By Onome Amawhe
Japanese Ambassador to Nigeria Sadanobu Kusaoke in this interview gave a detailed assessment of the Nigeria-Japan relations and noted that in spite of the many inroads made, the potential is not yet fully utilized
KEEPING in view the history of Nigeria-Japan relations which was established in 1960, could you shed some light on the present bilateral relationship between Nigeria and Japan?
Japan and Nigeria established diplomatic relations in 1960. Our embassy in Lagos at the time became operational that same year. Nigeria also established a fully operational embassy in Tokyo in 1964. Since these developments, both countries have continued to enjoy cordial bilateral relations. The ties became even stronger after Nigeria’s transition to democracy in 1999. Since then, there have been numerous high level exchanges between both countries, culminating in former President Obasanjo’s five visits to Japan.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Morialso visited Nigeria in 2001 and the list goes on. Although President Buhari is yet to visit Japan, he has had fruitful bilateral talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at various functions abroad with the most recent being the sixth TICAD, last August. I am also quite pleased to mention that our grass-root level, people to people exchange and scholarship programme are some of the valuable elements of the bilateral ties.
Following the ever changing trends in international politics, alliances and counter-alliances, how much significance does Japan give to Nigeria in its foreign policy?
The geographical distance of both countries does not affect the international politics inherent in diplomacy. Both countries share a lot of values and mutual interests. For instance, Japan and Nigeria are major contributors to the United Nations and both of us strongly believe that UN Security Council should be reformed to improve its representativeness. We are also both committed to disarmament and non-proliferation. The fact that Nigeria is one of the 12 member states of Non Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) initiated by Japan testifies to this. Furthermore, we are equally close partners in tackling global challenges such as climate change.
What is the status of economic relations between Nigeria and Japan?
The potential is not yet fully realized. Although we’ve made significant inroads in manufacturing, petro-chemical refineries, hydro-power generating plants, civil engineering designs amongst others. We are currently a major LNG purchaser from Nigeria. In spite of these, Nigeria and Japan should look into other ways to further expand these ties.
What is the number of Japanese investment here in Nigeria?
Japanese investment reached 2.5 million US dollars in 2015 excluding the amount invested by Japanese companies’ subsidiaries’ registered outside Japan. In terms of job creation in Nigeria, Japan’s contribution has been substantial because Japanese companies spare no effort to maintain as much Nigerian employment as possible in spite of recent economic conditions.
What is the Nigeria investor operation like in Japan?
I only have anecdotal information at hand, not a statistics about Nigerian business activities in Japan. Some Nigerian investors are engaged in trading. Some are in food business and others run restaurants. I hope that flows of trade and investments between both countries increase and we look forward to seeing more Nigerian companies doing business in Japan.
Which industries in Nigeria have the most potential for increasing their businesses with Japan?
Nigeria has huge potential for business with Japan. I have no doubt about that. One of the promising sectors is infrastructure, such as power and transport. Manufacturing and trading. Consumer goods and services also have huge potential because of Nigeria’s large population and growing domestic market. Nigeria is trying to transform the national economy into an all-weather type economy by promoting its diversification. With support from the Federal as well as relevant State governments, Japanese businesses can become part of this undertaking.
How can Nigeria –Japan business ties be strengthened even more?
Frankly speaking, many companies operating in Nigeria have been negatively affected by prevailing economic and business environment. Japanese firms are no exception. It is all the more encouraging; therefore, that Nigeria is trying to improve its investment climate. The discussion about how to raise the country’s standing in the “Easy to do business” Index published by the World Bank is a good sign.
I am sure that Nigeria will design and implement concrete, investor-friendly reform as a matter of urgency. One element of this policy could be the creation of a framework to reassure existing and future foreign investors in Nigeria. We are prepared to discuss with our Nigerian partners an appropriate framework such as an Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (IPPA) for this purpose. Even a modest action on such initiative would send a positive message to Japanese and Nigerian business people.
How would you describe the cultural relations between the two countries?
The culture of both countries has not been introduced to each other frequently enough and that’s because of the distance created by the geographical location of both countries. But we are now determined to promote cultural exchange and I’m delighted to hear a very positive response from our Nigerian friends. A recent example was when our Embassy co-organized Animated Film Festival with French Embassy (Institute Francais) in Abuja early November.
We have been supporting Nigerian students to read post/under-graduate courses, at colleges of technology/specialized training at Japanese universities under Japanese Government (MEXT) scholarship programme. We most recently focused on sports exchange with the Tokyo Olympic Games proposed for 2020. This has led to the sponsored training of the Nigerian Volley Ball team coach under the Japanese National Volley Ball team coach. There are also similar programmes for Karate and Judo. My personal fear that we might end up being beaten by Nigerian athletes will never get in the way!
How can Nigeria–Japan cultural ties be strengthened even more?
The short answer is by mutual education and enlightenment. Nigeria has a prosperous film industry nicknamed “Nollywood” and Japanese films, including animation, are very much loved in some countries, most of our fellow Japanese or Nigerians are not aware of these facts. Therefore, we try to stimulate people’s curiosity or interest in Japanese and Nigerian films by actually screening films to the Nigerian audience. Hence our second Animated Film Festival in early November, I hope these events go a long way to enhance our interest in each other’s culture and lead eventually to a broad-based cultural exchange on a commercial basis.
The Tokyo International Conference of African Development (TICAD) is the biggest, oldest and most powerful international conference which discusses African development. How would you rate its impact so far?
TICAD, as a pioneer forum of discussions on development of Africa, has maintained its commitment to African development for about a quarter century. During the period through six TICADs, our African partners and Japan have been advocating development concept of African ownership combined with international partnership. This concept has firmly taken root among the economic and development policy community and has been put into practice in Africa. They are reflected in designing and implementation of numerous development projects to promote people-centered development.
How big is the Japanese community in Nigeria?
As of October 2015, there were around 160 Japanese nationals living in Nigeria.
Are there any non-business-related advocacy issues you would like to take up with Nigeria?
I would like to take up more cultural exchange programmes. I understand that Nigeria is proud of its various art forms such as literature, painting, sculpture, theatre and movie, which I highly admire. But unfortunately the only thing Japanese know about Nigeria is that it’s an “oil rich country with security issues.” I would like to change this perception on Nigeria and tell our people that Nigeria is much more than that. At the same time, I would like the Nigerian people to have some interest in Japanese arts and tradition. And it is in these areas that I would like to make our relations mutually inspiring.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced since your posting to Nigeria?
I did not know the place. That was my biggest concern since I had never set foot in West Africa. Next came two kinds of distance to my mind. One is the distance between Japan and Nigeria, 24 hours’ journey. The other is the distance between Abuja and the sea. The first kind of distance is getting shorter psychologically as I know more about Nigeria. The second one stays the same as an island person like me who always wants to be near sea.