From Washington DC where his ministers set the stage rolling with the Africa Investment Council (AIC) to some of New York’s most prestigious hotels where he held high stake meetings with Nigerian professionals, Kofi Annan, Bill Gates and President Barack Obama, and finally with an address at the United Nations as the icing on the cake, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan launched a charm offensive while on his recent visit to the US. Nduka Nwosu reports
The stakeholders meeting, anchored by the Africa Investment Council (AIC) – the professional wing of the Africa Business Forum Consortium – on September 22 at St Regis Hotel Washington DC, set the bigger agenda for President Goodluck Jonathan two days later in New York.
The idea was to paint a rosy picture of a Nigerian economy that would be attractive enough for willing investors in the US as well as Diaspora Nigerians who have distinguished themselves severally.
The arrowhead of the government marketing team was Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was absent at the kick-start of the event. In her absence, the Minister of Trade and Commerce Olusegun Aganga had mounted the podium. It was the duty of the Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Professor Ade Adefuye, however to play the host. For him, Goodluck Jonathan was a divine gift to Nigeria since he became president on the country’s 50th birthday.
Nigeria, Adefuye said, is projected to be Africa’s largest economy by the end of 2014 surpassing South Africa currently holding the trophy.”
Aganga introduced himself as a Diaspora Nigerian, who heeded the call to come home and serve his country, and has not looked back since then. “I was a Diaspora Nigerian for three decades,” he told the gathering.
“In 2010 I went home to serve. Diaspora Nigerians, I salute you; your presence shows your unbreakable link with your country. What our country becomes depends on all of us. We are fortunate to have GEJ’s leadership at this critical moment of our history. His aim is to improve the lives of average Nigerians.”
Aganga expectedly crowed about the successes of his principal and noted that history would acknowledge his efforts as excellent.
The audience, consisting of Chinese, Americans and Nigerians, were told that there are investments in critical sectors of the economy such as the $9 billion integrated petrochemical plant, which when ready by 2017 will free the country from imported petrochemical products.
Of course, the moving spirit of private sector investment in Nigeria, Aliko Dangote who was a panellist in the first session of the discourse nodded his head in affirmation because the subject referenced by Aganga was his baby.
Okonjo Iweala who eventually joined the session said: “I want to assure you the economy is robust and well,” noting a total transformation in the various sectors of the economy with 2.5 million jobs coming from the agricultural sector and increased metric tonnes of rice, which according to the minister in an earlier interview, would considerably make the country less dependent on imports.
The panellists in varying language said government was opening up investment in solid minerals and housing with jobs for plumbers, painters, carpenters; stable macro-economy fundamentals; economy one of the 10 fastest in the world with 6.5 GDP growth in 2013; stable exchange rate 1.65 to 1.60; the economy can now boast of stable foreign reserves and strong macro-economic fundamentals.
Ambassador Ade Adefuye
That same evening, Adefuye hosted Nigerians, their friends and members of the diplomatic community at the Nigerian embassy with Bamanga Tukur, and other citizens receiving plaques for their good work.
All of that set the stage for President Jonathan’s Sunday lunch date with 250 distinguished Nigerian professionals at the grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel, New York. Expectedly, Adefuye, as master of ceremony, presented to President Jonathan, a number of Nigerian professionals who have been acclaimed and recognised for various accomplishments in America.
The next day, September 23, at the Pierre Hotel 2 east 61st Street, Fifth Avenue, the President hosted Kofi Annan, Bill Gates and some other eminent persons along with some of his ministers.
This was before moving on to the Waldorf for his meeting with President Barack Obama in a convivial atmosphere where both leaders exchanged pleasantries. According to Jonathan, both Presidents were meeting for the first time since his victory at the polls in 2011 and that the relationship between the two countries has grown since then in various sectors of the economy, making Nigeria the biggest trading partner of the US in Africa. Jonathan’s high point was his promise to repeat in 2015 the feat of credible elections that brought him to power in 2011.
“We have had controversial elections between 1960 and 2011 including the one that ushered me in as Vice President,” he recalled. “My administration promised to improve the democratic process and minimise corruption, nepotism.
We delivered what has so far been adjudged as the most credible election in Nigeria since our democratic experiment. We will continue to build strong institutions that will help consolidate the gains we have made.”
Indeed, Obama had described Nigeria as a major stakeholder of the US in Africa and needed to be encouraged for its ability to hold a democratically elected government in 2015.
He said he looked forward to Obama’s initiative of powering Africa saying already some American stakeholders in the power sector were making in-roads in the privatisation of the sector. “We are privatising this sector, applying the best global practices where some American companies are involved.”
On terrorism, Jonathan reiterated that terror was terror anywhere in the world and has become a global issue Nigeria was grappling with.
“This relationship must continue if we must face global issues together as we have done in the past,” Jonathan insisted, adding that he was satisfied with the co-operation existing between the two countries.
“We will continue to co-operate with the US in solving our problems.”
According to the President, the US has been Nigeria’s natural partner since independence and was glad the two countries have benefited from each other with Nigeria as the largest US trading partner from Africa and its fifth largest oil exporting country.
