Today, October 1, the Federal Republic of Nigeria will mark 53 years of Independence. The New Times’ Frank Kanyesigye sat down with Ayibakuro Peter Ogide-Oke, the Nigerian High Commissioner to Rwanda who talked about bilateral relations between Rwanda and Nigeria, Africa’s integration process, the Boko-Haram terror movement, among other issues. Excerpts;
TNT: How do you find the bilateral relations between Rwanda and Nigeria?
The bilateral relations between Rwanda and Nigeria dates way back to the independence of our respective countries, and over the years the ties have grown stronger and stronger. Ours is a very cordial and warm relationship, but with establishment of diplomatic missions in both countries, we have decided to take the relations to even greater heights. Our mission here is to further deepen the relations between Rwanda and Nigeria.
TNT: How do you rate the status of investments between the two countries?
Our two countries opened diplomatic structures to enhance economic ties and a lot is going on in the business sector. Rwanda was the first to open a diplomatic mission in Abuja in 2011 with resident high commission and Nigeria established hers in Kigali last year.
Despite the fact that the structures were not in place, we have always interacted, so we have some Nigerian businesses in Rwanda, especially in financial sector, for example Access Bank, a Nigerian insurance firm has shares in Sonarwa (an insurance company) and other investments are in the pipeline.
Since we opened missions in each other’s countries, the investment is growing, During Kwita Izina (gorilla naming festivities), we brought in Nigerian investors and registered their businesses.
Recently, more than 40 Nigerian investors from a tennis club in Lagos came to play tennis with Rwandans; apart from the social side, there was an investment plan on the ground and many did register their businesses here. Definitely the Nigerian investments in Rwanda will grow. We are also planning to go upcountry and invest there. There is a good prospect for Nigerians to invest here.
TNT: What is your take on Rwanda’s move to issue visas to African nationals at the point of entry?
First and foremost, I thank the Government of Rwanda for introducing this wonderful initiative. African leaders have yearned for integration but not much has been achieved and so Rwanda is the torchbearer because it is the first country in Africa to come up with such an initiative and we thank this country for that.
This will bring Africans closer because there is a need for us, Africans to interact, get to know ourselves better and create enough confidence to be able to do business together.
There is a huge market potential in Africa which outsiders are tapping, we in Africa have not maximised our markets because we do not interact. For instance when we talk about tourism we are thinking of Europe and America, instead of thinking about Africa. Rwanda has taken an important step in the right direction and I call upon all African countries to follow suit. As a matter of fact, I have written back to my home government about Rwanda’s issuance of visas to our nationals whenever they reach the airport. We must reciprocate.
TNT: What are the specific areas of cooperation between Rwanda and Nigeria?
In the past, even before I got here, there were some bilateral agreements signed between the two countries.
One of the agreements is in the area of technical assistance programme, under which Nigeria sends manpower to Rwanda and the Nigerian government caters for the allowances of experts sent here.
Presently, we have 19 such people in various health facilities spread across the country and these are mainly medical personnel especially doctors and nurses. We intend to increase the scope and even the number of such volunteers to Rwanda.
The other is a bilateral air services agreement signed between the two countries, and Rwanda was first to take advantage of this agreement with RwandAir launching flights to Lagos. We hope the airline will extend flights to Abuja as well.
Even though there are no proper agreements between Nigeria and Rwanda over military and police training, we still cooperate in these areas. A number of Rwandan military personnel have trained in Nigeria. There is always a slot earmarked for an officer from the Rwanda Defence Forces to be trained in the Nigeria Defence College. We have trained Rwandan police officers in the past and because our relationship is based on mutual respect, Rwanda recently offered a place for training of our police officers in Musanze District even though Nigeria did not participate because of time constraints.
I hope in the future, Nigeria police and military personnel will be trained in Rwanda. Other areas we want to look at include tourism, telecommunication, cultural exchanges, and oil and gas. Those are the areas we want to cooperate with Rwanda in the spirit of African integration.
We would like to see a situation where many Nigerians find Rwanda as a tourist destination and Nigeria should play an active role in the oil and gas prospects of this country.
TNT: What opportunities do you think Nigeria can tap from Rwanda?
As I said earlier, the areas Nigeria can tap into include oil and gas, telecommunication, tourism and sports. This will boost Rwanda’s economy and both countries will benefit. Such partnerships provide employment for citizens. Rwandans also have a platform to invest in Nigeria.
By and large, if we do it like that, both countries will benefit because it’s of mutual interest, for instance I would like to see Rwandan tea sold in the Nigerian markets.
