The 2019 edition of Nordic Nigeria Connect themed, 'Innovating for Change' saw the coming together of five independent countries - Nigeria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark - for the purpose of strengthening the rapport between the Nordic countries and Nigeria.
Change they say is constant! And that can best describe the phases of the business relationship between Nigeria and the Nordic countries - Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Demark- even as they continue to evolve. Over the years, this bilateral relationship which has existed over 100 years has seen a single item export of Norwegian stock fish to Nigeria grown to accommodate several other goods and services.
Now, as the Nordic states take cognisance of the gradual emergence of Nigeria as a hotbed of innovations cutting across the financial services, agriculture, hospitality and entertainment, the need for collaboration amongst these countries for more mutually beneficial partnership has become necessary more than ever before. A step in that direction saw the hosting of the 2019 edition of Nordic-Nigeria Connect: "Innovating for Change" which sought to combine the ideas and solutions from the Nordic countries and Nigeria companies, investors, government representatives and other stakeholders for a better impactful trade relationship.
Coming at the backdrop of the need for the countries to collaborate for mutual benefits, government officials, industries leaders, experts and stakeholders in different sectors defied the horrendous traffic that made movement in and out of the Island between May 22 and 23 to converge on the Radisson Blu, Victoria Island to connect and reconnect for a better future.
Declaring the two-day event open, the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented by the Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim commended the organisers for the initiative and said that it would enable participating countries - Nigeria Sweden, Norway, Finland and Demark to connect, reconnect and see how they can be beneficial and useful to one another.
According to Osinbajo, the event would enable stakeholders to deliberate on issues and come with up with recommendations, adding that the FG will look into the recommendations the stakeholders will come up with after the event.
Stating that the Nordic countries excel in innovation, the vice president said the FG has deliberately put some policies in place to support innovation in different sectors of the Nigerian economy. He said, "I believe that we can leverage on their development and learn a lot. First, Nigeria has many policies that support innovation like Executive Order 003 and Presidential Order 005. These policies are purposely designed to support our indigenous technology and innovation".
Speaking further, Osinbajo said the FG through the National Information Technology Development Agency has established about eight world-class IT hubs in different parts of the country. "In addition to the IT hubs, the government has been providing specialist training for startups and sometimes provides seed funds for them. This is to make sure that they develop their own idea of innovation. I believe we are on track but we need to double our efforts to catch up with other nations, particularly the developed ones," he added.
The Ambassador of Finland to Nigeria, HE, Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen on his part, reiterated his country's prowess in innovation, technology and education, adding that huge potentials in terms of human and materials resources abound in Nigeria.
According to him, it is a fact the Nordic countries have taken cognisance of and therefore considers Nigeria strategic for trade and investment. "I think in Finland and other Nordic countries, the politicians are already realising what Nigeria actually is. It is the biggest economy, the biggest country in West Africa and the whole of Africa and it has huge business potential for all of the Europeans. Finland has been a very innovative society for a long time now, especially in education and technology. We are here to learn together and to create new innovation. There are huge potentials in this country - great people, great resources", Pulkkinen said.
Speaking further, he said, "Nigeria is a very strategic country. I think in Finland and other Nordic countries, the politicians are already realising what Nigeria actually is. It is the biggest economy, the biggest country in West Africa and the whole of Africa and it has huge business potential for all of the Europeans."
Describing education to be the bedrock of Finland's transformation from an agrarian society into being globally recognised as having the best education system, a leading force in technology and innovation, Pulkkinen said infrastructure and education are critical to the development of any nation.
"I think education is the key for all the countries to be developed. That is why you see everybody harps on education", he added.
Tracing Nigeria-Finland relationship to the 1960s, the ambassador said, "We have been here for a long time. We have been here since the 60s. Finland has been very keen on introducing ideas like gender equality, education, innovation, mobile phone technology like Nokia, etc. Of course, we are not necessarily happy yet at the level of the development we have achieved because there is much more to do, we are really working so that we can lift it to the next level not only in Nigeria but also in other Africa nations. That is really what should be happening in the future."
Speaking also, the Defence Secretary for the Embassy of Norway, Aida Ghebreselasie, remarked that though Nigeria and Norway enjoy a long existing business relationship, investors are seeking to expand their investments in oil and gas, seafood and shipping, and maritime, adding that the shift in focus on renewable energy in Africa and Nigeria in particular.
"We have about 15 Norwegian companies that are focused on oil and gas out of the major 17 companies we have in Nigeria. So, the biggest sector here is the oil and gas but we are also dabbling into renewable energy. There are a lot of renewable energy actors in East Africa at the moment and they have done a lot of feasibility studies and an interesting market to push the engagement over to is West Africa, especially Nigeria.
The Swedish Ambassador in Nigeria, H.E. Mr. Staffen Tillander, in his remarks, said it's necessary that countries collaborate to achieve economic and social development. Adding that some of the things the platform was created to achieve were to strengthen existing relationships, to inspire each other and build new partnerships for the future.
Stressing that innovation is strong in all the Nordic countries Tillander said that as home to billion-dollar tech companies, Sweden has its business model built around infrastructure, gender equality, cooperation and dialogue and that it has made Swedish industries so innovative and dynamic. According to him, business and innovation turn threats to hope as it deploys possibilities to utilise potentials that are discovered through education and learning.
He however warned that without the creation of well-functioning infrastructure, no development will be possible. He said, "Cooperation and dialogue, infrastructure and gender equality form the basis of the Swedish model and it has made Swedish industries so innovative and dynamic. No economy will prosper if half of all her geniuses, entrepreneurs and others are held bound for no other reason than gender," he said.
The Minister Counsellor, Consulate General of Denmark, Lagos, H.E. Mr. Poul Jacob Erikstrup in his remarks said that innovation, connections, partnerships, knowledge, technology exchange are keywords for development of all countries. Stressing that though societies are different in many ways, Erikstrup said there are a number of ways to inspire each other to new innovations and better future.
According to him, countries are unique and strong in different areas, just as Denmark is renowned to be at the forefront with innovations in the food, agriculture and processing sector, yet common goals can be achieved by innovatively leveraging each other's strength. "You get inspired by good neighbours and good friends when you develop your own country. Our societies are different in many ways but there are a number of ways to inspire each other to new innovations and better future. And a common goal can be achieved through innovative use of goods, services and raw materials," he said.