Special COVID-19 Message from the Chairman
WASHINGTON, DC—The coronavirus pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to public health systems across the world as well as to the global economy. The United States has quickly become the unofficial epicenter of the virus, with more confirmed cases than any other country, and business, travel and trade between the United States and Nigeria is coming to a screeching halt. While Nigeria has not yet experienced rates of infection seen elsewhere in the world, the longer-term political and economic effects of the outbreak will have a significant and deleterious impact on the country’s economy.
Nigeria is battling the double burden of a sudden and dramatic drop in oil prices and a coronavirus-induced global economic slowdown. Nigeria’s top trading partners – China, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union – are among the worst affected by the novel virus. In an effort to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on the economy, President Buhari approved a N10 billion grant to fight the outbreak in Lagos State and a N5 billion grant to support the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control. The Central Bank of Nigeria has introduced a stimulus package to help households and small businesses hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and adjusted the official currency rate by 15 percent.
However, the government has not been alone. I am proud to note that the private sector, including several US-Nigeria Council (USNC) members, have risen to the occasion, putting significant resources behind Nigeria’s COVID-19 relief effort. Here are just a few examples:
- As part of the Nigerian Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CA COVID), USNC Founding Members Aliko Dangote, Zenith Bank’s Jim Ovia and Herbert Wigwe of Access Bank have all contributed upwards of N1 billion (about $2.7 million) each to support the government in curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic, encouraging other private sector leaders to do the same.
- The CA COVID initiative will help to provide treatment and isolation centers across Africa’s most populous nation as it braces for the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
- John Coumantaros, Honorary Co-Chair of the Council, and Flour Mills of Nigeria have contributed N1 billion to the CA COVID Fund. The company has also provided an additional N1 billion in medical and food aid.
- Wale Tinubu from Oando and ABC Orjiako of Seplat Patroleum Development Company have joined thirty-two other oil companies to pledge $30 million to the country’s COVID-19 relief effort.
Amid much concern surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic, I am pleased to see the Nigerian business community stepping up and utilizing their assets and funds for social good. Coronavirus presents an unprecedented challenge for the United States and Nigeria, and the business community will be central to the relief effort. Thank you, USNC members, we applaud your continued efforts to help Nigeria navigate this historic global crisis. We also join with the sentiments expressed by the leaders of the United States and Nigeria, and offer our thanks to all our heroic health care workers and other essential staff on the frontline of the response for their dedication and commitment.
Ambassador (ret.) Terence P. McCulley
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria (2010-2013);
Chairman U.S. Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade, and Investment
Fast-Tracking Nigeria’s Digital Economy Through U.S.-Nigerian Collaboration (December 2019)
LAGOS—The U.S. Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade, and Investment (USNC) convened a high-level business dinner on December 12, 2019 with the top Nigerian and American policy-makers and business leaders to discuss how to deepen U.S.-Nigerian commercial ties and support the growth of the digital economy in Nigeria.
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.
To Grow Tech Space, U.S. Nigeria Council Links Corporates and Digital Innovators (September 2019)
NEW YORK CITY—On the margins of the 74th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, the U.S. Nigeria Council for Food Security, Trade, and Investment (USNC) convened a breakfast focused on strengthening Nigeria’s digital economy attended by the CEOs of Nigeria’s leading companies, the Honorable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Executive Governors of Edo and Kwara States and leading entrepreneurs.
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.