Message from the Chairman
The fourth quarter of 2022 was once again an eventful period in U.S.-Nigerian commercial relations. Here at the U.S.-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade, and Investment, we spent the past few months keenly watching election campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic, global economic currents that are affecting every corner of the planet, and, of course, the highly anticipated U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December. As I reflect on these events, and as the calendar turns to 2023, I am now more certain than ever that the future of trade and investment between the United States and Africa’s largest economy is bright, and that this important bilateral relationship can insulate both countries from the unpredictable economic headwinds that have become the norm over the past few years.
As election campaigns in Nigeria ramped up in recent months, the United States held national polls of our own. The results of the midterm elections surprised many observers, but at the Council, we paid particular attention to the departure of several Senators and Representatives who had spent their tenure in Congress as champions of greater U.S.-Africa engagement. Senator Jim Inhofe and Rep. Karen Bass were two of the most notable among these, and their steadfast commitment to advancing U.S. relations with African coun-tries will be missed.
However, the highly anticipated U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in Washington, D.C. from December 13-15, demonstrated the renewed focus that the Biden Administration is placing on the African continent. We at the Council were glad to see dozens of our members and friends at numerous events across the District throughout the week, and I was particularly pleased to note an emphasis on deepening private sector, commercial relations throughout the Summit and its side events. The high-profile U.S.-Africa Business Forum on December 14 was certainly the headliner in this regard, but dozens of other investment-focused events attracted executives throughout the week.
Nigeria, as Africa’s number one economy and as the undisputed tech and entertainment hub of the continent, was a prominent topic at many of these events. As a complement to this, and to shine a light on an up-and-coming facet of Nigeria’s economy, the U.S.-Nigeria Council was honored to host an esteemed slate of speakers for a breakfast co-hosted with the U.S.-Morocco Business Council. The theme was Regional Cooperation and the Fu-ture of African Energy: The Role of Nigeria and Morocco, and we were pleased to welcome speakers including Nigeria’s Honourable Minister of Trade, Industry, and Investment, Mr. Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, the President of Afreximbank, Professor Benedict Oramah, and the General Director of the Na-tional Office of Hydrocarbons and Mines of Morocco, Ms. Amina Benkhadra.
We were delighted to welcome several of our members, friends of the Council, government representatives from the United States, Nigeria, and Morocco, and members of the business community from all three countries. The conversation was fruitful and informative, and I believe that this unique program succeeded in adding value to a crowded slate of events on offer that week.
Of course, this activity would not have been possible without the unwavering support of our members. The special relationship the United States enjoys with Nigeria is more important now than ever before, and we look forward to working with you all to advance U.S.-Nigeria relations through challenges that have brought great uncertainty to sectors and regions that had enjoyed decades of stability. My very best wishes to you all for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2023.
Ambassador (ret.) Terence P. McCulley
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria (2010-2013);
Chairman, U.S. Nigeria Council
Who We Are
The U.S.-Nigeria Council (USNC) is the premier organization dedicated to strengthening commercial and business ties between the United States and Nigeria. The Council builds and supports long-term business partnerships between US and Nigerian companies that drive innovation, entrepreneurship, technology transfer, job creation, and economic growth in both economies.
USNC membership offers high-level services, including exclusive access to meetings and events, executive business intelligence and council advocacy for member issues and priorities.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and USNC Chairman Terence McCulley welcomed guests, while Dilawar Syed, the Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, shared an update on his efforts to improve commercial ties between U.S. companies and their foreign counterparts. Subsequently, the Honourable Minister discussed the strides Nigeria has made in recent years to boost its agricultural output and insulate its energy industry against internal and external shocks, as well as to inculcate a business environment that is conducive to growth and foreign investment.
Minister Pantami began by providing an update on Nigeria’s digital economy, highlighting the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council’s efforts to improve the enabling environment for investment. The Honourable Minister underscored his commitment to drive down the cost of data and foster an enabling environment for investors and entrepreneurs to thrive. Minister Pantami also emphasized the need to diversify Nigeria’s economy through digital technology and innovation, all the while ensuring that such efforts promote inclusive digitization.
Following these remarks, Minister Pantami participated in a brief question and answer period with participants. The ensuing discussion focused on permitting delays, forex challenges, and the federal government’s plans to increase the telecommunications services tariff.
