Ashiru: Despite Challenges, Nigeria Still Receives Foreign Investors, Trade …

April 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, explains the trajectory of the nation’s foreign policy, given the current difficult domestic circumstances. He says what is uppermost is the interplay of citizens’ welfare and economic determinism on one hand, as well as the balance of power dynamics with national interests on the other hand. He spoke to Foreign Affairs Editor, OGHOGHO OBAYUWANA, in Abuja.

• We’re Focussing On Neighbourhood Diplomacy

COULD you count the fruits of foreign investments that have fallen into the basket two years after upping the foreign investment drive?

As you are aware, on assumption of duty in July 2011 as Foreign Minister, I did, and continue to say that the tools of Nigerian foreign policy will be deployed to further enhance the current transformation agenda. This means using foreign policy structures such as the Joint Commissions and Bi-National Commissions (BNCs), especially to facilitate the attraction of foreign investment into key sectors of our economy.

So far, we have BNCs with a host of countries, including the USA, Germany, South Africa, and Canada. The Bi-National Commission with the United States of America, Germany, Canada and South Africa continue to deepen the gains the current Administration has made in trade and investment, energy, security, agriculture, good governance, health and education sectors.

For instance, the Bi-National Commission with Germany was signed on December 2, 2011. This covers the areas of power and energy, trade and investment, political consultation and education, immigration and cultural matters. Some of the projects under the German BNC fall under power generation, re-forestation, emission control and capacity building for research in Solar Power Energy for universities.

Some of these projects include: £65 million 30 megawatts Kiri Dam in partnership with the Adamawa State Government; £50 million 20 megawatts Yola solar power station; £1.5 billion 450 megawatts Gombe coal to power station; 450 megawatts National Independent Power Project (NIPP); Geregu power station, Phase II in Ajaokuta, and the pilot solar power plants for the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Sokoto and Bayelsa.

Another example is the Bi-National Commission between Nigeria and the US. The BNC has injected fresh confidence into the Nigerian economy to the extent that, Nigeria has become a new destination for US businesses and entrepreneurs, which has significantly increased Foreign Direct Investment from the US into Nigeria.

The Commission operates under five (5) Working Groups, namely, good governance, transparency and integrity, energy and investment, agriculture and food security, Niger Delta and regional security. These have been designed to cover literally all aspects of US-Nigeria relations, including assistance in capacity building, technical support, funding, security collaboration and the environment.

From the foregoing, you will agree that quite a handful has fallen into the basket in terms of foreign investment inflow, to use your phrase. In fact, total inflow of Foreign Direct Investment to Nigeria was in the region of $9 billion in 2012, according to UN figures.

 

TALKING about the domestic environment, what is the situation with the Setraco workers taken hostage and purportedly killed last month? The world has been waiting for the Nigerian authorities to clear the air on this particularly nasty affair?

The Setraco workers of different nationalities abducted by terrorist elements in Bauchi State, last February, and the statement credited to the insurgents that they had been killed has generated some controversy. On the one hand, some of the authorities of the home countries of the abductees have acknowledged the killing of the hostages, as claimed by the terrorists.

However, from our own perspective, we still do not have categorical evidence to show that this is the case. In this circumstance, it becomes difficult to take a position. If they have been killed in cold blood, where are their remains? Or did the terrorists bury them? If yes, where could they have been buried? I believe that it is important to provide answers to these questions before a categorical statement on the issue can be made.

Meanwhile, our security agents will continue to do their best to unearth the facts before we can come out and say the hostages are still alive or have been murdered. It is our fervent prayers and wish that they are rescued or released alive without further delay.

Following reports that a good number of expatriates are actually leaving Nigeria, what is being put on the ground to reassure the diplomatic community of its safety?

Diplomatic agents and diplomatic premises are always, even in normal times, accorded the pride of place in terms of security. It is, indeed, so provided in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). Be that as it may, the global upsurge in terrorism and terrorist activities has provided further impetus to securing this class of persons and their premises.

The Diplomatic Protection Unit of the Nigeria Police has been strengthened with additional support from other security agencies of the Federal Government, in order to underscore the importance of the security of diplomats on tour of duty in Nigeria. Their support and cooperation in tackling this menace is deeply appreciated.

Let me also use this opportunity to provide a contrary perspective on Nigeria’s security situation. It is true that we are facing insurgency, most pronounced in the Northeast zone of the country. But it is equally true that in spite of this challenge, we are receiving more official and trade delegations from different parts of the world, each seeking to engage with us and do business with Nigeria.

And here, I believe, that the mass media, both print and electronic, have a role to play in projecting that which is positive about us. What I am saying in essence is that it is imperative, indeed, a moral imperative, that we not only seize our narrative, but also do our own narrative rather than allowing others to tell our stories the negative way all the time. It is also important that Nigerians be more security conscious and alert to their environment.

