HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO SUSTAIN THE VOLUME OF TRADE BETWEEN NIGERIAN AND THE UNITED STATES CONSIDERING THE AGGRESSIVE DRIVE BY THE CHINESE TO DOMINATE THE AFRICAN MARKET?
It all goes to show that Africa is the new frontier with Nigeria at the centerpiece of foreign interest in Africa. I am aware that in terms of economic growth, volume of trade and GDP, we are been seen as second to South Africa but I am aware that in the next two or three years, our economy is projected to overtake that of South Africa in terms of growth, size of the economy, attractiveness to foreign investors and other indices. We are at a very advantageous point in our development and I am optimistic going forward. There are various factors that make Nigeria an attractive market for foreign investment. Number one is our size. You cant beat the size of the market as a factor influencing where you invest your money. Second is our Natural resources. We are one of the most naturally endowed country in the whole world. Whereas other African countries have one or two major resources each, we have all the major resources in innumerable quantity so naturally, we are attractive to investors. What has happened is that since President Goodluck Jonathan came on board, there has been a concerted effort to tap into our potentials and play to our strength. The first indicator of this is in the quality of Ministers manning key ministries critical to economic development. When you look at the Ministries of Finance, Trade and Investment, Agriculture, Aviation, Communications Technology, Power, etc, you see that we have the best men in these fields manning them in terms of their education, their background and experiences which has placed them in a position to appreciate what is expected of them and deliver accordingly. You will see the formulation of deliberate policies that are structured to achieve growth and maximize our potentials. These whole culture of excellence has been identified, applauded and imbibed by us the Ambassadors in our dealings with those who are interested in doing business with the country.
Per how we have been able to sustain the volume of trade between Nigeria and the US irrespective of China, to start with, we have a US-Nigerian Bi-National Commission which is the highest level of interaction two countries can have. Now the oil sector is a given in terms of trade between Nigeria and the United States so what we are doing now is to look at non-oil sectors in terms of Agriculture, Power, Trade and Investment, Aviation, etc. these are the key areas we have been focusing energy on and driving trade in these sectors and I tell you it has helped tremendously that we have very intelligent Ministers in these sectors who know what they are doing and what they ought to be doing to facilitate trade. And then the Americans themselves, they’ve learnt their lessons. When we first privatized our Telecommunications sector, they were misled by some hostile propaganda by relying on all kinds of reports on Corruption, the Niger-Delta Challenge then, Insecurity and difficulty in doing business. Because of all these, despite concerted efforts to woo them, they dragged their feet until they eventually declined to participate. Now several years later, they are bitterly regretting that decision. They read financial documents and see the profits MTN is declaring from their Nigerian operations and they are green with envy. They are now seeking entrance through third or fourth party investment but the market is already saturated. The Americans are now very attune to investment potentials in Nigeria and they are very interested each time you tell them that this is the sector that has potentials. They believe you and they are ready to invest.
Per the interest of the Chinese, granted that the Chinese are here and they are bullish about their investments, I am a Diplomat and I will not run down any country but the fact remains that the Americans have several natural advantages over the Chinese. First is the language factor. Its psychologically easier for you to do business with someone with whom you speak the same language. You understand them and they understand you. You can read through documents and exchange e-mails and everything will move fast. We run an American type Constitution so enabling laws and policies are similar. Again, most of those driving our economy have American educational backgrounds or have worked in institutions and organizations in America so there are natural links and its easier to take off from a common ground. With these and other factors which for Diplomacy sake, I would not want to mention, you will see that the Americans still have an edge over the Chinese in terms of ease of doing business with Nigeria. That been said, I have been invited severally to address conferences on the threats of the Chinese to American investment interests in Nigeria and I tell them that it is good the Chinese are in Nigeria because now, you guys know that you have competition, we have an alternative and there are people pecking at your heels so if you don’t treat us right, we have alternatives so that keeps you on your toes and ensures that you treat us right.
CAN YOU GIVE US AN OVERVIEW OF THE CURRENT STATE OF US-NIGERIA RELATIONSHIP AND TELL US WHY PRESIDENT BARAK OBAMA HAS CONSISTENTLY SKIPPED NIGERIA ON HIS TRIPS TO AFRICA
The US-Nigeria relationship is as good as it has ever been. I say that with all confidence and sense of responsibility. The indices are there for all to see. The volume of trade has been growing every year. 2011 it was 5billion USD, last year it was 8billion USD and this year, it is projected to surpass 10billion USD. There is hardly a week when you don’t see America companies coming to Nigeria for one mission or another or Nigerian businessmen coming to America for meetings with their American counterparts. Its just that most of the private Nigeria-US trade undertaken by Nigerian businessmen in America are handled independent of any government involvement or records if not, the figure, would be mind-boggling. We are able to calculate the US-Nigeria trade volume because we know them and we know what they are coming to do because they tell us before coming whereas a Nigerian businessman will travel to Houston and order equipments in hundreds of millions of dollars and pay cash and walk away without any government involvement.
