Sunday , May 22 2022

Interview with the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Opunimi Akinkugbe

 

“The maritime sector is a major aspect of Nigerian and Greek bilateral economic cooperation.”

 

H.E. the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Opunimi Akinkugbe

 

 

“We believe strongly in the peaceful transition of political power and remain committed to strengthening democratic governance, advocating for the enshrinement of peaceful electoral processes for sustenance of peace and stability in the region.”

 

 

GDL: Your country’s foreign policy has been characterised as focusing upon Nigeria being Africa’s regional power. What is your country’s contribution to the African continent’s political stability and peace preservation?

OA: Our Afrocentric policy stance is certainly an important theme of our foreign policy. Nigeria played a critical role in the establishing of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990. The West African multilateral armed force, established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), was largely supported by personnel and resources of the Nigerian Armed Forces, with contributions by other ECOWAS Members.

Nigeria played an active role in the liberation of Southern Africa and the eradication of apartheid and colonialism, as well as supporting African countries with financial, material and technical aid over the years.

Nigeria has initiated, co-ordinated and financed peace missions in Africa, thus contributing to the continent’s political stability and relative peace as a regional power on the African continent. In more recent times, Nigeria has intervened through the ECOWAS and the African Union (AU). We believe strongly in the peaceful transition of political power and remain committed to strengthening democratic governance, advocating for the enshrinement of peaceful electoral processes for sustenance of peace and stability in the region.

Presently, Nigeria is a Member of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union; indeed, we have one of our own, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye elected as the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security. This is just another example of the strategic role Nigeria plays in Africa’s political stability and peace.

The overarching objective of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group is to spur sustainable economic development and social progress in its regional member countries, thus contributing to poverty reduction, a major ingredient for instability. This great institution is led by a Nigerian, Mr. Akinwumi Adesina.

Nigeria is very committed to the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA) which aims to accelerate intra-African trade and boost Africa’s trading position in the global market by strengthening Africa’s common voice.

GDL: Which are the main aspects of Nigeria’s foreign policy principles?

OA: Our key foreign policy objectives or principles are:

– Promotion and protection of Nigeria’s national interests.

– Promotion of African integration and support for African unity.

– Promotion of international cooperation and elimination of all forms of discrimination.

– Respect for International Law and treaties and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

– Promotion of a just world economic order.

Under our present Government led by H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari, we can highlight three main priorities in our foreign policy direction: security, the fight against corruption and a focus on job creation by striving to build a thriving and sustainable economy.

Naturally, every country’s foreign policy priorities and principles must reflect its domestic realities and Nigeria is no different. At the present time, international trade and economic diplomacy and of course security is given key focus.

 

GDL: This month’s visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to Nigeria signifies the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries.

OA: The visit of Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, to Nigeria in January was an historic one as it was the first-ever visit by a Greek Foreign Minister to Nigeria. This was not only timely, but also a necessary boost in our bilateral relations as it sets the tone for greater collaboration as we continue to deepen the relationship that our two countries enjoy.

Minister Dendias and our Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, also signed an MoU on bilateral consultation; a significant step toward moving forward several agreements already in the pipeline covering trade, tourism, maritime transport, security, energy, bilateral air services, etc. A key part of our work in the coming months will be to bring to ratification some of the key agreements which will act as a framework guiding our relationship.

A high point of the Foreign Minister’s visit was the announcement of the presentation of close to a million Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccines to the Nigerian people through the COVAX facility; this was a welcome development in support of Nigeria’s effort against the pandemic.

Minister Dendias described this gesture as a “moral obligation” as opposed to a “donation”; we appreciate this as we strongly believe that vaccines remain the most effective way to manage the Covid-19 pandemic and improve rapid recovery and all hands must be on deck, until everyone is safe.

 

“Greece and Nigeria have long-standing trade, economic and cultural ties that can be leveraged upon and scaled up with increased engagement, in strengthening relations within the larger EU framework given the vast investment opportunities that Nigeria offers.”

 

GDL: What role can Greece play to strengthen relations between Nigeria and the EU?

OA: As you may be aware, Nigeria currently enjoys strong bilateral relations with several Member countries of the European Union. Greece and Nigeria have long-standing trade, economic and cultural ties that can be leveraged upon and scaled up with increased engagement, in strengthening relations within the larger EU framework given the vast investment opportunities that Nigeria offers.

For instance, the issue of irregular migration has become a recurrent theme in Nigeria-EU relations and we must together work toward finding an acceptable and sustainable way of addressing this challenge.

 

“For Nigeria, boundary issues are not new to us, especially given our colonial history. The process of boundary delimitation can be complex, even more so within the context of territorial waters.

The maritime sector is a major aspect of Nigerian and Greek bilateral economic cooperation.”

 

GDL: Greece abides by the Delimitation of International Boundaries, especially the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. How can both countries cooperate in upholding these principles internationally?

OA: Both Nigeria and Greece are parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and I believe are fully committed to upholding these principles. It is imperative that we abide by the principles of international maritime law to ensure positive and robust engagements.