 

SINCE Nigeria started committing troops to Mali, nothing has been heard of our military campaign. How are our troops faring? When would they be back? What are the casualty figures, if any? How much has been committed so far by the Federal Government to keep the troops there? How much is the entire campaign expected to gulp?

I will begin by answering the last part of your cluster of questions by stating that Nigeria has completed 100 per cent deployment of 1,200 officers and men as part of the African-led International Support Mission for Mali (AFISMA). The last batch — 162 troops — was airlifted on February 27, 2013.

We are glad to inform that we have not had any casualties in our outing, so far, in Mali. There is no definite timetable for their return from operations in Mali. As Mr. President had stated, they would remain there for as long as it is necessary, to flush out the insurgents from northern Mali, but also to be on ground to assist in stabilising the country under the auspices of ECOWAS, the African Union and increasingly in the future, the United Nations.

I can confirm to you that our troops are well-resourced and properly kitted. They are also faring very well, battle-ready. They are expected to perform no less than they had previously done in theatres of peacekeeping operations elsewhere where Nigerian troops had done the country proud through their outstanding performance.

Exact figures so far committed to our outing in Mali is not on my finger-tips, but suffice to say that, in addition to the resources being provided by Government, the African Union held a Donor Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the last AU Summit where almost $500 million was pledged. It is expected that this would go into the peacekeeping operations, assistance to the Malian Armed forces and other humanitarian needs of the people of Mali.

A school of thought believes that allowing French forces to seize the initiative in the military campaign in Mali well ahead of AFISMA is a demonstration of dearth of capacity and leadership by Nigeria. How do you react to this?

First, let me begin to answer this question by changing its premise. Indeed, I am surprised that this question is coming from you. I know that you are fully aware of the leading role that Nigeria has continued to play in Africa. A few examples will suffice.

First, under this Administration, our unflinching support for President Alassane Quattara when he was pitted against Laurent Gbagbo was critical to the restoration of peace, stability, and democracy in Cote d’Ivoire. In Libya, our swift recognition of the Transitional National Council (TNC) tilted the balance when the rest of Africa was prevaricating.

In Mali, Nigeria took the lead in rejecting the unconstitutional change of government in that country and mounted sustained pressure on the military junta to step down. Indeed, it was here in Abuja, under my watch, that the accord leading to the elaboration of the ECOWAS Framework Agreement was negotiated with the representatives of the junta, when no other country was willing to discuss with them.

It is, therefore, not true that Nigeria has allowed France to take the lead in this region. On the contrary, our proactive stance has demonstrated our leadership and influence in the region. In fact, Mr. President is a Co-mediator in the crisis. It was, thus, in recognition of this role that France found it expedient to send their Special Envoy on Mali and the Sahel to come and consult with Abuja before its air campaigns against the rebels were launched.

It is also instructive to say that the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, was in Abuja few weeks ago, on March 15, 2013, to consult with us at the highest levels on Mali, amongst others. Another salient demonstration of our leadership is that Nigeria’s Maj.-Gen. Shehu Abdulkadir leads the AFISMA.

Yes, it is true that in terms of military presence in Mali, France and one or two other countries got there before us. This was because of the long time it took for the UN Security Council to agree on Resolution 2085 of December 20, 2013. Right now, apart from Chad, no other country has as many troops as Nigeria in the operations in Mali and we are prepared to stay the course.

 

WHAT is Nigeria doing in the area of neighbourhood diplomacy to bolster security cooperation with countries such as Niger, Chad and Cameroun in the fight against terrorism?

Interfacing with our neighbours in order to tackle the menace of terrorism is in the front burner of the multi-pronged approach in fighting the threat. Cooperation with our neighbours is very robust and deep with each of our neighbours.

For Cameroun, we have a Trans-border Security Committee Agreement, which was signed in February 2012, to check land and maritime border crimes between the two countries. The committee members have since been inaugurated. Similar arrangements exist with Chad and Niger with regular joint border patrols and exchange of information and intelligence.

We all recognise that terrorism is a trans-national challenge; an international scourge that demands all hands to be on deck to tackle. We have, therefore, received the cooperation and partnership of our neighbours with whom we enjoy excellent relations based on mutual respect, common destiny and shared responsibility.

How is Nigeria proceeding within ECOWAS? It is thought that the Ministry is unhappy with the set-up of the Commission where the post of Finance and Administration Commissioner ceded last year is coming back to haunt Nigeria. What is the way forward? Is Nigeria rethinking its survival strategy within the Community?

Nigeria is an active member of ECOWAS, which it hosts in Abuja. Apart from being the largest member in terms of population, Nigeria constitutes over 60 per cent of the economy of the sub-region; so is our contribution to the budget of the organisation.

As a matter of principle, it is not in the character of Nigeria to throw its weight around within ECOWAS or indeed, in Africa. But Nigeria will always demand that it be treated with respect, fairness and justice in giving to Nigeria what is due to it.

