By PETER AGBA KALU
His Excellency, Mr. Mahesh Sachdev, Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria sat down with Saturday Sun to give an update on the India-Nigeria relationship. Why India with over one billion people is food sufficient. Over the years, Indian IT companies have not only found their niche in Nigerian economy, they have also contributed to local capacity building by training over 150, 000 Nigerians in the country itself. I think the man who once asked me why people are killing themselves heading to the so-called advanced but collapsing economies in Europe and Northern America, when we can get every thing we want and cheaper in India is absolutely right. The respect and welcome that await Nigerians right at the entrance of their Maitama diplomatic office and the speed they attend to you are incredible. No matter your mission, you are going to leave the commission office with your dignity first as a Nigerian and second as a human being still intact. Honestly, believe me these people are not only incredible on CNN, indeed, Indians are incredible.
Excerpts from the interview
After China, you’re the second most populated nation in the world, yet you’re able to feed yourself, unlike Nigeria with arable land, yet she’s into massive importation of food. What can we learn from India?
India as you know, is also a developing country, we are here to share our experiences with you as a third world country. We have made technological input into what was India’s first green revolution in the early 70s and since then we have been having huge harvest in rice, beans, cotton, etc.
All these contributed to agriculture sector –specific growth and today we are the largest exporter of rice in the world. We have expansive 400 million tones of stock of food as reserves in case of drought and in case of some other contingencies. And this has been made possible by a very comprehensive policy adopted over the last 50 years which has given rise to the synergy between all stakeholders from farmer to extension worker; from state procurement agency to exporter.
You share so many similarities with Nigeria like diversity of ethnic groups and religion, yet you were able to manage things to build a progressing nation out of obscurity. What is the secret and again what can we learn from you?
To answer this question, I have to repeat we’re not yet rich. They say in colloquial language in the United States that there are many ways of killing a cat. What counts is success, and what also count are sagacious means.
So, what India, as you have rightly stated, has been able to achieve is through turbulence mutual accommodation, democracy and mutual respect for each other. Rule of law has played its role; people believe that their turn will come and basically there is no jolly ticket. India has seen most of the 64 years in democracy. We have the same constitution that we adopted in 1950 still valid. And our elections are regarded universally as free and fair by all standards. We also have a free press which has enabled us to evolve into a vibrant, progressive country.
If my record is right, with a trade volume of $13 billion as of April 2010 and March 2011, India is Nigeria’s second biggest trade partner after USA. What is the latest update?
Just as I have indicated to you, they are two separate figures – Nigeria and India. They collaborate with each other. To illustrate rapid growth, from our figures for the year that ended 31st March 2011, the volume of trade was $17.3 billion out of which $14.6 billion was Nigeria’s export to India and $2.7 billion was Indian export to Nigeria.
So, overall, Nigeria had more than $12 billion trade surplus with India. We would have obviously liked this growth to be sustainable on the basis of better equilibrium with exports from India and exports to India. So, we would like our Nigerian friends to buy more from India so that we can maintain this trade balance and as you know, lopsidedness often leads to unsustainability in trade relations. From these figures, if you work them out from the Nigerian perspective, the volume of trade is about N2.5 trillion. On a monthly basis, it has gone up from (the figure that comes into my head at the moment) to around N800 billion which if you calculate well will be N3.2 trillion, which is about $20 billion, every quarter. Your figures are slightly higher than our own but within the same range. The basket of trade is very interesting.
Of course, majority of Nigeria’s export to India comprises crude oil and LNG. But there are also components such as cashew nuts, cocoa, shear butter, etc that the Indian Market needs. Goods that Nigerians import from India include rice, transport equipments such as trailers, buses, cars, motor cycles, etc. And then you have pharmaceuticals as well as electronic equipment, etc. As you see, most of them are imported items needed for national development or for socio-economic consumption. And we are quite hopeful that this growth of 30 per cent plus in bilateral trade will continue in future.
We have an ongoing reform in the power, petroleum and banking sectors. For example, there’s a gas master plan for exploiting the enormous gas reserves in Nigeria. How far have Indian companies tapped into these opportunities?
We are very involved as Indian companies participate in all Nigerian reforms. In the power sector, 12 large Indian groups had shown interest and participated and wrote letters of intent in the beginning; some of them are still in the running.
Of these, I will like to point out Skipat Nigeria and Data power as the two who have been in the reckoning. They would be looking at what happens on the 16th of October when the results are to be announced.
What of in the banking and may be the petroleum sectors?
Petroleum as I mentioned to you, we are the second largest buyer of Nigerian crude. And we do have some upstream involvement. A number of Indian groups are exploring for crude in Nigeria. One of them actually is a small producer of crude in Nigeria as well. And we believe that reforms in the Nigeria petroleum sector in case they are able to take the reforms to a logical conclusion in terms of transparency, globalization and commercially. Decision-making should be able to attract Indian participation in the sector. We are the fourth largest energy consumer and all our imports are considerable. As the second largest importer of Nigeria crude, we would like to take it to a new level of strategic involvement. Not only this buying and selling. We want to be involved in exploring, refining and vis-a-vis Nigerian crude refineries and petrochemical plants, etc.
