Interview Ambassador Federal Republic of Nigeria H.E. Rafiu Adejare Bello

Ambassador Federal Republic of Nigeria

H.E. Rafiu Adejare Bello

Ambassador, thank you for this interview. Can you tell us what is the state of relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Mexico? 

First, I would like to thank Mundo International Magazine for the opportunity to address its readers and the public. In general terms, relations between our countries are very cordial. This year, Mexico and Nigeria celebrate 45 years since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations, on 14th April, 1976. Though in 1979, Mexico closed its Diplomatic Mission in Nigeria, and Nigeria did the same in 1984, for pecuniary reasons, in year 2000 and 2008, respectively, Nigeria and Mexico reopened Diplomatic Missions in each other’s capitals, and since then relations have remained fraternal.

Regarding the agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) that Mexico and Nigeria have signed, as well as others that are on hold, what can you comment? 

Yes, we have signed some agreements and MoUs, but what we consider as a priority is their implementation. I would like to underline that for our bilateral relations to advance robustly, the MoUs that are yet to commence implementation need to be put to practical use by both countries. The only agreement that is valid right now is the one on Cultural and Educational Cooperation signed in Mexico, in December 1999. 

I intend to do my best during my tour of duty, with the collaboration of relevant authorities in Mexico to ensure the implementation of all MoUs signed between Nigeria and Mexico. I would like to add that though I have travelled a lot, this is my first time in Mexico. I am gradually gaining understanding of the people and the country. I have seen that Mexicans are very good people, and I can defend that anywhere. However, I must say that Mexico keeps a distance from Africa and what Africa, especially Nigeria, has to offer. Africa is a continent of 54 countries, and Nigeria is the largest in terms of population and economy, in the continent. I want to underline how important it is, in my view, to diversify relations. If a country does not extend its communications and knowledge with other countries, it is most likely that it would stay exactly in the same comfortable position. But, knowing and understanding what other countries have to offer, for sure, is something that Mexico or any other country can take advantage of. Nigeria and Mexico have many opportunities for collaboration, ranging from oil and gas, agriculture, mining, and the services sector, among others. Cooperation in these areas of interest can strengthen confidence between our two sides. Indeed, Mexico can share its technology with Nigeria in the mining sector. I encourage the Mexican business community to cash-in on the enormous opportunities in my country, for investment. During a meeting with COMCE recently, I urged the members to visit Nigeria and see for themselves what the country has to offer. I can tell you, without a doubt, that no investment into the economy of Nigeria will be regretted because whatever investors from Mexico need is available in Nigeria – raw materials, labour, the market and favourable investment incentives.

Ambassador, can you provide details on the trade balance between Mexico and Nigeria? 

Nigeria is one of the African countries with the largest trade relations with Mexico. However, the volume of Nigeria’s exports to Mexico is about 600 million USD, which is considerably low and does not reflect the huge potentials that both countries have, in terms of natural resources endowments and large populations of more than 200 million people in Nigeria and 130 million in Mexico. There are much more potentials for robust economic relations between the two countries that are yet to be exploited. Significantly, the current leaders of Nigeria and Mexico, His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari and His Excellency Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, have similar visions and national objectives on issues such as the fight against corruption, poverty, and insecurity. Nigeria, therefore, strongly believes that this is the time to advance our relations to greater heights.

Nigeria is blessed with important resources such as oil and gas, as well as other mineral resources such as gold, bauxite, tin, uranium, lithium, gypsum, ore, iron, talc, etc. Do you think other economic sectors like agriculture or mining could be the next areas of interest to trigger the economic engine in Nigeria?

Oil and gas contribute about 10% of GDP to Nigeria. However, being the main source of foreign exchange by 90%, it contributes over 60% of the national income. Today, in Nigeria, our priority is to diversify y the economy and give more attention to agriculture and mining. If these sectors are adequately harnessed, the income would triple that from the oil and gas sector. 

Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, solving insecurity, especially the menace of Boko Haram insurgency in our country remained top priority. At the moment, the government has adopted a multi-pronged approach in tackling insurgency in the country. Indeed, the measures deployed by government, in collaboration with other Member States of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), namely, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger Republics have been effective in weakening the strongholds of the insurgents. Only recently, over six thousand (6,000) of the Boko Haram members surrendered to the Nigerian authorities. Once security challenges are surmounted, I think agriculture can play a more fundamental role in the economy of Nigeria.

Nigeria and Mexico are both facing big insecurity challenges. Do you think that if Mexico and Nigeria exchange knowledge and expertise in this area an agreement signed by both parts can bring a plus and help with finding better solutions? 

