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Nigeria Insists On Africa As Centerpiece Of Policy

Nigeria has restated that Africa remains the centrepiece of its foreign policy and has fully engaged with the African Union (AU). Foreign Affairs Minister Geofrey Onyeama stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja. The interview is contained in the current edition of NIGERIA, the Magazine of NAN Q….”
June 8, 2017 2:54 pm

Nigeria has restated that Africa remains the centrepiece of its foreign policy and has fully engaged with the African Union (AU). Foreign Affairs Minister Geofrey Onyeama stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja. The interview is contained in the current edition of NIGERIA, the Magazine of NAN

Q. Nigeria’s Foreign Policy since the 80s has been in concentric circles; from Nigeria, West Africa, Africa, and rest of the world, and many things have changed since the 80s. Where are we now and what policies are we pursuing right now?

A. I suppose in a way the concentric circles still applies now because first of all you have to be close to your neighbours and your immediate neighbours, the West Africa and of course we are part of the ECOWAS which act as a subjective to the total economic integration of the sub-region. So it makes a lot of sense that should be the first circle in the concentric circle. Then Africa.  We are fully engaged and getting more and more engaged with the African Union (AU) and again. The political and economic union of Africa is a priority. Of course,  what we are supporting very much now is the greater economic integration of Africa with the free movement of people. So that makes sense and that should be a second concentric circle. And of course we go outside to the outside world Asia, Europe and America, and we begin to see the application of that in our security challenges with Boko-Haram, the challenge was really an existential challenge; it was really a question of the survival of this country and in our hour of greatest need we found that the countries that could really help us are our immediate neighbours and of course are the Cameroons, Chad, Niger and Benin and of course we formed the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) with them so that is just to show that, that concentric circle still really applies today, but of course we are in a global village the world has shrunk and the world is much smaller and especially the inter-linkage economically of all the countries of the world.
So when you asked we are we going from the concentric circle? The answer is a total engagement with the world and in this context we know that the three  priority items on which Mr President was elected,  that is the economy and job creation was one of the three and extremely important and in that context we are pushing very aggressively to engage with the rest of the world outside Africa in trade to promote external trade and export and also to promote foreign direct investment.Our foreign policy is also geared towards increasing our trade with countries outside Africa as you know over 90 per cent of our trade is actually with countries outside the African region so our foreign policy also reflect that
And also we have the challenges of security and anti-corruption good governance have seen us reaching out to the outside world beyond Africa

Q: In the last two years of this administration,  if we have to really focus on it, what have we really achieved?

A. Now it is always good to set a very clear measurable objective. What have we achieved? We have to look at our achievements against the objectives Mr President has set. So on security, I think it is fairly measurable.  What we have achieved in our fight against Boko Haram is the total liberation of all the territories held by Boko Haram, and it is even good that we should be telling this at this time because as we know the Sambisa Forest has also been liberated. These are very clear deliverables. What we have achieved in the security area,  in our fight against Boko Haram, we have completely reversed the situation that the president met when he was elected.

In the field of anti-corruption and good governance, what we have achieved is to put the issue of anti-corruption at the top of the international agenda. The concrete manifestations of this were in the U.K. The Prime Minister organised, calling leaders from around the world, a summit, an anti-corruption summit. So Mr president has been able to put it on international agenda and more concretely Nigeria has pushed for the United Nations to adopt a resolution,  just about a week ago,  a UN resolution on the illicit flow of funds. And of course, this is directly linked to our challenges with our huge resources that are leaving our country and how to deal with government getting restitution getting repatriation of those funds.

So those are major achievements in the area of anti-corruption not to mention, of course, the real successes that we had with Switzerland in repatriating of funds. With the U.S., we are fully  engaged in the process of repatriating fund in U.S. We are also identifying and negotiating to have fund repatriated from the United Kingdom and of course as I have said it is now on top of the agenda, and we have been able to get foreign countries to buy into our attempt.

On the economy there have been a lot of dramatic developments, with the drop in oil prices and what we have done from the foreign affairs point of view is that as I have said set a very robust and an aggressive outreach to potential trading partners,  on  one hand, to tell them at the highest political level,  that is the president himself going to these countries that Nigeria is ready for business. And we have been able to leverage on the respect and the credibility of Mr. President to sign very important agreements with a lot of countries private sectors and at the government levels. So we are getting a lot of very positive movements in respect of attracting foreign direct investment, and also reaching to a lot of these countries to also promote Nigerian export. In this context, we are taking very specific steps. The Foreign Affairs ministry is playing a role in the committee that has been set up for promoting an enabling business environment in Nigeria.

