Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, visited the U.S. Institute of Peace on September 29 to lay out President Goodluck Jonathan’s agenda.

September 30, 2011

Nigeria has passed some major milestones recently: successful elections last April and economic growth by more than five percent in each of the past three years. In fact, the country is currently among the top three investment destinations in Africa. That said, the country also faces significant challenges to sustain that economic development and to ensure that all Nigerians are beneficiaries from these gains.

Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, visited the U.S. Institute of Peace on September 29 to lay out President Goodluck Jonathan’s agenda to address these challenges.

The foreign minister opened his remarks by saying that President Jonathan is on a mission to deliver the dividends of democracy and economic growth to its citizens. Ashiru, a career diplomat appointed foreign minister by Jonathan in July, outlined in detail the president’s agenda, which will seek to create a good investment environment with sound business practices and economic policies.

As a first step, he said, the president appointed talented professionals to economic and financial positions – a move already applauded by international investors.

Also part of the transformative agenda, Ashiru said, is the president’s emphasis on job creation – particularly for the country’s substantially large youth population. Noting this as one of the biggest challenges the country faces, the foreign minister mentioned that the Jonathan administration has implemented a new youth employment safety net program to help train and employ young people. This is particularly important, Ashiru noted, because youth are easy prey for militant groups, such as the Islamist sect, Boko Haram. Last month, that group claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the U.N. headquarters in the capital city, Abuja, that killed 23 people.

Indeed, the Population Reference Bureau estimates that 43 percent of Nigerians are under the age of 15 years and can be particularly vulnerable to recruitment efforts of extremist groups. Thus, their education, training and gainful employment are among the steps the government is taking to address ongoing conflict and instability in Nigeria, Ashiru said.

Also high on the new administration’s list of priorities is expanding the agricultural sector. While it has grown up to eight percent, the agricultural sector requires more action to ensure the country’s food security, Ashiru said. He said that the government’s plans to expand and diversify this sector will also contribute to job growth.

Similarly, the government seeks to develop its infrastructure in key areas, including power and transportation, in part by attracting private and foreign investors. Doing so, Ashiru said, will support development of the agricultural sector and help connect the country by establishing linkages to all seaports and building new roads and waterways. The infrastructure is a more urgent priority for this administration in order to meet the growing needs of the population. Ashiru pointed to the power sector in particular as the country’s next boom industry and major attraction for foreign and private investors.

The foreign minister concluded by saying that Nigeria is on a course to transform the country by 2015 to benefit its citizens and the rest of the world, arguing that foreign and private investment coupled with transparent business policies will help the country achieve its goals. Following the event, USIP’s Senior Vice President David Smock said of the minister’s presentation, “Foreign Minister Ashiru made a strong case for Nigeria’s new government grappling vigorously with the economic and political challenges it faces.”

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