Nema Etheridge for GlobalAtlanta
The visit of two Nigerian federal officials to an Oct. 19-20 economic development conference in Atlanta underscored a Sister City commitment between Atlanta and Lagos that has existed for more than 30 years.

Jumoke Okoya-Thomas, a native of Lagos who is a congressional member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, and Tokunbo Afikuyomi, a Nigerian senator also from Lagos, came to Atlanta to participate in a two-day United Nations conference that focused on developing the economies of Atlanta’s Sister Cities.

Organized by a local U.N. office, CIFAL Atlanta and the City of Atlanta, the conference attracted approximately 100 representatives from 13 of Atlanta’s 18 Sister Cities worldwide.

Attendees shared their best practices in economic development, municipal growth and management and urban health and safety during the conference, which was held at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

As the most senior official to attend the conference, Mr. Afikuyomi offered a keynote address during a luncheon ceremony held Oct. 20.

Mr. Afikuyomi and Ms. Okoya-Thomas’ visit to Atlanta is the most recent in a series of transnational trade and government visits that have occurred between Georgia and Nigeria as a result of the Sister City relationship, according to Augustine O. Esogbue, chair of the Atlanta-Lagos Sister City Committee.

Dr. Esogbue, who is also a Georgia Institute of Technology professor and director of the intelligent systems and controls laboratory of the university’s School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, spoke with GlobalAtlanta about the Sister City relationship. He has been involved with the program since its inception, when Lagos was still Nigeria’s capital city, more than 10 years before the capital relocated inland to Abuja in 1991.

Dr. Esogbue explained that in 1979 the Sister City committee helped the City of Atlanta write a proposal to the Nigerian government to open a Nigerian Consulate General here.

While the consulate closed down in the mid-1980s because of political upheaval in Nigeria, it reopened in 2000 and is still the only career consulate from Africa represented in Atlanta.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the Sister City committee continued to build ties with Nigeria despite the absence of a consulate general here. Dr. Esogbue said that in 1987 he helped the Nigerian American Chamber of Commerce in Lagos organize a trade mission to Atlanta and other U.S. cities.

The Sister City committee also helped U.N. Ambassador and former mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young lobby African members of the International Olympic Committee to get the Centennial Olympic Games held in Atlanta. At the time, Mr. Young was co-chair of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which secured Atlanta as the 1996 Olympic Games host city.

Over the years, Dr. Esogbue has also seen Trans World Airlines Inc. open a direct route between Atlanta and Lagos that closed some years later. The Sister City committee is working to reinstitute another direct flight between Atlanta and Lagos.

“The [Nigerian] traffic through Atlanta is almost at a level that you have at a city with an embassy. A direct flight between Atlanta and Lagos would be extremely viable and rewarding to any airline that took it on,” according to Dr. Esogbue.

Dr. Esogbue and the other 12 members of the Atlanta-Lagos Sister City Committee are also working to send shipments of donated medical supplies, books and computers to Nigeria. The committee is looking for an Atlanta-based company to sponsor a freight container to send the donations across the Atlantic Ocean.

Dr. Esogbue also said that he expects to see closer collaboration in the coming years between Georgia Tech and universities in Lagos.

An eastern port city along the Atlantic coast, Lagos is estimated to have between 10 million and 15.5 million people- the largest city in Nigeria and one of the most populous on the African continent.

For more information on the Atlanta-Lagos Sister City Committee, contact Dr. Esogbue at (404) 894-2323.