Nigeria and Mexico currently do not have any Agreement on security matters. However, I think collaborations on issues of security between the two countries would be very beneficial in addressing our respective insecurity challenges. The major security threat in Nigeria is insurgency, while in Mexico it is the activities of drug cartels. However, Nigeria began experiencing increase in the influx of illicit drugs particularly from South America, in recent times. Though the major security threats in both countries might be different, these threats are not mutually exclusive and our collaboration in this area would be in the interest of the two countries.     Recently, as noted earlier, Nigeria registered a high flow of drugs coming into the country from South America. The government of my country considers this an emergency situation that should be addressed immediately. This is an area where Nigeria and Mexico could build effective synergies, to address the menace of drug trafficking, which has far-reaching negative socioeconomic implications for the two countries.

Ambassador, what can you tell us about the opportunities of doing business and investment in Nigeria? I believe your government has a specific program to attract foreign investment. Can you give us more details? 

I have had two meetings with officials of the Mexican Business Council for Foreign trade (Consejo Empresarial Mexicana de Comercio Exterior (COMCE) and the Association de Empresarios y Ciudades Hermanas A.C (AECHAC), respectively. We discussed several issues, and this kind of discourse is a welcome development because at the end of the day it can bring about tangible benefits for our two countries. It is also an indication of the interest in advancing the state of our subsisting relations. 

Since my arrival in Mexico, I attended a conference on investment, where I enumerated the investment opportunities in Nigeria. There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is a critical player in Africa, politically, economically, and by virtue of its sheer population size. Nigeria accounts for more than half of the population of West Africa, with over 200 million people, and has the largest population of youths globally. The country is also blessed with natural resources and large tracts of arable land that makes agriculture an important sector of the economy, with high potential for employment generation, food security and poverty reduction. Nigeria has a viable market for investment across the value chain in the agricultural sector, including mechanised crop production of rice, maize, millet, cassava, sugarcane, tomato, cocoa, palm kernel, and rubber; livestock farming/ranch, beef processing and packaging; fruit juice and canned fruits; cash-crop processing (cocoa and palm kernel); beverages and confectionaries; horticultural development; commodity trading and production of improved seeds and agro-chemicals.

Beyond the abundance of arable land, which is a critical incentive for investment in the agricultural sector, the country has excellent weather conditions that support all year-round agricultural activities, as well as supportive government policies. Other key areas of investment include the industrial sector, where opportunities abound in oil and gas, manufacturing, textile, cement production, food processing and brewing; and the service sector, with an array of opportunities in telecoms, wholesale and retail, banking, finance and insurance. Indeed, Nigeria’s economy since 2019 has been driven significantly by the services sector, especially telecoms. The Mining sector is another vital area of investment in Nigeria, where Mexican investors with the requisite technological know-how and capital can benefit immensely. Nigeria has numerous mineral resources such as talc, iron ore, bitumen, gold, rock salt, gypsum, lead/zinc, cola, gemstones, kaolin, tantalite, bentonite and baryte located in different parts of the country and in significant commercial quantity. 

Importantly, the Government of Nigeria has a comprehensive investment incentive package to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), such as liberalization of ownership of investment by any enterprise, except those related to the production of arms, narcotics and psychopathic substances; free transferability of capital and returns; protection against nationalization and expropriation; and recourse to international arbitration in the event of dispute; three-year tax holiday and exemption from payment of customs and import duties on machinery and equipment for mining; as well as bilateral investment treaties on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Promotion and Protection of Investment.

Ambassador, what can you tell us about the opportunities of doing business and investment in Nigeria? I believe your government has a specific program to attract foreign investment. Can you give us more details? 

I have had two meetings with officials of the Mexican Business Council for Foreign trade (Consejo Empresarial Mexicana de Comercio Exterior (COMCE) and the Association de Empresarios y Ciudades Hermanas A.C (AECHAC), respectively. We discussed several issues, and I must say that such interactions foster the attainment of tangible benefits for our two countries. It is also an indication of our common interest in advancing the state of our subsisting relations. 

Since my arrival in Mexico, I have also attended a conference on investment, where I enumerated the investment opportunities in Nigeria. Indeed, Nigeria is a critical player in Africa, politically, economically, and by virtue of its sheer population size. Nigeria accounts for more than half of the population of West Africa, with over 200 million people, with the largest population of youths in the world. The country is also blessed with natural resources and expansive arable land that makes agriculture an important sector of the economy, with high potential for employment generation, food security and poverty reduction. Additionally, Nigeria has a viable market for investment across the value chain in the agricultural sector, including mechanised crop production of rice, maize, millet, cassava, sugarcane, tomato, cocoa, palm kernel, and rubber; livestock farming/ranch, beef processing and packaging; fruit juice and canned fruits; cash-crop processing (cocoa and palm kernel); beverages and confectionaries; horticultural development; commodity trading and production of improved seeds and agro-chemicals. 

