Washington, DC — The President of the Nigerian Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, led a delegation of the Nigerian National Assembly on an important three-day working visit to the U.S. capitol last week.
The visit focused on strengthening diplomatic and parliamentary ties between the two nations. In addition, the Senate President at various meetings took the opportunity to market the investment opportunities that exist in Nigeria - the most populous black nation in the world. Over 70 percent of the country's population is under 30, a further attraction for many businesses, he noted repeatedly.
Saraki in his meetings discussed ongoing security challenges. He also told his hosts that Nigeria is strategically positioned to confront and address these problems.
He stressed that the Nigerian Senate has begun to tackle police reform and is working to create a state and community policing system like that in the United States.
U.S. lawmakers who received the delegation included Orrin Hatch, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, who - like Saraki - is third in line to the presidency of his country. They also met two Senators active on African issues - Republican Johnny Isakson (Georgia), who chairs the Subcommittee on State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development and sits on the Africa Subcommittee, and Democrat Chris Coons (Delaware), vice chair of the Ethics Committee and senior minority member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.
The delegation was received at the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and took part in a roundtable at the United States Institute of Peace discussing Nigeria's future with diplomats and academics who have long associations with Nigeria.
Saraki spoke to a gathering of policymakers and analysts at the Council on Foreign Relations and addressed business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All the discussions were targeted at creating partnerships and engagements that will attract investment.
In his meetings, Saraki cited statistics showing improvements in the Nigerian economy following the recession that hit the country when the current administration took over in 2015. Inflation rose above 13 percent, the currency was weakened and unemployment rose rapidly.
Saraki emphasized that the focus of the Legislature under his leadership has been reviving the economy and creating opportunities for all Nigerians.
At the U.S. Chamber – the country's most powerful business lobby organization – Saraki promoted opportunities for doing business in Nigeria. He noted that Nigeria is now 145 on the World Bank's Doing Business Rankings, a rise of 24 points in one year. The Legislature contributed to the rise, Saraki said, by creating policies and amending laws towards this objective.
He also cited the amendment of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which has removed hurdles in the registration of companies, especially small businesses.
Saraki called for increased cooperation on agriculture, saying trade of agricultural products between Nigeria and the United States remains relatively small, rising from $3 million to only $9 million last year - leaving immense potential untapped.
He also advocated more cooperation in the infrastructure and technology sectors, not only to ensure diversification of revenue in Nigeria but to also help with increasing exportats and taking advantage of Nigeria's large labour force.
Saraki assured his American audiences that Nigeria can overcome its challenges and reduce poverty with purposeful and active leadership. There needs to be a much more aggressive approach by government, he said, and he appealed to the United States to partner with Nigeria to help make these needed changes a reality, he said.
Femi Odewunmi is CEO at INK Business Design & Consulting Limited, the Nigerian affiliate of the Advertising and Marketing International Network (AMIN) an award-winning global advertising group with a presence in 26 countries.