Interview

June 8, 2017

Corruption: …not just funds that are stashed away but also petroleum resources – Onyeama

Corruption: …not just funds that are stashed away but also petroleum resources – Onyeama

Geoffrey-Onyeama

Nigeria has restated that Africa remains the centre piece of its foreign policy and has fully engaged and getting more and more engaged with the African Union (AU).

Foreign Affairs Minister Geofrey Onyeama stated in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja recently.

Geoffrey-Onyeama

Ques. Nigeria Foreign Policy since 80s have been in concentric cycle; from Nigeria, West Africa, Africa, and rest of the world, and a lot of things have changed since 80, we are we now and what policies are we pursuing right now

Ans. I suppose in a way the concentric cycle still applies now, because first of all you have to be closed to your neighbours and your immediate neighbours, the West Africa and of course we are part of the ECOWAS which act as a subjective to the total economic integration of the sub-region. so it makes a lot of sense that should be the first cycle in the concentric cycle, then Africa, we are fully engaged and getting more and more engaged with the African Union (AU) and again there are ultimately the political and economic union of African is a priority and of course what we are supporting very much now is the greater economic integration of Africa with the free movement of people so that makes sense and that should be second concentric cycle. And of course we go outside to the outside world Asia, Europe and America, and we begin to see the application of that in our security challenges with Boko-Haram, the challenge was really an existential challenges; it was real a question of the survival of this country and in our hour of greatest need we found that the countries that could really help us are our immediate neighbours and of course are the Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin and of course we formed the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) with them so that is just to show that, that concentric cycle still really applies today, but of course we are in a global village the world has shrunk and the world is much smaller and especially the inter-linkage economically of all the countries of the world.
So when you asked we are we going from the concentric cycle? The answer is a total engagement with world and in this context we know that the three agenda items, priority items on which Mr president was elected that the economy and job creation was one of the three and extremely important and in that context we are pushing very aggressively to engage with the rest of the world outside Africa in trade to promote external trade and export and also to promote foreign direct investment, our foreign policy is also geared towards increasing our trade with countries outside Africa as you know over 90 per cent of our trade is actually with countries outside the African region so our foreign policy also reflect that
And also we have the challenges of security and anti corruption good governance has seen us reaching out to the outside world beyond Africa

Q: In the last two years of this administration if we have to really focus on it, what have we really achieved?

Ans. Now it is always good to set a very clear measurable objective, what have we achieved? We have to look at our achievements against the objectives Mr President has set; so on security, I think it is fairly measurable, what we have achieved in our fight against Boko Haram is the total liberation of all the territory held by Boko Haram, and it is even good that we should be telling this at this time around because as we know that Sambisa Forest has also been liberated, there are very clear what I will call deliverables, what we have achieved in the security area in our fight against Boko Haram and have completely reversed the situation that the president met when he was elected, in the field of anti-corruption and good governance, what we have achieved is to put the issue of anti-corruption at the top of the international agenda, so concretely manifestations of this was in the U.K. the Prime Minister organised, calling leaders from around the world, a summit meeting on anti-corruption summit. So Mr president has been able to put it on international agenda and more concretely Nigeria has pushed for the United Nations to adopt a resolution, just about a week ago a UN resolution on the illicit flow of funds and of course this is directly link to our challenges with our huge resources that are leaving our country and how to deal with government getting restitution getting repatriation of those funds. So those are major achievements in the area of anti-corruption not to mention of course, the real successes that we had with Switzerland in repatriating of funds with the U.S. fully engagement and the process of repatriating fund in U.S and identifying and negotiating to have fund repatriated from the United Kingdom and of course as I have said it is now on top of the agenda, and we have been able to get foreign countries to buy in to our attempt. On the economy there have a lot of dramatic with the drop of oil prices and what we have done from the foreign affairs point of view is that as I have said set a very robust and an aggressive outreach to potential trading partner on a one hand to tell them at the highest political level that is president himself going to these countries that Nigeria is ready for business. And we have been able to leverage on the respect and the credibility of Mr. president to sign very very important agreement with a lots of countries private sectors and at the government levels so we are getting a lot of very positive movement in respect of attracting foreign direct investment, and also reaching to a lot of these countries to also promote Nigerian export and in this context, we are taking very specific steps foreign affairs is playing a role in the committee that has been set up for promoting an enabling business environment in Nigeria.