Q. How much specifically has been repatriated, and apart from those three countries mentioned are there still other countries that we are beaming our search light on in search of the looted funds stashed abroad?

A. I will start with the last question we are making a lot of efforts in the Gulf area, the Gulf countries the United Arab Emirates and also some Islands in Russia. Germany is also another country that we are trying to engage within this context and also China.

And in this context, not just funds that are stashed away but also petroleum resources.  Stolen oil you know that has been taken to some countries. We have been discussing with those countries in trying to identify where this has been stored in those countries.
With respect to the specific amount,  it is always a bit difficult because in some cases we are in different stages of negotiation. In Switzerland,  of course, we know that we have repatriated and made available  $321 million. There are also significant amounts of about 300 million dollars we are talking about in New Jersey. Also in U.S.,million has there is a figure almost approaching almost a billion that is in contention. So it is a work in progress.

As million has already been signed off. We  have received it and the others have been identified and we are discussing to get them back. In all these,  there is always some discretion or utmost  secrecy about them because one could see very often as you know some people are willing to cooperate if it is not publicised. So the government is already looking at strategies to pursue in getting these funds repatriated and to also in some cases get individuals or companies responsible to cooperate we might have to adopt some strategies of some discretions not to over publicise these things.

Q. When we look at the activities of Mr President who has been in the forefront of being the interface between Nigeria and the world, are there not conflicts between his role and yours?

A. There can never be a conflict because Mr. President personifies Nigeria. We are all his ministers,  essentially his messengers. My task is really to carry out his directives and he is in the best place to implement and pursue his foreign policy agenda. But he cannot be everywhere at the same time and he cannot do everything all at once so he has to have lieutenants that he can designate to carry out certain functions. There is a complete complementarity in our tasks.  I only go as his emissary,  as his envoy to carry a task that he might not at any given time be able to carry out. So there is no contradiction at all.

Q. Your ministry has been facing challenges in funding the foreign missions. Are you still going ahead to reduce the size of the missions.

A: Yes we have to do that. It is not only in Nigeria.  I think almost every country is rationalising because as you develop new technologies,  you will begin to see that you can achieve just as much with less staff.  For instance,  we have things now called smart missions where we feel that almost skeletal staff can actually accomplish as much. You now expect people to be computer savvy and autonomous in terms of communications and writing. So there might not be need for a secretary to be writing for you any more. We have to take advantage of that. So the simple answer is yes,  we are still focusing on rationalisation of our missions abroad

Q. How are you addressing the funding challenges?  Are you seeking for more funds or you are generating funds via virement?

A: The virement was only in the context of foreign exchange challenges and the rapidly depreciating value of the naira and a lot of these foreign mission has to be paid in foreign currencies.  So we are addressing that.  But the issue of funding is something that we are seriously looking at because it is not always a case of insufficient funds made available to the missions. We have to look at the issue of prudent management of these funds. We are of the belief that with more prudent management,  a lot of what appears to be challenges will no longer exist. Another thing we are looking at is accommodation. We rent a lot of accommodation in many  countries around the world. This has not been very sustainable. So we are now exploring an arrangement for some  mortgage. We believe that might be the way to go, obtaining mortgages to use to secure accommodation in a lot of these countries.

Q. China is a very big economy and has been of financial assistance to Nigeria, recently they got angry. A newspaper reported that China is angry with Nigeria because Nigeria is operating a two China policy with Taipei operating in Nigeria and performing full diplomatic role by calling itself Republic of China and issuing visas.? What is your reaction as as the report said China is threatening to withdraw financial  support..

A. It is not true that we are operating a two China policy. A lot of people don’t know this. Taiwan is  one of Nigeria’s biggest trading countries. The  Chinese are quiet happy for us to have trade relations with Taiwan. Don’t forget that Taiwan is also a member of the World Trade Organisation. The issue is the status of that office here. It is possible to confuse the status and so that is what we are addressing now. A trade office does not have a diplomatic status. The Chinese insists on a particular name for the province of Taiwan so as not to confuse it with China or the  sovereign country called China. So this is being  addressed. It  requires a lot of administrative steps on our side. This was brought to our notice by the Chinese government and we are taking a step to address the issue.

