• Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Nigeria’s skilled migrants deserve utmost dignity and respect – Tuggar

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Nigeria is pushing a structured diplomatic policy that ensures that its skilled citizens who choose to live and work abroad are accorded the utmost dignity and respect. Yusuf Tuggar, Minister of Foreign Affairs, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with a BusinessDay team comprising John Osadolor, Managing Editor; Onyinye Nwachukwu, Abuja Bureau Chief; and Ojochenemi Onje, Reporter. Tuggar also affirms that Nigeria will never be dictated to by foreign powers, in reaction to recent propaganda that France instigated those tough sanctions collectively meted out by ECOWAS against Niger, Mali, and Boukina Faso in the wake of military coups there.

Read also: Foreign affairs ministry debunks reports on UAE visa resumption for Nigerians

Honourable minister, can you talk us through the foreign policy direction of President Bola Tinubu’s administration?

The Tinubu Doctrine of Foreign Policy, outlined in the 4D Document, focuses on four key pillars: democracy, development, demography, and diaspora. Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy, has successfully conducted seven consecutive elections, reducing political risk. Despite challenges at the local government level, Nigeria’s political stability remains notable. Local governments in many parts of Nigeria contribute to sustainable security and development.

Despite financial challenges, Nigeria has available funds for structured solutions, distinguishing it from other African nations. Sector-specific funds, such as the Nigerian Content Development Fund, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), Tertiary Education Trust Fund, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), and the Solid Mineral Development Fund, can be tapped to meet foreign investors and trade partners.

Nigeria also provides guarantees to cover risks, such as the Nigeria Incentive-Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL). This ensures that foreign counterparts interested in investing or doing trade with Nigeria can mitigate some risks while providing 100 percent coverage, providing comfort.

Nigeria, Africa’s largest market, offers opportunities for collaboration and job creation. In January 2024, an MOU was signed with India on renewable energy and business process outsourcing (BPO) to create up to 50,000 full-time jobs in Nigeria. India’s early capture of the customer care sector in America led to Romania becoming a hub for customer care. Nigeria’s population of over 200 million people makes it an ideal hub for Africa. China, the US, and Brazil are also demographically huge countries with over 300 million people.

Nigeria needs to partner with countries like China, the US, and Brazil to harness their potential. The dependency ratio of Nigeria’s demography requires a sizable workforce to cater to the population, with people aged 15-18 to 60-65. The country needs to focus on this rather than just aiming for 400 million by 2050. The country’s demographics, including its population, should be considered when partnering with countries like India, China, the US, and Brazil.

The focus is on enhancing Nigeria’s economy through infrastructure, manufacturing, and agriculture, which can lead to double-digit growth. To achieve this, Nigeria needs to partner with other countries and solicit investment. Democracy is also crucial, with Nigeria being fully represented in decision-making tables such as the G20 and the United Nations Security Council. Nigeria has proven credentials to advocate on behalf of the global south, particularly in the face of the BASEL IV regulations restricting lending to the global south.

The diaspora is a significant issue, with many Nigerians living abroad. To address this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its 109 missions worldwide should improve services for Nigerians in the diaspora and those travelling abroad. The government aims to mediate changes to the issue of migration, recognizing Nigeria’s vast human resources and negotiating with countries to ensure dignity and respect for Nigerians.

Nigeria is working to produce enough nurses for its own citizens and those in need, but also encourages investment in schools and sectors that produce skilled workers. The government has engaged with several countries to re-evaluate the issue of migration and encourage Nigerians to work in countries that value their human resources.

The government is taking an approach similar to those of Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines, focusing on addressing unemployment through social investment programs and other efforts.

How are you working with NiDCOM to achieve all these goals?

The Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission, initially under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has since been reorganised under the National Assembly and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). The Oronsaye report, which aligns with the 4D foreign policy, is expected to be brought back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as it aligns with the Diaspora aspect.

Talking about BRICS that you mentioned earlier, why has it been difficult to admit Nigeria into that group and are there talks in this regard?

The process involves negotiating with existing members of the stages and prioritising interests. The country, BASEL IV, may have a greater impact within the G20, considering the influence of BRICS nations. Several BRICS countries are also G20 members, so the country must carefully consider their options and pursue membership in both groups.