The Honourable Minister discussed Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan, outlining some of the deliberate steps the Buhari government is taking to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2060. She spoke of the need for a “fair, equitable, and just” energy transition, as well as the importance of natural gas as a transition fuel. Irune discussed the important role for oil and gas companies in the global energy transition, as well as low carbon business models that can help such companies to transform. Orjiako emphasized the need for a stable transition, with a healthy balance between net zero ambitions and ever-growing energy demands. Steel touched on the many opportunities that exist to expand renewable power generation in Nigeria, focusing on household level energy access. The ensuing discussion covered a wide range of topics, including clean energy finance and the greatest impediments to universal energy access in Nigeria.
Ambassador Emenike began by underscoring the importance of Nigeria’s strategic partnership with the United States. She referenced the US Department of Agriculture’s prediction that Nigeria will boast the 19th largest economy in the world by 2030, stressing that it provides a large market for U.S. companies and service providers. Ambassador Emenike said that Nigeria’s democracy is “still in its infancy stage,” and that she hopes to encourage strong communication and discourage disagreements between the two countries.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a discussion between Ambassador Emenike and USNC members participating in the discussion. Topics included Ambassador Emenike’s priorities for her time in Washington, the Petroleum Industry Act and its potential implications for Nigeria’s oil exports and U.S. investment into the petroleum sector, and the recently launched eNaira and its impact on U.S.-Nigeria commercial ties.
Amid the backdrop of Nigeria’s controversial ban on Twiter, Minister Pantami began by providing an overview of the country’s digital economy, outlining the eight pillars of his recently released National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030. He underscored his commitment to drive down the cost of data and foster an enabling environment for investors and entrepreneurs to thrive. Minister Pantami also emphasized the need to diversify Nigeria’s economy through digital technology and innovation, all the while ensuring that such efforts promote inclusive digitization.
Following these remarks, USNC Executive Director Emeritus Eliot Pence moderated a discussion between Minister Pantami and USNC members participating in the event. The ensuing discussion focused on the Twitter ban and any long-term implications it could have for Nigeria’s digital economy.
Ms. Banks began by laying out the Biden administration’s high-level strategy for reengagement with the continent, promising a mutually respectful relationship with African countries that is underpinned by strong and consistent diplomacy and a resolute commitment to U.S. leadership in multilateral fora. She then highlighted the administration’s ambitions to advance trade and commercial ties, deploy aid and humanitarian assistance, strengthen democracy and human rights, and enhance stability and security.
On Nigeria, Ms. Banks opened her remarks by congratulating World Trade Organization Director General Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her recent appointment – the first woman and first African to lead the organization. She then stressed the critical role that Nigeria plays on the continent and lauded the country’s commitment to equitable decarbonization and sustainable electrification. Finally, Ms. Banks conveyed the Biden administration’s intention to not just expand existing U.S.-Africa trade and investment initiatives, but also to craft new, more targeted ones.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a discussion between Ms. Banks and USNC members participating in the discussion. Topics included technology and digital issues, food security, and the role of development finance to drive investment into African markets.
CG Pierangelo noted the close cooperation the United States, Lagos State, and Nigeria more broadly continue to enjoy, highlighting healthcare – and the recently opened Marcelle Ruth Cancer Centre & Specialist Hospital – as one such example. As the most populous state and the country’s biggest economic hub, she underscored investment needs in Lagos State to combat COVID-19-induced challenges nationwide. To help with this, the Consul General highlighted several ongoing U.S. initiatives aimed at driving investment, including U.S. Trade and Development Agency-backed energy projects to support widespread electricity access throughout Nigeria, as well as frequent investment conferences and export workshops.
Governor Sanwo-Olu underscored the centrality of Lagos State to Nigeria’s broader economic revival. Accounting for more than 10% of the country’s population, the Governor spoke of Lagos State’s obligation to the rest of Nigeria to lead health and economic recovery efforts. Governor Sanwo-Olu noted ongoing efforts to advance digitization by providing about 3,000 miles of metropolitan fiber optic cables to strengthen broadband penetration across Lagos State. He also discussed efforts to enhance health infrastructure, including ongoing work to better prepare for future pandemics, invest in mental health facilities, and scale up technology to digitize patient records.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a discussion between CG Pierangelo, Governor Sanwo-Olu, and USNC members participating in the discussion. Topics included Lagos State’s “green recovery” plans, available support for start-ups during the pandemic, as well as preparations for the full implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
In her opening comments, Africa Center Senior Fellow Amb. Rama Yade framed the event in terms of African agency and innovation in driving economic recovery after COVID-19. Amb. Terence McCulley added, as USNC Chairman, that creativity is needed to maintain momentum on US-Nigeria commercial exchanges, and that InfraCorp provides a welcome opportunity to do just that.
In the moderated discussion, the speakers laid out the key points of InfraCorp and made the case for its appeal to global investors.
