Mohammed Dansanta Rimi is the Nigerian Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In this interview during the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Dubai, Rimi spoke on several issues, including the recent robbery case involving five Nigerians in Dubai. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: President Buhari just attended the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM) of the UAE in Dubai. As the eye of Nigeria in the country, what do we stand to benefit from the meeting?
Ambassador Rimi: Since I came here, there is no better time for me than now. My prayers have been answered. Over a year ago, I have been trying to get our country to look into the UAE and this region in particular, not only for bilateral relationship but for the direct foreign investment.
I have discovered from my own background that the UAE is a centre of finance, it’s a centre of investment and as far as I’m concerned, they are very open and ready.
The leadership of the UAE feels that Nigeria is very important to them in Africa. That wherever they go in Africa, as long as Nigeria is not on the same page with them, they feel incomplete.
This investment forum is an eye opener and the objectives for it have been achieved. What is left is for us to follow it up, so that we can reap from it. The meeting was successful. Mr. President met seven companies working in various spheres including power, agriculture, rural estate and finance, among others. It’s now up to us to take it to the next level. We have already gotten the boarding pass.
DT: How does the trade figure between Nigeria and the UAE looks like?
Rimi: Honestly, I cannot officially say in concrete terms the trade figures between Nigeria and UAE. But of course, Nigerians come here daily, at least less than 500 Nigerians come here. Even from the visa fees the UAE collect, that’s a lot of money.
DT: The patronage looks like a one-way traffic. Only Nigerians are coming Dubai to buy goods, the UAE citizens don’t buy anything from us.
Rimi: Of course, it’s one-way.
DT: Why is it so?
Rimi: It is so because our businessmen always come to do things, the way they want to do it. Secondly, we need to get our minds to understand that what is obtainable in Europe is available in Dubai. I’m happy that our country participated in this conference. I’m happy that Mr. President attended it and I’m happy that he understands all that I have been saying. I don’t know of any serious one-to-one relationship or business relationship between Nigerian companies and the ones here. It has always been a one-way traffic. That is what we want to change. We want to change the narratives. Instead of our people coming here just to spend money to buy manufactured goods from the Far East or China as most of the things being sold here are brought from there. We want to change that. Even if it is going to be trade, let it be things that we produce in Nigeria and the ones they produce here in Dubai. All along, it has been one-way. The business is not captured officially. The trade is one-on-one, between the buyers and the sellers, no official documentation. A lady has money, flies to Dubai, buys her goods and returns back home. She displays the wares in her shop, she sells and return to Dubai if need be for restocking.
My own goal is to change the narrative so that more tangible investment goes out from here and of course, there’s nothing that stop Nigerians also from coming here to invest. One thing that we cannot stop is shopping.
DT: What have you put in place to ensure that the bilateral meetings of the president with the UAE investors yield result, as against the usual practice that after the media hype, the agreement is dumped in the shelve?
Rimi: Who do you blame? Who will take it to the next level? We the people who want it should be able to take it to the next level. Yes, we have signed agreement, it would just stop there. But then, we have to be proactive and ensure that we move it. I can assure you that from our own part, as representatives of Nigeria here, we will do what we can to ginger it.
DT: The image of Nigeria weeks ago suffered a dent, following a robbery case involving five Nigerians in Dubai. What are you doing in this regard?
Rimi: That was a very unfortunate case. I will say that nobody is happy with this. I’m personally not happy with it, Mr. President is not happy and all well-meaning Nigerians are not happy with it. I saw it on the social media. But that’s notwithstanding, I can assure you that the overall picture and the overall rating of Nigerians and Nigeria in the UAE is still very high. This is just an isolated case. Whatever examination you sat for and you scored nine out of 10, it’s a very good score. But I can assure you that we have very good Nigerians here, very professional, teaching in the universities, secondary schools, very highly rated medical personnel, engineers in the oil and gas, engineers in the construction sector, professionals in the finance industry, name any field, there are highly qualified and high quality Nigerians working in the UAE everyday interacting and promoting the image of our country.
DT: How many Nigerians do we have in the UAE?
Rimi: Well conservatively, as I won’t say I have the exact figure, we have around 10,000.
DT: What are the challenges facing you in the embassy?
Rimi: Our challenges like any other home ministry, resources available are not always adequate and we know why. For example, here, we have offices, we live in rented properties and you don’t have enough resources coming to offset these rents sometimes. But I’m happy, the situation is slightly improving.
For now, we don’t seem to have that liability but I know it is going to come up again due to paucity of funds. The Presidency, in the last one and a half year, I have been here, has been very helpful by assisting the mission to overcome its financial liabilities. And I believe up to most part of this year, we will not have that problem.
DT: As you said, we have highly trained professional working in the UAE. Looking at the infrastructure development here in the UAE, what are you doing to encourage them to return home to address our infrastructure gap?
Rimi: What’s wrong if they are here?
DT: How much do they remit last year?
Rimi: I don’t know. No statistics for that. But I know there are so many Nigerians here doing well in their respective fields. Some of them did well before coming to the UAE. You cannot rule out the fact that there are challenges at home. There is nowhere in the world that you won’t find Nigerians.