By Fiona Freddy

Ambassador Harry Purwanto cuts the image of a seasoned diplomat. His mien is calm but captivating. Wait till you hear him talk, then you will be enthralled by the depth and engaging passion he embodies for his home country of Indonesia. It was beyond the issues of business and investment relationship with Nigeria, when he spoke to DIPLOMATIC WATCH, recently, as he is as well comfortable with issues on the socio-cultural relationship between both countries. Excerpts:

Nigerian-Indonesian relationship

The Ambassador began by stating that the relationship between Indonesia and Nigeria, “We are always trying to enhance and deepen our relationship.

“Two weeks ago, the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister, Retno Marsudi, visited Nigeria, in an open business in Lagos, where she presented many Indonesian business companies, about 25 of them, and also tried to make them counterparts in the country and also in the region.”

Still on the visit, Pureanto stated that, “Afterwards, the Foreign Minister also had a bilateral meeting with the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs. She was also received by the Acting President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. We did share our experiences between the two countries and we have recorded some things that have already been done so far between our two countries.

“Very soon, we will have another Indonesian minister, the Minister of Trade, coming to Nigeria. He is going to officially open the Indonesia Bilateral Economic Forum between Nigeria and Indonesia in Lagos, and then he will fly to Abuja. We are arranging a meeting with his counterpart minister. There are also plans for him to meet with the President of ECOWAS, to explore the possibility of establishing preferential trade agreement between Indonesia and ECOWAS, as well as between Indonesia and Nigeria.

“We do see some exchange of visits between the two countries. The Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) also just visited Indonesia in June. This delegation met with their counterparts, the Indonesia drug agency, and I think they are discussing on the action plans that they are going to do in the future for enhancing our cooperation with regards to tackling the problems done by drug-related crimes.

“The Indonesian President is also inviting President Buhari to visit Indonesia this year and also Indonesia President is conveying his intentions to visit Nigeria sometimes this year or next year.”

Mr. Purwanto was quick to emphasise that these meetings are not targeted at Nigeria alone.

His words: “Indonesia is also going to organise an African forum next year because our foreign policy is to put more of our priorities in enhancing and deepening our relationship with Africa and that is why we have some very important persons and government officials coming into this country.

“And we have also noted that some Indonesian companies are interested in starting their investments in Nigeria, in refinery, in mining and also in palm oil, which are very viable industries. Actually, we have some good references of Indonesian companies that are already doing business in Nigeria for many years.”

Promoting Made-in-Nigeria brands

Indonesia is well known for having good materials, cottons among others. Nigeria is trying to go back to the basics, trying to showcase its own culture, trying to bring back the culture of “Made in Nigeria”, like Made-in-Aba products and all the rest.

Is Indonesia looking at working hand in hand with Abia State Government?

There is no air of modesty but just the need to emphasise the fact when Mr. Purwanto explained that as the Indonesian Ambassador, he “tries to share information on the potentials of Nigeria to Indonesian business community.” But that “Indonesian business community is not so aggressive compared to the business community of other countries in the region because actually the market in Indonesia is so huge. Indonesia has a population of over 200 million, and 150 million considered as middle-income class. The old generation is conservative, they want to focus more on their businesses in Indonesia, while the younger generations are entrepreneurs, who invest just across the border.”

However, the Ambassador added that: “A number of young Indonesian entrepreneurs have nevertheless already invested in Nigeria. They see some potentials and they have seen it in aviation, agriculture, mining, refineries and textiles. These are some opportunities I have shared with the Indonesian business community. I tell them there are many textile factories which are idle in Nigeria, and that they have been idle for so many years.

“Beyond the textile industry, there are also opportunities for Indonesian investors in sectors like mining and refining. This year alone, one Indonesian private investor has already started to do refining in Akwa Ibom.

“The Indonesian State Public Company which is very well known both in and outside Indonesia for tin mining, wants to transform the ways and also the areas of mining into something that is more productive. They want to open operations in Plateau State. It will be good not only in absorbing the young people, to work for them, but also they can prepare the site for something productive in the future after mining tin.

“And if this state-owned mining company comes into Nigeria, I think it will boost confidence for other Indonesian companies to come into Nigeria and do business here as well. I think these two business forums that have been done in June and also the upcoming one which we are going to organise, will give new beginnings for Indonesian investments in Nigeria.

Volume of Trade

Aside the Indonesian private investor, who is into oil business in Akwa Ibom, the Ambassador revealed that there are other Indonesian companies into oil operations in Nigeria.

According to him, “Actually, Indonesian National Oil and Gas Company just took over one French company that is also doing business in Nigeria and in Gabon, West Africa. The Indonesian National Oil and Gas Company is also interested in doing refining, buying more oil from Nigeria and also dealing on renewable energy. There are some Indonesian companies that have some experience in power energy that have also indicated their interests in Nigeria.”

On the volume of trade, he added: “Last year, the trade balance between the two countries was $1.5 billion US dollars. But by the first quarter of this year, we noted the record has risen to about $400 million US dollars. But we see that this is going to develop during the second, third and fourth quarters. But the volume is going down because the price of oil is going down.”

Investment opportunities

The Ambassador stated that the Indonesian business community will take advantage of their experience and achievements back home to engage in the Nigerian business sectors like agriculture, industry and aviation.

“Last year, there was a discussion between the Nigerian Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who visited Indonesia and his Indonesian counterpart. They explored the possibility of establishing a small aircraft manufacturing operation in Nigeria, in Zaria. Indonesia also builds ship, airplanes, equipment and ammunition for military purposes and if Nigeria is interested, we can do something in those areas. The quality that we do is very good,” he said.

Socio-cultural relationship

On the Nigerian film industry, Nollywood, Mr. Purwanto has this to say: “Indonesia and Nigeria share many commonalities as countries that are multi-ethnic, where culture is one of our strength even in difficult times. Culture is our strength in Indonesia. In terms of films, we do a lot but not as many as Nollywood, but I think in quality we are improving.

Not only that, now in Indonesia, we are empowering young persons who are going into film production but who have limited budget. Now there are many good films produced by young people, young entrepreneurs that become good films which also end up winning some awards in Indonesian film festivals and also in other countries.

“Through film also, we can increase awareness of the two countries which are far away geographically but through these films, we can share and educate audience of the potentials that we have, not only in the industry but also culturally as well as the technicality in the film industry.

“For us in Indonesia, we are open to any collaboration or cooperation with Nigeria. We are multi-ethnic, we preach to interest people in Indonesian cultural communities and even film communities.

“Actually in culture also, I have noticed that there are some collaborations between Indonesian and Nigerian artistes. They do meet annually in Indonesia and afterwards in Nigeria. Scholarships are provided for young Nigerians to study culture in Indonesia, as well in other specialties.”

He was quick to add however, that not many Nigerians have been provided such scholarships.

“Every year, around five to 10 Nigerians get these scholarships. But in training, there are many on counter-terrorism, agriculture, aviation and also in some other areas. Also in training, we have a training and workshop on democracy, on elections.”