Ambassador Ketil Karlsen is head of European Union Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS. Biodun-Thomas Davids spoke with him on the sidelines of the EU-Nigeria Business Forum in Lagos, where he offered expert views on opportunities for growth and development in key sectors of Nigeria’s economy. Excerpts:
Essence of the sixth EU-Nigeria Business Forum
We have had wonderful European Union-Nigeria Business Forum this year, focusing on very important aspects of future development of Nigeria specifically, on how to invest in youth, in women participation in business as well as identify sectors that can be drivers of economy where we can have inclusive growth, and opportunity to create lots of jobs. Those are fundamentals. That is why we have been giving agriculture and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors specific attention because we consider that they hold a lot of huge potentials for development in Nigeria. Already we have seen some of these potentials relived, cutting across development in the digital world. With the population in Nigeria there is enormous opportunity for job creation. We have demonstrated that the strong business partnership between EU and Nigeria is thriving very well but there are still unused potentials in this partnership in the area of building mutual interest. Largely, we need the participation of all business societies whether at the national level, state level or local level. Bringing all these voices together, no doubt, is instrumental to business development and opportunity for growth in Nigeria.
Assessment of Nigerian youths in harnessing opportunities that ICT offers
There are already lots of fascinating initiatives going on with the establishment of ICT and our resource persons here have demonstrated that it is doable and possible to create very significant businesses within this area, even in very short time, by perfectly accelerating national market spread. We have seen over the last one year, the continuation of the development of the digital sector in a country like Nigeria and everywhere in the world, so by looking at the enormous domestic markets, there is a lot of scope for development. But why not be more ambitious and make Nigeria a hub for international development in this sense? Of course, in order to identify a value change like this one, in order to optimise its impact, we need to identify how do we get a right enabling environment in place? How do we ensure the right mix of skills in order to be able to really achieve the maximum impact? For sure, anywhere in the world, this is a continuous challenge, we always ask ourselves in Europe as to what we do to educate our young people to be able to grow the sector, to be able to offer necessary skills in this sector. In Nigeria, there is still a lot we can do. We need to make sure that the federal government initiative, state government initiative, private initiative are supported by international framework. There is still so much to be done to make sure we use people potentials in Nigeria. We have to come back to the Economic Partnership Agreement, because there are opportunities in that sense, this initiative creates enabling environment and diversification of productivity in Nigeria. Why can’t we have the ambition to access the European market?A young lady said that in Nigeria we should not only look at optimising already used software from Europe or else where, why not be ambitious and believe that we can also develop those kinds of things in Nigeria. If Nigeria takes this challenge seriously and applies it to align with all different interventions, then there is a real opportunity to see something significant.
Level of cybercrime in Nigeria
Digital development is not an objective in its own right, it is there to improve our way of doing business. One of the most wonderful conclusions of this seminar is exactly how the digital sector can be used to intensify and make more efficient, works in other economic endeavours, for example agriculture. The fundamental possibilities here need to be explored. Of course, we are concerned about cybercrime and other linked issues and which we have to fight very significantly because this is a real threat to development. Instead of using energy to explore obscure or dark opportunities in digital technology, we need to ensure it is used to benefit the business development in general, the job creation and showing quality of lives of an increasingly young population in a country like Nigeria. Somebody mentioned that digital technology is the new oil, is a new gold, is a new opportunity but there is also a risk with such opportunity, and this risks we have to analyse very carefully. Of course, we need to get together Europe and Nigeria, in order to fight the criminals taking advantage and abusing this opportunity.
Regulation to checkmate criminal tendencies in Nigeria ICT
It’s a combination of stick and carrot. First of all we need to demonstrate we can actually generate the real legal jobs and attract good minds and good intentions, on the other hand we also need to ensure that there is no impunity, when it comes to punishing those that abuse the system. Of course, necessary steps need to be taken in litigation, in follow-up and control. There is need for check and balance. On one hand we do not want to limit the functionality of the digital opportunity, we want people to be free and explore new job opportunities in ICT, but at the same time we need to make sure that it is not abused. I think there is no particular bullet solution to this threat. There is need for international collaboration in order to fight cyber crime. This kind of crime, unlike other crimes, they don’t respect national borders.