As I speak to you, I am in Nigeria for a Defense programme been conducted jointly between the American department of Defense and the Nigerian Ministry of Defense under the auspices of the Global Forum on Counterterrorism. Being security based, I cant go into details but a lot of far-reaching decisions were taken which will see greater interaction between our defense agencies and the Americans. Again, let me mention that we have a Bi-National Commission which is the highest level of relationship that can exist between two countries. In Africa, only Nigeria and South Africa have Bi-National Commissions with the United States. The Bi-National Commission has been working very well in every aspect. We hold very regular and fruitful meetings in America and in Nigeria. The next meeting of the Council will be held in Abuja in July. Now, contrary to what everyone believes, President Obama promised President Jonathan that e would visit Nigeria in his second tenure and from all indications, that promise is still very valid and we as yet have no cause to believe that he wouldn’t fulfill it. He just got sworn in for a second term and he still have years to go so there is still plenty of time to fulfill that promise. In any case, I would rather President Obama comes to Nigeria on a two or three day State Visit and goes back than to be lumped with three or four other countries where he will make a whistle-stop here and before anyone realizes that he is here, he would have left. No. when he comes to Nigeria, he will come to Nigeria and everyone will know that he came to Nigeria. I do not have my head in the sand. I acknowledge that a lot of damage was done to our image by Human Rights Watch who did a terrible story on the Baga JTF incident and that story received heavy traction within the top echelon of the American society. We have gone to great lengths to explain that the picture shown by Human Rights Watch are false. We insist that some things just do not add up. To begin with, the report claimed that 1,670 houses were destroyed in Baga whereas there are less than 700 houses in Baga. Again, they were relying in Satellite Images in arriving at their conclusions. There is no way satellite images will show you the actual picture on ground. The report was a mish-mash of half-truths blown out of proportion and most regrettably, most of the false report were supplied by Nigerian. Since the State of Emergency was declared in these 3 states, we have not established any extra-judicial body to try offenders. Everything has continued within the ambit of the law. All democratic structures in these states have remained in place so where then lies the report that the rule of law is being subverted?
THERE WAS A RECENT ISSUE WHERE THE AMERICANS EXPRESSED CONCERN ABOUT THE SECURITY OF OUR PORTS AND CALLED FOR GREATER VIGILANCE TO ENSURE THAT NIGERIA IS NOT USED TO BRING IN ITEMS THAT WILL BE USED TO HURT AMERICAN INTERESTS. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
There is always room for improvement. I am the first to admit that but again, these things are never as bad as they are portrayed. Recently, I brought 17 CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies and they met with Mr. President. They spent 4 days in Abuja and later, I took them to Lagos where they spent 3 days and at a point, one of the CEOs pulled me aside and said Mr. Ambassador, we were given the impression that Nigeria was not safe to visit but we have been here for one week and we have not seen any sign of all what we were adviced that we would experience if we come to Nigeria. The man has since established his factory and he is doing great. I always tell my colleague the American Ambassador to Nigeria mr. Terrence McCaullay to take it easy with these Travel Warnings he keeps issuing all the time. The truth is that American businessmen do not bother with those warnings anymore. There are Americans doing business here and making huge profits. They are the best Ambassadors Nigeria can ever have and irrespective of all the warnings that will go out from here, they will continue to encourage their friends and partners to come but again, I admit that we always have room for improvement and we shall continue to improve.
WHAT ARE THOSE KEY PROJECTS THAT YOU ARE WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT THAT YOU ARE PROUD OF?
My passion at the moment is the Non-Oil Sector. There is more to Nigeria than oil. I am particularly excited about the Agricultural, Aviation and Power Sector and a lot of interests have been elicited in these sectors. I am aware that General Electric has increased their presence in Nigeria. I am aware that Symbian Power are doing a lot here, we are supporting the Ministry of Agriculture inmechanising their operations. Just before I left America. I had a meeting with the Walmart Group who are interested in exporting our agricultural products to be retailed in their supermarkets all over America. I am very proud of that achievement. There are American companies coming to seek partnership for infrastructural development. An American company I brought here is building prefabricated houses for some agencies in the FCT and the Ministry of Housing. There is so much we are doing in the Power, Agriculture and Housing sector. We’re looking at ICT now whereby we will bring American companies to come and invest in Information Technology. There is the Niger-Delta. We are training many ex-militants in various American Institutions under agreement which is big. On regional security, America recently gave us a large Naval Ship called NNS Thunder which is today the pride of the Nigerian Navy. These are the ones I can reel off by heart. In terms of trade, the volume is phenomenal.
