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Foreign affairs minister Olugbenga Ashiru explains despite the difficult domestic circumstances, the nation under President Goodluck Jonthan has recorded some positive impacts on the international scene. He spoke with OGHOGHO OBAYUWANA in Abuja. Excerpts.

IN your maiden statement on foreign policy direction, you promised to focus on using foreign policy to attract foreign investment. After almost a year since that promise, what is the scorecard?

We elevated economic diplomacy as the major flank in our foreign policy goals, whilst still emphasising the primacy of Africa. The imperative of investment and economic diplomacy is to utilise the platform of our foreign policy to facilitate and drive the economic development of our country particularly in the key sectors that have direct development effect on the lives of Nigerians. We have re-directed our foreign policy to take care of our domestic aspirations and priorities and to preserve our national interests. We now have a field vision, which makes investment and trade relations a major aspect of bilateral relations and this has been circulated to all our missions. The goal is to translate our foreign relations into the reality of crosscutting development.

What results have come out of this endeavour?
I will say, greater capital and foreign direct investments. We developed an enhanced working relationship with the Ministry of Trade and Investment and the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to facilitate foreign investment. The relationship has engendered plans to establish investment centres in six zones of the World. Added to this is a new trade policy, which the Ministry of Trade and Investment will soon unveil. There is also the Australia-Nigeria Trade and Investment Council set up late last year. It is the vehicle for co-operation in mining, agriculture, energy and financial services, among other initiatives. We have also the Joint Nigeria-Brazil Energy Co-operation Working Group set up in September last year. This is a mechanism for the exploration of synergies with Brazil in the areas of hydropower generation, renewable energy and deepwater exploration. We have also adopted what we have called a strategic economic dialogue as a major tool of investment diplomacy. Through this mechanism, we have achieved a memoranda of understanding with many nations on trade partnership or related areas of national interest and need. There are examples in this regard with Turkey, the Nordic states and Vietnam.

How do you place Nigeria's bi-national commissions today?

We have one with the United States. It is quite robust. It has been very helpful to Nigeria in the sense that the focal areas are tailored to need. They include energy partnership. American investors and companies are to invest massively in Nigeria's energy sector and appreciable progress has been recorded here. In the Bi-National Commissions (BNC) engagement with the Niger Delta, the US is training ex-militants from the region in skills acquisition and vocational centres. They are also assisting with the rehabilitation of the environment. The other area is agriculture and food security. The BNC's usefulness is being maximised for the benefit of Nigerians. Good governance, transparency co-operation is another area, which involves support for political and electoral institutions. It's quite useful for knowledge transfer and experience sharing to scale up the capacity and efficiency of our democratic processes and institutions.

We also have a BNC with Germany, which was signed on December 2, 2011 in Berlin. Some of the projects identified under the German BNC fall under power generation, reforestation, emission control and capacity building for research in solar power energy for universities. In the project details, we have tied up a £65 million 30 megawatts Kiri Dam Project in Adamawa State. There is the £50 million 20 megawatts Yola solar power station, the £1.5 billion 450 megawatts Gombe coal to power station, the 450 megawatts National Independent Power Project (NIPP) and also the Geregu Power Station, phase two in Ajaokuta. There is the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) projects for Adamawa, Borno, Cross River, Kano, Ogun and Sokoto states. There is also the pilot solar power plant for the universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Sokoto and Bayelsa.

We have been having regular bilateral meetings with the UK in the areas of prosperity and creating conditions for doubling bilateral trade between Nigeria and the UK by 2014. The development component has to do with assisting Nigerian efforts to achieve the MDGs. We have been working together to eradicate national and international security threats. We are also in collaboration to achieve common foreign policy objectives. In matters of migration, Nigeria and the UK today have an enhanced co-operation to promote mutual benefits of legal migration, Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA), etc.

What is the country doing in terms of the much talked about development cooperation partnerships?

We have intensified participation in development co-operation partnerships. Today, Nigeria plays active roles in Global Strategic Partnerships.  Through this, development opportunities are provided for new growth roles for the Nigerian economy on private investment, entrepreneurship, resource diversification and the rolling out of new investment vehicles and job opportunities.

Some of the development partnerships in which Nigeria is involved are Africa - EU, Africa-South America (ASACOF), Africa-China, Africa-Turkey, Africa-Japan and Africa-India. Others are the G4 and D8.

Why has Nigerian not been able to tap into the billions of diaspora funds floating around the world, while countries like India and Ghana have attracted much of these funds home?

The ministry through our missions is promoting voluntary repatriation of resources by Nigerians in the Diaspora. We are encouraging them to come home to establish small and medium scale enterprises as a form of demonstration effect that Nigeria can also harness the resources of its citizens abroad for development purposes.

