Nigeria needs industrial restructuring – Japanese Ambassador

Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, Ryuichi Shoji
Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, Ryuichi Shoji
In this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, the Ambassador of Japan to Nigeria, Ryuichi Shoji, speaks about relations between Japan and Nigeria especially in the areas of education and agriculture

What inspired you to join the Foreign Service and how long have you served?

I joined in 1975. So, I have served for almost 33 years except the five years during which I was seconded to a research university. Your question reminds me about why I chose diplomatic service. The major reason is that being a diplomat does not simply require the knowledge or technique directly related to diplomacy; your whole personality counts. You need to cultivate your whole personality to be a good diplomat. When you try to be persuasive, you should use everything you have to negotiate, a good diplomat should prepare for that. You need to learn literature, music and so on. I saw this as a unique profession. This may be one of the major reasons why I was attracted to the job. At the same time, this observation is not only true for diplomats, it may also be true for other professions.

What was the selection process like?

Just like other sectors of our government, it was by written examination on selected subjects, oral examination and then the interview. It’s that simple.

What else would you have been if you weren’t a diplomat?

This reminds me, one of the reasons I chose diplomacy was that I knew from the beginning that I was not very good at making money and I did not want to work for others to make money. Sometimes, at a certain period as a young man, I wanted to become a painter, an artist, to create something which will stand the test of the time. I would have ended up being a legal practitioner maybe because of the strong element of independence that the job offers or working in different parts of the government.

Japan obviously has a functional educational sector which is largely responsible for its dominance of the electronic and auto industries. How did your nation achieve this feat?

When you talk about our educational system, remember what was done for more than 100 years when Japan opened its doors to western civilisation. And then the first thing government did was to introduce a Universal Basic Education System and so, every Japanese was given the chance to go to school at the age of six. It was like building a pyramid. The base which is basic, is the strongest. If it is strong and solid then the construction will grow bigger and stronger. The basic education system is very important. We have a saying in Japan that, “The quality of education determines the quality of the nation.” We believe to a very large extent, we have proved this to be true. Looking at Nigeria, your country has a huge young population. This is a great asset if they are given the chance to educate themselves irrespective of their ethnic background or social standing. We believe that oil and gas are resources that will deplete but you have a number of young growing population which could be an asset if you give them the chance to properly educate themselves. The second point I will like to make is that in addition to the basic education system, we built a whole comprehensive educational system-including tertiary education especially universities with good standards. A country where the rich have no confidence in the educational system and instead send their children abroad to be educated is detrimental to equality because it denies them the opportunity to get quality education. I think your country should have a whole system of education including universities which will maintain good standards, this is very important. Thirdly, in the light of our experience, you should also look at the demand side. Those who finish their education especially at a higher institution need to have jobs. There should be opportunities for them to get decent positions in the society. In that sense too, if we look at Nigeria you need a kind of industrial restructuring. Heavy dependence on the extractive industry wouldn’t be very helpful.

The society which gives job opportunities on merit to young educated people is a society which is friendly to human development. In that sense, you need to diversify your economy to have more of manufacturing industries especially in agriculture and service industry.

Can you give us an insight into some of the partnerships you have with Africa especially Nigeria in the area of agriculture?

Japan is also an agricultural nation. When we look at the situation in African countries, we see that agriculture is a very promising sector especially in Nigeria. You have a vast unused arable land and if we have the people who can make better use of these resources, you can make the agricultural sector central to the growth of the economy. One of the things we need is to introduce new techniques which are a result of research, planning and also incentives to farmers. Specifically, the area of agricultural research is one area in which we are active. We have cooperation with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, in Ibadan. Our relationship with this institution dates back to the 1980s. For over 30 years, Japan has been sending Japanese researchers to the institute to get involve, in research for promoting tropical agriculture and our focus is yam and cowpea in IITA context. This embassy is now starting to assist in extension services of a new breeding technique for cassava and yam in Nigeria. Another example in this field is Nerika rice. It is a new specie of rice which is more resistant to diseases and has a higher yield. This is a product of research efforts supported by Japan. Some African countries have introduced Nerika rice in their rice cultivation. We will continue our efforts in this field. Talking generally about agriculture in the Nigerian context, when I met the minister of agriculture, he asked us to concentrate on rice production. This is the kind of thing that we have been doing for so many years and we have the technique to share and so there is an ongoing project in post-harvest rice quality and marketing areas. At any rate, agricultural sector should be one of the core industries of African countries towards job creation. In that sense, Nigeria needs to develop the sector.

Talking about the Tokyo International Conference for African Development, it started with the first conference in 1993 at summit level. TICAD is an initiative for the whole of Africa including North Africa. The commitment and the orientation agreed upon in TICAD guides this embassy when we implement our ODA projects in Nigeria and also, TICAD provides a good impetus for Japanese diplomacy. It strengthens our cooperation with African countries including Nigeria. We have had TICAD one to four and the last meeting was held in 2008 in which the then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan attended as head of (Nigeria’s) delegation. At that time, a motto was adopted for five years from 2008 and that was “Towards a vibrant Africa: Continent of Hope and Opportunities.” We are coming close to the 20th anniversary of the TICAD programme this year. In June, we are having TICAD 5. Symbolically, in these 20 years, we have seen a tremendous development of Africa. For example, Nigeria regained democracy in 1999 and this is a basis for economic development. The Nigerian GDP is now five times bigger than that of 1999. This is a tremendous achievement but it doesn’t mean these achievements do not have shortcomings and vulnerability. In one word, simple growth is not enough; you should pay more attention to the quality of the growth. The growth should be inclusive, it should generate more jobs, and it should be shared by as many people as possible. This is the problem of Nigeria and many other African countries.

Japan also enjoys a unique position of having the world’s largest population of the aged. It is an indication that your health system works, does your country have an active partnership in this area?

The health sector is another area of our ODA projects in Nigeria. A typical example is in the area of polio eradication. We started 12 years ago with about $900m assistance through UNICEF to supplement the national budget in the fight against polio. We have been cooperating for 12 years, we are certainly hoping that the next two to three years will be enough to declare the end of polio in Nigeria. For that purpose, we are cooperating with other partners such as federal and state governments in Nigeria. We are thinking of some innovative scheme to financially assist the Nigerian government together with the (Bill and Melinda) Gates Foundation. Maternity and child health is also another sector we are focusing our attention on and this has been done from time to improve infant mortality. I have met Japanese experts in Lagos to improve the activities of Primary Health Centres; there are 60 PHCs in Lagos and this is a project which started five years ago.

Is there an area where Japanese companies are assisting Nigeria to deal with the challenge of post- harvest losses?

The approach is this, when you look at agricultural production, you should look at the whole value chain, from production to marketing and one of the projects we implemented very recently in Nigeria is a project dubbed “One state, one project.” With this, Japanese experts looked into the whole value chain and identified the bottlenecks and offered some solutions to them for five products: rice, shea butter, animal skin, cassava and one other product.

For now, we have not seen any Japanese company here in Nigeria.

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