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Mr. Yu­taka Kikuta is Am­bas­sador Ex­tra­or­di­nary and Plenipo­ten­tiary of Japan to Nige­ria. In this in­ter­view, the en­voy speaks about trade re­la­tion be­tween both coun­tries, Japan’s de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, as well as his im­pres­sion about Nige­ria. Ex­cerpts:

Weekly Trust - - Interview - Ab­dul­la­teef Salau

What’s your im­pres­sion about Nige­ri­ans since your ar­rival in the coun­try?

I would say pos­i­tive. I must con­fess, be­fore I came here, I heard a lot about Nige­ria in Tokyo. I would say that I had a neg­a­tive im­pres­sion about Nige­ria; like Boko Haram, poverty, lack of good gov­er­nance and cor­rup­tion. But after my ar­rival, I found that Nige­ria is a big coun­try, and po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, it is the largest and leader in the African con­ti­nent with its nat­u­ral re­sources.

I also found that Nige­ria has hu­man re­sources. Nige­ri­ans have a good smile and I like that. They have good sense of hu­mour. When­ever I joke, I like their re­ac­tion.

They are very en­er­getic, cre­ative and have en­tre­pre­neur spirit. They seem to be liv­ing hap­pily de­spite the chal­lenges they face.

Nige­ria has very rich cul­ture. I think the Ja­panese need to un­der­stand more to have a bal­anced pic­ture of Nige­ria, and vice versa. Ja­panese im­age is very lit­tle about this coun­try.

On many oc­ca­sions when I at­tend events, peo­ple ad­dress me as Am­bas­sador of Repub­lic of Japan, Peo­ple’s Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Japan. As you know, we have an em­peror, we are not a repub­lic. I like to pro­mote the two coun­tries to have a bal­anced im­age of both. That is what I’m do­ing in this coun­try.

How do you as­sess the eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Nige­ria and Japan?

When it comes to eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion, we fo­cus on three points: trade, in­vest­ment and of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment. Nige­ria is a very im­por­tant coun­try in Africa, and Japan at­taches great im­por­tance to our re­la­tion. Next year, Japan will host the G20 Sum­mit in Osaka. It is pro­jected that in 2050, Nige­ria will be a mem­ber of the G20. This is not Ja­panese pro­jec­tion. Trade vol­ume be­tween the two coun­tries is very high. In 2016, ex­ports from Nige­ria to Japan, which are LNG and sesame seeds, stood at $839m. Im­port from Japan to Nige­ria was at $318m. Items are iron, steel, car and ma­chin­ery. Nige­ria has trade sur­plus with Japan; about $521m. The trade bal­ance be­tween both coun­tries has al­ways been in favour of Nige­ria.

It is very rare for Japan to have a trade deficit. How do you in­tend to close the gap now?

We do not in­tend to close the gap. We will like to pro­mote im­port and ex­port be­tween the two coun­tries. After the great earth­quake, Japan’s nu­clear power plant was shut down. We faced enor­mous en­ergy cri­sis. We im­ported a lot of nat­u­ral gas from Nige­ria. In 2015, Japan was the largest im­porter of Nige­ria’s LNG. We are very grate­ful to Nige­ria for pro­vid­ing us with this very im­por­tant en­ergy source. So, we hope this kind of im­por­tant eco­nomic re­la­tion con­tin­ues.

Nige­ria has con­tin­ued to be a very im­por­tant coun­try to Japan in terms of pro­vi­sion of nat­u­ral re­sources and en­ergy. In that sense, I will like to strengthen that kind of re­la­tion with Nige­ria.

How many Ja­panese com­pa­nies are op­er­at­ing in Nige­ria?

The num­ber of Ja­panese com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Nige­ria ex­ceeded 40 in 2017. This year, we are yet to con­sol­i­date the to­tal num­ber, but we feel the num­ber is in­creas­ing. Ja­panese com­pa­nies that in­vest in Nige­ria are big names. I would say big com­pa­nies are also com­ing. In ad­di­tion to au­to­mo­bile com­pa­nies, firms deal­ing in con­sum­ables, I.T and on­line com­merce have also in­di­cated in­ter­est in the Nige­rian mar­ket.

It is very im­por­tant to note that Ja­panese com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in Nige­ria are not only in­ter­ested in mak­ing profit; they also pro­vide jobs to Nige­ri­ans and build skills of the lo­cal peo­ple.

In terms of of­fi­cial de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance, Japan is the third largest donor coun­try for Nige­ria; over $1.4bn of de­vel­op­ment co­op­er­a­tion and over 6,000 Nige­ri­ans have ben­e­fit­ted from train­ings. We have been giv­ing de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance since 1966, grant aid as­sis­tance from 1970, tech­ni­cal co­op­er­a­tion from 1972 and grass­roots as­sis­tance from 1998, and over 164 projects had been im­ple­mented across the coun­try since then.

How many projects are we ex­pect­ing in 2019?

I can­not give any spe­cific num­ber of the projects we will de­liver next year. It will be de­cided in the fu­ture, but I ex­pect the same trend to con­tinue, even though the Ja­panese bud­get sit­u­a­tion is not so promis­ing. I hope the projects in­creases, not de­crease.

In ad­di­tion to the grass­roots projects, we are also giv­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance through in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions like UNDP, UN Women and UNIDO, to the North East states with which they im­ple­ment a lot of projects. I hope that Tokyo will un­der­stand our ef­fort and tan­gi­ble achieve­ments so that they can con­tinue.

Do you have any mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism for the GGP projects in Nige­ria?

We don’t have a spe­cific mon­i­tor­ing mech­a­nism as such, but we are mak­ing great ef­fort to fol­low up so that we can have tan­gi­ble achieve­ment. For in­stance, we ask in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions to give us de­tailed re­port about projects im­ple­men­ta­tion. We also go to the pro­ject sites to see things our­selves.

Re­cently, we were in Bauchi State where we met a num­ber of col­lege girls who ben­e­fited from our pro­gramme on en­trepreneur­ship through UNIDO.

Are you sat­is­fied with the re­ports you have re­ceived so far?

Yes, the re­ports are quite sat­is­fac­tory. That’s why we in­tend to con­tinue or even in­crease Ja­panese as­sis­tance in Nige­ria. The coun­try has good ca­pac­ity, that is hu­man re­sources. I have very high hope and good im­pres­sion that peo­ple are very se­ri­ous and don’t dis­ap­point us in pro­ject im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The Ja­panese Gov­ern­ment of­fers schol­ar­ships to Nige­rian stu­dents to study in Ja­panese uni­ver­si­ties. How do you rate the pro­gramme so far?

Schol­ar­ship is so im­por­tant in hu­man re­source de­vel­op­ment and ca­pac­ity build­ing. We were dev­as­tated by World War II. We are the only coun­try in the world bombed by nu­clear weapon twice; Hiroshima and Na­gasaki. Hu­man re­source was the only re­source we had, so we in­vested a lot in hu­man ca­pac­ity build­ing that we are now the third largest econ­omy in the world.

Our schol­ar­ship pro­gramme is one of our de­vel­op­ment as­sis­tance to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. The most fa­mous schol­ar­ship is the one by the Ja­panese Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion. We also have African Busi­ness Ed­u­ca­tion (ABE) Ini­tia­tive and JICA train­ing pro­grammes for young Africans.

Since in­cep­tion of the

Mr Yu­taka Kikuta

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