interviewBy Ben Atonko
In the middle of this year, President Goodluck Jonathan will lead a delegation to Yokohama, Japan to attend the 5th Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development tagged TICAD V Yokohama. Since 1993, government officials have been attending this conference. What tangible benefits has Nigeria got so far? Japanese Ambassador Ryuichi Shoji speaks on this and other issues:
In the last 20 years, promoters of TICAD say there has been remarkable transformation of African countries taking symbolic example of Nigeria. As Nigeria came to regain its democracy in 1999, its GDP is said to have grown five times. From 2006, the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) exceeds the inflow of Official Development Assistance (ODA). So FDI is one of the very important elements of growth of sub-Saharan Africa and Nigeria is the biggest receiver of FDIs.
"This is a very remarkable achievement which makes Africa a continent of "hope and opportunities. It also makes Nigeria the rallying force for sub-Saharan Africa development," Ryuichi Shoji, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria said Thursday in Abuja in an exclusive chat with Sunday Trust. "We believe that TICAD process is part of this remarkable transformation of Africa," the ambassador reiterated.
In the last 20 years, the envoy said the directions given and the commitments made during TICAD, guide his embassy in the implementation of the programmes of economic cooperation in Nigeria. "TICAD gave us stimulus. For example, during TICAD IV held in 2008, Japanese government committed itself to double grant aid and technical assistance to African countries and this was achieved at continental level.
"Recently, we put together the figures for Nigeria and actually in the five years of TICAD IV, our grant aid and technical assistance was higher than those of the previous five years'".
He revealed that granting of soft loans which was stopped after the debt relief agreement by Paris Club in 2005 has been brought back. He said after consultations, granting of the loans was resumed because they enable Nigerian government to finance infrastructure programmes or some social development related programmes of relatively big size.
By this action, it is said that Japanese private companies are encouraged to come and invest in Nigeria. "This means that Japanese government is fully engaged in the Nigerian development. It also means Japanese government has trust in the sound macro-economic management and it encourages Japanese private companies to come to Nigeria," Shoji expressed.
He said TICAD has generally improved economic activities in Nigeria. According to him, around 18 companies have offices and Japanese staff in Nigeria. But this is small compared to the potential of Nigeria--the biggest market in Africa. He acknowledged that many Japanese companies know this fact but some hesitate to come to Nigeria so TICAD is encouraging them by sending trade and investment missions to Nigeria.
Why Japanese investors are reluctant to come
Even though Nigeria is said to be big opportunity for potential investors, many of them still drag their feet. For instance, though Japanese cars are greatly consumed in Nigeria, car makers like Toyota and Mitsubishi will not come and open their factories in Nigeria to enjoy the cheap labour and the elastic market.
Shoji however said market is rising in Nigeria. He gave example of a motor recycling company coming to Nigeria from Japan. He said Mitsubishi Trading Company has signed an MoU for construction of petrochemical plant for fertiliser production in Port Harcourt. Likewise Toyo Engineering which has decided to participate in the construction of petrochemical projects also in Port Harcourt.
He said new projects are under negotiation in such areas as power generation. There is one in the area of entertainment. Two Japanese companies are participating in Brass LNG project.
"Our trade volume increased by three times in 2012 compared with previous years' reaching around $5.3 billion. This is due to a surge in import of LNG by Japan. For Nigeria's LNG, Japan will continue to be a promising country," Shoji expressed.
Removing the barriers
The ambassador is of the view that more investments will come to Nigeria if there are good infrastructure. He looks forward to better and enabling environment for public activities. Not only infrastructure but also improved investment related legal framework or customs procedures or judicial system and improvement of governance in general and training of workers. He wants incorporation of ICT in human capital development in Nigeria as to him, these factors influence inflow of FDI.
He said as Nigeria strives to improve the environment for private sector investment, TICAD V will provide good opportunity for the review of strategies in this field. It will foster better partnership between private and public sectors and this will lead to Japanese investment.
One of the major issues to be discussed in TICAD V he said is how to make growth inclusive and the other is employment generation. This benefits as many of the people as possible.
He maintained that TICAD is driving force for fruitful relations even as it is a vehicle for the realization of Nigeria's vision 2020:20 adding that TICAD embodies the basic philosophy of development, cultivation of friendship and interdependence.
Shoji who said Japan's cooperation with Nigeria started in the 60s with soft loans, noted that the history of the two countries' economic cooperation and economic relations led by the private sector dates back to the end of 1970s. In the 70s, there were 1,700 Japanese nationals engaged in various projects in Nigeria.
Why this cooperation?
The ambassador explained, "We have two reasons to cooperate with Nigeria. One reason is from the fact that we're living in a world of interdependence so peace and prosperity of Nigeria and Africa are linked to the peace and stability of the world as a whole including Japan. Climate change is a typical issue that is of global nature. Economically, Africa led by South Africa and Nigeria is frontier for economic growth.
"Another reason is we're partners. Nigeria and Japan are working together on important issues of international agenda. We work together like at the UN Security Council reform, the climate change and the peace and stability in Africa and so on. Japan has reason to strive to strengthen ties with Nigeria. You know, when your partner is in need, you come to assist."
TICAD started in 1993. The objective at that time was to refocus the attention of the international community to urgency in the needs of Africans on development issues. TICAD's two guiding principles are African ownership of their own development and international partnership. African ownership means development should not be imposed from outside. Development should be led by African countries on the basis of the strategies and plans of their own. Shoji said this means self-effort. "Self-effort is key and should be placed in the heart of development."
On the other hand, he wants international community to assist African countries to fill the gaps: "there are financial gap, technological gap as well as gap in the field of human development".
These two notions, ownership and international cooperation as adapted in 1993 at the first TICAD meeting, have become guiding principles of the TICAD process.
Shoji who said last year was good year of preparations, is hopeful that "this year, we could harvest good crops in this field".
TICAD is held every five years in Tokyo, Japan, with the objective to promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners. Japan is a co-host of these conferences.
Other co-organizers of TICAD are the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Africa (UN-OSSA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The series has included: TICAD I (1993); TICAD II (1998); TICAD III (2003); and TICAD IV (2008). The next conference is scheduled between 1st and 3rd June 2013 at Yokohama.
But there is an irony. The irony is that Japan has not considered taking this conference which is about Africa to the African soil. Those who are bothered with the matter also question why African private investors who are keen in having the right investment climate on the continent are not well involved. Rather, government officials who at times care less about investments are put in the driver's seat. They contend that Nigeria will not benefit as much as it should, if government officials occupy the space.