When I was growing up in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, my father used to say that his future was in his past. In other words, you can never know how what happens today might impact tomorrow.
My father, Ime James Ebong, used to regale my sisters and me with stories about rising through the ranks of the Nigerian Civil Service after the country gained independence in 1960. As the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Economic Development and Reconstruction, he worked to coordinate foreign investment that could help build infrastructure and promote growth. He believed strongly in a global Nigeria, and traveled to the United States many times to establish partnerships with American companies.
My father died several years ago, but I think of him often. I thought of him when I joined the civil service at the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, a U.S. foreign assistance agency that does exactly what he did – collaborate with U.S. companies to craft solutions to development challenges in Nigeria and around the world. And I thought of him yesterday, when President Obama welcomed the new President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, to the United States.
Economic development will be the focus of many discussions during President Buhari’s visit: Working together to increase trade and investment between our two countries. Building business-to-business partnerships that can support sustainable development. Collaborating to increase access to electricity for Nigerians, most of whom live without reliable power.
Together, we are making important progress in all of these areas. Last summer, President Obama convened industry leaders from the United States, Nigeria and across Africa at the first U.S.-Africa Business Forum. And deepening our trade and investment ties will be an important focus of his trip to the continent later this week.
Nigeria has demonstrated its commitment to increasing these ties by taking a number of steps to collaborate with the private sector. When I first came to USTDA, the Nigerian government had recently begun to open up its telecommunications sector. We have been connecting Nigerian telecom companies with U.S. experts who can help them modernize their infrastructure. For example, we are currently helping Nigeria’s Main One Cable Company plan for the extension of a 300-mile undersea fiber optic network from Lagos to Port Harcourt. Through their work with a U.S. company, HIP Consult, Inc. (Washington, DC), Main One will increase the number of people and businesses with access to telecom services throughout the region.
Because this model has proven so successful, we are adopting it to help our Nigerian partners privatize their electricity sector. In fact, we’re working across the value chain to bring energy to more Nigerians. As just one example, today we provided agrantto Quaint Global Energy Solutions for a solar power project they’re developing in Kaduna State. Quaint is a small Nigerian company specifically organized to develop renewable power projects. They will work with a U.S. energy project developer, Tetra Tech ES, Inc. (Pasadena, California), to determine the best technical configurations for the project.
This effort will bring 50 megawatts of much-needed clean, affordable energy to northern Nigeria. It also has the potential to leverage over $160 million in public and private capital. It’s a great example of how the U.S. and Africa are working together to increase electricity access under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative.
By collaborating on projects like this one, we are helping to ensure that more Nigerians have access to renewable energy. And we are helping to strengthen economic ties between Nigeria and the U.S.
As both a daughter of Nigeria and a proud American citizen, I am starting to see how my father’s past shaped my future. His commitment to public service – and to Nigeria’s growth – inspired me to join the U.S. government’s efforts to promote development by leveraging the expertise and resources of the U.S. private sector. I know he would agree that, by strengthening trade and development ties today, we are helping to ensure a safer, more prosperous tomorrow.
EnohTitilayo Ebong serves as Deputy Director and chief operating officer of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency. She oversees the operations of the Agency and manages staff responsible for developing and executing USTDA’s program activities.