• Says peace, stability, creativity, key to Switzerland’s success
By Emma Emeozor
Thirty years after he served as a junior officer at the Switzerland Embassy in Lagos, he has returned to Nigeria to head the country’s Consulate General in Lagos. In a chat with Daily Sun in his Ikoyi office, Yves Nicolet said his second assignment in Nigeria is “a bit challenging.” The ebullient diplomat also commented on Nigeria’s economy, his optimism about Nigeria’s future and the desire of his government to strengthen economic relations with Nigeria:
Though Lagos is a familiar environment that Nicolet needs not to worry about, he has the challenge of laying a strong foundation and delivering success at the end of his tenure. Being the first consul, he is constantly on his toes, working round the clock, to fulfil the mandate of his posting. He explained why his government decided to open the consulate almost 11 years after it closed the embassy in Lagos and relocated to Abuja, in compliance to the Federal Government directive that all foreign missions in Nigeria should open their embassies in the Federal Capital Territory.
He said: “The Swiss Embassy in Lagos was shut down in 2004 following its relocation to Abuja. We realised that it would not be a good economic decision not to have strong official representation in Lagos. Lagos is Nigeria’s economic hub, it has a vibrant stock exchange market, it is the most populated city not only in Nigeria but in Africa. Of particular note is the fact that most of the Swiss companies are based in Lagos. It is important to give these companies a strong support base while we encourage new ones to come and invest in the economy.”
He noted that though the decision was taken in 2014, the consulate did not open until November 1, 2015. So, it is one and a half years now sin his country “opened the consulate in Lagos. But during our 10 years of absence from Lagos, we had a honorary consulate here.”
Asked to explain why the opening of the consulate general came on the heels of the recession facing Nigeria, the envoy said it was a mere coincidence: “We are not here to assist Nigeria recover from the recession, rather, we are here to improve economic ties between Switzerland and Nigeria, to support the Swiss economy, help Swiss investors and companies that want to do business in Nigeria.
“We want to encourage more Swiss investors and companies to come to Nigeria. This is not to say we won’t help Nigerian investors and companies wishing to do business in Switzerland. It is our desire to provide the necessary platform for creating synergy between Swiss investors and Nigerian investors. For example, we are ready to provide information on doing business in Switzerland to interested Nigerians.”
Nicolet, however, believes it is the responsibility of the Nigerian Embassy in Switzerland to create market for Nigerian businessmen just as the Swiss Mission is doing in Nigeria: “It is the duty of the Nigerian Embassy in Bern to help Nigerian investors and companies to have a foothold in Switzerland, it has to bring Nigerian businessmen to Switzerland, and it has to create business opportunities for them. From the information I have, the Nigerian Embassy is already working in this direction.”
However, in what appears like a business advisory, Nicolet said the chances of Nigerian investors and companies penetrating the Swiss market would depend on their ability to prove that they can compete favourably with foreign companies. Asked to explain what he meant, the envoy said: “Many years ago, we (Switzerland) imported cocoa from Nigeria. But due to some factors, maybe price, I don’t have the facts, but we stopped importing cocoa from Nigeria. We have since been importing cocoa from Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Ecuador. So, you see, Switzerland has survived without Nigerian cocoa.
“So, what Nigeria should do is to promote its products, highlighting the benefits or advantages derivable from such products and consideration must be given to quality (international standard), quantity (steady volume of production) and price that can be acceptable in the international market. Nobody will do this for Nigeria. Nigerians have to do it by themselves.”
Nicolet said his example of the cocoa market clearly shows that Switzerland is willing to import not only crude oil from Nigeria, so long as such products meet the required international criteria. He believes that Nigeria has a promising future and the current recession is no threat to the development and growth of the country. Rather, the threat Nigeria must address is its inability to harness the vast human and natural resources it is endowed with.
“Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, it has rich soil for agriculture, crude oil, hides, minerals, good educational system, many young people and many other attributes that I cannot exhaust now. What it means is that the market is here (in Nigeria) and, therefore, a natural a destination for foreign investors,” he said
Ask Nicolet why the country’s economy is in bad shape and the citizens are facing adversity. National policy planners and experts may be divided over his answer. He told Daily Sun that, over the years, nothing has really changed in Nigeria.