The president said while Nigeria is a great country in the continent, the US continues to dominate events round the globe. “The two countries are very strong from two perspectives. The US is the greatest super-power in the world while Nigeria is also a strong country in terms of size and economy growth in the continent.”
The two presidents agreed terror was unacceptable to the civilised world and must be fought to a just end sending words of sympathy to Uhuru Kenyatta whose country was attacked by the terrorist group Al Shabbab on Saturday, September 21.
Obama who made the opening remark said the US was supportive of Nigeria in its fight against terrorism, saying Boko Haram was one of the most hideous terrorist organisations facing mankind and should be battled until it ceased to exist.
But he did not fail to make an indirect reference to the Baga, Bama crisis as THISDAY speculated, adding that it would be ideal while fighting terrorism to observe the rules of engagement without losing sight of the rule of law and human rights.
On energy, Obama said Nigeria was also setting a pace that needed to be admired in Africa and other countries. He said his two visits to some African countries were aimed at knowing what areas the US could be most relevant in the continent’s economic needs and development. The US president said it gladdened him to know that Nigeria was on course and in tandem with his policy of empower Africa known as the Power Africa Initiative.
Obama said he would be glad to see the Nigerian president ring the bell to welcome him to the New York Stock Exchange but that was not to be until after lunch with Obama and some members of his cabinet, which included Secretary of State John Kerry.
Jonathan was not heard repeating his invitation of the US President to visit Nigeria sometime next year but in his interview with Arise News Television, he did say an invitation was extended to President Obama. Did Obama accept the invitation? Jonathan replied that protocol did not allow for an immediate response but that he was optimistic he would be in Nigeria next year.
On September 24, the President addressed the United Nations General Assembly with a message to the world: Nigeria was bidding for election to the UN Security Council, the fifth in a row and the second under his administration, parading the mantra of excellent performance in 2011 when Professor Joy Ogwu, Nigeria Permanent Representative to the UN, made the country proud through her contributions.
The President clad in his traditional attire addressed the hall filled with the Heads of State, Prime Ministers, delegates and the media watching him make a case for Nigeria which was already endorsed by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with the exception of Gambia, challenging Nigeria for the seat.
He listed among the credentials for endorsement the peace-keeping participation in Liberia, Mali and Guinea Bissau among others. According to Jonathan, commendable performance on previous occasions when Nigeria held a non-permanent seat at the Security Council, should assure the global community that the country deserved to be elected to the Council again for the 2014-2015 session.
“We have, in previous membership of the Council, demonstrated both the political will and capacity to engage in key Council responsibilities.”
Jonathan, who said the Third World was concerned because of the non-democratic nature of the General Assembly, added: “I believe that I express the concern of many about the slow pace of effort and apparent lack of progress in the reform of the United Nations, especially the Security Council. We believe strongly, that the call for democratisation worldwide should not be for States only, but also, for International Organisations such as the United Nations.”
The President made reference to issues affecting global peace, pleading there was need to confront these challenges if global peace must persist just like he did the previous day when he and President Barack Obama pledged their commitment to fight terrorism
The President said his fellow heads of state, delegates and members of the global community owe the present generation a duty, which is to create a world of sufficiency, a world where boundaries must collapse and populated with citizens who live in peace pursuing their lifelong goals.
Jonathan also described terrorism as a menace that constituted a major threat to global peace and security, undermining the capacity for sustained development.
On Wednesday, September 25, President Jonathan was at the UN Millennium Plaza with some African heads of state, including Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf for a roundtable meeting on a post-MDG agenda. South African President Jacob Zuma who was also coming for the meeting was unfortunately denied entry by security men at the gate for some inexplicable reasons. While those on the ground said Zuma’s security details refused to drop their rifles, others said Zuma’s men had tried to convince the men at the gate that protocol demanded the South African president could not be frisked but the security men who turned away over 100 people heading for the second floor, the venue of the event stood their ground. Efforts made to find from the security men what really happened proved abortive.
Apparently exasperated Zuma walked away with his men and until the opening of the event did not show up. Meanwhile, the announcement had been made that Zuma was one of the participants of the event.
The Nigerian President who also came with his entourage was ushered in through another gate, which for reasons not known was not followed by Zuma’s men. Many journalists including the President’s media adviser Dr Reuben Abati stayed back at the 39th floor of the Plaza, reserved for the Nigerian delegation.
According to Jonathan, Nigeria attained appreciable results in MDG projects and was bound to continue with greater achievements post MDG 2015.
The UN gave Nigeria kudos for its achievements with Ondo State which made a short presentation on health related issues on pregnant women singled out for its sterling achievements which made it a model state in the MDG programme.
Earlier on Wednesday, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala chaired a high-level panel discussion with former South African president, Thabo Mbeki and President Johnson Sirleaf, moderated by Zainab Badawi with the ministers from developing countries discussing the issue of domestic resource mobilisation within a future global partnership for development, a prelude to the 2014 meeting in Mexico of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation.