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:
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