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Nigeria: Harnessing the gains of President Jonathan's visit to Washington

Wednesday, 07 April 2010

Source: Business Day Online (Nigeria)

Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is to have a one-on -one meeting with United States while in Washington for the nuclear security summit. Ikechukwu Eze and Alex Chiejina write that the Presidency should leverage the opportunity to not only deepen the diplomatic ties between both countries but also harness probable business opportunities

For most foreign leaders getting an audience with an American President is always a highly coveted quest. It is always considered a great privilege to either get the world's most powerful leader to visit one's country, be his guest in Washington or at the sidelines of a global conference.

Whenever such opportunity beckons, it goes without saying that world leaders make it a point of duty to adequately prepare with a view to productively engaging the leader of the unipolar world. However many analysts feel that this has not always been the case with Nigerian leaders, especially as some of them had in the past treated meetings with American Presidents as a jamboree. Rather than harness the vast strategic and business opportunities such occasions present, we have had cases of leaders who focused on the inconsequential. They merely strolled in and out of Washington like tourists, forgetting that such visits goes beyond fulfilling a lifelong ambition of being hosted at the White House.

For instance, ahead of the visit of former President George Bush to Nigeria, a top ranking Nigerian Presidency official was asked by the BBC what the country's leadership wished to discuss with US President. "If he (Bush) wants us to talk about oil, we will talk about oil. If he wants us to discuss human rights, we will discuss the topic", he answered in a manner that astonished even the reporter. There is no doubt that such response gives the impression that the Presidency did not hold any policy strategy session towards articulating a position that would guide such high profile meetings.

Against this backdrop, the recent invitation extended to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan by United States President Barack Obama to attend the 2010 edition of the World Nuclear Summit in Washington between April 12 and 13, 2010, has engendered robust debate among Nigerian with many insisting that the opportunity should be handled differently in a manner that it would boost the nation's growth aspirations.

"Most Nigerian leaders treat state visits like a vacation," says Nick Idoko an international affairs expert and teacher, adding that there had not been any programme of deliberately harnessing either political or economic mileage from such visits.

Urging Jonathan to has his mind trained on the economic gains of the visit, Idoko further said: "Presidents travel in large jets to be able to accommodate a coterie of both policy analysts and businessmen. While the President attends banquets and talks politics and economy with his host, he creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to hold beneficial discussions towards attracting investments and creating more jobs at home."

Knowing the circumstances that brought Jonathan to office few weeks ago, after prolonged absence of ailing President Yar'Adua, Obama's invitation is seen by analysts as a great endorsement by both America and the West, It is also a pointer to the fact that US-Nigeria relations might be going for a mend, especially after the strain wreaked by a failed attempt by 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, to blow up a Northwest plane over Detroit, Michigan on December 25, 2009 and the resultant blacklisting of the country by Washington as a terror supporting nation.

In diplomacy circles, it is believed that the meeting would provide an opportunity for the US leadership to assess the country's new leader and to gauge Jonathan's level of commitment on such issues of concern as free and fair election, anti-corruption crusade and readiness to tackle divisive sectarian violence. The Americans would also be looking for guarantees on the need to calm the fears of the major foreign investors in Nigeria's energy sector, given the country import in global energy mix. It is also assumed that while America and the West would be seeking such assurances from the acting President, they would also be prepared to give concessions to the country, especially in areas that would aid economic growth and development. What is then important in the thinking of analysts is how Jonathan presents his case to Obama.

Mike Okolo, Director, Professional Education, School of Media and Communication, PAN African University, Lagos says that what the Jonathan Presidency needs to do is to get its "agenda right ready prior to the US visit as you may never know what plans the US Government has for Nigeria." Okolo told Business Day that "the meeting might also provide a good opportunity for both Presidents to discuss the issue of tackling security."

Nigeria has been out of the radar of the US following broken relations in the past for sometime now, notes Victor Ariole, of the Department of European Languages, University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos. Ariole wants Jonathan to "utilise the offer been extended to him to attend a summit in US to renew discussions in the area of diplomatic ties with the US… No doubt, this visit could address the issue of renewed unrest in the Niger-Delta considering the fact that the Goodluck Jonathan is from that region as well as discuss modalities which the country would have to adopt before being removed from the US watch list"

Talking about specifics, Olaolu Akinkugbe, national president, Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce, acting President wants the acting President to ask for assistance and collaboration in such areas as security, intellectual property protection, access to international credit, capacity building and support in international organizations.

He said further: "The President, in addition to appropriate civil servants and political office holders, should have in his entourage relevant commercial diplomats from the private sector. Such commercial diplomats can be drawn from organizations as NACCIMA , IOD as well as bilateral chambers as Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC) and the American Business Council, Nigeria.

"Our strategy should be partnering with US institutions, entrepreneurs and business persons to build capacity in existing manufacturing industries in the relevant sectors in order to be able to produce larger volumes and quality products to standards not only specific to the US market but to the rest of the world . A retired diplomat who pleaded anonymity however told Business Day that it might not be proper to expect so much from the planned trip although he underscored the need for the President to clearly articulate the issues he would be presenting before Obama, "something like a shoplist because such opportunities do not come everyday." He particularly wants Jonathan to seek greater prospects in the Africa's Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), an American initiative to promote African exports to US which Nigeria has hardly benefited from.

A Bureau of African Affairs (BAA) publication stated last December that an estimated one million Nigerians and Nigeria-Americans live, study and work in the United States, while over 25,000 Americans live and work in Nigeria. On the bilateral front, the publication stated that since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria (1999), the bilateral relationship between U.S. and Nigeria has continued to improve, and cooperation on many foreign policy goals, such as peace-keeping, has been excellent.

Nigeria remains U.S. largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for eight per cent supply of U.S. oil, nearly half of Nigeria's daily production which makes the country the fifth largest exporter of oil to the U.S., 50th largest export market for U.S. products and the 14th largest exporter of goods to the U.S. In clear terms, the publication noted that in 2008, the trade volume between both countries was valued at more than $42 billion, an 18 percent increase over 2007 data, including $38 billion imports from Nigeria by the U.S., consisting predominantly of oil. To further buttress the magnitude of trade relationship between Nigeria and the U.S., the publication noted disclosed that the U.S. is Nigeria's largest trading partner after the United Kingdom (UK).

The trade relationship between U.S. and Nigeria is not only limited to products alone, but also includes huge Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). U.S.-African Trade profile of 2009 reveals that the U.S. is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria. The data appear intimidating as well as attractive. The stock of U.S. FDI in Nigeria in 2006 was put at $339 million, down from $2 billion in 2004. Aside this, Nigeria was also the largest recipient of global FDI inflows, grossing all of $12.5 billion.

Akinkugbe insists that the planned visit has a momentous import. According to him "it is highly significant and our President should do well to leverage this opportunity for "rennaissance" in Nigeria - American relations after the hiatus of the last several months. After a period when The Nigerian head of state and the American head of state 'were unable to meet' , the US invitation , I believe, is a signal that the two countries now have an opportunity to resume close collaboration for mutual benefits."



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