•‘There is too much negative image of Nigeria in Japan’
By Dennis Agbo
The new Japanese Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary in Nigeria, HE YUTAKA KIKUTA, speaks on issues of diplomacy, immigration, economic development cooperation, political issues and Japanese bilateral relations with Nigeria.
What was your impression about Nigeria before you came?
I heard about Nigeria in Tokyo. I heard a lot of negative things about Nigeria before I came but when I came, I found a lot of good hearts in Nigeria, so I want to send a balanced picture to the Japanese people.
What good points have you seen about Nigeria?
Very attractive, charming country, rich not only in size and natural resources but also rich in culture, the people are friendly. We feel there is goodwill on the part of Nigeria people.
What project is the Japanese embassy executing in Cross River State?
I went to Cross River to commission and handover the Japanese Development Assistance, where you provide job training centre with a lot of equipment because the local people there, even though they have the attractive tourist site, cattle ranch, they don’t have the tools to produce their goods to sell like bread, confectionary, textiles, or craft. So because of that job training centre, the first 180 people will benefit on the job; produce, commodity to sell and be self-sustained. That’s the project which we handed over on Tuesday, July 10, 2018 to the local people.
What is Japan getting in return for the gesture?
It’s because we like to help this country, we don’t hope to get anything back; Japan does not exploit the recipient country but we like the Nigerian people and the Japanese aid principle is to help those who endeavour to help themselves, the ownership is theirs.
How are you going to harness the resources of many scholars in the University of Nigeria that studied in Japan?
I was happy to have dinner in Enugu with the professors from UNN that studied in many famous Japanese universities where they obtained their Masters and PhD degrees. After coming back to Nigeria, they organized alumni association and I learnt that they want to host an event in UNN, so that the Nigerian people who are familiar with Japan, who speak Japanese language will get together, and strengthen their human network. I am happy to learn that so many Nigerian people go to Japan to study and they are very successful. It’s our dream to see future Nigerian leaders study in Japan. On the other hand, we will continue with our plan to establish a centre for the learning of the Japanese language in Nsukka.
What are you doing to promote Japanese language in Nigeria?
One thing I have done was to establish a facebook page for the Japanese embassy which will go a long way to help develop the Japanese language in Nigeria. To be honest, it’s difficult to get so many Japanese language teachers from Japan to cover the entire world, including Africa and Nigeria. But we encourage the Nigerian people, supported by Japan, to learn not only the Japanese language but also the culture and make friends with the Japanese people; it’s a good way to learn about Japanese.
Do you intend to have Japanese Institute in Nigeria such as the French and German institutes?
We have Japanese Centre in several countries but not in Nigeria. It’s quite difficult to establish physical facilities but the ICT and internet are developing rapidly in this country. Someday we hope to use these networks, every Nigerian people living in this vast country do not have to go to school to learn Japanese language but can do so at home on their computers, mobile phones. I am sure we can do that.
Why has the Japanese technology not been transferred to Africa whereas the Chinese are rapidly taking over our market?
You know China has a huge population. On the other hand, Japan is an aged country. In Japan, we are facing a problem of lack of workforce, so we don’t have extra workforce to go to other countries like China but we welcome those who want to come and work in Japan.
How are you going to ease getting visas to Japan to improve upon this bilateral relationship between Nigeria and Japan?
I must say that we receive a lot of fake applications which make it impossible to get visa clearance and it’s not so easy to lower the standard of requirements for the Nigerian people but we can facilitate the processing.
What do you mean by fake applications?
We have several requirements but, in many cases, documents of many applicants are not satisfactory; I am talking about identities, financial status or true description of themselves; like application for jobs, applicants may not have experience. On our side, I try to facilitate the processing but on your side you have to be honest.
Do we have Nigerians in Japan that are problematic?
No. I think in Japan, we have too much negative image about the Nigerian people or very little interest on the Nigerian people. But I think lack of familiarity with the Nigerian people is the cause, so I think we need to learn more about Nigeria in a balanced picture.
So what is your strategy to correct the erroneous impression?
I try to convey a balanced picture of Nigeria to the Japanese people, so I would like to make use of any tool that I have like the Japanese embassy facebook page. I also write articles for the local newspapers in Japan with a lot of good pictures about Nigeria. My goal is for the people to understand. I always think there are three pillars between two countries’ relations. The first is the political pillar, the second the economic pillar and the third pillar is people to people exchange. On the economic pillar, we can talk about how many Japanese companies in Nigeria, the trade balance and, by the way, Nigeria is one of the few countries Japan has trade balance in red. Trade is in Nigeria’s favour. What is important is people understanding people, peace and stability should be built in our minds. I like Nigeria people even though you have a lot of challenges but you have a lot of positive things, appealing things to Japanese like me.
What is your impression about the Nigerian polity?
I cannot describe Nigeria in one word: a very diversified country, different ethnic groups, religious groups and it’s amazing to see so many different political interests somehow harmonized or maintained, at least, in this very young democracy. It’s very interesting for me to open newspapers every morning, everyday something new, something interesting is happening. Some ambassadors told me that in this country, you never get bored. I am saying this in a positive sense, so many different opinions; so many different political interests, so many local interests and politicians. We don’t know yet which political party will win the next presidential election but I am not focusing on the result of the election but the process. In the 2015 election, the international community was of the opinion that the process should be open, peaceful, and transparent so that the Nigerian people have the right to vote for their future.
Do you think Nigeria is currently getting the transparent process for the election?
I think it is a Nigerian job. We the international community are closely watching and if necessary we send some kind of message like the declaration the international community issued on Nigeria’s Democracy Day in May. We do not have any intention to intervene on who wins or loses, it is Nigeria’s domestic politics. We only want to see the political process in a transparent manner, fair, open for the people of Nigeria because it’s the people that choose the future direction of the country.