In April 2012, shortly after being confirmed as ambassador by the Nigerian Senate, His Excellency Senator Haruna Garba, arrived in Kuwait to assume his post as Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Non-resident Ambassador to the Kingdom of Bahrain. "I am an accountant by profession and my posting to Kuwait is my first diplomatic assignment," acknowledged Ambassador Garba at the start of an exclusive interview he recently afforded to The Times. "Prior to assuming my ambassadorial role here I was an elected Senator to my country's Fifth National Assembly, from the Gombe North Constituency in Nigeria's Gombe State. I served as senator for a four-year term from 2003 to 2007 and was the vice chairman of the Senate committee on Agriculture.
Before that I was Commissioner for Finances in Gombe State and prior to that was the state's Accountant General from 1996 to 1999," revealed the ambassador. The vicissitudes of his career has seen the ambassador shift from ledger books and balance sheets to drafting bilateral agreements and helping negotiate relations between Nigeria and Kuwait. Elaborating on ties between Nigeria and Kuwait the envoy noted, "Relations between our two countries are nothing short of magnificent. Our embassy in Kuwait opened in 1981 when a Chargé d'Affaires was in charge of the mission; this was soon upgraded to that of a fullfledged embassy with an ambassador in residence.
Kuwait opened its embassy in Nigeria's capital Abuja, in 2008 and the current ambassador, His Excellency Saad Al Asousi, is doing a wonderful job there in cementing relations between our two countries. Nigeria and Kuwait share similar viewpoints on many global issues and extend support to each other at international venues, where both our countries are member states, such as at the United Nations, OPEC and at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation." Expressing his desire to see trade relations between the two friendly countries soar to new heights, Ambassador Garba said, "Our embassy is working steadfastly to improve existing trade and commercial links.
At present there are several business to business links, but the level of trade is rudimentary, mainly in charcoal and other low-value products. S ince 1 981, t here h ave been only two bilateral agreements signed between our two countries; one was on double taxation and the other on mutual protection of investment. These agreements were not adequate to reflect the full potential of trade that Nigeria and Kuwait can have. It is heartening to note that all this about to change now; in August we look forward to welcoming our Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, to Kuwait.
During this high-level visit we hope to sign up to five bilateral agreements covering a wide range of topics, from diplomatic visa waivers to air services, power generation, agriculture, education and scientific cooperation." The ambassador voiced his confidence that once bilateral agreements were in place, trade and business relations between the two countries would improve significantly. He clarified by saying, "Bilateral agreements can lead to openings in both markets for products from the other country. For instance, most of the refined petroleum products marketed by Kuwaiti oil sector can be sold in Nigeria. Though Nigeria is an oil producer, it cannot meet the demand for petroleum products from a population of over 160 million people.
A lso, a b ilateral a greement on commerce, agriculture and allied fields will open up the Kuwaiti market to fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products from Nigeria, especially now, when we can capitalize on the fact that produce from Syria and elsewhere are not arriving in the country." "Moreover, Nigeria has a vast land area of 923,768sq km, which is more than fifty times the size of Kuwait, and much of this land can be used by enterprising businesses and investors to grow agriculture or rear livestock, such as Nigerian goats. Incidentally, goat meat is the most widely consumed red meat in the world and it is far healthier, as it is leaner and contains less cholesterol and fat than sheep or beef, and has less calories than chicken.
Moreover, Nigerian goats are pasture-grazed animals and their taste is far different from animals that have been reared on compound feeds." The envoy went on to add, "Another bilateral agreement that he hope to sign concerns direct air services; this will further facilitate the quick transport of perishable agricultural products from Nigeria to Kuwait, allowing them to retain their freshness and natural taste. Direct flights will also enable people from both countries to fly straight to Kuwait, or to Abuja, Lagos or other cities in Nigeria.
Currently they have to resort to long and indirect flights through Qatar, UAE, Egypt or Ethiopia." "The air-services agreement will also have a great impact on tourism. While there are tourists from Kuwait visiting Nigeria, the numbers could be boosted considerably once direct flights are started.