TNT: It’s almost two years since RwandAir launched flights to Nigeria. Has this in any way led to any increase in traffic of citizens to both countries, especially prospective investors?
Yes, the expansion of RwandAir to Nigeria has increased interaction between the two countries. It has helped improve the knowledge Nigerians had about Rwanda. Before my coming to Rwanda, not many Nigerians knew much about this country.
Nigerians fly a lot and have now patronised RwandAir and have discovered the RwandAir route as the best route to Dubai. A lot of Nigerian business persons fly RwandAir while transacting their businesses.
On top of the airline, the flexible visa regime in Rwanda has increased the number of Nigerian business men visiting Rwanda.
TNT: How can African countries work more closely to ensure a peaceful and prosperous continent?
This largely depends on our leaders; African leaders have always made a little effort in bringing together Africans into one big family that we ought to be.
It’s like there is lack of political will; so I think our leaders should interact more and deepen regional blocs like the East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and SADC. It is through the strengthening of these blocs that the ultimate goal of a more effective and strong African Union will be achieved.It’s up to our leaders to push for the spirit of African integration. Africans should show interest in whatever is happening in our countries instead of waiting for foreigners to show interest in an African country. We should interact more and remove all the barriers that hamper the growth of our continent.
TNT: What could be the main challenges hindering African integration?
You should know there are people who don’t want Africans to interact and come closer as one people and African leaders should be aware of it. These people are doing it for their own interest. We may want to integrate but others don’t want us to because, if we do, they may not be able to get as much as they are getting from Africa now. We shouldn’t sleep; let’s push for an African integration for a secure and peaceful continent.
TNT: Nigeria will today mark her 53rd Independence Day, what is the general feeling about the wave of revolutions across Africa five decades later?
Well there is no alternative to our continent being independent and free, we thank God for our past leaders who fought hard to realise the dream. You may not know but Nigeria has been at the fore front of an independent Africa and everywhere there were justified freedom movements, Nigeria would support them.
Thank God the efforts of Nigeria have paid off, because today almost all African countries are free, but we still need to pull our people out of poverty and hunger, the revolution you’re talking about is not yet realised as long as our people are still languishing in extreme poverty and hunger. We need to get to the next level by fighting poverty on this great continent of Africa. Rwanda has done quite well because for the past five years, the country has lifted one million people out of abject poverty. All our leaders on the continent should emulate Rwanda’s efforts. However if we come together as Africans through integration and doing business together we shall be able to gradually reduce poverty on our continent.
TNT: What is the independence mood back in Nigeria?
Fifty-three years of independence is still relatively a very short time when you compare it with the history, of say, the United States. However, it is not an excuse that we cannot do better because we have had our challenges and hiccups, in all those situations Nigeria has come out strong. So far so good because the present administration in Nigeria is working to see that there is improved livelihood of Nigerians. The living standard of our people is improving, the government is working seriously on that. There are a lot of projects going on and by the time projects mature, the Nigerians standard of living will be better. We are moving gradually but steadily.
TNT: Are Africans really independent 50 years later?
It is not too clear if we are actually independent, but to a larger extent we are. However we still rely so much on people, countries, and organisations outside Africa so we cannot claim to be 100 per cent independent. But the world has become a global village; you will find that some powerful countries have something to gain from small and weak nations. Actually we are more or less interdependent but we are fully not independent.
TNT: What can Africans do to gain full independence?
As I said earlier, if we can integrate and our leaders lead our people well and promote transparency and curb corruption, then our people will be free from poverty, disease and hunger, and this is when we can really say that we are fully independent. We shouldn’t be looking outside Africa for food aid; our governments should ensure that there is food security. Good governance and eradication of poverty in Africa is paramount in making Africa independent.
TNT: There have been many fatal attacks in Nigeria by Boko-Haram. Who are these people?
Boko-Haram by and large is one of those organisations opposed to civilised living, saying that western education is not good for us and yet the guns they use, and the clothes they put on come from western countries. In most cases their ideas are contradictory. We know that Boko-Haram has links with Al-Qaida in Maghreb region. What we know in Nigeria is that this issue will be solved because they are our brothers and sisters, there are some disagreements but one day they will be addressed. For now it’s a very serious issue because people continue to lose their lives.
TNT: Is there anything you may want to add?
I want to say that, even though our governments may not be able to do everything that we want because no government can afford to do everything, we citizens should help our governments by being good ambassadors of our countries.
We shouldn’t pull down our governments because we are not agreeing with them on some matters. We should have a culture of democracy and wait for elections and vote out the government that is not doing what the citizens want.
We should join hands and move our continent to another level because the governments cannot do it alone.