President of the Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, led a joint delegation of Nigeria's National Assembly on a thee-day working visit to the United States last week.
This unprecedented visit consisting of members from both chambers of the National Assembly led to issues of national interest being raised with the U. S Chamber of Commerce, Council on Foreign Relations, the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and select members of the U.S. Congress.
Interestingly, the crux of the visit transcends parliamentary duties and exchanges. It focused more on the dire need to foster increased collaboration and broaden the bilateral ties between Nigeria and the United States.
Considering the mono-product export status of Nigeria and the desperate need for diversification, the Senate President took advantage of every meeting to market the strong entrepreneurial grit of the average Nigerian youth whose value addition to the nation's economy cannot be ignored.
He also stressed the need for America to adopt a symbiotic trade relationship with Nigeria and indeed the rest of Africa. Saraki challenged his counterparts in the U.S. Congress on the necessity to work with African leaders to increase trade and investment opportunities in the continent. The Senate President used the opportunity to make a strong case for increased trade des pite the perceived imperfection with regards to the security threat s and the seeming dithering of government in proffering lasting solutions to the many challenges besieging the country.
According to the Senate President, " we want to see a bigger trade relationship; w e want to see stronger and deeper investment engagements, security, democracy- strengthening and beneficial trade relations with the United States." The Senate President noted in one of the meetings that Nigeria, a major player in Ecowas and African Union must be seen by the international community as taking proactive steps towards ensuring that there is development of sustainable and inclusive strategies to tackle the perennial economic woes. He alluded to the resilient spirit of Nigerians in the diaspora whose contributions to the American and global economy have become a reference point amongst many potential investors.
In walking the talk, over the last three years, the 8th National Assembly has passed over 200 bills with substantial number being economic priority bills. Some of the bills such as the Cr edit Bureau Reporting Act helped in upgrading Nigeria on the World Bank's Annual Ease of Doing Business ranking and most recently, the passage of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which is the biggest and most comprehensive pro-business reform bill geared towards stimulating economic growth and making the Nigeria business environment more competitive.
The parliament's desire to improve the nation's economy and restore foreign investor confidence in her business terrain resulted in the passage and subsequent signing into law of the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act. With this law, new and small companies will gain more access to credit with movable assets as security and create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
Unfortunately, this desired economic prosperity will remain a mirage if insecurity persists. The incessant killings and displacement of many Nigerians will continue to send wrong signals to the international investing community. It is not rocket science to know that investors have affinity for countries where there is political stability and relative peace. Thus, for Nige ria to reclaim the top spot destination of choice for foreign investors in Africa, the insecurity challenges must be holistically curbed.
Earlier in the year, the parliament organised a national stakeholders ' security summit with top echelon of the country's security agencies, with the sole aim of finding lasting solutions to the security challenges overwhelming the country. Under the leadership of the Senate President, the National Assembly has remained consistent in providing support to the security agencies through regular oversight and constant advisory interventions on ways by which safety can be guaranteed to all Nigerians, irrespective of geo graphical location, ethnic or religious affiliation.
Going by the worrying increase of recent killings in several parts of the country, the responsive parliament has initiated a fresh amendment to the constitution aimed at halting the institutional barriers that have hindered the country's law enforcement and security personnel from efficiently safeguarding the lives and properties of Nigerians. A resolution by the Senate at plenary directing the constitutional review committee to put in place the mechanism to amend the constitution so as to allow for the creation of State an d Community Police has just passed the first reading.
While Nigerians await the outcome of this important legislative process aimed at strengthening the security agencies and tackling the hydra-headed challenges, i t is expedient that the national leadership develops systems that will consistently guarantee safety and economic prosperity of its citizens. Hence, by this visit of Nige ria's parliament to the United States, a stronger relationship with the U. S is expected to avail the National Assembly with all the necessary support to continue to legislate in line with international best practices, without any sense of fear or intimidation from any quarters.
From all the meetings attended by the delegation, it was evident that America wants to move beyond the era of the usual aid and grants to that which offers increased trade and investment prospects. T hus, the Senate President was able to successfully convince his hosts of the immense and abundant returns on investment which Nigeria guarantees, going by the steady progress on the global economic index. For the benefits of hindsight, t he dividends of this symbolic parliamentary cum diplomatic visit will in no distant time translate into the desired economic prosperity of Nigeria.
Bamikole Omishore is the Special Assistant on foreign Affairs and International Relations to President of The Senate, Federal Republic of Nigeria