United States says African countries and especially Nigeria must harness the tremendous potentials of their youth population to drive economic growth and prosperity.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs, Mr Tibor Nagay, gave this advice in Abuja on Friday during a media chat at BAZE University.
Nagay said Nigeria has incredible entrepreneur skills that many potential investments from outside the country are willing to tap.
“The next 30 years will be pivotal for Africa as its population is set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050. There will be millions and millions of young people. They need to find economic opportunities in their countries as it could be one of the most dynamic forces for progress and prosperity in the history of the world.”
Nagay who had served as Foreign Service officer across Africa for over 20 years and twice in Nigeria said he was excited to be back in Nigeria because he sees the nation as a hub for economic growth in Africa.
He explained that during his first career as a diplomat and the second career as a vice provost for International Affairs at Texas Tech University, Nigerians were some of the brightest and most talented students found anywhere.
“The question is how do we harness that talent and entrepreneurial spirit of young Africans as a force for prosperity and stability? Nigeria has the capability of being the next economic power in Africa. Nigeria has Africa’s largest population and economy; it is a diverse and vibrant democracy on the world’s fastest growing continent,” he said.
He said as Nigeria’s population becomes the third largest in the world by 2050, U.S. will only deepen its partnership with the nation.
“What moves countries towards prosperity are direct foreign investment, meaning businesses from around the world will invest in that country. I believe that a strong Nigeria is the foundation for a strong continent,” he said.
Nagay said though Nigeria recently has taken steps to develop more predictable economic policies and a more transparent justice system, a greater international investment will only come with continued reforms.
“We have seen time and time again that investing in education is the best way to invest in the future. It is a down payment for the community, the nation and ultimately the world. United States invests a large portion of our roughly $ 500 million a year in bilateral foreign assistance to help Nigerians build human capital, fight poverty and promote health.
Part of his mission to the country is to deepen trade and investment partnership as a way of improving the future of the youth.
He said United States of America deeply values its long standing partnership with African countries.
The ambassador said while America is focused on increasing trade and investment on the continent, Nigeria will be at the centre of this effort.
“Nigeria is the United States’ second largest trading partner in Africa with over $9 billion in two way goods trade in 2017. Hundreds of companies already operate in Nigeria and in 2017, U.S. investment stood at $5.8 billion. U.S. government has also budgeted $60 billion for investment in low income countries,” he said.
“Across the continent, we face challenges together from fighting corruption and combating terrorism to helping African nations create healthier, better educated populations with greater opportunities for their citizens.
“Through our programmes like AGOA, PEPFAR, Power Africa, Feed the Future and the Young African Leaders Initiative, we have walked side by side with Africa for decades to open up the American market to African goods, to counter the scourge of HIV/AIDS, to bring electricity to rural areas, to help African nations become self-sufficient and to empower the next generation of African leaders,” he said.
He said the trip has been a phenomenal opportunity to see the impressive impact of African partnership with America.
Investing and harnessing the potentials of youth in Africa especially Nigeria as a means of combatting poverty in the continent has been the on-going narrative in the global space.
This is not the first time Nigeria has been advised to invest in its youth and empower them to harness their potentials for developing the country.
Co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Mr Bill Gates, had previously called on African governments, especially Nigeria’s to invest more in human development as this is the only sure means to curb the rising poverty level in their counties.
Gates said Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo need to channel more investment towards health, family planning and education as a means of human development as this is the only way in which poverty can be alleviated in the continent.
Gates was speaking based on the Goalkeepers data report which said by 2050, more than 40 per cent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
Currently, Nigeria has the highest number of extremely poor people as it has overtaken India which used to hold the position.
A Brooking Institution report in June said the number of Nigerians in extreme poverty increases by six people every minute.
The projection is that since Nigeria in March 2018 took over from India the unenviable spot of having the largest number of extremely poor, the DRC could soon take over the number two spot.
Although Nigerian economy is out of recession, many Nigerians have slipped into extreme poverty. In 2016, the prevalence of people living below the poverty line ranged between 54 per cent and 60 per cent. About 82 million Nigerians are estimated to currently live below the poverty line of access to less than $1.9 a day.
Speaking on the Goalkeepers data report, Gates said Africa is a young continent so there is a need to invest in young people.