Rani Malick, outgoing first secretary of the High Commission of India, tells CHUKS OLUIGBO how good her four-year experience in Nigeria has been. She also speaks about how India-Nigeria relations can be further strengthened.
Before she came to Nigeria as first secretary of the High Commission of India in 2010, Rani Malick had worked for a short period in India and had been on diplomatic mission to Canada, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and a couple of other countries. Today, four years after she first arrived in Nigeria, she has completed her assignment and will be retiring back to her roots in Delhi, India.
On the sidelines of a valedictory event organised in her honour by the Indian Universities Alumni Association Nigeria (IUAAN) in Lagos, Malick tells me her experience in Nigeria was worthwhile.
“I found Nigerians to be extremely warm people, welcoming and open,” she says at the event which held at Cumberland Hotel on Adeola Odekun, Victoria Island.
“Nigeria is a country with great potential, full of resources, both natural and human – natural resources like oil and minerals, and human resources who are extremely intelligent and sharp and capable of achieving great heights,” she says.
At the valedictory event, Malick was variously described by the speakers as “an iconic diplomat of Great India with zero tolerance for corruption and indiscipline”, “a strong advocate of due process and transparency”, “an outstanding bridge-builder”, and “an iron lady whose dynamic regime at the High Commission was fraught with great innovation”.
So, what did she do differently to earn such loud encomiums? Malick says she does not really know. “They are all being very nice to me, I must say,” she tells me at first, then adds, “But I have a very clear focus. I know what I want to do is to increase interaction between Nigeria and India, and anything that works towards that I would like to support it. And I want to genuinely work in the interest of our bilateral relations. I think that’s what people realised, that somebody is trying to make an important contribution. You see, Nigerians are a very sharp people. Even an illiterate Nigerian is also very sharp. They have the capacity to understand what you are trying to do. So perhaps these people have seen and understood and have come to appreciate that we are genuinely trying to make a difference, that I am working to genuinely foster our bilateral relations.”
She says bilateral relations between India and Nigeria have been extremely cordial from the word go. To buttress the point, she adds that India established a diplomatic mission in Nigeria in 1958, even before Nigeria got independence in 1960, and the relationship has been growing from strength to strength.
Malick attributes this India-Nigeria cordial relationship to the many commonalities that exist between the two countries. “Both are democracies. Both speak English Language. We share family values, respect for elders, similar business ethics, similar outlook towards family, society, cultures. We are both multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. We have similar problems; we have similar advantages – large population, dense cities, etc. And we have similar challenges also,” she says.
She, however, adds that much more can be done, noting that the potential still exists for multiplication in bilateral relations, for taking Indo-Nigeria bilateral relations to a higher level.
“A lot has been done already,” she says. “There are almost a hundred Indian companies who have strong footprints in Nigeria. Indian companies are the second-largest employers of Nigerians after the Federal Government. In the last couple of years trade between the two countries has almost doubled. India has taken over as number-one business partner, which was until two years ago the United States of America. India-Nigeria government-to-government relations and people-to-people relations have been doing very well and they can escalate to further heights.”
But are there specific areas where she thinks these relations can be further strengthened? Malick mentions education, where she says there is a great potential, adding that though people are already working on that, more bilateral interaction can still take place in the sector.
“India has recorded huge milestones in terms of education and medicine,” she tells me, “and we would like Nigeria also to benefit not only from our strength but also from some of the weaknesses that we had, some of the mistakes that we made. You know, we are both developing countries. So, we would like to work together with Nigeria and benefit from each other. We can also interact more and work towards capacity building in Nigeria. Some of your people can go to India, train there and come back and train more people. Those are the kinds of things we are looking at.”
Malick says her country is also keen on cooperation with Nigeria in the agricultural sector. She adds that Indian government will also be willing to interact and work together with Nigerian government and people at any level and on any sector that Nigerians think is important to them.
“We are a huge democracy. We have so many people and we are self-sufficient people. We have medicines. If Nigeria also wishes, we can learn from each other. Nigeria similarly has many things we can benefit from. So it’s a give and take,” she says.
And her diplomatic mission has not been without challenges, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, she says, but she does not think there are any challenges that are specific to only Nigeria. “Each station has got its own challenges,” she tells me. “I have worked in many other countries also. It may just be that the challenges are different from country to country. You see, diplomatic assignments are challenging because as you are going into a new country you are learning what’s happening in that country and how things work there. There are challenges that come with each new assignment and with each country that you go into, just that they might be different kinds of challenges. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, the challenges may be different. In Canada the challenges may be of a different nature. But essentially there are challenges in each assignment. I do not find any particularly difficult challenges in Nigeria.”
As Malick steps out and someone else steps into her shoes, she is hopeful that the new person who comes in will be accepted, befriended, and welcomed in the same manner as she has been. She says she is also sure that her successor will make his own contribution to fostering the Indo-Nigeria relations in time to come – in his own way. “To him, my message will be that Nigeria is a place where great potentials exist and we need to work to harness those potentials for the benefit of our two countries,” she says.