By Yusuph Olaniyonu
Since last September when Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki announced that the focus of the upper chamber of the National Assembly will from then be economy, economy and economy, many have been surprised at the various strategies that the Senate has adopted in pursuing the goals. From different legislations aimed at bringing swift recovery to the ailing economy to idea-generating sessions with experts, stakeholders and the general public, the Senate has consistently walk the talk.
Last week, another dimension was added to the plan to re-energise the economy as Saraki led four of his colleagues to Germany to seek economic co-operation through attraction of foreign investments, borrowing ideas on energy generation and distribution as well as seeking more support for plans to resettle and rehabilitate people of the insurgency-ravaged North-East of the country.
The three-day trip was the result of the visit of the President of Germany, Joachim Gauk, to Nigeria last year accompanied by industrialists, legislators and top government officials. During that period, the then President of the German Bundestrat, the upper chamber of the German Parliament invited Saraki to visit her country.
The schedule of the visit by the Nigerian Senators was packed so full that from Wednesday, March 8 when the team landed till the last day on Friday, March 10, it was from one meeting to the other, and with different groups. The issues bordering on how to forge strong economic co-operation, assistance for rebuilding of the insurgency ravaged North-East zone and how to benefit from the advanced technologies for energy supply dominated the various discussions.
From the meeting with the Vice President of the lower chamber of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, Mr. Johannes Singhammer to the ones with top officials of the think-tank group, Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the German-African Business Association, the Foreign Office and members of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for relations with the English and Portuguese speaking States of West and Central Africa to the discussions with the leadership of the Bundestrat led by the President, Malu Dreyer, the one at the Berlin House of Representatives and meeting with Nigerians in Germany at the Nigerian embassy, Saraki put on the garb of an eloquent salesman who has perfected his art and knows his onions.
His message and that of the other members of the delegation was consistent. If the Germans truly believe that Nigeria was actually very important to their strategic interests in Africa, they must encourage economic co-operation between both countries and get their big and medium scale industries to invest in Nigeria.
A few hours after their arrival in Berlin, Saraki, accompanied by Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, Monsurat Sunmonu and Abubakar Kyari, headed to a village 70 kilometres outside Berlin, called Feldheim. The main focus of the visit is on how Nigeria can emulate the use of clean, renewable energy source by decentralising her system of electricity generation and distribution.
The small village generates its own energy through bio-fuels, windmill and other clean source of energy and even sell the excess to big power generating and selling companies. And all these were achieved through the self-efforts of locals.
While briefing the Senators, the Project Leader, Mr. Werner Frohwitter said the project was one in which “citizens take their energy supply into their own hands” as they contributed money to build bio-gas plants which use slurry and manure from their pigs and cows and wind farms.
He added that though the village has a population of 140 people, it hosts about 4,000 visitors yearly comprising students, politicians, researchers, scholars and journalists who want to learn about how the people’s efforts led to the generation of 10mw of electricity, from which they sell the excess to the national power grid.
Frohwitter said Feldheim is now a community which produces “safe, local, economic and ecological supply of heat and electricity organised by and under the responsibility of the citizens independent from the grids of conventional power utility companies”.
Saraki in his comments after the visit said the National Assembly will have to amend the laws on power generation, transmission and distribution in other to replicate the feat recorded by the German Village, Feldheim. He said the achievement of the Germans was possible in Nigeria if only the leadership and the operators could be serious and demonstrate the will power.
He said the issue of power supply remains top in the agenda of the Senate as it was a key instrument for eradicating poverty and unleashing the potentials of the people.
He requested for exchange programmes, co-operation and investment in the power sector as one of the ways Germany can support Nigeria and consolidate existing relations between both countries which are leaders of their respective continents.
On Thursday morning, the Senate team arrived the Bundestag, at a time when the lower House of the German Parliament was discussing Europe-Africa relations and the Senate President said Germany was the first country the 8th Senate visited at the leadership level.
While thanking the Germans for their contributions to funds towards the rehabilitation of the North-east zone of Nigeria during last month’s meeting of the European Union in Oslo, Norway, Saraki said the next challenge is how to rebuild the devastated region, rehabilitate and resettle the people.
He said the areas affected by the Boko Haram has over two million displaced people, a figure greater than that of the Syrian crisis which now gets all the attention and commitment of resources from the international community.
He urged the Germans to go beyond the provision of intelligence and training as well as light equipment for the military. He said Germans can influence other countries to sell durable and more efficient military hardware to Nigeria so as to strengthen the armed forces.
