What is the relationship between Nigeria and Canada like?
I am coming to the end of my term; I have been in Nigeria for the past three years. It’s a very easy job because I found in Nigeria that I am well received, whether it is the politicians, the civil society, I find that Nigerians are very warm towards Canada and this makes my job very easy. Given that the relationship between our countries is very dynamic, there are lots of things happening, overwhelmingly positive, so it is exciting being part of building the relationship between the two countries. I have got about five specific areas of relationship between the two countries in the areas of trade and investment. I am excited to see areas of growth in investment by Canadian companies and people exploring opportunities in Nigeria.
How many Canadian companies are in Nigeria and in which sectors are they active?
We have around 70 companies that are active in various sectors of the Nigerian market. Nigeria is one of our leading trading partners in Africa. The part I think is most exciting is when I look at the potential and I think we are only scratching the surface. There is potential for a much more economic fulfilment between the two countries. When you look at the areas that are priorities for Nigeria in respect of the efforts of your country to diversify the economy, these are areas Canada has great experience and expertise. President Buhari mentioned mining and agriculture which are sectors Canada is leading in, in the world. For more than a century, Canada has great experience, technological expertise. Canadian companies have made great strides to ensure that mining investment and mining activities benefit not just the country, but the communities where they are located. There are huge Canadian mining investments in many African countries. It is not very much in Nigeria yet because it is an area it has not focused on until very recently. I am very encouraged that the government and Minister Fayemi are determined to develop the sector.
On Agriculture, our environment is very different from Nigeria’s, but we have great experience in the whole value chain. Canada is also very strong in terms of renewable energy and we also have great hydro-electric resources. If there is one thing holding back Nigeria from growing more quickly, it is the lack of reliable, affordable energy sources. I really hope in the future we can find ways to help Nigeria develop its potential in terms of renewable energy which has a spill off effect on the entire Nigerian economy.
In what ways has Canada assisted Nigeria in its fight against insurgents?
On the security side, we have tried to identify niches, that is areas where we can be helpful. Because there are few countries with presence in Nigeria providing some major support, we try to identify ways to complement rather than to duplicate what those countries might be doing. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police had conducted various training programmes for the police, including post-blast investigation trainings. If my memory is correct, we have offered four courses in a period of two years, two-week duration for around 30-35 officers, it would be something over 100 officers that had benefitted from that training. Some of it is crime-related, such as post-blast investigation; for example, it is specifically related to terrorist attacks. A good part of that training is focused on combating terrorism. I should also say that more than 209 Nigerian military officers have benefitted from training under the military training assistance programme in the last five or six years. A lot of that training was focused towards peace-keeping activities rather than combating terrorism. Canada has a lot of experience in peace-keeping and expertise we can share with other countries. On that point, we have great admiration for the roles Nigeria has played in peace-keeping, contributing troops to UN and African Union peace-keeping operations.
What is your evaluation of the anti-corruption fight of the government and what judicial reforms do you think Nigeria should pursue to strengthen the judiciary?
That is a difficult question; I am not a lawyer or anti-corruption expert, so I would only give general answers. The commitment to combat corruption is very strong on the part of the government. I think there are capable people in the EFCC and other institutions who are doing their jobs. I think Nigerians collectively and also the Nigerian Bar Association which I met, they are very committed, very keen to see corruption being combated. As a lay person, I would say that great effort has been made and put in place and to perfect processes and institutions of government to prevent corrupt practices from taking place. In the period I have been in Nigeria, I read reports in newspapers about million dollars missing here, there or elsewhere. In well run institutions, the accounting should be such that that doesn’t happen. Again, I am talking as a lay person, not as an accountant or a lawyer. I can say in a country like Canada, it is very, very rare and unusual, that a thousand dollars is missing let alone a million dollars or a billion. So, I think the challenge for Nigerian government in deciding is to look at your institutions very carefully and learn from mistakes of the past and ensure that in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and in all of the government ministries, the processes are in place to ensure that funds cannot just disappear, small funds let alone big funds. There is probably a fair bit of work that has been done based on the number of corruption cases or allegations that are out there. I think that is the key.
Obviously, the legal system has to pursued people in order to bring an end to the culture of impunity. But looking forward, you need to get those institutions in place to prevent this kind of thing from happening and I think it can be done. If you look around the world, you’ll see that there are countries that have achieved significant progress in combating corruption in a reasonable period of time. It is not going to be overnight, it’s a big project, but with that determination by government, and the support of the society at large, I think over the course of a few years, you can make great progress. Another thing I would say is, at the popular level, people have to collectively refuse to tolerate corruption; you can’t expect all the change to come from the top.
What is your assessment of the current administration in Nigeria compared to the previous government? What has been your intelligence gathering of activities in Nigeria like?
I will share some of the things I know, I am not going to share everything. First things, I would want to say, it was fascinating for me and a privilege; I was excited to be here at the time of elections in 2015. It was an exciting experience to be here because I was able to witness a defining moment and that was a peaceful, orderly transition from one political party to another. For the first time, Nigeria’s democracy was restored, this is the first time Nigeria accomplished this.
On Election Day, I went around and I was impressed to see people lining up, in some cases, for hours to vote and they went twice, in the morning for accreditation and in the afternoon to vote. I would tell you, in Canada, with our years of mature democracy, I would be surprised if that number of people would go out to vote. I say that as a commendation to the Nigerian people for voting. That was a historical event and I was happy to be here then. Back to your question: President Buhari when he was elected said his areas of focus would be the economy, anti-corruption, combating insecurity in the country.