The embassy is also exploring ways to enhance the promotion of Nigeria as a tourism destination. Nigeria has plenty to offer tourists, ranging from idyllic locations like the tranquil Obudu Resort deep in the tropical rainforest of Cross River State, to the over 6,700sq km Gashaka- Gumti National Park set up by the Federal Government in the northeast.
The park which spreads across grasslands and evergreen rainforests encompasses a wide variety of tropical wildlife, some endemic to the area. In the south-west, to the north of Lagos is the famous Olumo Rock with its ancient caves and shrines, and if you travel north-west there is the historic Sokoto Caliphate, at one time the most powerful empire in sub-Saharan Africa.
North of Abuja on the way to Kaduna, there is the majestic monolith, the Zuma Rock, with its spring waters that are purported to have medicinal properties. Saying that the expected agreement on education and scientific cooperation will enable more Nigerian students to visit and study here, the diplomat continued, "This will also provide Kuwait access to Nigerian satellite infrastructure and technology that could help in television broadcasts and in remote sensing applications. Another agreement in the pipeline is with regard to the power sector, where Kuwaiti expertise in power generation and distribution could be used to transform Nigeria from a developing to a developed nation."
Stating that setting up business in Nigeria is a straight-forward process, the envoy added, "If one approaches the embassy we will process the business visas and connect them to the right representatives in the Nigerian Ministry of Commerce and Industry who can then arrange all business related matters within a period of 24 hours.
However, it is important that people visit the embassy and meet our commercial section personnel to conduct the necessary formalities, rather than going directly or through unscrupulous agents who may not deliver on their promises." Noting that there have been a few investments by Kuwaiti businesses in Nigeria, particularly the one made by Zain in mobile communications, Ambassador Garba added, "The Nigerian telecommunications sector is one of the fastest growing in the world; I beleive that Zain recouped their investments within a short period and then sold the venture to the Indian company Bharati-Airtel.
Meanwhile, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic development is studying a project to provide financing for a large sewage project in Nigeria, and if realized, this will be the start of future cooperation in other infrastructure projects." A lso, t he K uwait F inance H ouse, as part of its strategy to promote awareness of Islamic banking in the developing world, recently held a training session on Shariaa compliant banking services, for a visiting Nigerian delegation.
These investments in finances and people lead me to believe that Nigeria with its abundant supply of natural resources, strong fiscal and legal frameworks, well-developed communications and transport infrastructure, as well as the second largest stock exchange in Africa, is a lucrative investment destination for Kuwaiti businesses." Pointing out that when one listens to stories in the media the impression conveyed is that Nigeria is an insecure place and that the businesses and investments are not safe in the country, the ambassador stressed, "Nothing could be further from the truth; yes, there are security challenges, but then, which country in the world is not prone to security threats these days? T he N igerian g overnment i s u p to the task of facing these challenges and is implementing several positive initiatives designed to ensure peace and safety for the people and their properties. Also, in parallel to solving security concerns, the government is pursuing a robust policy aimed at invigorating the Nigerian economy."
"I would like to welcome Kuwaiti investors and entrepreneurs to visit Nigeria and assess the situation on the ground for themselves; they will find that not only will their investments be safe, but that the returns will be equally good. It must be noted that Nigeria the second largest economy in Africa and is poised to be at par with the world's top twenty economies by 2020. Evidence of the trust in Nigeria's future is the fact that despite ongoing security challenges, investments are continuing to flow in from all over the globe, and not a single foreign investor has pulled out and left the country on account of security threats." Ambassador Garba concluded by saying that, "Nigeria is an active member of the UN, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
It is the regional powerhouse in West Africa and is the strong arm behind ECOMOG, the security aspect of ECOWAS, which is deployed in troubled spots across West Africa. Also, contingents of Nigerian army personnel participate in many of the UN peace keeping forces around the world and, at the start of July, when the UN began its military mission to Mali, Nigeria sent more than 800 military personnel to support the ongoing political process and stabilization of Mali. As you can see we are an integral part of the international community and we look forward, along with our brotherly state of Kuwait, to continue working for peace and prosperity around the world."