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The United States and Nigeria Renew Strategic Bonds

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President Buhari of Nigeria (left) and President Trump meet with the media after their discussions in the White House on Monday.

Nigerian President Buhari and President Trump vow greater cooperation on trade, terrorism, humanitarian aid and corruption.  

The United States and Nigeria renewed their strategic and economic interests on Monday as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari became the first sub-Saharan African leader to visit the White House since President Trump took office in January 2017.  Nigeria, which is Africa's largest country and one of the world's major oil producers, has become an important front in the battle against terrorism as well as an important customer for American military hardware.

The warm and friendly meeting between the two leaders on Monday is part of a broader push by both countries to establish closer economic ties as Nigeria seeks continued development and the U.S. seeks to increase trade with Africa. "Nigeria and the U.S. share a long history of close and cordial relations, which encompass political, economic, military, social and cultural cooperation," said President Buhari while speaking to reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

For years, the oil rich nation of Nigeria was a major source of high-grade crude oil to the United States ranking as high as 5th behind Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela and Canada with oil imports in 2011 totaling $31 billion, an amount that represented 92 percent of total imports from the country.  As a result, the U.S. trade deficit with Nigeria ballooned to an eight-year high of $28.92 billion (see accompanying graph).   

But that all began to change in 2013 when Nigeria's oil production dropped and U.S. oil production increased as the result of technological advances in hydraulic fracking that enabled companies to extract oil and natural gas from vast shale formations in Texas, North Dakota and other states.  By 2015, Nigeria's oil imports to the United States had fallen to $1.13 billion creating a slight trade surplus for the U.S.  However, oil imports from Nigeria are rising once again reaching $6 billion in 2017. 

The collapse in world oil prices and Nigeria's economic dependence on the valuable commodity have made economic diversification a priority for the country of 186,000 million people.  "Our aim is to diversify our economy by focusing on agriculture and food security, power and infrastructure," President Buhari said on Monday.  "We have cut down the importation of rice by 90 percent thereby saving a significant amount of money."

Conversely, enhanced trade to the largest economy in Africa is a major objective for the Trump administration as the overall U.S. trade deficit approaches $800 billion, based on 2017 annual data from the Census Bureau.  In 2017, U.S. exports to Nigeria totaled just $2.15 billion making Nigeria the 57th largest export market for American goods and services.  Wheat, automobiles and petroleum products were the three main items exported to Nigeria.

"The United States is currently working to expand trade and commercial ties with African nations, including Nigeria, to create jobs and wealth in all of our countries," said President Trump echoing a familiar theme of his presidency since taking office.  "We will be investing substantially in Nigeria if they can create that level playing field that we have to ask for."

As with several other countries, most notably Japan, President Trump is attempting to use exports of expensive military equipment to even out trade imbalances.  The two presidents appear to have finalized a long sought after agreement for Nigeria to purchase 12 A29 Super Tucano war planes to be used in the ongoing fight against the terror group Boko Haram.  The Tucano light attack aircraft is actually a Brazilian plane made by aerospace firm Embraer at a production facility in Jacksonville, Florida. 

President Buhari also revealed that the two countries "have put the machinery in place," as he put it, for collaboration at the Attorney General level to repatriate over $500 million in stolen funds that have been stashed away in various locations around the world.  In 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported on a $480 million civil-court judgment in the United States against Sani Abacha, a former Nigerian dictator who died in 1998.  Each year, developing countries lose $20 to $40 billion a year to bribery, embezzlement and corruption, according to the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, a partnership of the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 

Finally, President Buhari acknowledged the sizeable contribution made by the United States to Nigeria for humanitarian purposes.  "The U.S. has been to date the biggest contributor to the humanitarian response and last year gave approximately half a billion U.S. dollars in cash and kind through the United Nations and other inter-governmental organizations," President Buhari said.