There is the impression that Nigeria's profile in the international arena has not improved under the present administration

To me, the reverse is the case. Nigeria's profile has considerably improved since the advent of the Jonathan administration starting from the conduct of 2011 elections. The transformation agenda, economic growth rate, good governance, rule of law; the amnesty programme for former Niger Delta militants, impressive outing at international fora, the establishment of the Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Programme have contributed to the improved profile. The diplomatic international profile became more robust due to the great strides recorded in our transformation agenda.

Multilaterally, Nigeria was President of the UN Security Council in July 2010 and October 2011. This provided a viable platform to record greater visibility, and international goodwill and also an opportunity to promote African perspectives to conflict resolution as defined in the AU and ECOWAS peace and security architecture. We sponsored resolutions 1962 (2011) and 1975 (2011), which ended the Cote d'Ivoire conflict. Nigeria worked to advance political and economic stability in Guinea Bissau through UN Office in West Africa (UNOWA) and renewal of the UN Integrated Peace Building office in Guinea Bissau (UNIOGBIS). The Libyan example where Nigeria was the first African nation to support the Transitional Council is also a pointer. We also have the West African Coast initiative to deal with human and drug trafficking, small and light weapons proliferation in the sub-region. Nigeria introduced the preventive diplomacy initiative - a horizon-scanning effort to detect possible conflict situations around the world and take pre-emptive measures to the UNSC. We worked hard to have the September Roadmap in Somalia. The case of Sudan is another. Nigeria maintained a bridge-building stance on the situations in Nepal, Myanmar and Timor-Leste. As chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peace-keeping Operations, Nigeria instituted triangular co-operation between the Security Council, the Secretariat and the Troop Contributing Countries.

In this period, there have been high-level visits. We had UK Prime Minister, German Chancellor, French President, UN Secretary General, many foreign and trade ministers, IMF President, EU President and Foreign Minister of Denmark, the Finnish Foreign Minister visiting Nigeria. These visits do not just happen. Nigeria's improved international profile is the outcome of efficient balancing of citizen prosperity, investment and economic prospecting and balance of power dynamics with national interests as embedded in the transformation agenda of the Jonathan administration.

Are you aware of concerns that Nigeria's under-representation at international organisations has not been adequately addressed?

This has changed since I assumed duty. I discovered reasons for the under-representation, namely that there has been a lack of inter-ministerial collaboration. Many agencies of government put up candidates for international/multilateral organisations without involving or informing the ministry. The under-estimation of diplomatic engagement in the appointment of candidates to international organisations has been responsible for this.

Are you addressing the issue?
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation issued a directive to MDA's and levels of government to involve the ministry in the pursuit of candidature for international organisations. Missions have also been instructed to start the support mobilisation rally early. The ministry has started leveraging on our goodwill with other nations to earn support. We are reciprocating the gesture. Today, there is significant increase in Nigeria's representation in international organisations. Notable examples include Dr. Kanayo Felix Nwanze, the president of International Food for Agricultural Development (IFAD); Dr. Chile Eboe-Osuji, a judge of the International Criminal Court. Bello Adoke has been elected into the International Law Commission. Mr. Adamu Mohammed, our deputy Commissioner of Police is Vice President for Africa and executive committee member of Interpol.  Nigeria has been elected into the executive Board of the UN Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for a term of four years since November 2011. Nigeria was elected into ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council of the UN in October last year. We are also in the Governing Board of the United Nations Environmental Programme. We have to see the appointments of other Nigerians into multilateral institutions from the same positive point viewpoint.

There has been the appointment of Ambassador Ozo and Ambassador Solaja as AU representatives in DRC and Liberia respectively. Dr. Adesina Adegbie of the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research was elected to the Legal and Technical Committee of the International Seabed Authority in Kingston, Jamaica last year. Ambassador Hameed Opeloyeru and Ambassador Yahaya Lawal are in the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC).

President Goodluck Jonathan is the Chairman of the D8. Nigeria's leadership at the sub-regional and continental levels remains on the upswing.

What are the benefits to be derived from an AU led by Benin Republic's president, Boni Yayi?

It was the turn of west Africa to produce the AU chairman. ECOWAS is a democratic community supported by Boni Yayi. The election of Yayi is a manifestation of durable synergy. It is consistent with Nigeria's strategic interest, which is to ensure that the continental body (AU) remains a strong, virile, stable and prosperous organisation; an organisation that works for the benefit of its member states

Why did Nigeria support the incumbent Jean Ping as AU commission chairperson?

Jean Ping happens is a consensus candidate of the ECOWAS sub-region. Nigeria is a strong member of the ECOWAS and we needed to abide by that decision.