You have spoken eloquently around the 4Ds. I was wondering whether you could be clear on how it links it to the economy.

The challenge of mitigating risk and attracting investment is significant. Despite having resources to address this, they are not being fully utilised. To attract more investment, it is essential to focus on securing financing from export credit agencies for agricultural, manufacturing, and infrastructure projects. However, these agencies often hesitate to provide funding. To address this, foreign partners must restructure their business approach, such as Europe’s lack of robust export credit agencies. This could involve establishing a European export credit agency to facilitate partnerships and fund projects, similar to China and India’s practices.

Can you please provide insights into how Nigeria’s foreign policy will support the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) to facilitate trade and investments for sustainable socio-economic development?

Nigeria is the largest market in Africa, making it a crucial player in the African Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA). To ensure successful AfCFTA, Nigeria is actively engaged in rail projects, such as the coastal route and Lagos-Calabar line, and is strategically positioning itself within the Lagos-Kano-Gibiya (LAKAJI) trade and transport corridor. The Ministry is also seeking investors for infrastructure projects like the Nigeria-Morocco gas pipeline, which complements existing pipelines like the West Africa Gas Pipeline.

This major infrastructure project requires diplomatic efforts and shuttle diplomacy, as 15 countries come together to create a successful AfCFTA. The country’s involvement in these projects will help strengthen the trade and transport corridors in Africa.

The Ajaokuta-Abuja-Kaduna Kano gas pipeline is progressing, potentially connecting to the trans-Saharan pipeline, ultimately reaching Algeria. This opens up possibilities for Europe via the Mediterranean European Pipeline (MEP). Despite global advocacy against hydrocarbons, developed countries still rely on them, posing environmental risks. Nigeria’s abundant gas reserves present an opportunity for sustainable development, and harnessing these resources is crucial for economic growth and regional influence. Nigeria has over 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, but not using it for development is essential.

Is the foreign policy doctrine getting a good level of buy-in?

Perceptions are changing, with Nigeria securing $2 billion worth of infrastructure investments and a $150 million lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility in Nigeria. Collaborating with Qatar on gas production diversification presents mutual benefits, as both countries can learn from each other.

By investing in each other’s gas production, Qatar expands its market share, and both benefit. Geographic proximity enhances the potential for pipeline delivery to various regions, including Europe, presenting further opportunities for collaboration and growth. If the trans-Saharan or Moroccan gas pipeline is developed, customers along the way, including African countries, can invest in it, benefiting both parties. These initiatives underscore the exploration of diverse possibilities.

Can you speak to us about some other achievements you have made since assuming office?

Yes, there are some other achievements. For instance, we have a $600 million financial agreement with France for digital and creative enterprises. This is another project being driven very hard by Bosun Tijani, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy.

Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has signed a $500 million renewable energy and gas deal with Germany, a floating LNG project, and a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia. The country has also negotiated an MoU with Russia regarding nuclear energy, signed a MoU with India on renewable energy, collaborated with China on a floating liquid natural gas project, and initiated an MoU with Solarge BV and the African Green Infrastructure Investment Bank for a 1 GW solar PV manufacturing plant.

Nigeria has signed several agreements with China and Qatar, focusing on infrastructure, youth, sports, education, trade, investment, and research. In 2023, Nigeria established an MoU with China for $2 billion in infrastructure, and a $150 million lithium-ion battery manufacturing and processing factory.

In 2024, Nigeria signed an MoU with Qatar for youth and sports, and with Russia for education. In 2023, Nigeria facilitated joint research and innovation promotion through an MoU with Campus France. In 2024, Nigeria enhanced trade volume with India and established a Joint Business Council with Qatar Chamber.

Lab Four committed to providing 50,000 full-time BPO jobs to Nigeria over three years. Additionally, an MoU was signed on the Regulation of the Employment of Nigerian Workers in Qatar.

Nigeria has partnered with India, Cuba, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, tourism, and the US in various sectors, including information and technology, religion, drug trafficking, tourism, culture, security, and the preservation of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site in Adamawa State. Nigeria has signed MoUs to combat illicit drug trade, block drug flow, and preserve the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. Additionally, Nigeria facilitates the trading of Police Special Intervention Squad commanders.