YOUR EXCELLENCY, I WAS AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY IN WASHINGTON DC TWO YEARS AGO AND MOST OF THE SPECIALISTS IN VARIOUS FIELDS THERE ARE NIGERIANS. DR. FEMI ADENUGA, DR. UZOMA, DR.. ALIYU AND SEVERAL OF THEM. WHAT ARE WE DOING TO ENSURE A DIASPORA KNOWLEDGE REPATRIATION BACK TO NIGERIA?
The one good thing about Nigerians is that they may sit down all day abusing their government and pooh-poohing policies of their government but the very next morning, they are rushing online to read the latest news coming from home. Again, Nigerians may gather to criticize governance in their country but once any non-Nigerian attempts to criticize Nigeria, you see them switch automatically and defend their country and berate the individual. So Nigerians are inherently patriotic. No matter how long they live abroad, they hanker and hunger for home and there is hardly any Nigerian abroad that does not have one form of investment or the other in Nigeria either by way of property or other business investments. What we are doing is to ensure that the necessary environment is put in place to ensure that they provide value when they come. I always tell Nigerians in America that we are not asking all of you to pack your things and return to Nigeria. No. there must be a structure. If you have gotten your Citizenship or Green Card and you have something nice going for you in America, we encourage you to continue what you are doing here and shuttle to Nigeria once in a while to see how you can add value. If you however insist that you want to pack up and relocate home, we will assist you in the best way we can. We have a desk officer for that at the Nigerian Embassy in America. We link you up with the relevant Ministries, Agencies and Departments or even Business Organisations here in Nigeria that we believe will require your expertise. The problem is that most of them don’t bother coming to the Embassy for assistance with such matters but I am happy that they have started gaining confidence in the Embassy and the nonchalance and neglect of the past has since changed. We have gone the extra mile to care for them and to make them feel at home at the Embassy and I have gotten several calls and mails saying that we are doing well. Very importantly, I must mention this. One problem with Nigerians returning from America is that they adopt a condescending attitude towards their colleagues and peers in Nigeria. I keep telling them not to assume that they are superior in any way to Nigerians because they sojourned in America. I am proud of Nigerians and I will celebrate them anywhere.
WHAT ARE WE TO EXPECT IN COMING YEARS FROM US-NIGERIA ENGAGEMENTS?
I believe our relations will continue to improve. The message is getting through to everybody that Nigeria is a lucrative investment destination. I was at the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and I told them that Nigeria is the 4th Largest exporter of Crude Oil to America and we are doing great things in terms of volume of trade. By the time I reeled out all the figures and data, they were excited about it. They wanted to know what we were doing to combat terrorism and bunkering and militancy and I thanked them for the Naval Ship they gave to us which has helped us secure our waterways and check some of these activities and they decided to look into ways of doing more to assist Nigerian agencies. The point is our media strategy still needs some improvement. While the Human Rights Watch were writing what they were writing about Baga, our media ought to have risen to the challenge and gone to the spot to report what was actually happening instead of repeating the foreign news that was syndicated. I call on our media to be more patriotic when it comes to reporting certain stories with potential to hurt the country. Nduka Obaigbena is doing well with his Arise but he is like a drop in the ocean. I have had to write several rejoinders to several negative articles written about Nigeria which are latently false or a misrepresentation or misinterpretation of facts and the danger is that these things are published in major news outlets. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. I have consistently written rejoinders to set the records straight and I believe this will help in telling our own story. It doesn’t say well of us if foreign news organizations carry falsehood about us and you open Nigerian Newspapers and you see a rehash of those same news. Then you begin to wonder. We must as a matter of urgency, come up with a media strategy that is more patriotic in outlook. Again, I repeat that I am still expecting President Obama to vist Nigeria before he leaves and I have no doubt that he will. Vice President Joe Biden described Nigeria as America’s anchor in Africa and described the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission as one of the most successful worldwide. He promised that America will take the relationship to the next level. I thought we were already at the highest level but here is a Vice President enthusing about taking a high-level relationship to a higher level so I believe the future can only be better for US-Nigeria Relations.