The outgoing Canadian High Commissioner in Nigeria, Mr Perry Calderwood, in a special interview with Zacheaus Somorin said serving in Nigeria as a diplomat has been a privilege and a great experience. Excerpt
How would you describe your experience in the last three years as the Canadian High Commissioner in Nigeria?
Well, my last three years in Nigeria have been busy and quite interesting, exciting and dynamic. It has actually been fascinating for three reasons: First, it was really a privilege to have served in Nigeria when the country had a political transition from one civilian administration to the other. It was historic because it was the first time that a ruling party transferred power to the other that was hitherto an opposition party.
You will recall that before the election, there were lots of concerns but in the in the end, everything went on peacefully and so many people were quite surprised. Also, my period of service in Nigeria has been quite seen to progress in the area of trades and developing cooperation in different sectors of the economy as well as in health and education sectors.
In the area of education, we have been having Canadian Education Fairs involving Canadian universities and colleges coming to Nigeria to meet Nigerian students willing to come to Canada to further their studies. These among other issues have been my experience within the period of service in Nigeria.
You have witnessed two administrations in Nigeria in the last three years. How will you describe approach to governance between the past and current administration?
Well, I cannot comment about the approach to governance by administrations because that would be outside my diplomatic engagement. But like I said earlier, the success of the last general election brought about renewed hope about Nigeria. I do relate with Nigerians and if I am to comment about what I have heard them talked about, I think many of them are impressed with the performance of the current administration.
But I also understand that a lot still has to be done. My observation shows that many overwhelmingly want government to continue with transparency and accountability in government. They want government to keep combating corruption and insecurity. But I also know that the aspirations of Nigerians just as it is common with citizens of other developing countries bother on fighting inequality, poverty, having stable power supply, among others. And as someone who has served in seven different countries, I can relate with these aspirations.
You made reference to the challenge of insurgency in the North East and the Federal Government has been soliciting for foreign collaborations – both in fighting the war and managing the plights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), what has been Canada’s response?
I was fortunate to have travelled to the capital cities of Maiduguri in Bornu State and Damaturu in Yobe State. Prior to the time of travelling, we have heard report of humanitarian challenges and I decided to visit and see things with my own eyes. During the period, I met Governors of both states and also visited IDPs. I’m aware that Nigerian government has done a lot and deserves to be applauded. But we know a lot still has to be done.
But on our part, the Canadian government has given $8 million to United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Norwegian Refugees Council (NHR), among other international agencies in charge of refugees and IDPs. Recently, we also donated the sum of $26 million to the Lake Chad region which Nigeria is part of.
What has been Canada’s effort in the area of military support?
Of course Canada has been funding a number of trainings and engagements of military and para-military forces in counter-terrorism measures. Already, we have trainings involving the Nigerian police with their Canadian counterpart focusing on how to investigate and arrest suspected terrorists and also how to interview them, among other things.
Aside from that, Canada has also invested more than a million dollars in the Middle Belt region. Of course, you might want to say the region has not witnessed terrorism like North East, but we must not forget that there have been constant communal clashes and crises in a number of places in the region. And as part of effort to engender peaceful co-existence among major tribes and ethnicities in the region, we have seen to the support of Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) in Plateau and Kaduna States. We hope through this, we can strengthen peaceful co-existence among ethnic groups in the area.
The electricity contract between Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) and Nigerian government expired some weeks ago. Is there any plan for the Canadian power company to renew it?
Well, I may not be able to say anything about it. I think you may need to speak with MHI directly to get to know what was responsible. But I must say that I am proud of the power firm which has been in Nigeria in the last four years. I have known MHI for many years and I can say it is a reputable company with many years of expertise. But I think if you need any information relating to its contract, it would be right you speak to the MHI itself.
There are many Nigerians who are living, trading or schooling in Canada, how will you describe their attitudes and relationship with Canadians and other nationals living in the country?
Like we always say, Canada is a country of immigrants and I can tell you that as we speak, we have about 10,000 Nigerian students in the country. They constitute seventh largest nationals of other countries studying in Canadian schools. Aside that, many Nigerians immigrants are in Canada and doing businesses legitimately there. And to a large extent, they have been relating well with other people.
Currently, what is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Canada?
Well as at the end of December 2015, the trade volume between Canada and Nigeria is over $1.5 billion. And that is in favour of Nigeria. Although we recognize that this has really not captured financial engagements or expertise contracts and fees that many Canadian expatriates do render when they come to Nigeria. Nigerian export to Canada has been mainly through petroleum which is quite over a billion dollar.
Canada-Nigeria Intergovernmental Business Summit tagged Canibus2016 holds soon in Toronto. What do you think both countries would benefit from this?
Yes. I am quite aware of the summit. I think is a good initiative that would bring both countries together business wise.
There appears to have been increased hostility against immigrants in the western world in the wake of terrorists’ attacks in major cities of the world and considering the fact that Canada has even brought in more refugees from Syria lately, what are the measures your country is putting in place to forestall ugly incidences?
As at last count, Canada has taken in 25,000 Syrian refugees and there are chances that more will still be brought in. We believe we have moral obligations to do this. And this figure does not even include those who have been brought in by various religious groups and organizations as well as family members who had requested for permission to do so. And I can assure you that adequate checks are carried out on some of those people who are coming to Canada. And as you might recall, there has not been any recent attacks in Canada.
What are the areas you think your successor should focus on?
Well, I really can’t dictate for my successor where and what to focus on. But most importantly, I will want him or her to succeed. Of course we must not forget that this is a time Nigerian government is taking steps to diversify the economy and as we know, attention is now being shifted to mining and agricultural sectors – two areas where Canada
has expertise. So, I believe my successor may want to pay attention to the area of trade and investment.
Also, in the area of health, we look forward to Nigeria and indeed entire Africa being declared polio-free. For more than a year, there has not been any new case of polio. We hope that can be sustained for another one year and the country can be declared polio free.
There have been perceptions that many countries collaborate with corrupt individuals in Nigeria to get stolen funds kept there, what has been Canada’s effort that stolen funds don’t find are illegally saved there?
If there are funds that have been traced to Canada, there are mechanisms in place for our government to respond to this kind of request. It’s through our Federal Police and through our Justice department and the contacts are there already’’. People feel frustrated that it takes time to retrieve funds that may have been stolen and stashed in Canada in form of real estate or something…but remember that in any country that respects rule of law, certain procedures must be followed. A government simply just doesn’t have power to seize something and return it somewhere. You have to go through the legal processes.
In Canada, we have rules in place whereby the red flag is raised if a large amount of money from a mysterious origin is transferred. I think we have made quite a bit of progress in that regard and perhaps for that reason, Canada isn’t one of the leading destinations for stolen funds’’.
There is scope for even more improvement because the phenomenon we are working against…those people are very sophisticated. They are using accountants, lawyers, Shell companies and going from one country to the other, so often it’s not that simple. But we have to, as a government committed to tackling corruption, make resources available to effectively combat that and not allow the criminals to find their ways around our rules by exploiting different jurisdictions and shell companies and other mechanisms at their disposal.