Q. What has been the gains of economic diplomacy for the country?

A. Mr President made a very good observation in our security challenge against Boko Haram. He said we are extremely fortunate that we have good relations with  our neighbouring countries. So because if that was not the case, Boko Haram will find a safe haven in those countries and will be able to attack us and  offer a much more potent challenge to the country. But because we  invested in our friendship with them,  they very readily came on board to help us to fight Boko Haram. For example Benin, which is not directly a frontline state, very readily joined and signed up the MJTF.  That is a very clear example of reaping where you have sowed. When critics said  we don’t benefit from our investment in our neighbours, it is not always clear to me, the kind of benefits people actually mean.

You will find out that we are elected into many positions. Take  the African Development Bank for instance.  A Nigerian has been appointed there.  If you look at the Security Council in the United Nations,   the African seat or the West African seat is normally rotated, but very often, Nigeria is asked to represent West Africa because of respect and solidarity that a lot of African countries feel towards Nigeria. We see a lot of that in  international positions. We have got a lot of support from Africa.  I would not fully agree with the proposition that somehow we give a lot and receive few in return.

Q. What are your expectations on US-Nigeria Relations under President Donald Trump?

A. I am very optimistic and positive. His pronouncements  indicated that he is a believer in genuine free trade and it is something we can buy into. He suggests that the U.S. might not be an interventionist in the affairs of the rest of the world and might concentrate much more within the U.S., while respecting other countries and respecting basic human rights and values. So from that point of view,  we are optimistic that our relations  will continue to be good.


Q. Could you shed more light on reappointment of Mrs Amina Mohammed as the Deputy Secretary General of the UN and its importance to the country.

A. Yes it is extremely important. First and foremost,  it is a testimony to her own qualities. She served already as an adviser to the outgoing Secretary General.  She is one of the brains behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and did such an effective job on the SDGs. The SDGs is really roadmap for development up till 2030, in which all the countries through the UN have bought into. It is one of the initiatives of hers.

The incoming secretary general is well aware of the qualities and correctly appointed her to this position. The importance of this is that she is going to have under her portfolio the implementation of the SDGs. The SDGs cover all our development objectives in health, education, environment, nutrition,  all the basis we need to industrialise and lift up our people out of poverty. So she is going to be managing that portfolio.

So clearly, Nigeria stands to benefit enormously because she will be able to ensure the perfect synergy between what we are doing here in the country in terms of development and the global agenda on development and guide us and help us to achieve those goals. So what we are looking for as a country is perfect implementation of the SDGs and we are going to have the person who is there and who is going to  help us achieve that.


Q. What other projects is your ministry working on?

A. There is a pet project that I am still hoping to get a funding for to see the light of the day. It is a match- making data base, for our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and export promotion. This data base will essentially enable any Nigerian business to upload to our database information about what they want to export. The data base will be managed by us, together with the Ministry of Trade and Investment. We are  present in 119 countries.

It will help to push Nigerian products and businesses in 119 countries.

We would like to present a one stop shop to export Nigerian goods. We would charge a focal point in each of those 119 countries,  that whenever any business is uploaded in each of their countries,  they have to seek for partners and match that business person with a partner in that country to put in place business agreement. And we would like to do the same thing in Nigeria.

Foreigners who want to get involved in business in Nigeria,  not knowing the country  can upload on our database all the information about them,  what they might want to deal in and we together with Ministry of Trade, will  match them with Nigerian businesses.

Q. On a lighter mood we can see you are in a Nigerian attire.  You are so comfortable with suit as well. We want to know the kind of food you like especially the Nigerian food.

A: For food,   I eat everything, I mean everything, name it. If it is rice, if it is cassava, swallow.  I am a fan of Nigerian foods. In  fact,  very often when I go to other African countries, especially southern and eastern Africa, they just don’t have variety of food in that part of the world, and I always tell them that they don’t have a variety of our cuisine. I have to make a conscious efforts to cut down because honestly our foods have tendency to make one add one or few kilos.

Clothewise,  I also love traditional attire, I always love it,  even before now. The only thing I don’t put on is the hat. Even if I put on agbada, I don’t like wearing the cap.  The only time I did that was for my traditional wedding after I was told a cap has been prepared for me.

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