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U.S.: we’ll stand by Nigeria to defeat Boko Haram

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U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker yesterday spoke to a group of business leaders in Lagos. Though she was in Nigeria to deepen commercial relationships between the United States and African markets, Secretary Pritzker reinforced the United States’ support for Nigeria to combat Boko Haram, reports OLUKOREDE YISHAU

Her mission was different. But these are not ordinary times in Nigeria. This fact was not lost on United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she spoke in Lagos yesterday to a group of business leaders. She said her country would stand by Nigeria to defeat Boko Haram.

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce also offered condolences to the families bereaved as a result of the explosions in Jos, the Plateau State capital and Kano, the Kano State capital.

She said: “I want to offer my condolences to the families in Jos, following the tragic attack there yesterday. And I want to address the issue that is on all of our minds. To the north of here in the town of Chibok, hundreds of families are without their daughters today. As a mother of two myself, my heart breaks for these girls and their loved ones and friends.

“All parents, no matter where they were born or where they reside, hope that their children are always safe, and that their children have the opportunity to realize their dreams. That these young girls were kidnapped while pursuing their education is particularly unsettling, and the world is anxiously awaiting their safe return.

 ”The United States is supporting Nigeria as it works to find and free these young girls. A team is now in place at our Embassy to provide military aid, assist in information gathering, and more. Last weekend, the United States attended a meeting in Paris where President Goodluck Jonathan and the heads of state of the countries bordering Nigeria — Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin — pledged to work together to combat Boko Haram. With them, the U.S., France, the EU and the UK agreed that to prevent violent, extremist groups from making inroads into vulnerable communities, a comprehensive approach to promoting opportunity, inclusion, and security must be implemented in the region. We will help Nigerians do that. Our commitment is long-term; we will stand by Nigerians as they strive to defend and protect their sons and daughters, husbands, brothers, sisters and mothers.

”For all of the promise here in Africa, situations like this raise serious concerns. The threat of violence, corruption in government and business, and a lack of trust threaten Nigeria’s continued progress.”

Pritzker said Nigeria is too important to be allowed to be consumed by insurgency, adding that the opportunities in Nigeria are abundant.

“You are home to the largest economy in Africa, and one in five people on the Continent are Nigerian. Not only do our governments stand together as partners and friends, but our companies – as evidenced by this trade mission – are eager to forge stronger partnerships in Nigeria.”

She said despite the challenges of insurgency, the U.S. would remain committed to Nigeria’s progress.

“Despite these challenges, the United States has been and continues to be a committed partner in your progress. Back in 2012, President Obama outlined his vision for how the United States and Africa would work together toward a mutually-beneficial future. The “U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa” laid out a comprehensive policy that would achieve four specific aims: strengthening democratic institutions; advancing peace and security; promoting opportunity and development; and spurring economic growth, trade, and investment.

”These goals are inextricably linked. The United States has a number of initiatives in place to help Africa make progress in each of these areas. At the Department of Commerce, our goal is to advance the trade and investment pillar of the President’s strategy. This trade mission is a sign of commitment by our government to support anew U.S. business focus in Africa,” she said.

She also spoke about the electricity problem in Nigeria and Africa.

Pritzker  said: “Today, nearly 600 million Africans (two-thirds of the people on the Continent) lack electricity, including millions here in Nigeria. This problem is particularly stark in rural areas where 85 percent of the population does not have power.  Studies have shown that Africa will need $300 billion in investments to achieve universal electricity by 2030. Already, the U.S. Government has committed $7 billion toward Power Africa, and has secured additional commitments totaling $14 billion from 35 private-sector partners. Simply put, Power Africa is designed to catalyze new financing and investment in energy solutions that will help Nigeria – and the five other countries that comprise Power Africa — provide reliable electricity to its citizens.

 ”Already, Power Africa has closed on transactions totaling nearly 3,000 megawatts, with an additional 5,000 megawatts in the planning stages. Here in Nigeria, the Power Africa initiative is providing technical assistance as your government privatizes its electricity industry, an effort that could add 2,000 megawatts over the next five years.  We are also working together to attract additional private investment, and to secure financing for renewable-energy projects. In addition our commercial-law experts are creating a library of documents to help streamline the process for negotiating and closing agreements and transactions under Power Africa.  Next month in Abuja, we will hold a workshop to increase the use of these documents among utilities and regulators.

 ”Power Africa is just one example of our long-standing commitment to ensuring Africa’s continued growth and prosperity.  Let me give three more. First, we are pushing for the seamless renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, of which Nigeria is the top beneficiary.  As many of you know, AGOA allows 6,400 products from eligible Sub-Saharan African countries to enter the U.S. duty free. For 2013, U.S. imports under AGOA totaled $26.8 billion. Going forward, our hope is that Nigeria will take advantage of AGOA to diversify its economy, fulfilling the vision of the legislation. In fact, AGOA is a key topic that I will discuss in Ethiopia later this week with members of the African Union.”

She explained the conditions that must be met for the country to attract American companies.

“But for U.S. businesses to come here, stay here, and help you achieve your full potential, Nigeria needs to take the tough steps that allow businesses to truly thrive. Our companies want to do business in countries that follow the rule of law, maintain ethical standards, abide by workplace safety, encourage workforce training, and protect intellectual property. These are the conditions that will increase trust and confidence among international and local business leaders and encourage further investment,” she said.

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