By Sagir Ibrahim
Acting High Commissioner of the Canadian High Commission in Nigeria, Nicolas Simard, talks to SAGIR IBRAHIM, on how Nigeria-Canada bilateral relation has grown over the past 60 years among other issues.
So first of all, why the interest in Nigeria?
Well, it’s a good question. I mean, Canada and Nigeria have a long-standing bilateral relations that pre-dates the independence years, so back to the 1960s. We have some very strong natural connections because of our historical background. Like we are members of the Commonwealth, we have similar political and judicial institutional systems of governance. So we have lots in common and there is a great interest to know more and to discover Nigeria as one of the major country in Africa, the giant of Africa, as we say.
You spoke about donations in terms of humanitarian assistance to which currently Nigeria is the sixth highest beneficiary of Canadian humanitarian assistance to the tune of, I think a hundred and twenty-three million dollars. So, the question I want to ask is asides, this humanitarian assistance and donations. What’s the Canadian government’s doing in terms of sharing Military Intelligence to ensure that the current situation faced in the northeast and other parts of the country that are ravaged by insecurity is reduced to the barest minimum?
Yeah I mean these questions are interconnected and I think we need to approach it in a manner that ties security, peace security development and the humanitarian system all at once because obviously instability you know is impacting more unfortunately, first and foremost, the civilian population and inward sinking to internally, displaced people, or refugees outside Nigeria, we’re seeing an impact on the development of the places, infected by conflict. So all of these things are intertwined and we need to address them simultaneously. That’s why we have significant commitment in terms of development assistance, which is not only humanitarian because humanitarian has urgent needs when lives are in danger, so we need to intervene immediately. Like the announcement I made last week in Borno, in Maiduguri, of 26.95 million dollars, was to help the United Nation system and international NGOs to respond to the current pandemic and violence and insecurity in the northeast of the country. But to respond to your questions in terms of security, we think this is a regional problem. And when we look at the drivers of instability in Nigeria, they are related to groups that are also in other countries in the Sahel region. So we provide also assistance to fight terrorism at the at the Sahel level in the region. And not only in Nigeria because it’s a problem that cuts across the border. So this is what Canada is doing in that front and we’re very engaged, you know, in our discussions with military or with political leaders here to show that we’re, you know, supporting their response to provide more, peace and security for Nigerians.
You spoke earlier about renewable energy and being from Quebec in Canada, you know a lot about hydroelectric power. How are you going to ensure that Nigerians gets these skills and know-how to provide uninterrupted electricity for the nation?
This is a very good point. We, travelled across the country. I’ve been to four different states, I have been in Borno in, Sokoto, in Kano, in Lagos, in Abuja, and I’ve seen the big gap in power and it’s impossible to develop your economy and to ensure more inclusive development for the most marginalized if you don’t provide them with good access to energy and I think also in the COP26 this year and the demand internationally for more commitments to reduce green gas emissions, you know, renewable energies. This is the way to go and we in Canada have lots of expertise in this area. So as you said, you know, in my home province in Canada, in Quebec, there’s a lot of emphasis and use of renewable energy with hydroelectricity. So I think, you know, in our trade relationship between Nigeria and Canada, we want to emphasize more renewable energy and clean tech as one of the key sectors, for bringing more Investments and also more linkages between our companies. And a good example of that is a company that’s based in Toronto, and in Abuja, that’s called EM1. It’s a Canadian Nigerian company that is exactly in that specific sector in solar energy. And here in Abuja, the Ministry of Works and Housing will be very soon, fully powered through solar panels that are provided by that company to the Nigerian authorities. So, I think there’s a really great potential for that sector and for our bilateral relationship in from of trade perspective, in that sector, and it require skills. It requires abilities, to engineering skills and maintaining skills to make sure that these panels can serve full life. Because usually, you know, once you install them, it’s for 20, 25, 30 years so you want to make sure that they are sustainable. And then again from an educational perspective, there’s great exchanges between Nigeria and Canada and there’s opportunities for Nigerians to come to Canada to learn about those Technologies and also for Canadian firms to be here and to provide some training on the spot in Nigeria.
Talking bout Canadian businesses here in Nigeria, why don’t we see more Canadian firms and businesses operating in Nigeria like the Chinese are doing?
Well, I mean, I think we could see more. There’s already lots of exchanges, but it’s, you know, mostly in terms of services or Investments. So, it’s not easily visible. You won’t see a flag or any company but it’s the presence is very significant because of the Investments, and it could be more. To get to the next level to get to a level, where you have more Investments, and more physical presence from Canadian firms, there’s a need for a better business environment and for concrete steps to improve the facility for business to do business here in Nigeria. And obviously, corruption risks or fiduciary risk are very significant in Nigeria, in countries in the region. So, this is something that is hindering I would say the appetite for Canadian firms, to be more present here because if they’re engaged in acts of corruption, they would face very significant penalties and judicial processes in Canada.
Has there been a surge or a decline in the number of Nigerians emigrating to Canada in the past, say, 10 years, maybe due to insecurity Insurgency, or the socio-economic impact of the covid-19?
Well, there’s many Canadians of Nigerian origins, like we talked and an estimation of 55,000 Canadians of Nigerian origin. So, that’s a large diaspora in Canada and, you know, I think that for the reasons you’ve mentioned, there’s probably been an acceleration over the last decade or so I don’t have the specific numbers, but that’s my own personal estimation and also because Canadian universities are looking for international students. Nigeria is one of the main countries internationally to send its Sons and Daughters to study in Canada because you know Canadian institutions are reputable, there’s a great attraction to go there, it’s a very strong system of Education, the degrees are very well recognized internationally. So there’s a very real desire to go to Canada. So currently we have 12,000 students in Canada, and I would say that the covid-19 crisis added impact because it was more difficult to travel during the covid pandemic. So this will be a bit less this year. But I expect that once we get out of the pandemic, hopefully soon, then we’ll see, you know, a new higher number of Nigerian students, going to Canada.
What is the Canadian government doing in terms of upholding Human Rights and curbing corruption in Nigeria?
Yeah, we have very Frank and direct discussions with our friends. Like we consider Nigerian interlocutors as friends, and we’re a friendly Nation. So like between friends sometime you’re saying, why are you doing this? You should be doing things differently. And you know this is a really good discussion we have together and when it comes to Human Rights, we promote gender equality, but also freedom of speech, access to information, you know, all human rights and sometimes it’s not a message that is well understood. But I think we’re not there to criticize anybody we’re there to try to promote international standards when it comes to Human Rights. So, for example, on the Twitter ban, we were very, very specific about the need to protect the access to information and to protect the freedom of speech which is protected by the Nigerian Constitution. So, it is something that is enshrined in the constitution. So basically saying, you know, this is when you have hate speech on a specific platform, you should go after those who are committing hate speech not against the platform. Because those who are doing the hate speech will continue to do the hate speech somewhere else. So there should be consequences, there should be accountability for those who are committing crimes as we teach instead of you know focusing on a specific Network and shutting it down. So, we’re a very strong advocate of making sure people can express themselves freely in a responsible manner. It’s not because you have free speech, you can say anything, but also that people can access reliable information in a time of you know, fake news and conspiracy theories, you know, good and credible sources of information are extremely important. So we believe that citizens in Nigeria like, in other countries, like in Canada, should be able to access that kind of content to have a really good understanding of the issues of the day and being good citizens when it comes to elections or making political and personal choices.
Thank you so much for granting us this interview.
Thank you. Thank you very much.