By Victor Gotevbe(Publisher) and Fred Iwenjora (Associate Editor),
On the heels of the just concluded Norwegian Seafood festival held in Lagos, DIPLOMATIC WATCH editors engaged Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria H.E Jens-Petter Kjemprud in this and sundry issues relating to his work and person. Enjoy.
The seafood festival just held in Lagos. Why did you initiate it and how did it go?
It went well. Stockfish is part of the staple food for many Nigerians, while we also try to introduce other fish exports to Nigeria, like salmon, mackerel and herring. Nigeria only produce 1/3 of its consumption of fish so it is a huge market until Nigeria improves its fisheries and expand its aquaculture production. We also cooperate with the government and the private sector in increasing domestic fish production in Nigeria.
Are you encouraged to do another one yearly?
It will be an annual event arranged by the Norwegian Seafood Council. It was good to see innovation by Nigerian chefs in presenting new recipes and ways of preparing stockfish. It is necessary to get the new generations appreciate the nutritious fish products threatened by fast food chains and less nutritious food.
Can you tell us about Norway’s support in Nigeria’s economic and political reform?
We support economic reforms wholeheartedly, and are impressed by some of the reforms which help the ease of doing business in Nigeria. What Nigeria now need to do is getting its dysfunctional electricity sector in order. Nigerian manufacturing can never be competitive with the current electricity shortage. Secondly a combination of improving governance and broadening the tax base to at least triple the current 5 % ration to GDP is crucial for growing the economy and improving the equity in Nigerian society.
What inspired you to join the Foreign Service?
I joined the Foreign Service after having worked for the UN (UNHCR) and the International department of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions and wanted to pursue an international career as I believe in international law, cooperation and common interest of all people and nations.
Let’s get personal…; at what point exactly did you join this friendship called diplomacy?
I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992 after having served for the UN in Somalia 1988-1989 and handled African, Middle East and Asian cooperation in the trade unions 1990-1992. From graduating in Law from University of Oslo in 1983 I worked with labour law and international labour law issues for the Government until joining the UN.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced on the job?
There has been many. The seemingly never ending story of conflict and lack of governance in Somalia (I worked in Somalia and held the Somalia file in MFA when Norway was last member of the UN Security Council 2000-2001), the tragedy in South Sudan (I was Norway’s Special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan 2014-2016), are two, but generally observing the inequality in the world and not being able to change it (overnight). If you ask me about a more personal challenge, it is being away from family and friends at home for so many years.
Nigeria does not seem to be your only African country…where and where have you been across Africa?
I have served in Somalia (1988-1989), Ethiopia (1997-2000) and as ambassador (2006-2010), ambassador to Sudan (2012-2014), Special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan (2014-2016) and then ambassador to Nigeria since 2016. I also served as Director for African Affairs in MFA, Oslo and as ambassador to Iran (2012-2014).
Is there one experience, event, or person in your country that has greatly influenced one or more of your policies?
The first trade union in Norway was established by Marcus Thrane in my home town in 1849 which led to workers associations being established across the country. Thrane was arrested and later had to flee to the US but the trade union/labour movement later was to become the key in developing across the Nordic countries what is now known as the Nordic Welfare State model, which I am proud to be part of and associated with.
If you could give one piece of advice to people interested in becoming an Ambassador, what would it be?
Study, work hard and respect everyone. Be modest and set your aims.
Can you make an appraisal of the Nigeria Norwegian relationship since long time as you can recall?
I am not a historian, but relations are longstanding starting with Norwegian stockfish exports since 1890s, while Norway recognized Nigeria immediately at independence and opened an Embassy in Lagos in 1962. Thus, the people to people relations are nearly 130 years old and precedes the bilateral government relations. Bilateral relations are strong and has continuously been growing and deepening since the end of the military dictatorships. The last few years have seen an extraordinary upswing both in political relations, trade and in the humanitarian field since the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on the Lake Chad Region, a response to the Boko Haram conflict. Political ties are closer than ever with frequent visits and close cooperation on multilateral issues at the UN (we have the natural advantage at always sitting next each other, due to the alphabetical order).
Any special things about Nigeria and its people? What do the two countries stand to gain from each other?
Nigerians are such wonderful, friendly people with a real sense of humour. I sincerely enjoy my stay here. On the other hand I am really surprised by the patience of the people. With such abundant resources why should 87 million people live on or under the poverty line? I sincerely hope this will be one of the real issues in the upcoming presidential election; that identity politics will be overrun by interest politics. If those 87 million people used their voice not voting for a Hausa, a Yoruba or an Igbo, not for a Muslim or a Christian, but for who could change their daily economic and social situation, by fighting corruption and inequality in Nigeria, the next election could mean a new start for the bulk of the Nigerian people.
How do you intend to promote people to people relationships, trade and investment opportunities and possibly other exchanges between both countries?
We have a trade and investment counsellor, a seafood counsellor, A Nigerian Norwegian Chamber of Commerce and a very active honorary consul, which constitute what we call Team Norway, in supporting trade and investment between our two countries. I am very happy with their efforts. But it is only a supporting role, companies have to do the job themselves, and Nigeria has to do its utmost to shed the bad perception image by continuing the efforts to improve governance and business climate. As for people to people relationships we have some in the cultural sector, film industry, writers exchanges, civil society exchanges in between environmental organisations in particular. Your internationally recognized environmentalist guru Nnimmo Bassey has a big name in Norway, as well as in trade unions cooperation.
In Norway oil production continues to decline faster than expected. What is the implication of this?
Norway’s oil production is falling, although we also have important new exploration of fields in the Barents Sea, much in line with the need (for environmental reasons), to move from oil to gas and eventually to renewable energy. The threat to our future from climate change demands of us to develop renewable energy much faster than we do today and Norwegian companies want to be at the technological forefront in hydro,-solar-, wind- and wave power now and in the future. Norway wants to be part of the solution rather than source of the problem.
Is there any statistics indicating how many citizens of your country are visiting Nigeria annually? Can it be considered as positive or not?
The number of Norwegians visiting Nigeria is not that big and mainly related to the oil and gas offshore subsea sector, fisheries and solar power business. For tourism the numbers are small.
What are you doing to improve the issuance of more visas to Nigerians who want to travel to Norway?
Well, there is not that much we can do. Norway is part of the European Schengen area and the rules and regulations are strict and well defined. What Nigerians can do is making sure they comply with the requirements then visas will be issued.
What kind of misconceptions do you think Norwegians have of Nigeria and vice-versa?
You know, some people always have misconceptions. That is unavoidable. As Vikings we had a bad name and reputation, but we changed it through the centuries. Often perceptions reflects the reality, then you have to change the reality. This government’s fight against corruption is an example at hand. Done properly and successfully, and in cooperation with other countries, it can change perceptions. The other thing is insecurity. Security in Lagos and Abuja, Kano and Sokoto and most places are much better than may in Norway believe, but insecurity is still a problem in the North East, Borno State in particular, in parts of Kaduna and parts of the Niger Delta. Thus security fears are not only a misconception, but also a reality which needs to be changed.
What are the lessons to learn from the late Ronneberg, one of your finest resistance fighters whose courage brought about the most successful sabotage campaign against the Nazi nuclear project?
For me it is not only about the bravery of the man and his compatriots, but for the need and responsibility to stand up for the value system you believe in and on which the Norwegian society has been based; that is democracy, good governance, respect, equality, equal distribution; values which is again under threat in Norway and across Europe.