…Plans to build German House in Lagos
From: Emma Emeozor
Africa has become the second home of Ingo Herbert, Consul-General of Germany in Lagos. And he knows this. He and his better half live and work in the continent, fraternising with the people. His wife resides in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where she works with a German Foundation. Perhaps, this explains his passion for the continent.
He is among Europeans who have had the privilege of traversing regions of the continent as envoys of their countries. Before his posting to Nigeria, he served as deputy ambassador in Tanzania and South Africa, respectively. A combination of his experience in the three regions makes him a walking compendium on African affairs.
In a chat with Daily Sun in his Walter Carrington Crescent, Victoria Island, Lagos, office, he was full of optimism about Nigeria’s future, buoyed by the strong belief that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration could reposition the country to become prosperous and active in all sectors of human endeavour.
He also disclosed plans to build a German House in Lagos. When completed, it would accommodate all German interests in Lagos, including the consulate-general.
Nigeria in the eye of Berlin
Herbert disagrees with some analysts who argue that Nigeria is not on the priority list of Berlin. For this group, Berlin is only interested in pursuing its commercial interest in Nigeria. But he insisted that Nigeria is Germany’s key partner. Through his explanation, the envoy tactfully deflected the insinuation that Germany has limited interest in Nigeria.
“Here in Nigeria, we have the embassy in Abuja and also a consulate-general in Lagos. It is in only two African countries that we have both the embassy and the consulate-general, Nigeria and South Africa. This shows the broad relationship that exists between Germany and Nigeria.
“If you ask me what is the embassy doing in Abuja, the embassy deals with political, security and cooperation matters while, here in Lagos, we carry out part of the consular work, we focus on business, economic, bilateral and scientific relations. And all the stakeholders (partners) are in Lagos.”
Maintaining an embassy and a consulate-general in the country is to facilitate mission’s easy and full coverage of the country. But more significantly, it shows the importance Germany attaches to its relations with Nigeria.
The United States, Britain and some other European countries also have both an embassy and a consulate-general in Abuja and Lagos, respectively. But unique to the German system is the presence of other groups who operate in Nigeria independent of the embassy and the consulate-general, though with the approval of the German government.
According to the envoy, such groups deepen bilateral ties between Germany and Nigeria while promoting people-to-people relations. “Besides the German companies that are active here in Lagos, we have the Goethe Institute (a cultural institute), the Trade Promotion Office and the Delegation of German Chamber of Industry and Commerce. For the academic exchange, we have the German academic exchange services located in the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife, respectively. In Abeokuta, we have a school where the German language is offered as a course.
“In order for you to understand how the German system operates, I will give you an example. Visa applicants come to the consulate but if you are seeking a German company that can supply you a compressor or refrigerator, you go to the Delegation of German Chamber of Industry and Commerce for enquiries. Similarly, if a German company needs information on a product in Nigeria, it contacts the German groups saddled with the responsibility of trade and commerce. In the academic sector, the Goethe Institute plays a major role in the arts, entertainment industry, language course, cultural exchange,” he said.
According to Herbert, the embassy and the consulate wet the ground for these groups to tread successfully. For example, the consulate may make contact with the Lagos State government to facilitate the entry/activities of a new company in the state.
Concentration of German companies in Lagos
The envoy said there are about 100 German companies operating in Nigeria, based in Lagos. The disclosure immediately triggered the question: why such a large number in Lagos alone? His answer: “They are historically grown.”
Continuing, he said: “Lagos was the first capital of Nigeria. After Nigeria’s independence, everyone came to Lagos as it established diplomatic relations with other countries. And Lagos developed to become a centre of socio-economic attraction. It became a hub for the country and the power (government). This explains why we have a concentration of our companies here. They all have their headquarters in Lagos though they operate across the country.
“Let me quickly explain that, for us, Nigeria is Germany’s second largest trading partner after South Africa. Of course, the centre of gravity of business, of economic development is in Lagos.”
In recent years, Germany has looked beyond trade and commerce in its relations with Nigeria. In order for the two countries to promote broad-based bilateral relations, a bi-national commission was set up by both countries. For the Consul, “the birth of the commission is a sign of the good relations we have.”
The commission has working groups on Political Consultation, Economic Relations, Power and Energy, Culture, Education and Migration. The envoy disclosed that meetings of the commission have been taking place in Abuja and Berlin.
“This month, there will be political consultations in Berlin,” he said.
He is confident that both countries have a lot to benefit from the activities of the commission when fully implemented. It marks a new era in the history of Nigerian-German relations.
German-Nigerian bilateral relations robust
The envoy also insisted that relations between the two countries were robust considering the flow of trade and commerce so far. He noted that more German companies were coming to invest in Nigeria even in the face of recession. German investors and entrepreneurs are not scared as they believe the country’s future is bright, he said, stressing, “We see more and more of German companies coming to Nigeria and looking at the market for real investment.”
