Exclusive Interview with Nigeria’s Ambassador to The Netherlands, His Excellency, Amb. Oji Ngofa
Can we meet you Sir?
My name is Oji Ngofa, Nigeria’s Ambassador extraordinaire to the Netherlands
For how long have you been Nigeria’s ambassador to the Netherlands?
This is actually my second week; I just arrived and am trying to settle down.
How does it feel representing Nigeria as an Ambassador?
I consider it a privilege to be chosen to represent Nigeria in a country like this. Am not just an ambassador, but saddled with the responsibly for both bilateral and multilateral issues concerning Nigeria here in the Netherlands.
How many countries does your appointment cover?
I am accredited to Netherlands but also with concurrent accreditation to four multilateral organizations that Nigeria is a member; International Criminal Court (ICC), International Court of Justice (ICJ), Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) .
Don’t you think this job would be much of a load for you considering that you would supervise the consulate, the affairs of Nigerians in diaspora and as well as these organizations?
Well those are the responsibilities. It’s enormous, no doubt but we would do our best. The embassy is structured that I supervise and oversee everything but there are desk officers whose duties are delegated to take care of some of these responsibilities. But the overall coordination and reporting to headquarters is my responsibility.
Have you experienced any culture shock upon resumption of duty?
The culture shock am experiencing is the weather, it is very cold here am not used to padding myself the way am doing here. I am known for simple dressing but I have no choice. I will acclimatize in no distant time.
What’s the view about Nigerians here generally?
First I would love to point out that Nigeria have a very robust bilateral relationship with the kingdom of Netherlands. We have had a long history of trade and investment contact of course beginning with slavery many years ago and in contemporary times. We still have a lot going on between these two countries. As we all know Royal Shell BP and some other multinational companies belong to Netherlands. Talking about the state of relationship here is very strong; it’s my responsibility at this time to strengthen it so we will continue to leverage on her prolonged expertise.
Talking on economy diplomacy you have mentioned quite a lot of companies that belong to the Dutch, are there similar instances of such companies owned by Nigerians here in the Netherlands?
Well Nigerians are in small trade and investments here in Netherlands of course you cannot compare because we are still growing in terms of expertise and what we can bring on the table but we are encouraging that especially now that the country is focused on diversification.
Will your stay accord Nigerians the opportunities to own businesses here? That is what a lot of potential business men are looking forward to.
We are seriously working on that, I have just recently done an email to the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce in Lagos, am also putting the ground work on a lot of areas, am also meeting with a lot of Nigerians who have been here for a long time and are doing businesses. We are trying to see how we can expand the scope of work they are doing. I’m just waiting for the formal submission of letter of credence to King Alexander William of the kingdom of Netherlands that must be done before we can be really allowed to engage in any form of bilateral businesses.
Nigerians are known to be very good at sports and back in the days we know a lot of them played with big clubs. Have you been briefed as regards that sector, are we still doing well?
At the moment am actually engaging a lot of Nigerians, I met with the Nigerian Association of Netherlands today, I have also met with you. I would be meeting with the students and professionals soon. I also have in my itinerary to meet with those in sports, find out their challenges and see how the embassy can be of help.
We learnt the Netherlands Embassy rarely issue visas to Nigerians even those who are into legitimate businesses. How do you plan to tackle this issue?
Yes of a truth Nigerians have tremendous challenge in getting a visa to this country (Netherlands). I have at this moment taking this up to the appropriate quarters, the explanation I was given is that about four or five years ago their consular office in Nigeria was closed and the responsibility was given to Belgium embassy the reason am yet to know. But what I think may be their reason is to control the influx of Nigerians to their country but this is one of the areas that I have to remedy as the ambassador here because I see no reason why we would make it easier for them to come to our country while we find it strenuous to get into theirs. This is one of the challenges I have and I assure Nigerians that truly we would work on it and they would reinstate that decision and get a consular office in any of the states in Nigeria.
Nigeria has been ironically referred to as the giant of Africa; we would love to know if we still have that image here?
Like I said am only two weeks old here but with interaction with the head of protocol Nigeria is considered an important ally of this country. They are concerned that we expand our bilateral relation especially with the treat they have about their major investment in our country (Shell BP), they made it very clear to me that they don’t want Shell BP to leave Nigeria. This means we are still very relevant to them and since we are, we are certainly still the giant of Africa we are touted to be. I can tell you Nigeria is very important to the kingdom of Netherlands and to that extent we would continue to leverage on that to expand our trade investment. To solidify this I think we need to firstly structure a legally recognized platform to relate with them in a lot of ways and secondly we as a people need to solve our reputational or perception problem, which is one of the biggest disadvantages we suffer. This is why am trying to bring together every one of us here so we can have a focus, this is not what the embassy can do alone. Like you know diplomacy and foreign relation is fundamentally hinged on domestic activities, you cannot do any magic here if the country is not doing what it ought to do.
