Ambassador Dato’ Ku Jaafar Ku Shaari is the Secretary General of the D-8 Organisation for Economic Cooperation, an organisation for development co-operation among eight developing countries in the Muslim world, including Nigeria. In this interview during his recent visit to Nigeria, he explained some of the organisation’s initiatives for Nigeria and other member countries in the area of health, industry, education, among others.
Can you briefly tell us about your visit to Nigeria?
After my appointment, I decided to visit all member states to seek the views and guidance of leaders and stakeholders on how to provide direction for the organisation.
So I met with ministers and stakeholders in the organisation’s focal areas, which are trade, industry, tourism, health , energy, agriculture and food security, finance, among others.
The visit is also aimed at strengthening personal relationship with member states, to know their expectations and challenges.
Specifically, I am here to discuss new initiatives with Nigeria. We want the Nigerian Government to take lead in new initiatives for member states like the one on health approved during the 41st commission’s meeting in Turkey in November. It is called the D-8 Health and Social Protection Programme.
Dr. Ado Mohammed from Nigeria was appointed as special adviser to the D-8 secretariat to look into ways of establishing the partnership.
I have met the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Health and I’m happy that the Government of Nigeria is supportive of the initiative.
The idea is not only to look at primary health care, but also engaging with the private sector on businesses in the health sector.
We will also meet with the Minister of Tourism, and I am asking to see the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, because we brought private sector teams along with my delegation for collaboration.
We are asking the Government of Nigeria to support the initiative for the private sector called the D-8 Industrial Park. We are looking at possibilities of industrial cooperation in civil aviation.
There are Turkish companies involved in providing component parts in the aerospace sector. They want to transfer technology and establish industrial parks in all member states.
We also thank the Ministry of Trade and Industry of Nigeria for agreeing to organise a summit on women and youth empowerment in January, 2019.
D-8 attaches importance to providing entrepreneurial skills for the youths because they will be the next generation and we should nurture them with skills and capability.
I will also meet with the Minister of Education to discuss the possibility of establishing collaboration.
Recently, we established the D-8 International University in Hamadan, Iran, and we are looking for the first intake of masters and PhD students for 2019. We are asking governments of member states to support and sponsor at least five students a year for the programme for now. Later on, maybe we will expand it to more people.
The university is not only meant for postgraduates, it is also for undergraduates and it is being developed to focus on science and technology and the economic field.
We are also in the process of establishing D-8 Network of Pioneers for Research and Innovation, and I want to thank the Government of Nigeria for giving us three universities to be part of the programme. The idea is to develop skills in students so that they will go into innovative research works in science, technology, engineering, among others.
The universities are the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and the University of Ibadan (UI). We have not approached the universities yet because we are still awaiting two or three member states to provide the names of their universities before I write to the vice chancellors.
I have also asked to meet with the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the D-8 payment card initiative. This is a normal card like the Master card or Visa card. During the D-8 summit in Instabul , the Chairman of the organisation, President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, mentioned that member states should look at the possibilities of trade using local currencies.
So with that view, we started to talk to relevant agencies and a company from Malaysia came to us with the proposal of a special card that features applications that enable us to make business transactions using local currencies. We hope that this card will be a card for all D-8 countries and for the citizens to use for business transactions, travelling and remittance of money for Small Medium Enterprises.
We are meeting the central banks of member states for support and licence to lunch this card.
So these are some of the new ideas that I have come to raise with relevant agencies and stakeholders with the view of getting the support of the government and the agencies concerned.
What is the budget for all these proposed initiatives; especially that of health care for Nigeria?
I cannot give you a figure right now because we are just at the early stage of discussing the initiatives. Every member state will benefit from the initiatives, and we are asking them to support them.
In the area of health, a study found that a country that focuses on health will certainly leapfrog in terms of developing its economic sustainability and economic growth.
All member states are facing some issues with health care, some countries are suffering from poverty and lack of primary health care.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s contribution to the D-8?
The level of commitment of Nigeria is commendable, particularly in engaging technology. I have heard a lot of people outside Nigeria say so too. Last year, Nigeria hosted the meeting of the ministers of industry. We are looking forward to the workshop to be hosted by Nigeria for youths and women empowerment next year.
I must say that Nigeria always comes top among member states when it comes to responding to anything that we do at D-8. I am also very proud of the level of support I have been receiving from this government. I was assured by the Minister of Foreign Affairs that they were solidly behind our organisation.
I will also like to quote Price Walter Cooper House, which is one of the biggest auditing firms in the world. They made a study last year and the study analysed all aspects of the economy and finances of countries.
The good thing about it is that all D-8 member countries were ranked among the top 24 out of 30 countries in terms of economic rankings.
They said by 2050, the ranking of countries in terms of economic strength, will change drastically and China will rank number one followed by India.
Then in terms of country ranking, number three will be the United States of America (USA), number four Indonesia, one of our member states; number 11, will be Turkey; number 14 Nigeria and number 15 Egypt.
Number 16 will be Pakistan, 17 Iran, 23 Bangladesh. The combined Gross Domestic Product (GEP) of these member states will be something close to $40tn; that will be like 38.9 per cent. This will make the D-8 as a group, the third strongest economic power house apart from China and India.
I encourage member states to go all out because we will be the new emerging economies by 2050.
D-8 only engages in economic matters, we don’t get involved in politics. We are focused on how to increase the standard of living of the eight member states and of their citizens.
In what key ways has D-8 impacted the lives of citizens of member countries?
Initially, when the organisation started, member countries were carrying out their own initiatives, but over time, there have been initiatives for all that has economically empowered and uplifted the lives of the citizens.
D-8 was instrumental in introducing Islamic banking. Today it has developed to something huge. It has also developed into a system that is valued at trillions of dollars and more countries, even non-Muslim ones, are adopting this system; that is a success story.
D-8 has given the countries opportunity to work closely together. We have increased trade among member countries, and some other projects we started earlier that are small are now big. We have set a very ambitious project and though we have not achieved them because of some challenges, we will get there.
We set a target that after 20 years of completion of the first cycle; that inter-trade among member states should reach something like $500bn. When we started in 1997, inter-trade among member countries was $15bn, but in 2017, it reached $150bn.
We have preferential trade agreement among member states, we have signed customs, visa agreements and are at the stage of completing the ratification of all agreements.
This will help us to increase inter-trade among member countries. We have also established the D-8 Chamber of Commerce and Industry and all national chambers of commerce and industry of member states have been put under one umbrella.
Also, engagement of the private sector along with government is boosting effort. We are now building the road map of D-8 which will start from 2020 to 2030 and discussing approaches to the strategy.
What is your advice to Nigeria and other member states?
We need to work hard. D-8 is not well known and we need better visibility. The citizens of member states must be made aware about the D-8.
Stake holders at the national level should support and publicise the organisation so that together we will be able to do something great for the benefit of all citizens of member states.
There should be a sense of ownership from all member states. We have to be responsible in every capacity. They should also feel free to provide ideas that will uplift the lives of members. We are ready to listen; whether they are students, government, the private sector or the academia.