His optimism is inspired by what he described as the Buhari administration’s shift to diversification of the economy with emphasis on local production: “There are now new initiatives, the government is trying to establish an industrial base. It has realised that Nigeria focused on oil and gas for too long.”
Balance of trade
But what is the balance of trade between the two countries? According to the envoy, Nigeria exports mainly oil and gas to Germany. It is to the tune of 2 billion euros, in 2015. Seven per cent of German oil is imported from Nigeria. On the other hand, Germany exported to Nigeria machinery, vehicles, chemical products, and pharmaceutical products to the tune of 1 billion euros in the same period.
“So, the balance of trade is in favour of Nigeria,” he noted.
Programme for Nigerian returnees
Commenting on the problem of migrants and asylum seekers, Herbert said Germany does not accept Nigerian migrants seeking asylum because Nigeria is a democracy. Therefore, Berlin does not see any economic reason to grant Nigerians asylum. However, the government has a special programme for Nigerians who trained in Germany and are resident in the country but are ready to return home. He said the German government would give such Nigerians funds for their resettlement in Nigeria.
He disclosed that 30,000 Nigerians are currently resident in Germany. Of the number, 1,500 are students: “I would say, in reality, they are there studying free.”
On the number of Nigerians applying for visa, the envoy said the consulate in Lagos receives on the average 1,000 application monthly but “the denial rate is very high.” German visa costs 60 euros (N20,500).
Though he did not disclose the percentage of denial, he explained that many of the applicants present forged documents and the consulate is on the alert to detect fraudulent documents. Meanwhile, of the 600,000 foreigners in Germany with criminal records as at 2016, 1 per cent is Nigerians.
Educational, civic activities of German groups in Nigeria
Herbert observed that public attention is more focused on the business activities of German companies. “But across the country, German organisations are actively involved in educational and civic activities.” Some of the groups are funded by the companies operating in Nigeria and others by the government and home-based charity groups. For example, the Delegation of German Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been holding seminars and training programme on renewable energy.
Also, Nigerians are receiving training from German-sponsored vocational institutes, studying office management, mechanics as well as facility management. In addition, there is a project to train 10,000 young Nigerians, which started in 2016 with 1,500 Nigerians.
Constraints to doing business in Nigeria
Herbert, who has spent two years as Consul in Lagos, was quick to compare doing business in Nigeria to playing the Premier League. He said Nigeria has the population and the market potential is there but when it comes to doing business, “it is not easy.”
He wants the Federal Government to relax its import policy to enable foreign companies bring in components for production that cannot be sourced locally. He also wants the authorities to review the policy on forex to soften the difficulties investors are experiencing.
He raised the question of trust in doing business in Nigeria and explained that German companies are sometimes tempted to bring in people to carry responsibilities that, ordinarily, Nigerians should take. So, there is the problem of finding the right partners. He commended the Lagos State government for guaranteeing a reasonable level of security across the state, stressing that it has encouraged foreign companies to thrive in the state.
SMEs, champion of German economy
Responding to queries on the secret of Germany’s economic growth, Herbert said small-scale enterprises were the backbone of the economy. He said some of the small businesses were either family or group-owned but well managed such that they remove people from the streets as they provide employment. Some may employ 15, 20, 25 and 35 as they expand.
The German government operates a market economy and it encourages small enterprises to grow by creating the enabling environment. Some of the German businesses operating abroad, including Nigeria, are in the category of small-scale business in Germany.
“It is not really the big companies that you hear of that keep the German economy running; no, it is the small businesses. So, they provide big relief to the government through the employment opportunities they create as well as the economic gap they fill,” Herbert said.
On funding, he explained that many of the small businesses were funded by families and funds contributed by groups for the purpose of providing capital. According to the envoy, entrepreneurs don’t abuse the process, they work hard and make profit from which the financiers share dividend.
Germany’s new zest for Africa
Recently, Germany intensified its romance with Africa. What could have been responsible? With a calm and confident tone, Herbert went down memory lane, tracing the history of German relations with the rest of the world: Asia, Europe and Latin America. The envoy observed that Germany has been active in all these regions, making immense contributions. In many countries of these regions, the impact of Germany is easily felt.
He said Africa has not been visible in the development process, an observation that made “the new President of Germany and former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to say ‘Africa and Germany are close as neighbours but nevertheless far,’ so, suddenly Africa became of interest, a focal area for many reasons.
“There is also the issue of migration, especially through the Mediterranean Sea. We have refugees coming from the Middle East and Syria; it is a tragic experience, we have refugees coming from West Africa, most of them come from Nigeria,” he said.