Having stayed this long, how would you describe your experience and your achievements in Nigeria?
Our state of bilateral ties is great. We have been able to have a relationship that is comprehensive. In 2010, President Goodluck Jonathan attended the G8 Summit in Muskoka, Ontario in Canada. Just in May this year, Vice-President Namadi Sambo with nine ministers and 10 governors met Prime Minister Harper in Ottawa. We have had a lot more happening on the education side. We have also done so much on the security side. We have a deep political relationship with ministers going back and forth. We have good international cooperation. It is now becoming normal for the foreign ministers to pick up the phone and talk to each other. That is a great improvement. You have a strong High Commissioner in Canada, Ojo Maduekwe.
He is not like anyone you have had there before. He has brought a lot of weight and gravity to the job that we have not seen before. We have got a bi-national commission framework which is something I am interested in because when I came here, what I wanted was to put things on institutional basis. What I wanted is like a relationship that we have with countries that we have been relating with for a long time like US, Dutch, Britain and others. We have a tie between our parliaments. We want to have exchanges between universities in Canada and Nigeria not just for students but for faculties and the vice-chancellors. The big point is that we are not going to have a relationship that go up and down like we had in the past; it should be strengthened and broadened. There may some political problems or not, the overall relationship will continue to grow. Nollywood is going to Canada in a big way in September. A group of 30 to 40 representatives will be going to the Canada International Film Festival which is the second largest film festival in the world. We hope they would be able to showcase for the first time a major Nigerian film and while they are there they would be working to see if we can develop a strong institutional relationship with a number of colleges and film studios in Canada. Both countries have big film industries. You may not have heard of Canada-we don’t have a name for it but it is a big industry it is worth even more than your own industry, Nollywood. You have got lot of strength acting, studios, but we have got a lot of strength in post-production, animation, film schools and market expanse. In the last three years, particularly the past few months, we have had a big increase in our development assistance. Last year our Minister of International Development, Fantino and Minister of Trade, came to Nigeria which I think it was the first ever visit by any of our development ministers. When I came here the amount of aid to Nigeria was going down to about $11 million but now it is over $72 million. I am pretty confident that by the time my successor gets here we will have a significant increase over that. We have put a lot of money into maternal and child health, and polio eradication. We announced about $18 million for polio in June. We also have a programme to look how well we are doing in this project. There is no point flinging money without knowing if people are actually benefiting.
What is the level of the trade between both countries now?
Nigeria has become one of our largest development partners over the last two years now. Nigeria is Canada’s largest sub-Saharan trading partner. Our trade volume tripled from $1 billion to $3 billion between 2010 and 2013. We also reached a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement in May this year. We have also in the last three months agreed on some criteria of cooperation like bio-security. We have also done a few things which you may not be aware of. We were quite active before I came on Freedom of Information which President Goodluck Jonathan signed in 2011. We will continue to work with players on that.
How long does it take to procure a Canadian visa?
Last year, we were not moving very quickly. We had up to three months wait and that was largely because we had so many students coming. We have over 4000 students in Canada which is 30 percent increase over 2012. This year again there has been a big increase. Today we are down to about three weeks but our plan is to get to the international standard of two weeks. That should help everybody who is looking for a visa to Canada. We have innovated; we have strengthened our capacity so that will relieve a lot of pressure. But for students, it still takes a couple of time because they have to go through medicals. Visa is issued in Lagos. We have a visa application centre in Lagos. All visas go through there although we do assist with diplomats’ visa application; all visas are issued through Lagos.
What is your contribution to our electoral process and do you think people are getting more aware of their rights?
We have committed about $6 million to support INEC. We have actually released $4.5 million for institutional strengthening. I can see good progress in the election process. The INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega is committed. That is why we are supporting the institutional strengthening of INEC because it can’t just be one man; it has to be the whole system.
This is work in progress. But I must say people are becoming more aware of their rights. Democracy around the world is more about citizenship than it is about leadership. I think a healthy citizenship is emerging in Nigeria. You saw the fuel subsidy protest. Even the 2011 election, there was so much on the social media. You have a very vibrant media here. Every newspaper and radio station has its own point of view. That is good because at the end of the day the debate is great and the truth comes up. India also has a vigorous media but I think yours is more vigorous.
You have more newspapers and you are using electronic means as well and people really want to hear news here and air their views, and they are not shy about it which is one of the enduring things about Nigerians. In any case, I think that is helpful and it is good for your democracy. I hope the election goes well in 2015 because it is a complicated election. You are going to have multiple levels. We certainly hope you avoid violence and that you don’t tie yourselves up a nut because you have got a lot on the agenda here. I have mentioned the Manitoba Hydro and the privatization of electricity; you don’t want to slow down that process because of election. The same in education in some states; I was just from Kano-there is a lot is going on in education. We were also in Akwa Ibom a few months ago. That is very important. Young people can’t wait to be educated whether it is time for election or not. I hope the elections take place smoothly.
What is your view on private sector involvement in Nigeria’s economic development?
Lagos in particular has a vibrant private sector; it is very dynamic and very optimistic. Its view is well beyond Nigeria. Industrial growth, agriculture, oil and gas, insurance and stable banking industry will stabilize the system so that everything doesn’t become absorbed by politics. It is about the number of jobs that are created in the future by the private sector. Education is another one. I keep coming back to education maybe because we have a long history of supporting education in this country. I hope we can really get on vocational training centre in Nigeria because we have got a lot to offer. We have got good knowledge in Canada of a demand-driven vocational training. Nigeria is one of the fastest growing emerging countries in the world in-spite of problems with electricity and in-spite of problems with corruption and education gap. You can imagine what it will be like if we remove some of those impediments. You could go even faster. A lot of things have also been done to make Nigeria a mining friendly country.
How about the political climate?
You people like politics. It is politics all the time. You have a political system which allows people to constantly judge how well the political class is doing. I think you still have a long way to go to get credibility. The problem is getting things to move. Look at corruption for example, people talk about it a great deal but you don’t see much real movement. I know the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other anti-graft agencies are strengthening their capacities but I think it has to be through the whole system. It is not just for the political class, everybody has to own up. Look at the National Assembly pay issue; that it is a big issue because it is a lot of money. People are complaining about it but what outcome has it? It was about more than two years ago that the issue broke but has anything changed? You are a young democracy so it is not easy.