BY OCHEREOME NNANNA, Just back from Toronto, Canada
Former Prime Minister of Canada, The Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, has described Nigeria as a country with a rapidly developing economy and Canada’s largest economic partner in sub-Saharan Africa, saying it is time his country and Nigeria forged a “new partnership”.
He made this remark as the two-day investment summit drew to a close at the historic Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto Canada on Friday May 3rd 2013.
Clark, who became the Prime Minister of Canada at 30 in 1979 and remains the youngest to have held that post, is also a business investor in Nigeria. During the 2011 general elections in Nigeria he was part of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) election observer team that later gave the poll a pass mark in spite of the unprecedented postponements it suffered.
According to him, there are many things that Canadians and other people around the world do not know about Nigeria and time has come for them to get to know the country better. “The world”, he said, “often hears about corruption, advance fee fraud or 419, extensive red tape, kidnapping and terrorism. They don’t know that Nigeria is a country with some very well governed states. Nigeria’s economy is expected to grow larger than Canada’s in the next 35 years provided the right things are done. It is a country with a growing prosperous middle class and the first country in Africa to sign the Extrative Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). We really need to know each other better”.
The former Canadian leader extolled Nigeria’s robust democracy which was attained after a prolonged struggle against military dictatorship. He recalled how Nigerians closed ranks against the tenure elongation agenda of the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, adding that the participation of members of the National Youth Corps (NYSC) in ensuring the success of the 2011 general elections truly made Nigeria proud.
Clark encouraged businessmen and women in his country not to hesitate in taking up the unfolding opportunities in Nigeria and Africa, adding: “Africa was formerly a neglected continent but has now witnessed a rapidly rising economic profile in the last decade. Canada is Western country that is also on the rise, a significant success as a society and people with great differences working together for the nation’s greatness. Canada and Africa must grow together”.
In his remarks to formally close the conference, Vice President Namadi Sambo, who was the leader of the Nigerian delegation to the event, thanked Canada for supporting the restoration of democracy in Nigeria and freedom in Africa. He said the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was determined to open up and diversify the economy through its Transformation Agenda, which was a major driver for the conference, adding that he looked forward to welcoming Canadian investors to Nigeria in the nearest future.
“The time to come is now. Tomorrow may be too late”. The conference was well attended with thirteen governors showing up or sending representatives to market the economic promises in their states. Among those who showed up in person were: Theodore Oji of Abia State, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, Peter Obi of Anambra, Ibrahim Dankwambo of Gombe, Abdulfatah Ahmed of Kwara, Jonah Jang of Plateau and Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers.
There were also twelves ministers at the conference. Among them were: Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr Olusegun Aganga, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed, Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of National Planning, Dr Shamsudeen Usman, Minister of Education, Prof Ruqayyatu Ahmed, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chief Emeka Nwogu, among the others.
The National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, led a team of his party’s National Working Committee. over 40 Chief Executive Officers (CEO’s) of Nigerian companies participated, with some of them co-sponsoring it along with their Canadian counterparts and Nigerian entrepreneurs in Canada contributing. They included Mr Wale Tinubu, CEO Oando PLC, Mazi Alex Otti, CEO Diamond Bank, Mr Leo-Stan Ekeh, CEO Zinox Computers. The President of the Canadian Council on Africa, Mr Lucien Bradet, moderated the plenaries of the conference.
Glowing testimonials by excited Canadian investors
One of the most interesting sessions of the conference took place on the second and last day. It was time to give Canadian investors and Nigerian entrepreneurs living in Canada an opportunity to relive their experiences about doing business in Nigeria.
Those selected were as follows: Mr Peter Kieran, President, CPCS; Dr Isa Odidi, a Nigerian and Chairman/CEO of Intellipharmaceutical, which co-sponsored the event: Mr Charles Field-Marsham, Founder and President, Kestrel Capital Management Corp and Mrs Oby Gold Agu, a Nigerian and CEO, Truquest, which also co-sponsored the conference. Odidi was unaviodably absent at the session.
Peter Kieran, President, CPCS
He is a Harvard trained engineer with more than 25years experience as a management consultant. His clients include: the Government of Canada, Federal Government of Nigeria, the World Bank and the United Nations. He has engaged the business space in Nigeria for over ten years, particularly the prvatisation of government companies and private-public partnership (PPP) arrangements. He has been instrumental to the big presence of Canadian interests in the power sector which is being privatised. His companies and interests also cover the areas of the port concessions, shipping, and the Blue Rail project of the Lagos State Government.
He had nothing but praises for the eagerness of both state and federal governments in Nigeria to see to the successful involvement of private investors both Nigerians and foreigners alike, in the development of a new economy that used to be tightly under governmental control until the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999.
Kieran said the problems of Nigeria are often overblown both by local and foreign media, adding that in spite of challenges, all the ventures he and his affiliates have participated in have proceeded with encouraging pace. Asked by the Moderator, Mr Peter Sutherland (Senior Business Advisor, Aird and Belis) whether had any regrets, Kieran said he had none; that in fact, he intends to get more involved.
He is a Canadian entrepreneur with over 20 years of building businesses in Africa through his Kestrel Capital Management Corporation (KCMC). His main theatre of operation is Kenya, where his PanAfrican Group founded in 1996 has done well in equipment distribution, mining and other engagements. He became so successful that he went into serious corporate social responsibility projects in the areas of health and sports. In 2004 his company sponsored 75 young Kenyans for scholarship in American and Canadian universities.
He has, in recent years, discovered the Nigerian fertile ground, and he has this to say: “The only thing I regret about coming to Nigeria to do business is that I came so late. I should have been here five, even ten years earlier”. He also regretted that Canada has been slow in getting involved in the African economy as a whole, citing the fact that while China’s investment in Africa last year rose to3.8% that of Canada was a mere 0.5%.
“We have not paid a single bribe since we started operations in Nigeria”, he affirmed to applause from the audience, “Nigeria is safe to live, even though kidnapping and terrorism have become increasing reasons to be worried. Nigeria is safe to invest with fantastic opportunities, and Nigerians living outside Nigeria have started investing their money in Nigeria. What better evidence is there that Nigeria is a good place to take your business?”.
He also advised prospective in investors in Africa to have in mind what termed the “four P’s” – Patience, politeness, persistence and Passion.
Oby Gold Agu
She is the CEO of Truquest, a company founded in Canada but with interests extending to Asia and Africa. Oby said Truquest is at the forefront of marketing the unfolding opportunities in Nigeria to Canadian entrepreneurs. She and her partners participated in the bidding processes that led to the privatisation of Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and the sale of power generating and distribution companies.
“We made a bid and lost to the current preferred bidder. Though we lost, we are impressed with the transparency of the entire process. We are encouraged that Nigeria now means business in attracting investors and we are seeking to move into new frontiers in Nigeria”.
She, however, advised that something should be done to speed up the slow pace in getting things done by relevant institutions, as this will improve the atmosphere of doing business in Nigeria.
The Canada-Nigeria Investment Conference (CNIC) was organised by the Nigerian High Commission in Canada and spearheaded by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, and the Canada Council on Africa (CCA) with its President, Mr Lucien Bradet, as the anchorman.