Q. Sir just to pick you up on the anti-corruption programme as well as the repatriation of the recovered looted fund; how much specifically has been repatriated, and apart from those three countries mentioned are there still other countries that we are beaming our search light on in search of the looted fund stashed abroad?

Ans. I will start with the last question we are making a lot of efforts in the Gulf area, the Gulf countries United Arab Emirate and also some Islands in Russia , Germany is also another country that we are trying to engage with in this context and also China. And in this context not just funds that are stashed away but also petroleum resources, oil you know that have been taken to some countries and we have been discussing with those countries in trying to identified where these have been stored in those countries.
With respect to the specific amount it is always a bit difficult because in some cases we are in different stages of negotiation. In Swiss of course we know that we have repatriated and made available to us 321 million dollars, but there are also significant amount of about 300 million dollars we are talking about New Jersey and also in U.S. there is a figure almost approaching almost a billion that is in contention so is a work in progress you know as I said 320 million dollars already been signed off for and we have received it and the others have been identified and we are discussing to get them back and in all these there is always some discretion or almost secrecy about them because one could see very often as you know some people are willing to cooperate if it is not publicised so the government is already looking at strategies to pursue in getting these funds repatriated so to also in some cases get individuals or companies responsible to cooperate we might have to adopt some strategies of some discretions not to over publicise these things.

Q.Sir when we look at the activities of Mr President who has been in the fore front of being the interface between Nigeria and the world, looking at it are there not conflicts between his role and yours?

Ans. Laughter …there can never be a conflict because Mr. president, he personified Nigeria and you know, so we are all his ministers essentially his messengers so that is the nature, my task is really to carry out his directives and he is in the best placed to implement and pursue his foreign policy agenda, but he cannot be everywhere at the same time and he cannot do everything all at once so he has to have lieutenants that he can designate to carry out certain functions there is a complete complementarily in our tasks I only go as his emissary as his envoy to carry a task that he might not at any given time be able to carry out. So there is no contradiction at all.

Q. Hon Minister your ministry has been facing challenges in funding the foreign missions, are you still going ahead to reduce the size of the missions.

Ans: Yes we have to do that it is not only in Nigeria I think almost every country is rationalising because as you develop new technologies you will begin to see that you can achieve just as much with less staff, for instance we have things now called smart missions where we feel that almost skeletal staff can actually accomplish as much and you now expecting people to be computer serving and autonomous in terms of communications and writing so might not need a secretary to be writing for you any more we have to take advantage of that so the simple answer is yes we are still focusing on rationalisation of our mission abroad

Q. How are you addressing the funding challenges, are you seeking for more funds or you are generating funds, is there any sure of virement.

Ans: The virement was only in the context of foreign exchange challenges and the rapidly depreciating value of the naira and a lot of these foreign mission has to be paid in foreign currencies so we are addressing that, but the issue of funding is something that we are seriously looking at because it is not always a case of insufficient fund made available to the missions, we have to look at the issue of prudent management and the prudent management of these funds, and we are of the belief that with more prudent management a lot of what appears to be challenges will no longer exist, that is one and another thing we are looking at because the area we have a lot of problems is with the accommodation, with the renting of a lot of accommodation in a lot of countries around the world, and this has not been very sustainable you know it is left with it has a lot of problems. So we are now exploring and arrangement for some bank financial services support to facilitate mortgage, we believed that might be the way to go, obtaining mortgages to use to secure accommodation in a lot of these countries.

Q. China is a very big economy and has been of financial assistance to Nigeria, recently they got angry, a newspaper report that China is angry with Nigeria because Nigeria is operating a two China policy With Taipei operating in Nigeria and performing full diplomatic role by calling itself Republic of China and issuing visa.? What is your reaction as they claimed to be threatening to withdraw the level of their support..

Ans. It is not true that we are operating a two China policies, a lot of people don’t know this one of biggest China trading countries is actually Taiwan so our situation here and the Chinese are quiet happy for us to have trade relations with Taiwan. Don’t forget that Taiwan is also a member of the World Trade Organisation, the issue is the status and the main of that office here and there were some difficulties that arose in relation to that trade office here where there is possible to confuse the status and so that is what we are addressing now, that is a trade office, it does not have a diplomatic status, it is not a separate country and to have the right title, the Chinese insists on a particular name for the province of Taiwan so as not to confuse it with China or has also a sovereign country called China. So this is being also addressed, it required a lot of administrative steps on our side and this was brought to our notice by the Chinese government and we are taking a step to address a repeated story to recognise non Chinese China and we would pursue one China policy.