Yes, we have some concerns as to the way the organisation is being run but we are actively engaged with the ECOWAS Commission to be sure that issues of interest to us are adequately addressed. It is, therefore, not about a “survival strategy.” It is about a shared vision of regional integration, collective peace, security, stability and development in which all member states of ECOWAS are stakeholders.

The AU is still thought to be a toothless bulldog in the scheme of things, unable to assert itself to defend Africa against neo-colonial interests. Is Nigeria playing its leadership role to the optimum in this regard?

I am concerned with the framing of your question. How can the Africa Union (AU) be thought to be a toothless bulldog? We all recall, readily, how the progenitor of AU — the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) — was in the forefront in the fight for the elimination of colonialism, and all forms of foreign domination in the African continent.

Having won independence for all of Africa, the AU is beginning to make itself relevant in the area of economic integration and development of the continent, including maintenance of peace and security. Towards achieving this, the continental body is using the sub-regional integration bodies such as ECOWAS, SADC, the East African Community (EAC), etc., as building blocks in achieving a continent-wide economic integration.

Nigeria’s leadership position in the West African sub-region, in particular, and at the continental level in general, has been an historical responsibility precisely because of her resource endowments. Against this background, Nigeria does not have an alternative to playing the leadership role in Africa. However, we have to be astute about it.

As I said, Nigeria does not believe in throwing its weight around as a “big brother.” Instead, we will rather consult and work in concert with other African countries on whatever steps we wish to take in addressing the issues and challenges facing the continent, most especially within the ECOWAS sub-region and beyond.

Our approach has been to forge and sustain a regional consensus behind our own positions rather than taking unilateral actions. This, to us, is by far a more effective way to show leadership. We recently did this in Mali and will continue to do so in the future.

 

WHAT are the current efforts to keep the momentum of Nigeria’s quest for a Security Council seat on against the backdrop of concerns that the country’s influence is waning in the international arena?

With the many strides made by the current administration in the defence and placement of our citizens to advance Nigeria’s cause, it is not correct to keep stating that Nigeria’s interest is waning.

Our quest for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council is very much on course. Since the formal launch of our bid for election into the UN Security Council in the non-permanent seat category for the period 2014-2015, we have received the endorsement of ECOWAS. This is an essential first step as it is the turn of West Africa to provide this seat for 2014-2015.

In the same vein, we have a long-term goal of being a member of the Council in the permanent seat category in a reformed UN system. You will recall that the primary criteria for membership of the UN Security Council, according to the UN Charter, are the capacity to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the UN.

Only recently, and at our instance, we met with African Heads of Mission accredited to Nigeria and briefed them of our candidature. We intend to take our bid to the AU Summit in May this year, as we mobilise the Nigerian diplomatic missions around the world to lobby for Nigeria.

We are confident of our success in this regard, as we take concrete steps to address our domestic challenges and deepen our democracy. We are confident that Nigeria will be on the UN Security Council come January 1, 2014. It will be our gift to the county in the year of our centenary celebrations.

Apart from getting our citizens elected or appointed into good positions, what is Nigeria doing to advance its national interest in all the multilateral organisations to which we belong?

Election of Nigerians into strategic positions in international organisations that we belong is, in itself, a sine-qua-non for advancing our interest in such multilateral organisations. It is our compatriots so elected that can bear the national torch.

Since we came on board at the Foreign Ministry, there has been a significant increase in the number of positions to which Nigeria and Nigerians have been elected in multilateral organisations to which we belong. These include: Ambassador (Dr.) Labara Abdullahi, who was Nigeria’s Principal Envoy to Guinea Conakry. She won the election to the post of Commissioner for Political Affairs, a strategically-important position. Her election was a significant achievement, firstly, because since the founding of the AU, formerly the OAU, this is the first time that a Nigerian would be elected to any of the 10 or so Commissioner positions in the Commission of the AU.

There is also the re-election of Kanayo Felix Nwanze as President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). We have had the endorsement by AU of Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu for election to the post of President of the Executive Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) scheduled for this year.

There is also the election of Dr. Kolawole Aduloju as Assistant Secretary-General of the Pan-African Postal Union (PAPU); the election of Honourable Bethel Amadi as the President of the Pan-African Parliament, in a hotly-contested election; the endorsement of Mrs. Theodora Oby Nwankwo for election to UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as well as the election of Mr. Adamu Mohammed, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, as Vice President of INTERPOL, representing Africa at their meeting held in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Others include the re-election of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), to the International Law Commission; the election of Dr. Chile Eboe-Osuji as one of the six Judges of the ICC in a tightly contested election in New York; and the election of the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, as the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament.

There is also election of Nigeria to the Governing Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); the election of Nigeria as President of the Executive Board of the UN Entry for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women); election of Nigeria to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); the re-election of Nigeria to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, AU Commission on International Law Commission; and not the least, the re-election into AU Anti-corruption Board — all three positions happened at the AU Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2013.

What this means, in effect, is that our foreign policy machinery has been energised. We can now build on this.

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