I should also remind you that an Indian company called Indorama is a large exporter of petrochemicals from Nigeria.
India and Nigeria have been working together to fight against importation of fake and counterfeit medicine. Your Excellency, I understand you are directly involved in this battle and the case has reduced from 35 per cent to about five per cent. Can you give us more update information on this issue?
Thank you. Indeed I should begin by describing counterfeiting and faking as a grievous crime. We believe that such practices should be condemned and should be fought against legitimately by all officials of agencies working together.
Indian pharmaceuticals are popularly trusted in Nigeria. We are the largest suppliers of pharmaceuticals to this country and this cannot happen unless we fight against fake and counterfeit pharmaceuticals coming in from India. We cherish our reputation as manufacturers of high quality pharmaceuticals and we will want to do everything to protect this reputation. Secondly, in order to protect our good name, we signed, last year, an Indian/Nigeria Binational Commission and MOU between the Indian Department of Pharmaceuticals and the DG NAFDAC. We are well motivated to implement it. It does not only call for effective corporation to curb fake drugs but also to provide for training of Nigerian NAFDAC officials, supporting them with infrastructure. And I have recently proposed even wider arrangement so that not only pharmaceuticals but food can also be tested in the laboratories and infrastructure we will provide.
Indorama, as you rightly mentioned, is running the Eleme Petrochemical Industry and they are doing so well. The greatest challenge is in the area of gas flaring. I think India has the technology to stop this or may be checkmate it. Is there any plan at least to reduce it to the lowest minimum?
Gas flaring is a huge contradiction. On one hand, the world is short of energy, on the other hand global warning is threatening all of us. Now, flaring of gas is actually a little problem. I understand that our Nigerian friends are doing everything possible to reduce it and that it has come down significantly. But I would like to just mention that in India they have perfected the technology under which the existing internal combustion engines can be converted to run on gas instead of petrol or diesel. And this is not only more on energy becoming cheaper but is also good for commuters. As you know, very often petrol and diesel are mixed with very dangerous substances. Lead, carbon monoxide and other pollutants come out from these fuels. By converting to gas, you can avoid this. In the Nigerian situation, you can also use the flared gas for a positive purpose. And I see other advantages – you can avoid your dependence on imported petroleum products. Flared gas is practically free. There’s no question of subsidy, you don’t even have to measure the profit quotient. You dry it, remove the pollutants and compress and sell it in the market as a product. And transportation based in this cheap gas will hold a very bright future for Nigeria.
Going by the record I have, Indorama has invested over $2 billion into the Petrochemical industry; this other company … emmh… the telecommunication giant, Airtel has invested about $5 billion in Nigeria. These two companies alone have invested $7 billion and there are so many other Indian companies. Do you know the capacity of involvement of private investments of Indian companies in Nigeria?
Capacity is unlimited my friend, Peter. It’s difficult to offer you a hard figure but my guess would be around $9 billion.
That is huge, $9 billion!
Yes, $9 billion invested by all Indian companies in Nigeria.
After Hollywood, Bollywood is the next in the global movie industry then followed by our own Nollywood. Is there any possibility for the two industries to work together as a means of cultural exchange?
I think Nollywood and Bollywood are important vehicles of expression of Third World’s popular aspirations and apprehensions. They portray the challenges, the patriotism of the man in the street in Lagos and Mumbai.
And I think it’s a very good idea to not only synergize these two but also try and seek technical, financial and cultural composites. I am convinced it can happen and when it happens, it would be a good thing to both countries. Some initial attempts have been made and I will be happy to share with you that an establishment in India with increased capacity in television and film production has recently announced collaboration with strong media of Nigeria to set up institutions in Lagos and Port Harcourt where cinematographic training will be provided.
I have high hopes that this private initiative would lead to synergy between Nollywood and Bollywood. We can also think in terms of feeding Nollywood with great intellectual property protection so that performers are able to derive their dues – and see that their intellectual properties are not pirated.
This is very important when they see increasing profit in the venture the richer populace would now be willing to invest. So, we could use technological solutions and strengthening the regulatory networks for this purpose.
In rounding off, on the soft side, why do you Indians always love to sing and dance in every movie?
Why not (laughter)
Well, this has become a hallmark of Bollywood. And as you know, music is the shortcut to intimacy. An Hausa boy sitting in front of television watching an Indian movie may not understand what is going on in terms of language and so on. But he can still hum along when a song comes along. And that is what makes songs popular. These are just fantasy anyway.
I hope you would visit India and see the reality of 1.2 billion people. We don’t sing at least 10 times every two hours. We have the same problem like every average Nigerian. We live normal lives but sometimes the films portray some elements of fantasy and sometimes do have overlap of reality but they’re not reality.