WASHINGTON – Nigerian political and business leaders came here this week to unveil business reforms to make it easier for foreign companies to invest in the country’s agriculture and power generation sectors.
But violence,including the Easter Sunday bombing that killed at least 38 people near a church,remains a visible reminder of divisions in the country.
Political corruption and lack of transparency have plagued Nigeria’s government in the past,discouraging investors. But now,some U.S. political and business leaders are expressing confidence in the current Nigerian administration,elected a year ago this month.
“I am incredibly proud and energized by the leadership in the country,” Wanda Felton,vice chair of the U.S. Export-Import Bank,said during the bank’s annual conference. “We’re excited about the opportunities.”
Nigerian Minister of Power Bart Nnaji told the conference about privatization in the power-generation sector. He said the country has new regulatory policies,along with low tariffs,and a gas supply that is larger than its oil supply.
“Agriculture is the best-kept secret in Nigeria,” Akinwumi Adesina,minister of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development,said. “We have started treating agriculture as a business.”
By 2015,he said the country would like to be self sufficient in rice production.
“Our new vision is to grow the agriculture sector in Nigeria,to make Nigeria an agriculturally industrialized country,” Adesina said.
He said there are investment opportunities in rice,cassava,sorghum,soybeans and a new,high-yield hybrid cocoa.
If U.S. investors and banks invest in Nigerian agriculture,Adesina said it will create jobs in both Nigeria and the U.S.
“This is why we are here. It’s all about our jobs. It’s all about security,because you cannot sustain democracy on empty stomachs,” he said.
Speaking on Monday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies,Johnnie Carson,assistant secretary of state for African affairs,said living standards are the same today for most Nigerians as they were in 1970,and nearly 100 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.
Citing a U.N. study,Carson said poverty in Nigeria’s 12 most northern states is nearly twice that of the rest of the country,and health care and education fare worse.
In the north,an area with a high Muslim population,the radical Islamic group,Boko Haram,has been able to gain support for terrorism.
Most blame Boko Haram for Sunday’s car bombing. Since 2009,the group has been accused of killing approximately 1,000 people.
Carson said the U.S. has been working with Nigerian officials to stop the attacks,which have targeted police,officials and churches.
Carson said the FBI is doing criminal investigations and conducting forensic analysis on evidence from previous blasts.
Nigerian Vice President Namadi Sambo met Tuesday with Vice President Joe Biden.
The two vice presidents talked about security and the African nation’s efforts to improve its socioeconomic conditions,according to Biden’s office.
Carson said the U.S. plans to continue to work with Nigeria in agriculture,anti-corruption and electrical power generation and transmission.
He said Nigeria is “the most influential and militarily powerful member of the economy of West African states.”
But he added that “decades of poor governance have seriously degraded the country’s health,education and transportation infrastructure.”
Carson said Nigeria has virtually no functioning rail system,and only half of its population has access to electricity. The Nigerian government has announced plans to fix a 2,500 mile railway and add new lines.
Reach reporter Brooke Kelly [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.