Structure: InfraCorp will be managed by an independent fund manager that will mobilize additional local and global capital in a long-term fund structure. The target for the fund will be $37 billion, and InfraCorp will have the capacity to raise in both naira and dollars.
Timeline: In the search for an asset manager, the request for proposals process will conclude next week, says Zubairu, with interviews by an expert committee leading to the hire of a fund manager by mid-April. The three funding partners have provided an initial capital of $2.4 billion as a first close, and are otherwise “set to go,” in Zubairu’s words. InfraCorp will start making investments immediately, says Orji, seeking commitments “asset by asset and project by project.”
Priorities: InfraCorp will focus on energy, transportation and logistics, telecommunications, and social infrastructure. Opportunities to support green growth are also available, as Nigeria offers avenues for solar, hydro, and gas, as well as supporting oil companies in their efforts to go green.
Impact: For Emefiele, the core of InfraCorp is to tackle Nigeria’s infrastructure deficit and reduce the costs of doing business. InfraCorp is indicative of a maturation of the Nigerian financial market according to Orji. By supporting project development, financing infrastructure, and mobilizing private capital, InfraCorp will help to combat issues of underemployment and inefficiency across sectors, says Zubairu.
Shifting perceptions: According to Orji, the call for applications for the asset manager position was met with initial skepticism but the response has evolved into real inquiry. He also stressed that once firms have invested in Nigeria, he has rarely seen them leave. As such, he is confident that after several transactions, investor interest will only grow. He further highlighted investor interest by raising the oversubscription of an NSIA project with Moroccan fertilizer giant OCP.
For Orji, risk perception is largely a lack of understanding, not a lack of genuine opportunity or returns. Returns are dependent on the type of infrastructure, agree Orji and Zubairu, but in the opinion of the AFC head, “Nigeria has performed very well in providing returns relative to risk.”
Littlejohn began with an overview of the Trade Hub, outlining its key priorities: (1) increasing private investment; (2) improving US trade with West Africa; and (3) creating jobs, with at least 50% dedicated to women. He underscored Nigeria’s importance to the Trade Hub, with half of its $96 million co-investment fund dedicated to the market. Littlejohn explained that the Trade Hub has an agribusiness focus in Nigeria, prioritizing partnerships in five value chains (maize, rice, soy, cowpea, and aquaculture) across seven states (Benue, Niger, Kaduna, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Delta, and Cross River). However, projects that impact logistics, energy, or support value chains more broadly could also be considered. Research and Development is another focus area, with the Trade Hub providing grants in areas such as agricultural innovation and value chain development to increase yields.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a discussion between Littlejohn and USNC members participating in the discussion. Topics included eligibility criteria for Trade Hub grants, tools used to de-risk investment opportunities, and digital farming. The event was attended by C-level executives from Nigerian companies spanning the agriculture, financial services, oil and gas, and consumer goods industries.
Jain underscored that the DFC views Nigeria as a priority market and hopes to double its investment portfolio in the country over the next three years. She also highlighted new developments within DFC, including the doubling of its capital base to $60 billion, new investment tools such as equity and local currency financing, and an increased focus on lower income countries. Jain concluded her remarks by outlining the DFC’s priority sectors for the upcoming year, which include energy, technology, healthcare, critical infrastructure, agriculture and food security, and women-owned and women-led ventures.
Patrick-Akinrinade highlighted recent progress made by the DFC in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated economic downturn. This includes the Rapid Response Liquidity Facility, implemented to support investees impacted by COVID-19, and the Health and Prosperity Initiative, which seeks to support health-related investments in developing countries. She concluded her remarks by detailing the DFC’s 2021 priorities for the Anglophone West Africa region, which include diversifying the DFC’s client base and geographic exposure.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a discussion between Jain, Patrick-Akinrinade, and USNC members participating in the discussion. Topics included the DFC’s application process and eligibility criteria, as well as the 2X Women’s Initiative, which seeks to catalyze private sector investment in global women’s economic empowerment.
Vice President Osinbajo highlighted the leading role he expects the health tech sector to play in Nigeria’s health and economic recovery from COVID-19. He referenced his government’s new Economic Sustainability Plan, which prioritizes upskilling the labor force for the digital age and providing support for tech entrepreneurs. He also noted his government’s efforts to implementing a new STEM-oriented curriculum in primary and secondary schools, as well as engagements with state governments to eliminate right of way charges for broadband installation. Combining the themes of private sector participation and technology, he lauded health tech companies for helping the Nigerian government to deliver welfare programs to the masses during the pandemic.