On the corruption front, we follow with great interest the subject. Again , I think the scenario is that Nigerians collectively want to see change in the country; they want to see steps taken to combat corruption, and I think they are very supportive of those efforts. Corruption in Nigeria, like in many other countries is deeply rooted, so, it is difficult to correct everything overnight. So, I would say, it is somehow early to determine or evaluate how much progress has been made but I do applaud both the Nigerian government and Nigerian people as a whole for their commitment and efforts. Canada is in support as we possibly can. I believe with sustained efforts and with firm leadership, the government change agenda can be achieved. I was in Maiduguri some weeks ago and I can say great progress has been made in combating insurgency. At the same time, you see the security challenges in other parts of the country, in the Niger Delta, in the middle belt, you see flashes, so there is still a lot of work to be done.
But we are encouraged things are moving in the right direction. The challenge is big and is on the economy side. As you know, this is a tough time for any country that relies on oil revenue. In the case of Nigeria, there has been over-dependence, and the result of this is when the price of oil drops, export earnings and oil revenue drop. So it is a very challenging environment for all countries that depend on oil revenue. I believe the government has a strong commitment to economic diversification and I believe Nigeria would get through this challenging time.
Is Canada also feeling the effect of the drop in oil price?
Canada is also a major exporter and importer of oil, we import from Nigeria, but for many years, we have diversified our economy. Even though our oil sector is larger than Nigeria’s, it’s only about three per cent of our economy and around 15 per cent of our export. So we have felt the pinch by the drop of oil prices, especially the part of the country where oil is produced. But at the national level, we have not felt the impact nearly as strongly as Nigeria has because the level of dependence is much less. Nigeria has to diversify, it is great to have oil revenue, but you also need your mining sector, your agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, you need all those sectors developed in order to be resilient when the price of oil falls.
How do you see the emergence of various groups like Niger Delta Avengers, IPOB, MASSOB and other groups demanding the break-up of Nigeria? How do you think the government should handle this challenge?
That is a very difficult question and it is difficult for me to answer because I really don’t feel I know the details or the issues well enough. It would be arrogant of me to suggest I can give you advice. I think a lot of Nigerians know the situation much better and can give much better advice. What I would say is that, in any big, diverse country, Canada is both those things like Nigeria–geographically, we are much bigger with a small population, we are a sprawling country. Big, diverse countries must find and develop ways to organise themselves. In the case of Canada, we have a federal system, we are like one of the most decentralized countries in the world. I am not saying Nigeria should be like that, it is for Nigerians to decide what they should be. I am just giving examples of the Canadian case. We have debated over history and maybe forms and we decided for our country, we will have a particular federal model whereby provinces have responsibilities for many things -deliver health, education and manage natural resources and the federal government has clearly defined responsibilities-defence, foreign policy, national health standards, trade negotiation with other countries, the national currency and so forth. And over the years, we have fine-tuned it and I can say now, it works very well. Although, even in Canada, sometimes, we find things don’t work very well and there is an ongoing debate over gold negotiation from the federal government or the provinces or local government or vice versa. What I am trying to say is, any country like Canada or Nigeria that is vast and multi-ethnic, with regional dynamics, has got to find the recipe, the formula that works best for your country.
Canada has been practicing democracy for 149 years. Can you share with us what has kept your country together these past years which you think Nigeria could emulate?
That is a very hard question. I hesitate to answer this question because to be completely frank, I don’t know the solutions to the world’s problems and I think many brilliant Nigerians know your country better than I do as a short term visitor. The question is, what has Canada done that Nigeria hasn’t done? We have been fortunate that from the start, things were put in place and as a result, a lot of Canadians today take things for granted. I made a reference earlier that if we have to spend four hours to vote, I would be surprised if 10 per cent of Canadians will do it. So, in a way, we are very lucky, because our democratic institutions, for the most part, were established a long, long time ago. So, we are just cruising on it. What makes the Canadian system work? One is, strong and effective institutions and it reminds me of the remark President Obama made when he visited Ghana and he said what Africa needs are not strong men, but strong institutions. It’s a quote I would completely subscribe to. In my experience in different parts of the world and in my own country, what you need is those strong institutions. When you arrive in Canada, you go to a government or you arrive at the airport, all Canadians are treated the same and sometimes, when I have contact with Nigerians, there is an assumption that, well, if you are someone important, you get a different treatment. That’s not the way it works in a country like Canada. Some people may think I am important because am High Commissioner but when I arrive in Canada, at the immigration control, they don’t care if I am high commissioner or someone on the street, it’s all the same to them, you get the same treatment. You need strong institutions and they have to see the people on the same level. Transparency in government is very important and in Canada, we are very big on that. Citizens’ engagement is also very important; in Canada, if a government official has done something inappropriate, the political pressure is very strong and very often, the person would resign. When I say political pressure, I mean there would be stories in the newspapers, people are phoning him, so there is very low tolerance for malfeasance or any kind of inappropriate behaviour.
We don’t often hear what Nigeria has done for other countries. Can you tell us what Canada has benefitted from Nigeria?
We very much see the relations with Nigeria as a win-win relationship. Hacking back to some of the things I mentioned on the trade relations, which by definition benefits both parties. As I said, we have about 70 Canadian companies in Nigeria, there are not here on charity. They are here because they see opportunities and many of them have been very successful, they are pleased with their experience in Nigeria and quite a few have ambitions to have greater presence in your country. I see Nigeria as a great economic powerhouse and this is a view shared by many other Canadians; Nigeria was growing progressively for a number of years, but unfortunately that is not the case now because of the collapse of oil prices and I say this to business people that Nigeria is committed to diversification and I know that you have talked about this for a long, long time and it has not happened as quickly as it should, but I think the current government of Nigeria is committed to that and I think we recognise the fact that there are great opportunities in it. I tell Canadian firms that there are great opportunities in Nigeria, it has a large population, with the largest economy in Africa after the rebasing. It is a win-win relationship and Canada stands to benefit from the partnership with Nigeria.