Q: Honorable Minister, first of all congratulations on your appointment as foreign minister for Africa’s biggest country. Nigerians and Nigeria considered not only the largest population but also the largest economy in the continent and its seems so as the big brother. You are the foreign minister of Nigeria and a critical question is; how do you manage to represent Nigeria as well as the continent of Africa?
A: Let me share some insight on how I see my role as a foreign minister in the context of African integration. Africa is the center piece of our foreign policy what that means essentially means is that Nigeria considers itself as part and parcel of continental Africa inter linked not just graphically to the same people. We firmly believe in economic integration of Africa and ultimately political integration-that’s what African Union is essentially all about.
For us is not just sloganeering but something actually we believe in and so as foreign minister I am looking to, of course with the frame work of the government to put in place the building blocks to achieve the economic and greater economic integration. And major priorities in this context, first and foremost is the peace and security in the continent and then grater economic integration.
In peace and security, we are cooperating and very active in the frame work of African Union to put in place the rapid deployment force that will be available to move to any trouble spot on the continent very quickly. We have devoted significant resources to this course and of course Nigeria will continue to play a leading role in peacekeeping in Africa. As far as economic integration is concerned we are very keen to forge ahead with free movement of people within the continent. We plan to take some initial steps unilaterally to promote this as we work with a group of like-minded countries.
Q: You talked about integration, I think most people would be happy to hear you talk passionately about intra-African trade, security all this things Nigeria is key to moving the continent forward on that. Another obviously and very important aspect of development and integration is infrastructure.
What is Nigeria’s position on that in terms of how far the continent has come and what sort of resources are flowing into it and beyond just developing Nigeria’s infrastructure?
A: When you talk of integration, you need to have the requisite infrastructure and transport networks across the continent. As you know these are presently a big challenge. Nigeria cannot single handedly tackle these because while a country can be fully responsible for the infrastructure within its borders, things change once you traverse boundaries.
To achieve success, you must cooperate with other countries and then proceed to work with sub-regional and regional cooperation bodies. Presently with ECOWAS and within the AU, we have initiatives to develop a Trans-African highway and rail networks etc. This is seen as ‘sine qua non’ for the true economic integration.
Nigeria is very aligned to this philosophy and we are ready to play our part in realizing this infrastructure networks across the continent. We need to recognize that these projects are huge and capital intensive and many African countries are facing budgetary constraints. Yes, there is a lot of work going on, but we need to provide even more support going forward.
Q: You mentioned the fact that a lot of African countries are facing budgetary challenges nevertheless the theme that’s being echoed around the world in the last few years is that Africa is rising more so that there’s some positive growth.
Do you think we need higher levels of intellectual integration and a greater vision to really bring meaning to this growth?
A: The growth you refer to in the last few years has been quite substantial but most of it has been fueled by the sale of commodities and raw materials. Sadly, this growth has not translated into real wealth for the citizens of these countries. Very often, the fruits of this wealth have not trickled down with the rate of poverty in Africa being still quite troubling. For meaningful growth, there needs to be real wealth creation and sustainable wealth generation in Africa.
We really have to focus on the industrialization of African countries and I think when we are talking about economic integration we also have to be looking at shared prosperity among African countries.
The vision really has to be that if countries of Africa are developing so evenly then you have true integration. If you look at European Union for instance, you can see the challenges you face integration where there’s disparities of wealth and development between countries and that’s always going to be a major issue, so in looking at Africa integration the bottom line real has to be shared value, democratic value and human rights.
Q: Is that what you mean when referred to yourself as Pan-African is that what you see, because the Pan-African dream is always to see Africa marching together into a new and brighter future, is it your sense that apart of the march is ill defined and it is, what is your vision of Pan-African continent?
A: My vision is not only as lofty as that. When I talk of pan-Africanism, what I see is a belief that we are basically the same people and that our national boundaries are just artificial-we should therefore share a common destiny and should work together in that context.
Q: Would you like to see those boundaries disappear in sought of a political union?
A: That’s the desideratum that has always been there since the pre-colonial days. Kwame Nkrumah’s clarion calls were, “African must unite”, under the, “United States of Africa”. In todays’ global world, where countries are coming together to create bigger markets a united Africa is something that we can achieve. However, I think it will be driven more by economic imperatives than by idealism.
Q: There has been talk in order to make that dream of economic unification possible, they talk of African common currency, is Nigeria an advocate for that in general and are you pushing for that?
A: When you talk about African unity, these things have to be done systematically and gradually. We currently now have your Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Nigeria for example is a member of the Economic Community of West Africa States. At the moment, what we are having in Africa is the RECs evolving separately but also coalescing around the African Union. Soon there will be moving towards greater inter linkages between those sub-regional economic groupings.
When it to having a common economic and monetary policy or common currency in ECOWAS- this is something that is definitely on our radar and which we are committed to. I believe that we will come into force in the foreseeable future within the next two years. Therefore, we are working towards economic unification presently within the frame work of ECOWAS and then extending the move beyond our sub- regions and towards the greater Africa.
It will take some time to reach to our other regional economic groups-but imagine we will deploy the same template for the eventual monetary union.
Q: What message finally to have minister for the people of Africa and is that message different from Economic Community of West Africa to the rest of Africa.
A: No it’s not, my message is the importance of god governance for I believe there in lie the salvation in Africa. Part of good governance is developing the culture where those in leadership positions see themselves as the servants of the people.
I believe in Africa, the sky is the limit, for African development but for me that’s most important and my message will be just be good governance put in place by institutions to bring that around.