Following the fireside chat, Milken Institute “FasterCures” Executive Director Esther Krofah moderated a panel on the role of health tech in Nigeria’s response to COVID-19. Panelists included 54gene Founder and CEO Abasi Ene-Obong; Coronation Capital Chairman Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede; USNC Member Seplat Petroleum Chairman Bryant Orjiako; and Medsaf Co-Founder Vivian Nwakah. Panelists focused on various challenges facing the heath tech sector in Nigeria, including access to finance and human capital limitations.
Ambassador Leonard highlighted various ways the United States is working to combat COVID-19 in Nigeria, including collaborations with Nigerian partners to set up public polling on policy response strategies and local authorities to roll out digital analytics tools to track the spread of the virus. Honorable Minister Adebayo then focused his remarks on the Nigerian Government’s response to the pandemic, as well as his vision for U.S.-Nigeria relations going forward. He outlined the emergency stimulus bill, which seeks to provide temporary relief to both employers and employees, as well as social intervention programs providing direct relief for the most vulnerable. Going forward, Minister Adebayo stressed the importance of leveraging digital tools and technology to reinvigorate the economy, bolstering domestic production and employment.
Following these remarks, USNC Senior Advisor Aubrey Hruby moderated a conversation with several USNC Members, including Oando Group Chief Executive Wale Tinubu, Flour Mills of Nigeria Chairman and Honorary USNC Co-Chair John Coumantaros, and Access Bank Head of Communications Amaechi Okobi. Topics under discussion included the role of Nigeria’s private sector Coalition Against COVID-19 in the country’s relief efforts and the longstanding implications of the virus for Nigeria’s broader digitization.
The USNC, a business organization dedicated to fostering commercial ties between the U.S. and Nigeria, gathered members and over 100 leading entrepreneurs, U.S. and Nigerian investors, representatives from multinational companies, and government officials to celebrate Nigeria’s digital innovators, consider how companies and investors can support local entrepreneurs, and discuss increasing the ease of doing business in the economy.
Attendees at the dinner included the Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo; the Honorable Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development Dr. Uchechukwu Ogah; the Executive Governor of Lagos State Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu; the Executive Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai; and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Mr. Godwin Emefiele. U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria Mary Beth Leonard and U.S. Consul General Claire Pierangelo also joined the dinner in a strong display of support for strengthening U.S.-Nigeria commercial ties.
USNC members who attended included John Coumantaros, Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria, Jim Ovia, Chairman of Zenith Bank, Wale Tinubu, CEO of Oando, Femi Akinware, CEO of Exchange Telecommunications, Victor Okoronkwo of Aiteo Group, Kola Aina, CEO of Ventures Platform, and representation from Udo, Udoma, and Belo Osagie law firm. Other notable attendees included Alhaji Aliko Dangote; Suresh Chellaram; Eme Essien, Nigeria Country Manager for the International Finance Corporation; Ronald Chagoury of Eko Atlantic; as well as senior representation from the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning.
USNC invited young entrepreneurs to speak at the dinner and share their successes and visions for expanding in Nigeria and beyond. Agboola Olugbenga, CEO of Flutterwave; Mira Mehta, CEO of Tomato Jos; Dr. Emmanuel Okelji, CEO of Seamless HR; and Kola Aina of Ventures Platform were among those who shared their experiences with the assembled dignitaries and guests, which also included burgeoning innovators such as Gbolahan Obanikoro of Nairagram, Etop Ikpe of Cars45, Odunayo Eweniyi of PiggyVest, D.O Olusanya of Gloopro, Lucy Parry of Carry1st, and Elo Umeh of Terragon.
The Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Adebayo said “When I listen to all of you young entrepreneurs, I am very inspired” and added a call to action, stating “I need you to engage with me so that I can build advantageous policies to support you.”
In addition to the large turnout of start-ups, U.S. tech giants operating in Nigeria like Facebook, Microsoft, Uber, and Tesla were present to contribute to the discussion. U.S. companies investing in Nigeria will play an important role in bolstering the entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovative digital space as a model for the rest of Africa. “As an inevitable destination for investment, Nigeria is poised to lead as a tech powerhouse on the continent. Its success can drive growth and model innovation across the continent,” said USNC Chairman Ambassador McCulley.
In line with the USNC’s mission to convene high-level industry leaders and advocate for inclusive growth, the Lagos dinner created a C-Suite level forum for dialogue between entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and policy makers. The Council’s work actively supports Nigeria’s national strategy for economic prosperity and promotes US commercial diplomacy in Nigeria. The USNC’s focus on leveraging digital technology for national economic development resonates with the Government of Nigeria’s priorities.