The Senate President explained to the Germans that Nigeria now gives visa at the point of entry to genuine business people and tourists, a fact testified to by a member of the German-African Business Association present at one of the meetings.
He also talked about the Ease of Doing Business Committee headed by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable and the efforts to fully open up the national economy to private sector participation through laws and policies. While speaking with the various groups, Saraki explained the various measures introduced to fight corruption and entrench transparency in the public sector. He assured members of the German-African business community and the Parliamentary Friendship Group that various laws that will ensure easy entry and exit into the economy as well as dispute resolution and contract enforcement that comply with global best practices are being enacted.
The Senate President in his address to Singhammer, Vice President of Bundestag, and the Parliamentary Friendship Group led by Charles Hubber, also canvassed for the co-operation of the German lawmakers in granting legal stay to law abiding and skilful Nigerians who have been living in Germany for a long time so that they can meaningfully and positively contribute to the economy of their host country.
In the area of power, the Senate President and Abaribe who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Steel and Metallurgy urged the Germans to invest in the sector in Nigeria. Abaribe explained that Nigeria is open to utilising different sources of energy like the solar, gas turbines, renewable energy, bio-gas, particularly as there is need to decentralise the operation. The Senate President also explained that Nigeria was about to experiment with having some educational and health institutions operate independent sources of power not connected to the national grid.
On the last day of the visit, apart from the discussion with the President of the House of Representatives of Berlin, Mr. Ralf Wieland, where Saraki urged him to persuade companies based in the state to expand into Africa through Nigeria where they can take advantage of the huge market of about 170 million people, 70 per cent of which are youths, the major highlights was when the delegation observed a plenary session in Bundestrat and later held discussions with its leadership. It was during the parley at the Bundestrat that the Senate delegation got some firm commitments from Ms Dreyer, the President.
Dreyer, after listening to Saraki who enumerated the areas where his country requires German partnership, support and co-operation, said it was inevitable that Nigeria as the leading country in Africa must be economically strong and therefore deserved the support of a European giant like her country.
Dreyer said Germany attached great importance to the strong relationship with Nigeria and will support the on-going economic recovery programme in the country. She said the country will look towards extending the special partnership and grassroots co-operation which it presently has with Rwanda to Nigeria and that more exchange programmes between the two countries should be initiated.
The Bundestrat President also promised to plead Nigeria’s case before the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Secretary in charge of Economic Co-operation and Development, Mr. Muller.
The partnership between Nigeria and Germany is very important and should be nurtured. This partnership at a very high level can help the entire population in Nigeria. We have to do all that is necessary to support Africa to prevent internal crisis that would later plague Europe.
“We should empower African nations to enable the people and their government take their fate into their own hands. We have a gain to make from this co-operation. We are faced with refugee situation and to save ourselves the escalation of this problem, we have to tackle the root cause of migration by helping African countries to be economically strong and buoyant. That is why we must help Africa” she said.
In the area of renewable energy, Dreyer said Germany would be ready to help Nigeria through exchange of technical information and exchange programmes as the clean source of power is the future of energy resource in the world. She said this was an area her country had made much progress and will be ready to partner with Nigeria.
Saraki while responding to the message of his German counterpart, reiterated the need for Germany to partner Nigeria in the areas of economic co-operation, security and renewable energy as both are continental leaders whose well-being have positive implications for Africa and Europe.
He noted that the Senate delegation was in Berlin to strengthen the existing relationship between both countries as represented by the visit of the German President to Nigeria last year in company with some businessmen.
“We appreciate cordial relationship between Germany and Nigeria. We need German support as our government works hard through progressive policies and legislations aimed at overcoming our current challenges and engaging our youths who form about 70 per cent of the population.
He said power is one area where Nigeria required serious help as its inadequacy affects the success of businesses and limits the productive ability of the people. He urged Germany to provide necessary support to Nigeria through business investment in the sector, provision of technical assistance and sharing of knowledge.
The Senate President added that German support was needed to solve the security crisis in the North-East of Nigeria and that the country was at the point where the displaced people have to be rehabilitated, resettled in rebuilt homes and environment as well as be re-assured that cases of isolated attacks by the insurgents would cease.
The Senate delegation also visited the MediaTeam IT Education Centre in Berlin, one of the success stories of Nigerians living in Germany. The place is owned by Mr. Victor Ugwu.
As the Senate delegation returned home last weekend, it was obvious they had made some impact and had successfully sold the story of an economy with such huge potentials for expansion and investments to the Germans. The seed sown on this trip will, perhaps, begin to germinate in months to come.