Mr. Svante Kilander, the Ambassador of Sweden to Nigeria, is one diplomat who has been highly fascinated by Nigeria’s rich and diverse culture. Although he has been in Nigeria for about three years, the diplomat has already taken some measures to shore up business and economic transactions between the two nations.
In this interview with Vanguard’s Northern Region Editor, Soni Daniel and Victor Gotevbe, the Ambassador speaks on the expectations of Sweden in the forthcoming Nigeria’s elections and other issues of interest to the two countries. Excerpts:
How long have you been in Nigeria?
I have been here for about two and a half years. What really strikes me as a foreigner is the diversity, the richness of the country’s culture and its people. I am also attracted by the richness of the Nigerian languages, which enrich everybody and gives one the impression that the country is blessed with very many possibilities. For a northern European like me, this is something very attractive because our country Sweden was before now culture-wise a rather homogenous country.
Is it still like that today?
Well, we all live in a global village and we have a lot of influx enriching our culture. Sweden is a part of a northern corner of the global village. I believe that when people have different cultures and communicate with one another that it is a good thing.
Nigeria has a very rich culture, what exactly do you like about Nigeria and what worries you about the country?
I like the openness in Nigeria. I like the Nigerian way of expressing themselves. They have some of the world writers, among them Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Teju Cole. What I mean here is that the culture of the citizens being able to express their views is extremely admirable and useful. I think Nigeria is in a very interesting process which is good in itself. I share the worries that Nigerians have and I cannot single out anything in particular at this time.
Is there any arrangement to promote business between Sweden and Nigeria?
Yes, there is something. We have something which is called Business Sweden, which was formally called Swedish Trade Council, which facilitates for Swedish companies to do business in Nigeria. We also have Open Trade Gate Sweden, whose aim is to facilitate Imports from Nigeria. On the Nigerian side we are working with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Investment Promotion Commission. All together they provide good platform for transaction of business between the two nations.
But do you have an idea of the volume of business between the two countries?
Yes I do. We have the figure for 2013 which was about $2 billion for both imports and exports from the two countries. Sweden compared to Nigeria, is half the size of Nigeria. Nigeria has approximately 920,000 Square Kilometres while Sweden has 450,000 Square kilometres of land mass. We have roughly 9.6 million inhabitants but we are an exporting country but also import some.
What do you really import from Nigeria?
They are mainly oil-related products.
How easy is it for a Nigerian business man or tourists to secure a Swedish visa to travel to that country?
Well, what I want to say is that we are part of the Schengen countries. So, it means that our visa applications and procedures are not different from those of other European Union countries. We receive applications and they are processed by a special migration office which is manned by a team of seven staff to process them for the applicants. You hand in the applications and it takes a certain number of days for the decision to be made.
How many Nigerians do you issues with visa yearly?
I can say that we process over 3000 visa applications each year.
How many of them succeed to get visa at end of the day?
I don’t have the exact figure. We follow the procedure which applies in Schengen countries in processing visas for applicants from Nigeria.
What is Sweden doing to assist Nigeria in defeating insurgency?
We operate in this case through the European Union. The EU has an extensive development programme for Nigeria.
Nigeria is preparing for a crucial election. Is Sweden helping in any way to ensure the success of the polls?
We are a part of the election observing mission. We have three Swedes working in the country to monitor the elections. They are part of the EU operations in Nigeria.
Is your government partnering with anybody to promote arts and culture in Nigeria?
We, among others, collaborate with a Nigerian theatre company and organise movie nights and cultural evenings together with Nigerian cultural personalities.
What particular area of interest is Sweden trying to invest in Nigeria, being a business hub in Africa?
In principle, decisions about investments are made directly by the companies themselves. They make the decisions and we only facilitate by helping them to get in touch with the appropriate institutions and individuals in Nigeria.
Can we have an idea of some of the companies from Sweden in Nigeria?
We have many Swedish companies operating successfully in Nigeria, for example Ericsson, Kinnevik, Atlas Copco, Sandvik, Tetra Pak, Oriflame, Volvo Trucks and GAC.
How do Nigerians who want to do business in Sweden get to do so?
We have this Open Gate Sweden that handles such processes and if any Nigerian has any interest to invest in Sweden, they should not hesitate to reach us here to help them with the contacts they need.
The Agriculture sector is highly mechanised in Sweden. How are you helping to transfer the knowledge to Nigerian farmers?
We have Swedish companies involved in transferring knowledge benefiting Nigerian farmers; one of them is the weather forecasting company Ignitia. Nigerian farmers should also benefit from Sweden’s multilateral development support, which is channeled through multilateral organisations like the EU, UN and its specialised Agencies, the World Bank and other international organisations.
You have been meeting with some Nigerian university communities since you came to Nigeria. What do you do with them?
We have some relationship with some Nigerian universities with a view to talking about some aspects of Swedish system and sharing ideas on development. I was in the University of Jos in November and in the University of Ibadan in December. The purpose was to interact with students and academics and share ideas. The area of culture is very vibrant in many countries, including Sweden and Nigeria.
What do you think about the postponement of the Nigerian elections and what would you like to see?
The decision is made and the election will be held on the 28 of March and 11 of April 2015. Just like the Nigerians we want to see inclusive, transparent and credible elections. We want to see a peaceful election that will make Nigeria a strong and great country that it is in Africa and the world.