Beyond the abundance of arable land, which is a critical incentive for investment in the agricultural sector, the country has excellent weather conditions that support all year-round agricultural activities. Other key areas of investment include the industrial sector, where opportunities abound in oil and gas, manufacturing, textile, cement production, food processing and brewing, and the service sector, along with an array of opportunities in telecoms, wholesale and retail, banking, finance, and insurance. Indeed, Nigeria’s economy since 2019 has been driven significantly by the service sector, especially telecoms. The Mining sector is another vital area of investment in Nigeria, where Mexican investors with the requisite technological know-how and capital can benefit immensely. Nigeria has numerous mineral resources such as talc, iron ore, bitumen, gold, rock salt, gypsum, lead/zinc, cola, gemstones, kaolin, tantalite, bentonite and baryte located in different parts of the country and in significant commercial quantity. 

Importantly, the Government of Nigeria has a comprehensive investment incentive package to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), such as liberalisation of ownership of investment by any enterprise, except those related to the production of arms, narcotics and psychopathic substances; free transferability of capital and returns; protection against nationalisation and expropriation; recourse to international arbitration in the event of dispute; three-year tax holiday and exemption from payment of customs and import duties on machinery and equipment for mining; as well as bilateral investment treaties on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Promotion and Protection of Investment. 

Ambassador, since last year the entire world has been faced with the COVID-19 pandemic and its health, economic and social consequences. Can you detail how Nigeria handled this problem and what the situation is right now? 

Nigeria is tremendously lucky and has not experienced a desperate situation of the COVID-19 pandemic since its outbreak in 2020. The total number of infected persons, as at today, is around 197,773. Out of this number 185,597, representing 93.8%, have recovered and 2,585, i.e. 1.3% have died of the virus. From the very beginning, Nigeria shut down its airspace, cancelled both domestic and international flights, and enforced lockdown in most parts of the country. With the new threat posed by the Delta Variant, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) is not leaving any stone unturned in the overall fight against the virus.

Ambassador Bello, education is a key factor in the progress of any nation. You already mentioned an existing Agreement on Education and Cultural Cooperation. Do you consider that a more dynamic exchange of students will widen their “universe of knowledge”? 

Education is arguably one of the most critical elements in nation building and the responsibility of nation building rests with the citizens of a country. Through education, the common values, aspirations, visions, and goals of a country are articulated and disseminated to facilitate their actualization, to build a better nation for the benefit of its population. Cognisant of this, Nigeria and Mexico signed a bilateral Agreement on Cultural and Educational Cooperation in December 1999. The implementation of this Agreement has further strengthened bilateral relations between Nigeria and Mexico, leading to offers from some Mexican universities of as much as 50% rebate for Nigerian students interested in studying in Mexico. I believe that student exchange programmes constitute important tools for young people to understand, broaden and enhance their knowledge of the world. Also, exchange programmes present opportunities for young people to learn new languages and experience diverse cultures in an increasingly dynamic and interdependent world. The time is, therefore, right in our bilateral relations to encourage these programmes to build our people-to-people contact, which is vital in advancing collaboration in other areas of our mutual interests.

This year Mexico is celebrating 200 years anniversary of its independence. Is Nigeria participating in any cultural activities in this framework? 

Indeed, the year 2021 is very important to Mexico and all friends of the country, like Nigeria. I take the opportunity, therefore, to congratulate Mexico on the celebration of the bicentenary anniversary of its independence and various other milestone historical events that shaped the political independence and development of the country. There is no doubt that the celebration of these epoch-making events and the reform initiatives of the government would enhance realisation of the “Fourth Transformation” agenda, for the betterment of Mexico. Nigeria was invited to some of the activities planned for the celebrations and would be participating virtually in some high-level academic debates on the history of Mexico, particularly the pre-Columbian Conquest and the Independence Period. I am certain that our participation at this level would enhance interaction and open doors for more cultural collaboration between the two countries.

Would you like to add something to this interview? 

Nigeria and Mexico have come a long way, with over forty-five years of bilateral relations. Our two countries wield strategic powers in our respective regions and are both endowed with abundant resources and huge populations. Therefore, the opportunities for partnership and collaboration abound. It is time to expand the spectrum of our bilateral relations, and that has been my main preoccupation since assumption of duty in Mexico.

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