…Urges support for Buhari’s economic reforms
11 July 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – The outgoing United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle has remarked that Nigeria remains a major country for investment by the US, especially in the energy industry.
Mr. Entwistle, who sat for his exit interview with a group of journalists in Abuja, answered questions on a wide range of issues regarding his experience in the country.
James Entwistle assumed duties in Abuja as United States’ ambassador in the country on October 28, 2013. After almost three years working in the world’s most populous black nation, Mr. Entwistle is counting down to the end of his tour of duty in Africa, and final exit from the American foreign service after 35 and half years.
He said, “I always love the chance to sit down with the media, particularly since I am leaving definitively later this month at the end of my assignment as U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, and at the end of July, I am retiring from the U.S. Foreign Service after 35 and half years of service.
“I had a tremendous career all over the world and a number of assignments in Africa. As I get ready to leave, I think back, and I cannot think of a better way to wrap up my career than to be entrusted by President Obama with the stewardship of what I believe was the most important relationship in Africa.
“I say in public all the time, and I actually believe that what our two countries have is a partnership. That means, in the way, I always describe it – two great democracies working together to make the world a better place. That’s absolutely true.”
The highly experienced diplomat added, “I have been warmly received in every corner of this country. It’s been a marvellous experience. The other day I was asked: What’s the most unpleasant experience I had in Nigeria? I was stuck, and fought for a long time, and responded that I haven’t had any unpleasant experience in this country. They were very disappointed. But, that’s the truth.”
On his country’s investment in Nigeria’s energy development, he stated that “We are doing a lot on the energy front. Much of these are through President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative.
Through that we are trying to help power generating (Gencos) and distribution companies (Discos) privatize and get in the business.
“We have put some advisers on various Discos and so on. We are focused on developing more solar energy. There are some rural communities that would probably never be on the national grid. So, solar energy makes tremendous sense.
“We also use the opportunity to promote U.S. business, through U.S. companies that provide cost-effective solar energy equipment. So, the power system in Nigeria is probably the key thing that has to be fixed for the economy to grow. We are trying to help in every way we can to power Africa.”
Entwistle said the initiative was under President Obama’s landmark Power Africa initiative and would scale up the U.S. Government’s energy investment in Nigeria and increase available generation.
“The two-year agreement will provide management consultation to three Nigerian distribution companies. The agreement will also advance major infrastructure investment and strengthen the system in the distribution companies.
“We believe that distribution companies are the starting point for improving the performance of distribution companies. We will see increased electricity supply and access; our joint efforts will improve the lives of countless Nigerians and serve as a model for other African countries,” he said.
The envoy said that ‘Power Africa’ supported the strengthening of the energy sector through credit enhancement grants, technical assistance, and investment promotion efforts.
According to him, “Power Africa is also working to mobilise affordable and long term financing to support capital operation expenditure requirements for successor generation and distribution companies.”
Entwistle denied that the United Stated was losing ground to China in terms of investment within the continent, adding that, “I don’t agree we are losing grounds to anybody. China has its relationships with Africa. They have a different approach than we do. That’s fine. But, I think people will find that if they go American way they will get a better product and so on.
“I think all the things that Nigeria needs to do are well understood and have been done – the fight against corruption, trying to renovate and improve infrastructure in the oil industry, improve education and health systems. These are things we have already identified in our programmes. I really can’t think of anything else. The issues are fairly obvious. The leadership in Nigeria, and more importantly the ordinary citizens, need to understand what needs to be done.
“I don’t agree that the U.S. private sector is not in Nigeria. Some of our biggest boys are here. They are very interested in doing more. That’s why I ask the government to continue to do everything it can to maintain a climate that attracts foreign investments. A responsible foreign investment pays taxes, provides revenue, and creates jobs.”
He added, “By myself, I did not come with anything. But, as the head of the U.S. team in Nigeria, I think we had some tremendous achievements. On the economic front, we have a number of the biggest U.S. companies in the world in Nigeria and very active – General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, big oil companies, some of the Hi-tech boys, like Google and Microsoft, are here.
“I think with our support, the U.S. commercial presence here has increased. That’s a good thing. Under my stewardship here, the U.S. team has put in a huge effort in helping the Nigerian government in North East. Some of that have been military training, equipment, etc.
“We are also doing a lot to help the government get ready for the next stage in the North East, which will be the return of civilian administration; getting the police up and running again in the North East.
He explained that the U.S. government is doing a lot, noting that his government donated about $700 million this year to respond to the humanitarian crisis in the North East. “There is a food crisis in the North East. I think all Nigerians should get involved in finding solutions to this crisis. They are Nigerians dying of starvation in Nigeria. How can that be in this marvelous country?
“I think the government and the donor agencies, like the U.S. government, we all need to up our game in the humanitarian front. But, let’s be clear, these are Nigerians in distress in Nigeria. The primary responsibility lies with the government of Nigeria,” he added.
Entwistle urged Nigerians to be patient with the Federal government, even as it works to improve the economy and rid the nation of corruption.
Speaking on ongoing challenges within the economy, he noted that, “Well, I think it’s true with Presidents in any democracy. When times are good, you take the credits for it, fairly or unfairly. When times are bad, you get the blame, fairly or unfairly.
“At the moment, oil prices are down. The Nigerian economy is affected by some of the things he (Buhari) inherited, like poor infrastructure in the petroleum sector, and things like that.
“I am not much of an economist, But, I think what he has done with the exchange rate of the Naira, removal of fuel subsidies, and so on are things that had to be done. I think in very deliberate fashion, the economy would, hopefully, begin to improve.
“But, remember in this day and age, no country is an economic island. We are all tied together. What happens in one country affects the economy in every other country. So, I give the President pretty good marks. Let’s see how he marches forward in the next few years,” he added.