By Onome Amawhe
NORWAY has deep rooted diplomatic relations with Nigeria. The bilateral connections which are significant to Norway’s growing interest for more robust economic cooperation with Nigeria opens a new vista in formal diplomatic ties between both countries which had been in existence since 1960. In the course of the interaction, there have been a number of milestone achievements and a couple of high-level state visits.
Norway enjoys the reputation of being a well- defined country brand. Its system of governance clearly shows that the true power of a country is fundamentally linked to the strength of its citizens’ belief in the metaphoric constructs that give order to their collective national identity. Put more simply, the nation of Norway, from the highest levels of leadership to its citizens, has continually espoused the values that are foundational to its national character. These are the basic ideologies to state building and economic development that H.E. Mr. Jens-Petter Kjemprud hopes Nigeria emulates in its governance attitude across board.
H.E. Mr. Petter Kjemprud was appointed Ambassador of Norway to Nigeria in 2016 by the Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg. He is also in charge of the diplomatic affairs of Norway forBenin, Togo, Cameroon and Niger. An astute diplomat and strategist, H.E Mr. Petter Kjemprud has enjoyed a distinguished diplomatic career spanning over 25 years in the Norwegian Diplomatic Service which has included appointments as Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, ambassador to Iran, Ambassador to Sudan, Ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union; accredited also to Djibouti, liaison ambassador to the African Union, Deputy Director General, Head of Section for East and Central African Affairs, Assistant Director General, and Deputy Head of Section for African Affairs, Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In his thoughts as Norway’s representative in Nigeria, H.E. Mr. Petter Kjemprud expresses enthusiasm about the significance of Norway -Nigeria relations as well as the on-going negotiations to further deepen diplomatic ties.
WHAT similarities and differences have you discovered that exist between Norway and Nigeria?
There are a lot of similarities. Nigeria and Norway are oil and gas producing countries. Fish is staple food for many in both coastal countries. There’s also a common interest in shipping. Norway and Nigeria are trading nations depending on international regulatory frameworks. And we are both strong supporters of the UN and contributors to UN peace keeping operations. We continue to enjoy our mutual commitment to peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Then of course, there’s a proud cultural heritage and tradition – we are always seated next to each other in UN, and we consider that a solid basis for building personal relationships. I choose not to focus on differences, but of course Nigeria is a huge country, population wise 40 times as big as Norway.
Since the establishment of the Nigeria-Norway diplomatic ties, how much progress has been achieved?
Norway established diplomatic relations and opened its Embassy in Lagos shortly after Nigeria’s independence. Fish trade between both countries has been undertaken since stock fish exports started to the Southeast in the 1890s. And our strong cooperation on offshore oil and gas exploration includes more than 40 Norwegian companies and at least a similar number of Nigerian companies.
We have also had a number of official visits through the years including our Prime Minister visiting Abuja, but I dare say we have scaled up bilateral relations through the past year with two Foreign Ministerial visits both ways (to Nigeria and to Norway), as well as other ministers visiting Norway and two state secretaries visiting Nigeria. Such visits definitely enhance deeper collaboration.
How do you plan to build on this during your tenure?
We have a lot of plans and big ambitions, but we intend to build on and strengthen what already exists. We look for closer cooperation and investment in the renewable energy sector such as the solar power and hydro power sector which I believe have some comparative advantages as well as valuable experience. And the potential is huge. The generator, diesel driven power sector is hampering economic development, industrialization and investment and I think that has to be changed as soon as possible. We intend to continue ongoing educational cooperation and technological transfer, which underpins Nigerian ownership and capacity-building, and we strive to build relations in other fields, particularly education, culture, peace building and conflict resolution.
What are the main goals to be accomplished by the end of your tenure?
Stronger, deeper and more comprehensive bilateral relations in areas of common benefit.
What events and areas of work have defined your interaction with the Nigerian government?
As mentioned, two visits by our Foreign Minister Boerge Brende to Abuja in six months have been instrumental in deepening relations, as have two visits by Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyema to Oslo, with the last visit in relation to the Lake Chad Humanitarian Conference in February this year. In addition reinforcing and facilitating trade and investment as well as building relations at federal and state levels has been my priority so far.
How has Norway used its country’s wealth to benefit the population at large, especially in the areas of health, education and culture?
The Norwegian (and Nordic) welfare state model is based on a Christian and Socialist (Social democratic) belief that the country’s wealth is not for a few but belongs to everyone. We have thus, as the country’s wealth grew through hard work, long term planning, focus on infrastructure and industrialization through domestic and foreign investment, strong labor relations and aided by a robust and interventionist tax system, laid the basis for a strong state-led economy. This strong economy, strengthened further by oil discoveries in the 1970s, has given us the opportunity to offer the population free quality schooling, health services and a strong support of our cultural life. We have also established what is now the biggest Sovereign Wealth Fund in the world to benefit future generations.
How many Norwegian businesses are here in Nigeria other than Statoil?
Statoil is but one of nearly 50 Norwegian companies only in the oil and gas sector. But Statoil is singularly important in the sense that they are planning to expand their activities through developing the Nnwa-Doro field, a huge offshore gas field, if the legislation and business climate is conducive.
Are there Nigerian businesses in Norway?
The Nigerian-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce is actively promoting both Nigerian and Norwegian business transactions and investment, but so far we see more Norwegian companies in Nigeria, than Nigerian in Norway. However the number of joint ventures are growing, seafood export to Norway is growing and the shipping sector interests a number of Nigerian companies.
How many Nigerians are currently residing in Norway?
The exact numbers are not easy to give as quite a few have lived there for a very long time and have gained Norwegian citizenship, but the numbers are small: 2000-3000, among them many brilliant and popular soccer players in the Norwegian league.
What kind of misconceptions do Norwegians have of Nigeria?
Unfortunately there are a lot of misconceptions, especially related to the scam letters that usually emanates from Nigeria and trafficking of people, which have formed the view of many Norwegians. I am doing my personal best to change perceptions of Nigeria and Nigerians in Norway and I have a feeling that it is changing gradually. I had the privilege to be a guest at the premiere of a Nigerian-Norwegian film (The Lost Café) by Kenneth Gyang and Regina IduOudalor in my hometown in Norway last month. This film helps further in fighting perceptions, and will be shown at the film festival in Lagos end of October.
The National Libraries of Nigeria and Norway recently signed an MOU concerning the digitization of Nigerian books by the National Library of Norway.
This, for me, is a wonderful example of cooperation for common benefit. The National Library of Norway has digitized all written material in Norwegian languages and has free capacity to offer to digitize all literature in Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo for the National Library of Nigeria. We are just waiting for legal clarifications on the Nigerian side to start the project which will both help save the Nigerian literary cultural heritage, as well as make it accessible for future generations so important for national pride and belonging.
How do you feel about Norway’s representation in Nigeria?
We have seven posted staff and eight local staff at the Embassy in Abuja; we have a Consul General in Lagos awaiting approval as well as the very active Nigerian-Norwegian Chamber of Commerce. We could do with more but the quality of work is as important as quantity of staff.
What called you to work in the diplomatic service?
I worked initially on international labour affairs and international trade union matters, as well as on refugee affairs at home and with UNHCR in Somalia before joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so I have always had an international outlook. I strongly believe in equality between peoples and nations and work for that.
Foreign Service has its highlights and challenges. Can you give us examples of both from your tenure as the Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria?
Only highlights so far, but I would love to see the Boko Haram conflict, the Niger Delta conflict, the Middle Belt conflicts, and piracy challenges resolved for Nigeria to blossom to its true potential.