Building capacity of rural farmers
Nigeria is a big and prosperous country, with so many opportunities for agriculture. Anytime I go to the supermarket here, and I pick up vegetable or fruits imported from somewhere, it pains me a little bit, I must say, there should be more scope for agriculture production in Nigeria, in order to be able to feed a growing population, to have a very good and efficient production of produce that we all want our children to eat, a produce without toxin. That is one of the fundamentals, and of course we need to make the produce attractive to the old and young. The average age of farmers in this country is very high, because farming is not considered attractive, and yet it is one of the noble jobs you can possibly imagine. It is a channel for providing means of livelihood for all of us. When farmers get necessary needs and skills they produce best of farm produce. There is need to look beyond feeding Nigerians alone, there is need to extend to other regions, even Europe. The challenge and profitability in this will prompt players in this field into best practices.
There is no one side to this, it depends on capability and opportunity in different parts of the country. It is about building gradually the skills by organising farmers. Where you have small scale farming, you can bring people together to access finance, they can share different technological opportunity, that’s a sort of motivation. The important thing is to come together and analyse carefully what is needed in order to get enabling environment. We as well need to ensure necessary knowledge is available and make sure this knowledge is transmitted to farmers.
What Economic Partnership Agreement with EU presents to Nigeria and beyond
Economic partnership agreement is not new at all, most countries within West Africa, have signed this already, we have seen its very positive impacts on many countries in terms of creating enabling environment, having the necessary technical assistance, also helping to diversify productivity. You have to bear in mind that, with the economic partnership agreement, you will get increasing access with no tariff at all, no duty at all to European markets. European market is a very significant one, with over 500 million consumers. This is a real good opportunity to step into a new generation of doing business. Let the standard not be export of oil and petroleum, there are more opportunities in other labour- intensive sectors. Where you have population growth, you also need to think of what kind of sectors can generate necessary jobs. Somebody told me that in Africa there is need for creation of 89million additional jobs. There is a very significant proportion of such trend in Nigeria, of course, because of the size of the country. We need to ask ourselves, where will those jobs come from? I’m convinced that the Economic Partnership Agreement will actually help in creating that kind of job opportunity. So we will continue to dialogue with Nigeria for us to assist in improving on situations. For us it’s a win, win situation. We will also need to appreciate that there is a sovereign decision for Nigeria to take; it’s not for EU to decide on behalf of other countries because we decided on our own. We are willing to lay our caps on the table to have discussion on questions of interest; hopefully we will be able to find common ground to mutual benefits of fostering relationship between Europe and Nigeria.
Acceptability and marketability of Nigerian agricultural produce abroad
There are lots of quality products coming out of Nigeria, I have seen that with my own eyes. The standard in Europe for what we want to put in our mouth has been increasing over the years. In Nigeria there is need to look at ensuring minimum standard for quality of products to make sure that what is being exported is really of very high and safe standard. We also need to look at competitiveness. Consumers everywhere want to buy the best products at low possible prices, and that again takes development of skills in business planning and marketing and how you access the market likewise. This is a great potential that is waiting to be relived. Most important thing is doing things in the right way, taking into consideration factors like competitiveness, marketing, access to the market, how you deal with all the processes for exportation, how you link up with the partners in Europe, among others. This is not necessarily easy, but it is doable, and thousands and thousands of producers have demonstrated that it is doable, and that creates better economic opportunity in the country where they export. For us, this is a win, win initiative. When we do trade with each other, we all get wealthier. We have to do it in a way that is inclusive, in a way that is not only benefitting the few, but in a way that is farreaching, generating a lot of benefits for people. Already there is flourishing relationship between Nigeria and Europe. We believe we can further strengthen our relationship in the coming years.