President Tinubu met with Brazil’s President, Lula, at the AU summit, discussing agriculture and technology. The Vice President of Brazil is expected to visit Nigeria. President Tinubu has been invited to visit Brazil. The Siemens electrification deal, initiated by former President Muhammadu Buhari, has been renegotiated to expand transmission and distribution capacity. The scope has been reduced due to time wasted and the impact of COVID-19 on global supply chains, leading to increased prices. Siemens will provide funding and equipment.

What is the status of Nigeria/UAE diplomatic relationship? We also read recently that Saudi Arabia refused visas to Nigerians who wanted to travel for Hajj. How are these issues being resolved?

Nigeria’s cordial relations with the UAE are a result of its friendly nature and strong trade relations, bolstered by diplomatic agreements like the Investment Protection Partnership Agreement (IPPA). However, Nigeria must ensure that agreements signed are in the best interests of its citizens. Negotiations often involve a balance between language and cultural differences, with Arabic being the official language of these countries and English being the official language of Nigeria.

Despite delays, most issues have been resolved, and Nigeria is hopeful that the UAE case will be concluded soon. Intellectual property is a significant concern in Nigeria’s negotiations, especially in the digital era, where digital images and patents are increasingly being invented by Nigerians.

Saudi Arabia and Nigeria have long-standing relations, dating back to the 7th century. The largest diaspora in the region is Nigeria, with up to 8 million Nigerians in senior positions. However, issues such as IPPA, double Sudan, and taxation need to be addressed. Some Nigerians have misbehaved in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, affecting relationships.

However, most Nigerians are legitimate businesses, and Saudis have invested in their economies. Addressing these issues can be achieved through proper visa scrutiny and setting standards. With the groundwork being done, the issues are almost resolved, and results are expected to be seen.

A lot of dollars has been pouring into Africa from the Gulf, why is Nigeria still left out despite its position as the largest economy and population on the continent?

Perhaps they have also signed those agreements with those countries. Egypt’s debt-to-GDP ratio is not what we are aspiring for. We are trying to do things in a sensible manner that will yield results. Nigeria is not the kind of country to exercise land and title to territory to foreign entities. Perhaps these are some of the things that feed into the rapid investments that you mentioned. But if you look at Section 2 of our constitution in terms of the fundamental objectives and principles of state policy, it is designed to protect ordinary citizens. We can’t just start exercising land because we are looking for investors; we have to do it in a manner that we do not regret. I’m not saying that others regret it; they have different constitutions, different outlooks, different sets of relationships, and also different histories and trajectories to statehood. This is ours.

What informed the change of diplomatic tactics with Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso?

The ECOWAS collective decision to lift sanctions on Niger and other countries was a collective decision, not a change. The decision was made by heads of state and government, and was misinterpreted as a threat to war. Coercive measures were taken, and some citizens called for a softer approach. President Bola Tinubu, concerned about ongoing lent and Ramadan, decided to lift the sanctions.

This puts Niger and other countries in an awkward situation, as they cannot use sanctions as an excuse for not performing or delivering for their citizens. The new sanctions and excuses are up to the countries to deliver for their citizens and not use Nigeria as an excuse. The propaganda used to justify sanctions is laughable, and Nigeria has never been dictated to by foreign powers.

Is the government concerned about the ‘Japa syndrome’?

Yes, which is why we are talking about Diaspora and making it one of the Ds. It is also why we are talking about a better structured process of having our workers go abroad with dignity—not a situation where they want you to go abroad to work, but your child or your husband is not allowed. They just want to have you under very stringent conditions. But now, we are saying that if you want our nurse to go and work in your hospital, that’s fine; one will go, but you will invest to produce two to replace her, and she must go with her husband and child; otherwise, let everybody stay where God put them. We are working to strengthen policies and agreements that uphold our citizens’ rights and interests while fostering positive contributions to both host and home countries. By engaging with stakeholders and promoting dialogue, we aim to create an environment that supports skilled migration and maximises the benefits for all parties involved.