Managing Director, Shree Steel Nigeria Limited and President, Indian Cultural Association, Chief Sanjay Jain, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, bears his mind on Nigeria’s economy, the bilateral relationship between India and Nigeria and the significance of India’s 70th independent anniversary
As the President of Indian Cultural Association, can you highlight some of the activities of the association in Nigeria?
Indian Cultural Association has been in existence for over 50 years. In the last 50 years, our major activities have been built around charities and contribution to community development through provision of essential social amenities and some health interventions. As an association, which was established to involve in charitable activities, we have done extensively for needy Nigerians in the last 50 years. Currently, we are investing a lot into provision of water facilities for schools in Lagos and we have done this for about 100 + schools and still counting.
In line with the popular saying that ‘health is wealth’, we believe that if school pupils drink well treated water, it will help them live healthy lives. Because of this, we have consistently provided water to many schools to discourage children from buying and consuming water from the pouches sold in the market which can be detrimental to their health. The model we adopted here is what is practiced in India to provide drinking water in the schools. As I speak, thousands of pupils who have been benefitted or benefitting from such water facilities provided in those schools are ambassadors of the Indian Community in Nigeria.
Again, for last 15 Years, we have supported the Holy Family Home for the Elderly, located at the Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Mushin area of Lagos State. Every month, we go there to donate food and other items, depending on the list we get from the management. In addition, the community has done a lot in the areas of free eye surgeries and donation of artificial limbs to handicapped in Nigeria.
In the area of provision of artificial limbs, it will surprise you to know that we have done 80,000 operations free of cost for the deserving people since we embarked on the project. From time to time, we import these artificial limbs from India and give to the people and it enables them to work and carry on with their daily activities normally. Another major project is the ‘mission for vision’ project in partnership with Hindu Mandir Foundation and Rotary Club. In the last eight years, about 12 thousand surgeries have been done. These are done at Lagos General Hospital and Abeokuta. There is also adoption of some destitute homes in Lagos and donation of food and other items to orphanage homes.
Every 15th of August is celebrated by Indian nationals as the country’s independence anniversary, what is the significance of the day for your community in Nigeria?
For Indians, Independence Day celebration is highly significant because our freedom didn’t come with ease. It was bloody. Therefore, we would like to pass the message to our younger generation for them to know the value of what we have. This is important because children of nowadays do not know the process our fallen heroes had undergone and the sacrifices made for getting the independence. Unlike some countries that only sat around the tables with their colonial masters and signed the dotted lines. To get independence, thousands of freedom fighters in India lost their lives. We want our children to appreciate the freedom we got and sustain it.
Though people within my age bracket were born after independence but truth is that we were still old enough to appreciate some of the sacrifices. Again, the story was still fresh when we were born compared to those that were born many years after. This year is particularly important because we are completing 70 years of independence and that is an important milestone for any country.
Having said that, the India’s independence day celebration in Lagos will be at two places. First, at the Indian Cultural Association’s premises in Ilupeju, where we have highest population of our people in Lagos, by hoisting our flag in the morning. Second, the following weekend, precisely on Sunday next week, the ceremony will take place with a cultural programme consisting of patriotic songs, some dance presentation by children and some other programs.
What is your view about the bilateral relationship between Nigeria and India and how do you think it can be deepened to further boost the economy of both countries?
I have always advocated the need for strong bilateral relationship between the two countries. We must explore our similarities, our common good and our common strength to build sustainable economies for both the countries.
In the meantime, we must have more vibrant bilateral relationship on how we can help each other. In the area of manufacturing and Agriculture, Nigeria imports machineries from India to help the sectors while India buy oil from Nigeria. We can build on this to deepen our relationship. Most important fact here to highlight is that the trade is almost bilateral and not one way.
What will you suggest should be the priority of Nigeria to boost her economy?
Already, the current administration has taken the bull by the horns with the planned diversification of the economy. This must be sustained.
Another thing is that both Nigeria and India are developing nations and both are populous, though with some variance. In many ways, the populations of the two countries have been their major tools for economic advancement and it has been a major attraction for foreign investment. For instance, Nigeria is said to be 20 percent of Africa and this makes the country a big one. However, Nigeria’s economy depends largely on oil, India’s is not. Appreciatively, Nigeria has a very good opportunity in the area of Agriculture, which the country has started exploring, knowing well that economy should not depend only on oil.
We must appreciate the current administration for its effort to boost the GDP through diversification into the Agricultural & Real sector. In India, the economy is not oil dependent but over the years, it has been able to stabilise it by way of innovative thinking of her forefathers and economic drivers. Now, I think the little difference in the rate of development between the two countries is because of the difference in their years of independence. India got Independence before Nigeria and this gap has also reflected in its development compared to Nigeria.
How can you describe the current administration in Nigeria?
As the President of India Cultural Association and President of Shree Steel Nigeria Ltd., a manufacturing sector project, I think the Buhari/ Osinbajo administration has demonstrated a high level of patriotism and have created right thinking among the people living in Nigeria. The administration, aside fighting corruption has brought broader positive perspective to governance. Having spent 25 years in Nigeria, half of my entire life, I think I understand Nigeria so well that I can pointedly say that this administration is doing a lot to change the perception for good about the Nigerian brand. If you ask me anytime, I will commend the government for their will to fight corruption and discourage over dependence on oil. Having said this, I’m not condemning previous administrations, each and every one has contributed its quota at the appropriate time but the current administration appears to be taking it to another level. We commend them for it.
So, you are optimistic that diversification will help Nigerian economy?
Yes, I am. From any angle, we choose to look at it, government’s decision to diversify the economy from oil to other areas, especially Agriculture and Real sector, will help Nigerian economy. By the time investment rises in this direction, the country will jack up her exports and this will result in naira appreciation and cushion the effect of forex crisis that has bedevilled the manufacturing sector in recent time.
Having been a player in the manufacturing sector for over two decades, what are those things you think government can do to further help the sector?
Let me start by first commending the government for its decision to support the manufacturing sector. By creating enabling environment for the sector to thrive, the economy will also boom, there is no gainsaying about this. However, I will want the authorities to be more sensitive in the areas of policy implementation. I appreciate the decision that manufacturing companies should look inward for sourcing of raw materials locally but I want this to be given a gradual approach. Foreign investment comes with lot of resources and so the policies must be consistent & friendly for them to survive.
I have suggested to the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria and CBN in this regard. What we are currently experiencing in Nigeria had happened in the past in India but our government applied a kind of approach that helped people to adjust over time. It was done in phases and I want Nigeria to also apply the similar principal. As Nigeria prepares to boost local capacity, government can draw a plan that will make it spread to two to four years’ period.
I also wish to appreciate the current government’s attempt to step up action in the area of infrastructural development, especially transportation and power. With good rail system, good roads and effective power supply, the manufacturing sector will bounce back very strongly. With this, we can even resuscitate some of the sub-sectors that are already in decline; like the textile industry. We shouldn’t forget in hurry that there was a time in this country when textile industry was the second largest employer of labour after the civil service. The Indians were at the forefront of most of the textile companies and they employed thousands of Nigerians.