Are there hope to reclaim the past glory?
Oh yes there are, there is a quiet revolution going on in Nigeria now, things are changing. Take the anti-corruption mantra of this present administration for instance, no matter what people say the world is beginning to see that it’s no longer business as usual. What the investing world or international ally wants to see is a corrupt free environment to do their business and the ability of any government they are investing in to obey their own laws. They hate to see impunity or government taking decisions in total violations of the rules they have set round those business. Those are the biggest things that have killed the desire of foreign investment to come to our country. And also their capacity to repatriate whatever profit they have made in Nigeria so those are the issues and you can see that this government is dealing with that they are also making it easy to do business in this country. Am sure you are aware that the ease of doing business in Nigeria has jumped in the index from 196th position to 145th . This is what the international community wants to see, this is what can attract investment. We have also been directed as part of ease of doing business to issue Nigeria visa within 48 hours. And we are also trying to comply with that. We are also working on issue of illegal migration this is one of the biggest concerns of the Dutch government so we are currently curbing that. I must also say here that the Netherlands have done well in issuing a whole lot of Nigerians Dutch citizenship, those who wish to change citizenship. The few weeks I have been here some Nigerians have come to us for approvals.
What is it about Nigeria you are most proud of?
We are a great country, am proud of our resilience, our intellectuality, we are great!
What’s your view of our present government, can you score them?
Am a very objective person, am part of this government, before my ambassadorial appointment. I was deputy national secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC) by virtue of this fact I can make claim of strong stakeholdership. I will say without fear of contradiction that without APC and Buhari at this time Nigeria would have collapsed and I will tell you why, we were coming from a situation where Nigeria was earning 120 per barrel at a point it got to 140 (from 2011 to 2014) but what did we get? It didn’t reflect on the infrastructures of the country or economy of the country, what we saw was unbridled corruption; we practically had economy of individuals. The money in the economy was circulating on the basis of individual projects, so we didn’t have one (economy) that ran on government projects. When APC came in the price of crude unfortunately fell up to 28 dollars per barrel. That was how we found ourselves in recession; this could only be solved by a government or president that is prudent. I hope you remember we run a mono-economy which is just on oil so this government had to start the process of diversification. As we speak today Nigeria is almost self-sufficient in rice production, we are also beginning to do well in mining and this have contributed in generating internal revenue beyond expectation. The reason for this tremendous change is because we have a government that doesn’t tolerate corruption. As a member of APC National Working Council I can tell you we were working for free, without pay. It wasn’t like this in the former party. Gradually the country is beginning to boom again because of the prudence of this administration. And also don’t forget that sometime in 2016 there was massive sabotage of oil facilities by militants, we know what that could cost a country but the government looked for a way to engage them. One of the most commendable thing this government did is to ask OPEC to leave Nigeria out while regulating crude output because of the situation at hand, Nigeria and Venezuela were the only countries left out; this only happened because our OPEC partners have confidence in the President and his administration. Today being in government is no longer an avenue to make stupid wealth and it’s no longer business as usual in Nigeria. This is a quiet revolution and the international community is taking note of it. The only place I think the president has gotten it wrong is in the politics of governance, but I feel he is beginning to set it right.
Recently it was touted that this administration increased our foreign exchange, from $189 to over $300 today. What could be the reason behind this?
Basically foreign exchange is a factor of demand and supply and because we are not much of a productive economy, we are rather a consuming economy. You get foreign exchange by virtue of what you give to the world and it’s bought in dollar currency. We get foreign exchange only from sale of crude. The time #500 was exchanged for a dollar was because crude dropped and that was the only thing we were giving to the world. And now with the policy in diversification we are beginning to reduce what we import, we are beginning to export more. For example Aba is beginning to make more money because government had to ban most of the things we import from outside so they can produce for Nigerians. Am sure we are observing the current changes in dollar price. No government would purposely increase exchange rate, it’s a factor of demand and supply.
What’s your last word for Nigerians?
I think they should have faith in this government, we should also keep this momentum going because any attempt to cut it short will have serious negative impact on our growth. If all the policies that have been set in place for example, the economy recovery and growth plan are backed by the executive orders that have been given by this administration and policies on ease of doing business in other to attract foreign investments. Things will definitely take a dramatic turn. Most especially the agricultural investment should be deepened so that Nigerians should be able to feed themselves. The moment we can do this as a starting point then we have a way forward. Diversification, resuscitation of our industries, sustaining the policies on foreign exchange, a lot of this is going on now, so there is huge hope.
Your Excellency we are so glad for giving Supreme magazine this chance to have an interface with you.
Thank you for your time.
By Raymond Ukaegbu