The USNC, a business organization dedicated to fostering commercial ties between the US and Nigeria, gathered members and more than 40 key stakeholders to discuss the deepening technology ecosystem in Nigeria and how it is well positioned for increased collaboration between entrepreneurs and corporates.
“Foreign investment is vital to building the technology ecosystem in Nigeria,” said Ambassador (ret.) Terence McCulley, Chairman of the USNC and Director of the Africa Practice at McLarty Associates. “We need to harness innovation to create long-lasting growth to continue to build a Naija Valley to rival that of Silicon Valley.”
The breakfast helped create a dialogue between leading entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and policy makers.
“We must create the governmental environment that will help these technology start-ups flourish,” said H.E. Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment of Nigeria. “The government is helping to launch several technology hubs, and it’s important we put more resources into this.”
The developmental impact that technological innovation and corporate venture partnerships was central to the conversation.
“When we apply our minds to utilize innovation and technology to boost our goals in education and health, we will see great social returns,” said His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano and a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. “Three million children are out of school in the north of the country, but there’s not enough funding for schools and teachers. Digital innovation can help us think beyond the conventional ways to solve this problem.”
Increasing collaboration between corporates and tech entrepreneurs to stimulate economic growth is picking up steam in Nigeria. Dr. Emmanuel Okeleji, CEO of SeamlessHR, spoke about how his company is offering a full range of digital human resources and administrative services in an African context for corporations doing business on the continent.
“We know doing business here is different from doing business in other parts of the world, so it’s important that our HR solutions are also context specific,” said Okeleji. “We are partnering with companies operating in Nigeria and beyond to make sure that their administrative burden is reduced.”
The growing desire for greater discussion and collaboration was evident throughout the event, but no more so than by the participation of many USNC members, including John Coumantaros, Chairman of Flour Mills of Nigeria, Jim Ovia, Chairman of Zenith Bank, Wale Tinubu, CEO of Oando, and a representative from Chevron. In addition to His Highness Muhammadu Sanusi II, the Emir of Kano, and H.E. Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Investment of Nigeria, other notable attendees included H.E. Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, Honorable Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, H.E. Godwin Obaseki, Governor of Edo State, H.E. Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, Governor of Kwara State, Bosun Tijani, CEO of Co-Creation Hub, Kola Aina of Ventures Platform and Nichole Yembra, Founder of The Chrysalis Capital.
The US-Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade & Investment (USNC) notes the alleged infractions of securities regulations by Oando PLC. Oando PLC, as a founding member of the Council and as an active and valued participant in the Council’s activities, plays an important role in promoting business and direct investment in Nigeria.
The Council and its members are committed to strengthening the commercial relations between the United States and Nigeria and recognize the importance that strong capital markets play in attracting foreign investment, creating new jobs and stimulating economic growth. As part of this, it is critical that the regulatory framework governing Nigeria’s capital markets remain robust, with due process and fair and equitable treatment for all parties.
The Council has confidence in the regulatory authorities and the Nigerian judicial system, and advocates for this matter to be resolved with transparency, due process and full respect for the rule of law.
The Council will continue its mission to promote opportunities in Nigeria to US investors and advance commercial partnerships that contribute to economic growth in Nigeria.
The US Nigeria Council hosted a Washington, DC reception and dinner focused on the digital economy on the margins of the IMF-World Bank week in April 2018.
The U.S. Nigeria Council hosted a New York deal making dinner on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2017.
The U.S. Nigeria Council hosted high-level private and public sector representatives for a breakfast on July 25, 2017. Guests were given an exclusive briefing on evolving U.S.-Nigeria relations by a high level U.S. Embassy official. The briefing was followed by intimate discussion about business opportunities and strengthening U.S.-Nigeria relations.
The U.S. Nigeria Council hosted the Nigerian launch of the Council in March 2017.
The U.S. Nigeria Council welcomed high-level private and public sector representatives for a reception and dinner on April 14, 2016. With remarks from Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State and the Council Co-Chairs. guests were introduced to USNC’s vision and objectives.
Regionally in-tune, the Council’s work actively supports Nigeria’s national strategy for economic prosperity and US commercial diplomacy. With the support of key Nigerian political and economic institutions including the Nigerian Sovereign Trust Fund, the Council helps to advance critical trade and investment initiatives by maximizing industrial free trade zones, diversifying exports, integrating agro-investments into global supply chains, and matching energy development to production needs.
The Council has twenty permanent members, 10 U.S. and 10 Nigerian, two co-chairs and an executive director. In addition, the Council offers rotating membership opportunities to ensure the inclusion of entrepreneurs and representatives from small and medium sized companies with interests in Nigeria.