For Nigeria, boundary issues are not new to us, especially given our colonial history. The process of boundary delimitation can be complex, even more so within the context of territorial waters.

The maritime sector is a major aspect of Nigerian and Greek bilateral economic cooperation. Greece is a maritime nation by tradition. It was for this reason that the maritime sector was featured prominently at the Investment Forum we held in November in partnership with the Greek Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Technology (GNCCT).

The Minister of Transport, the Rt Hon Rotimi Amaechi, and the Greek Minister of Shipping and Insular Policy, Ioannis Plakiotakis, had a productive meeting and we must now move things forward swiftly to move from conversation to execution.

Greek vessels transport a significant part of Nigeria’s oil and gas cargo and beyond that sector, there are many opportunities across the maritime value chain to be exploited to our mutual benefit.

In June last year H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari flagged off the Integrated National Security and Waterways Protection Infrastructure project in Nigeria, called the Deep Blue Project. It is aimed at fighting piracy and maritime crimes on our territorial waters and to secure our waters up to the Gulf of Guinea, where Nigeria is a leading player.

In expanding our cooperation in the maritime sector there are mutual beneficial rewards for our countries in the blue economy and this is one area our partnership would seek to explore, as both countries continue to develop the path for enhanced maritime security and economy.

 

GDL: Africa’s most populous country and one which possesses the largest economy on the continent, celebrated its 61st Anniversary of Independence last year. As your country works toward its 62nd Anniversary, what is it doing to work toward the country’s motto of ‘Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress’?

OA: Nigeria is blessed with a distinct, vibrant, unique, creative, hardworking and youthful population. Following our independence from the colonial power Great Britain, Nigeria has remained as one indivisible entity for over six decades in spite of significant challenges including a terrible civil war in which millions of precious lives were lost.

As we look towards celebrating our 62nd year as an independent nation, our collective determination to remain unified, is not in question. Our motto is Unity and Faith, Peace and Progress and efforts to promote social cohesion must be reinforced in order to consolidate our nation-building efforts.

 

“Issues of security are a global phenomenon that every country faces. We are no exception, neither are we under any illusion whatsoever about the gravity of the current challenges of insecurity that we face including terrorist threats. Significant investments are being made in the security architecture through the procurement of military hardware and the training of security personnel and this is expected to yield results…

Greece has provided some training for Nigerian soldiers and airmen and we look forward to exploring greater collaborative opportunities in this regard including in the area of maritime security. No nation can expect to enjoy sustainable progress in an insecure or chaotic environment.”

 

GDL: Nigeria is currently faced with a wave of various security crises. How is your government coping with this staggering issue which threatens the very fabric of Nigerian society?

OA: As you know issues of security are a global phenomenon that every country faces. We are no exception, neither are we under any illusion whatsoever about the gravity of the current challenges of insecurity that we face including terrorist threats.

Significant investments are being made in the security architecture through the procurement of military hardware and the training of security personnel and this is expected to yield results.

Greece has provided some training for Nigerian soldiers and airmen and we look forward to exploring greater collaborative opportunities in this regard including in the area of maritime security. No nation can expect to enjoy sustainable progress in an insecure or chaotic environment.

To fully overcome the security crises, Nigeria recognises the need for collaboration with our neighbours, as well as with our international partners and we have been proactive about maintaining strong fruitful relationships as we seek support from our friends in this regard.

 

GDL: Considering the fluctuation in oil prices and the environmental impacts of fossil fuel, what steps is your country taking to diversify its economy and expand upon its intrinsic potential beyond oil?

OA: The Nigerian Government is well aware of the need to diversify our economy and improve our productive and revenue base beyond oil revenues. Just recently our Vice President in a statement called for natural gas, which Nigeria and indeed much of Africa has in abundance, to be accepted by the rest of the globe as an effective transitional fuel as the world moves away from fossil fuels. VP Professor Yemi Osinbajo also reminded world leaders that although Africa contributed the least to climate change, the continent has been the most negatively affected by it. The defunding of gas by international financial institutions could create severe problems for many gas-rich African countries.

Having said that, efforts aimed at the diversification of the Nigerian economy have led to the growth of other emerging sectors in the country. In the last few years, the contributions of the non-oil sectors such as agriculture, telecommunications and services to the GDP growth has greatly increased with a significant reduction from the oil and gas sector.

There is also a lot of work aimed at increasing investments in the agro-allied and solid minerals sectors, as there are abundant resources for Nigeria in those areas. Agricultural exports are remarkably improving also.

Nigeria also has a budding tech and start-up sector that is being run by our vibrant, brilliant youth. It is exciting to see that we have one of the leading start-up ecosystems in Africa that is already driving significant foreign investment.

We also have a vibrant entertainment industry that has generated global interest and much revenue for its stakeholders. Some of our musicians are filling stadia across the world, our movie industry “Nollywood” is now the second largest. Interest is growing in leaps and bounds for Nigerian art, then there is our fashion industry in which beautiful, elegant and unique pieces are being created by our designers. Nigeria is very much open to investors and actively seeking to increase our FDI in various non-oil sectors.