“I was here 30 years ago. If I compare the situation then with what it is now, I would say it is almost the same, Nigeria is facing the same problems. Thirty years ago, the Nigerian economy was dependent on only crude oil. Today, it is still dependent on only crude oil. And you know this is not good for the economy and, therefore, the country because of fluctuation in oil prices, which cannot be predicted with accuracy. So, when there is inflation in that sector, it affects Nigeria. Over the years, concrete efforts have not been made to create a parallel economy, to diversify the economy. Everybody knows this but it is not only to know the problem, it is also important to take proactive action to deal with the problem and bring about a positive turnaround.
“Looking around, the real problems facing Nigeria are not hidden or difficult to identify. Lack of infrastructure is a big problem facing the country. There is problem of electricity, drinkable water, good transport system (accessible roads), poor flight system, rail system that is not developed and so many other areas needing attention,” he said.
The envoy wondered how products could be transported from Jos in Plateau State to Lagos or Port Harcourt in Rivers State when the roads are in bad shape and there is no rail system linking the cities: “You can imagine the difficulties or constraints in transporting goods from one location to another in Nigeria.”
Nicolet wants Nigeria to summon the willpower to tackle these problems in order to experience sustainable economic development and growth. He pointed at the manufacturing sector, which he described as almost non existence.
“There is need to encourage the manufacturers. If manufacturing of products can be done locally (here in Nigeria), jobs will be created for the citizens, local products will be exported abroad and the country will have a robust foreign reserve.
“Nigeria has the capacity to achieve success in local manufacturing. But who can establish a manufacturing company without the availability of electricity? Though I am optimistic about the economic future of the country, the present situation does not attract foreign investors. Besides the problem of lack of infrastructures, there is also the problem of forex, which foreign investors and even local manufacturers face.
“I must also add that the instability across the country has far-reaching, negative effects on the economy. An example is the Boko Haram insurgency, which has had a devastating toll on the economy because of human and financial resources involved even as productivity is at a standstill. So, these impediments must be removed from the way to allow the economy to buoy up,” the said.
On the contributions of Switzerland to the economy of Nigeria, the envoy said his country was well represented in Nigeria. According to him, Swiss companies were involved in the pharmaceutical, chemical, food and beverages, construction, banking and clock and wrist watches sectors.
“We have a long tradition of doing business in Nigeria and we are much diversified in here. We are desirous of increasing our presence, though the balance of trade is still low. It is in favour of Nigeria because we import its crude oil.
“The volume of exports from Switzerland to Nigeria is about $200 million in machinery, textile, pharmaceuticals, clocks and watches. On the other hand we import crude oil from Nigeria. Last year, we imported oil to the tune of $462 million. Our crude oil import from Nigeria was higher before now, about $700 million. However, the quantity remains the same because the price difference is dictated by the level of inflation in the market. Also, the overall volume of import and export between the two countries has been the same in the last 10 years.”
As part of efforts to strengthen trade ties with Nigeria, the Swiss-Nigeria Business Council was established in October 2016, to increase commercial business between the two countries.
On the population of Nigerians in Switzerland, Nicolet said there were about 2,000 Nigerians legally resident in the country but he could not say what type of business they do. He said the Switzerland Embassy in Nigeria has low refusal rate in granting visa but the number of Nigerians in his country is low “maybe due to the fact that Nigerians prefer travelling to English-speaking European countries and the United States.”
He said, currently, there are about 270 Swiss citizens resident in Nigeria. According to him, the population of Swiss citizens in Nigeria was higher until recently. Is this an indication that Swiss companies are migrating from Nigeria due to the recession? His answer was that Swiss companies were resilient and would not migrate to other countries: “As a matter of fact, I have not received any report on Swiss companies quitting Nigeria to go to other West African countries. Rather, we’re working to bring in more of our companies.”
He was confident when he said, “Our economy is very stable because Switzerland is a very stable country, Switzerland is country having three different cultures, German, Italian and French cultures. But we are able to work and stay together. The country attained independence in 1291, more than 700 years ago.”
But how rich is Switzerland? He said his country was not rich, rather, peace and stability, creativity, hard work and emphasis on quality production does the ‘magic’ for the success of the economy.
He said, “Switzerland is not a rich country as you would want to think, we don’t have minerals, and our soil is bare. So we have to develop our industries and a strong educational system. In the area of education, Switzerland has been declared as first in the ranking of innovative countries of the world for two consecutive years now. We have also made progress in the area of services, banking, law, insurance, pharmaceuticals, construction, textile and other areas of human endeavour, in addition to hosting many international organisations. The Swiss economy was developed a long time ago but the most important thing is that the country is stable.”