By Victoria Ojeme
’How we are helping host country on power, technological devt’
Japanese Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Ryuichi Shoji speaks on hinderances to Nigeria’s technological advancement and how his home country is helping to address them. Shoji also comments on the lessons Nigeria can learn from the tsunami and the attendant nuclear disaster that struck Japan about a year ago. Excerpt:
How is Japan coping with recovery efforts one year after the tsunami and nuclear disaster?
The earthuake that struck Japan one year ago was a huge one with magnitude of 9.7. But we are on the way to recovery and the recovery is more rapid than anybody expected. I must say we are on the right track for recovery from the Fukushima nuclear accident. One thing about the recovery is that we want to go beyond simple transformation. We need to make our villages and cities to be able to withstand natural disasters and we need to review, comprehensively, our energy policy and add green economy.
We are also tackling some challenges of a rapidly aging society. Some of these challenges that we face are more than the restoration, we want to go beyond the restoration, by transforming these challenges into opportunities so that we can show to the world how to deal with the challenges.
We are the first to experience the challenges of this sort in the world, so we should be able to deal with them.
What would you say has been the cost of the disaster to Japan?
In terms of persons, 15,000 persons died and 3,000 are still missing and, in terms of infrastructure, building and facilities worth $215billion were destroyed; estimated figure for recovery is about $235billion.
Nigeria has expressed interest in nuclear energy. Going by what has happened in Japan, would you advise Nigeria to go into nuclear energy?
Disasters vary and are sometimes unprecedented. One thing about disaster is to share and have knowledge and lessons of a particular form of disaster. For this purpose, we are going to hold a high level conference on natural disaster, and conference on nuclear security.
We are hoping that Nigeria learns from that and takes these lessons into account when making preparations for disaster.
So, sharing knowledge and lessons is the best we propose we can do and that will be helpful to the other nations.
Do you think Nigeria is ready for nuclear energy, taking into consideration the obvious gaps in public infrastructure maintenance as well as the requisite manpower?
The first thing I need to say is, what energy policy does the country have? What we can do if the country goes into nuclear or not is another matter. Of course there is one condition: A country should respect international obligations and rules on the continent but, within that framework, it is up to that country to decide what energy policy to adopt.
Another thing about what we can do and we are ready to do is to share power experience, knowledge and lessons. We are hoping that lawmakers in Nigeria take this into account especially those related to that security and protection of the plant and come up with a conclusion.
Thirdly, I will say that Nigeria is now working hard to raise its level of development in accordance with the transformation agenda and I think it has set a very high goal. There are very high varieties of issues and objectives included in the transformation agenda and those issues are inter-woven and interconnected; so that is not going to be easy.
I must say that Nigeria is on the right path. The first thing the Nigerian government needs to do is to accomplish the current transformation agenda. Once this has been accomplished, that will pave the way for new initiatives; and nuclear policy, just like other policies, should be placed in a well conceived framework of priority; and it is primary for a government to accept such a priority, taking into account urgent needs of the country and having a bargain of resources.
What is the current state of trade relations between Japan and Nigeria?
In 2011, the trade volume doubled compared to the previous year’s. Basically, we import oil and gas and we export manufacture goods like steel.
What lessons do you think Nigeria can learn from Japan’s technological advancement?
High technology in our country is just like cultivating a plant and you need an enabling environment for high technology. For instance, you need to plant a seed, water a plant and protect. I can point out several things Nigeria can learn from and one is education. Education should be strengthened especially in the tertiary sector.
Secondly, we need a society that respects the role of high tech engineers, and researchers and scientists and can offer them a conducive ground; the government also needs to give a drive to the manufacturing sector which can provide a place for scientists and high tech engineers; you need to lessen the dependence on oil and gas; and, thirdly, what we are doing in this direction is one thing I can point out which is NASAMASA, this is a Japanese project that is based in Nigeria to improve in the teaching of science and mathematics in schools.
I think this is a project to prepare younger generations and we are giving scholarships to Nigerian students in the area of science and technology.
I must say that the important thing is that after going through this study, they should be given a place so that they can make use of their talents. This is also a kind of an enabling environment for high technology. There is also the possibility of technology transfer.
How would you advise the Nigerian government that has expressed interest in having foreign manufacturing firms locate their industries here?
Nigeria as a country has potentials of market; it is a very attractive market. One of the major concerns of Japanese, European and American companies is lack of suitable infrastructure. None of the manufacturers will conceive building a factory in a country where there is no stable power supply; and not just that but also infrastructure like roads and communication are also very important.
What we need now is globalisation where one country produces one thing and the other produces another and with this they combine to make one product. There should be good roads and transportation facilities. Another problem is the ports, where goods can take weeks and months before they are discharged. Infrastructure is the key; there is need for a stable economic condition. Lastly, there is the security issue. The security issue is seriously affecting investors because those in the oil and gas have no high return, so they cannot afford to pay for each person working here in the company.
What has been the impact of Japan’s development assistance to Nigeria in agriculture, environment and education, among others?
Nigeria has been in a difficult situation for the last 12years in terms of economic growth and, at the same time, we have a problem of poverty. In our estimation, Nigeria is moving in the right direction with the transformation agenda.
With all the aid, there is a basic human need that we have noticed here and that has to do with polio eradication, water supply and primary education – these are the few areas we are concentrating on for now and, at the same time, we are trying to help to improve infrastructure.
For now, we are working on the rehabilitation of Jebba hydro station. This is certainly the mainstream of improving power supply and that means improving basic infrastructure which is necessary to supporting quite a number of industries and manufacturers.
We have so many Japanese companies that are interested in investing in Nigeria. There are several negotiations going on and, when these negotiations are finalised, there will be so many Japanese companies in Nigeria to support infrastructure and basic industries.
Do you think Japan needs assistance in its reconstruction drive?
Yes! Just after the disaster, we received assistance from within and outside Japan. More than 150 countries extended assistance to the Japanese people especially those affected by the disaster; they are very much encouraged by this expression of solidarity coming, not only within the country but also all over the world. This made them to feel that they were not alone and so they were encouraged to confront their situation. We would like to say ‘thank you very much’ to the people who have expressed solidarity with us.
Talking about international assistance, yes, Japan needs international assistance; we want to see more foreign investors come to Japan and to the affected areas – industrialists, business men, tourists and students – in such a way that it will assist our economy.
The second thing we want to request is for the foreign countries and companies to keep wide open their doors for Japanese products so that made-in-Japan products can excel at this time.