 

“Nigeria is very much open to investors and actively seeking to increase its Foreign Direct Investment in various non-oil sectors.”

 

GDL: What are you doing to promote Nigerian culture?

OA: As an Embassy, we intend to bring our peoples closer together and a key focus at our mission this year will be to promote the arts and culture. Both Greece and Nigeria have a rich cultural heritage of which we are both immensely proud. We look forward to sharing this wonderful aspect of our country with our Greek friends this year and beyond.

Cultural exchanges provide an opportunity to explore other cultures, traditions, customs, beliefs, languages, music and much more. This gives one a view of the world through a different lens and broadens one’s horizons. We look forward to hosting a cultural festival this year encompassing Nigeria’s great music, film, drama, art, crafts, poetry, comedy, fashion and mouth-watering food, showcasing the best of Nigeria.

We are currently looking forward to the African Film Festival where we will be showcasing three movies. As you know Nollywood is the second largest film industry in the world after Bollywood. I have Greek friends telling me about the latest Nigerian movie that they watched on Netflix.

The impact of sports and entertainment, music, film, etc., is immeasurable and does so much to dim the awful stereotyping, bringing communities together.

I cannot but mention Giannis Antetokounmpo (Adetokunbo), the most famous Greek Nigerian, today he is one of the worlds most celebrated basketballers in the NBA. Even though he was born and raised in Greece by Nigerian immigrant parents, he has always identified with Nigeria and acknowledges very fondly the Nigerian home he was raised in. We are very proud of Giannis and his family for their discipline, integrity and example.

 

“Both the Bayelsa and Ondo States are close to concluding arrangements (with Greece) for significant investments in the aquaculture space that are set to create thousands of jobs and improve livelihoods.”

 

The Embassy of Nigeria, Greece

 

GDL: The Embassy of Nigeria in Athens recently organised a forum aimed at strengthening bilateral trade and investment relations with Greece. What initiatives are both sides going to take to materialise this project?

OA: The Greek Nigeria Chamber of Commerce and Technology (GNCCT) is a robust and most effective Chamber of Commerce that hosts an annual investment summit bringing together the Nigerian and Greek business communities and stakeholders. The Nigerian Embassy in Athens co-hosted the 2021 edition with the Chamber last November and convened a very successful event attracting significant participation from the Government and Private Sector and presenting some very real opportunities for collaboration between Nigeria and Greece.

The theme of the event was ‘Advancing Investment between Nigeria and Greece’. Greece is a natural global leader being a maritime nation by tradition. The attendance of both Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transport of Nigeria and Ioannis Plakiotakis, the Minister of Shipping and Insular Policy, showcased the immense opportunities in the sector across its entire value chain.

Education, particularly vocational training, renewable energy and the circular economy, construction and affordable housing, agriculture and aquaculture were also featured prominently, as some of the areas to be given some focus.

Both the Bayelsa and Ondo States are close to concluding arrangements for significant investments in the aquaculture space that are set to create thousands of jobs and improve livelihoods. What made the forum particularly useful for participants, is that key stakeholders and decision makers were on hand to interface with their counterparts and to present the opportunities as well as address any concerns.

Our Minister of Trade and Development, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, also addressed the audience about the efforts being made to create an enabling environment to foster trade and investment and the improvements in the ease of doing business in Nigeria for foreign and domestic investors. Massive investments in infrastructure are also a critical component for this effort.

 

“With the huge interest, as well as the naturally entrepreneurial persona of both Greeks and Nigerians, we feel very optimistic about the prospects for turning interesting conversations into the execution of significant transactions in due course.”

 

GDL: Are their plans to hold the next Forum with Greek entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

OA: As part of the activities surrounding the GNCCT investment forum, a delegation led by the GNCCT Chairman, Michael Economakis, including Ag. Executive Secretary/CEO of the Nigerian Investment Promotion (NIPC), Emeka Offor, and CEO of the Bank of Industry, Kayode Pitan, met with the Minister of Development and Investment, Adonis Georgiadis.

Minister Georgiadis acknowledged Nigeria as one of Greece’s major trading partners and a friendly investment destination in Africa. He expressed his readiness to lead a strong investment delegation to Nigeria in 2022 to build on the existing relations, as well as open new frontiers.

Outside of these more formal channels, it is also great to see that our business communities are seeking each other out and are already collaborating in various sectors. We are seeing a significant increase in the request for visas to Nigeria. We expect this to grow further as we begin to develop business and cultural exchanges, as well as tourism opportunities.

Infrastructure plays a significant role in promoting trade. The absence of a direct flight between Greece and Nigeria means that one must travel long distances of up to 13 hours travel time. One of the agreements in the pipeline is a Bilateral Air Services agreement which will give us the framework within which to initiate talks to establish direct air links between the two countries reducing flight time to about 5 hours and correspondingly, reduce the cost of travel to Greece and Nigeria.

With the huge interest as well as the naturally entrepreneurial persona of both Greeks and Nigerians, we feel very optimistic about the prospects for turning interesting conversations into the execution of significant transactions in due course.

 

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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