Seven Nigerians were among 17 personalities citizens awarded honorary citizenship of the state of Arkansas in the U.S., each with a key to the city of Little Rock, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.
Gov. Mike Beebe of Arkansas also proclaimed May 30 of every year as Nigeria Day, which was celebrated with a spectacular display of fireworks.
The certificate for the proclamation was handed over to Prof. Ade Adefuye, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the U.S., who was represented by Mr Baba Garba of the Consulate General of Nigeria in Atlanta.
The recipients of the awards are Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the President of Dangote Group; Sir Joseph Arumemi-Ikhide, the Chairman of Arik Air; Gov. Rabi’u Kwankwaso of Kano State; Dr Akinwunmi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Prof. Tajudeen Gbadamosi, a former lecturer of University of Lagos.
Others are Prof. Ade Adefuye, Prof. Julius Okojie, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC); Chief Temitope Ajayi, the Coordinator of Nigerian American Agricultural Empowerment Programme (NAAEP); Mr Robert Brunner, the Vice President America’s Arik Air International and Mr Kester Ifeadi, the Managing Director of Contemporary Group Ltd.
Beebe and Mark Stodola, the Mayor of the City of Little Rock, presented the awards during the Nigeria-Arkansas Economic Development Forum on Saturday.
NAN reports that the forum witnessed a large turnout of prospective investors who are willing to invest in the country, particularly in the agriculture and health sectors.
Beebe said that the awards were as a result of the recipients’ contribution to economic development and their selfless service to humanity.
He commended the awards’ recipients for their interest in promoting quality health care delivery, agricultural production, educational reform and infrastructure development in Nigeria.
“This mutually beneficial meeting is a powerful opportunity for Arkansas’ businesses and policy makers to formulate successful collaborations and partnerships and to promote bilateral trade between Arkansas and Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.
“Agriculture is Arkansas’s largest industry and we are the number one rice producer in the U.S., number two in poultry and egg production, and number three in aqua-culture and turkey production.
“Other top crops include soya beans and cotton. Unfortunately, no African country is included in the top 25 foreign countries to which Arkansas delivers its more than 4 billion dollars in global exports,’’ Beebe said.
In the proclamation of Nigeria Day, the Arkansas Secretary of State, Mark Martin, noted that there are many Nigerians who currently resided in the state, contributing professionally to the economic development of Arkansas in various fields.
According to him, Nigeria is classified as a mixed economy and emerging market with her abundant supply of natural resources, well-developed financial, legal, communications, transportation sectors and the Nigerian Stock Exchange.
In his remarks, the Chairman of Arik Air, Arumemi-Ikhide, who was represented by the airline’s Associate Vice President, Mr Lanre Bamgbose, pledged to continue to serve humanity by contributing positively to Nigeria’s development.
Besides, Kwankwaso thanked God for making it possible for his administration’s contribution toward the people’s development in Kano State to be appreciated.
“I believe this award will strengthen me and all my supporters and those who are working together with me to do more,’’ he stressed.
Kwankwaso, however, stressed that the performance of his administration in the areas of human capital development, education and agriculture was outstanding.
On his part, Okojie noted that the dedication of a day to Nigeria in Arkansas signified the depth of the association and relations between Nigeria and the U.S. state.
“Every year, we will celebrate it; next year, it may be cultural or whatever; every year, you turn around and look at various aspects of the Nigerian life.
“I think this is going to be the nucleus; it’s going to blow into a big system in Arkansas. If it succeeds, I know how the Diaspora works. It will be taken to other states in the U.S., we have a large population of Nigerians in Diaspora,’’ he said.
Okojie also commended the organisers of the Nigeria-Arkansas Economic Development Forum.
Earlier, Adefuye said that a major focus of the Federal Government’s economic policy was to attract foreign investors to Nigeria, stressing that the government had consequently initiated strategies that would ensure an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.
The envoy encouraged private individuals abroad to emulate Ajayi, the Coordinator of NAAEP, the organisers of the Nigeria-Arkansas Economic Development Forum, to attract investors to the country.
Adefuye noted that the Nigerian Embassy could not continue to do this alone, adding that the ultimate goal of the Federal Government was to prepare Nigeria to join the top 20 world economies by the year 2020.