Q. What has been the gains of economic diplomacy sorry far for the country that invest so much in maintaining diplomatic relations with countries around the world?

Ans. Mr president made a very good observation in our security challenge against boko haram he said we are extremely fortuned that we have good relation and invested in our neighbouring countries. So because if that was not the case boko haram will find a safe haven in those countries and will be able to attack us from and they will offer a much more potent challenge to the country but because we understood invested in our friendship with that they very readily came on board to help us to fight boko haram. For example Benin, which is not directly front line state, very readily joined signed up the MJTF so that is a very clear example of reaping where you have sowed. But also it is often said that we don’t benefit, it is not always clear to me, the kind of benefits what people actually mean specifically when they said Nigeria is not gaining from its investment, you will find out that we are elected into many positions if you look at the African Development Bank for instance Nigeria has been appointed there, if you look at the security council in the United Nations it is normally rotate the African seat or the West African seat but very often, Nigeria is asked to represent West Africa because of respect and solidarity that a lot of African countries feel towards Nigeria. We see a lot of that in an international position, we have got a lot of support from Africa so I would not fully agree with the proposition that somehow we give a lot and receive few in returns.

Q. What are your expectations on U.S. Nigeria Relations under President Donald Trump?

Ans. I am very optimistic and positive am sure that they will be good, he’s I am very hopeful that they will be good because from a lot of his pronouncement certainly indicated that are suggested that he is a believer in genuine free trade and it is something we can buy into he suggested and wait and see that the U.S. might not be an interventionist in the affairs of the rest of the world and might concentrate much more within the U.S. that has been the kind of policies he might want to pursue as a country non interference in the internal affairs of other countries as much as possible while respecting other countries and respecting basic human right and values, so from that point of view we are optimistic that our relations continue to be good.

Q. President Shari is heading a mediation committee on The Gambia political impasse. What will Nigeria do if Yahya Jameh refuses to leave on 18 January.

Ans. Well my immediate response will be that we get to the river before we cross the bridge, we would like to believe that he would listen to the voice of his peers in the sub region ECOWAS and that he will also listen to the voice of his people but above all he will follow the democratic path. So we will do everything possible to bring that about, essentially we want a peaceful resolution to the issue you know we have experience conflict in our country and we know-how far back in development conflict can take country to, so we would do everything possible to help Gambia have a peaceful resolution to this political crisis.

Q. The ambassador designates just concluded a four day retreat after several months of delay, what are the out comes from the retreat and the new direction of Nigeria?

Ans. The outcome was very positive we have a lot of able bodies who came to speak to them and they are ready to focus their minds on the task ahead and what is expected of them; Mr president graciously came to declare the retreat opened and I think that was a message to them of his involvement, his engagement and his interest in the assignment, I think that was extremely good and going forward we are hoping as quickly as possible to have the more outing in their countries of course the next procedure is to obtain agremor from the countries which they have designated even before that we need to assign specific country to each of them and we would do that as quickly as possible.

Q. Would there be any negative impact in the host countries which they will eventually be posted to?

Ans: Not really I think for a lot of countries I don’t want to say it is symbolic because it is more than symbolism that clearly the presence of ambassador has shown that country has attached sufficient important and is represented at a very high level the country appreciate that you know, there was a point I made recently in the New York in response to the similar questions I have been in the New York and just received the news that Nigeria had sponsored a resolution on the illicit transfer of funds and pointed that one of the difficult things to get resolution and have it adopted at the UN it required in this case it took about ten years to push this resolution but last year when it was really achieved in the last phase of the negotiation it was without a substantive ambassador. The point I was making there is the training and skills level of the people being brought into the Foreign Affairs Ministry is of the high enough level that can even in cases where there have not been ambassadors they have been able to operate at the optimum level. Another very good is in Geneva the World Intellectual Property Organisation has one of UN organisations and doesn’t have offices around the world, our diplomat in Geneva without ambassador was able to negotiate and push and engage in the highest level of diplomacy to get the organisation to select Nigeria for its Africa’s office not minding the fact that Nigeria has not paid its contribution for over 24 years, this diplomat without a substantive head was able to pull off feat to situate the regional office of the organisation in Nigeria! You know just to answer your question yes the ideal is to have an ambassador that will politically is good in terms of bilateral relations but also take our heart off to the diplomat who has been learning his mission without ambassador and to highlight a major successful we have been able to achieve.

