar Free Port, was declared open for global business. Other incentives for investors are exemption from all Federal, State and Local government taxes and levies, and to import free of custom duty, any capital goods, raw materials, components and articles, and repatriation of foreign capital and profits unhindered.
8. Furthermore, Nigeria has engaged in an unrelenting war against corruption and abuse of Office. There is sustained crusade against the phenomenon of Advance Fee Fraud and other financial crimes and assault. To this end, Nigeria set up two institutions namely; the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) to tackle economic crimes and related offences. These institutions which have made arrests and successful prosecution of many culprits have resulted in remedies for victims around the world. The EFCC in particular, has fought against pernicious Internet Fraud and is partnering with the Microsoft to find appropriate solution to this menace. Happily, it is yielding the desired result because in 2006, the Financial Action Task Force deleted Nigeria from its list.
9. On the Niger-Delta issue, it will suffice to say that there are genuine issues of under development, poverty and neglect of the zone over the years. Restive elements are exploiting the situation to harass people and engaging in all sorts of unacceptable practices. The Nigerian government is seriously addressing the issue and talking to their representatives. Already, there is the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger-Delta has been declared a special development zone. There is a projected community based bottom-up development approach that would involve the oil companies developing infrastructures, employ the youths and impact desired skills. Above all, President Yar’Adua in his resolute determination to address the genuine needs of the Niger Delta has adopted a regional development Master Plan as a roadmap for the transformation of the zone. It is the first time in the history of the zone that a coordinated plan has been fashioned out to involve the Federal, State and Local governments as well as the oil companies NGOs, Nigerians in the Diaspora and multilateral bodies. This is important because when you fix the Niger Delta problem, you fix Nigeria and when you fix Nigeria, because of our manifest destiny, you fix Africa, and when you fix Africa, the world will be a better place.
11. In conclusion, while thanking the Africa Heritage Foundation for making this forum possible, it is my fervent wish that the outcome would go a long way in assisting African countries actualizes the vital elements of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the year 2015. In so doing, it is important that the AGOA framework be broadened and strengthened to encourage African countries to trade and interact more with the United States of America.
12. I wish you fruitful deliberations.
Consulate General of Nigeria
October 25, 2007