Q. Could you shed more light on reappointment of Mrs Amina Mohammed as the Deputy Secretary General of the UN and its importance to the country.

Ans. Yes it is extremely important and first and foremost it is a testimony to her own qualities, she served already as an adviser to the outgoing Secretary General she is one of the brains behind the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and did such an effective job on the SDGs because the SDGs up to 2030 is really a global agenda for development it is really roadmap for development up till 2030, in which all the countries through the UN have bought into it is one of the initiatives of hers and so of course the incoming secretary general is well aware of the qualities and correctly appointed her to this position. The importance of this is that she is going to have under her portfolio the implementation of the SDGs, the SDGs covers all our development objectives in health, education, environment, nutrition all the basis we need to indutrialise and lift up our people out of poverty, so she is going to be managing that portfolio so clearly, Nigeria stands to benefit enormously because she will be able to ensure the perfect synergy between what we are doing here in the country in terms of development and the global agenda on development and guide us and help us to achieve those goals. So what we are looking for as a country is perfect implementation of the SDGs and we are going to have the person who is there and who is going help us to achieve that.

Q. We have a candidate we presenting as the African Union commissioner for peace and security, what are our chance?

Ans: I think the chance is very bright, we were presenting her to those who will make the decision she is an excellent candidate. One very good thing about her is that she has holistic preparation for the job because she is being presented for the peace and security commission and the way we have been flocking conflicts in the continent has always been put in place to take a long peace keeping troops once conflicts breaks out she has a lots of training in conflict prevention and also in peace build post conflict reconstruction so we think that is the way Africa should be at conflict now not just how to, you know we have an African standby force which AU has put in place as a rapid deployment wherever there is conflict, but we want to also try and prevent conflicts and also try to manage conflicts and build off the conflict so that whole package she has so we are looking at a commissioner who is going to come with a completely different and more holistic approach to peace keeping in Africa.
We have presented her to the AU to all the foreign ministers and the responses we are getting have been extremely positive I think she made a very good impression and we have been getting very positive feedback but we still have some lobbying to because you know these are political posts it is not just how good a candidate is but as you know it is also related to sub region each sub region, so ECOWAS sub region can only have two commissioners and one has to be a male and another a female you know there are so many variables you know, but then we have a good candidate, that is first task to have a good candidate and second is to ”sell her well” and the thirst is to do what we have to do the politicking

Q. Before you go, we want you to tell us what you want us to know that we have not touched.

Ans. There is a pet project that I am still hoping to get a funding for to see the light of the day it is a matching making data base, for our Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and export promotion, so this data base will essentially enable any Nigerian business to upload to our data base that could be managed from Foreign and affairs together with the ministry of trade and investment. All the information about what they want to export and all our mission, I felt that when we a presence in 119 countries it is fantastic advantage to push Nigerian products and businesses in 119 countries so we would like to present a one stop shop to export Nigeria goods, so we would charge a focal point in each of those 119 countries that whenever any business is uploaded in each of their countries they have to seek for partners and march that business person with a partner in that country to put in place business agreement. And we would like to do the same thing inversely conversely, so any foreigner who wants to get involve in business in Nigeria not knowing the country they can upload on our data base all the information about them what they might want to deal in and we together with ministry of trade we match them with Nigerian businesses, we feel it that way because we have a lot bottlenecks in all of Nigerian business trying to do business outside the country so many bottleneck so if we can provide them a very simple access what we call it is market access, we have all the markets in all these countries, so that our business people and traders have the world at their finger tips.

Q. On a lighter mood we can see you are in a Nigerian attire, you are so comfortable with suit, we want to know the kind of food you like especially the Nigerian food.

Ans: For food s I am for every , I am on every I eat everything, I mean everything, name it, if it is rice, if it cassava, swallow, I am a fan of Nigerian foods, in fact very often when I go to other African countries, especially southern and eastern Africa, they just don’t have variety of food in that part of the world, and always tell them that they don’t have a variety of our cuisine. And I have to make a conscious efforts to cut down because honestly our food have tendency to make one add one or few ounce.

Cloth-wise I also love traditional attire, I always love it even before now the only thing I don’t put on, and a lot of people have remarked they always say I don’t put any hat on my head cap even if i put on agbada or whatever the only time I did that was for my traditional wedding and I obliged they have prepared traditional cap for me.