You have been in Nigeria for about four and a half years now. What were the impressions you had before you came?
It is a fact that when you serve in country like Nigeria, which is the power house of Africa, your knowledge before coming here is not so rich. After all this time of working and visiting the geographical zones of the country, you are more enriched. I am very happy that I had the privilege to work here as a diplomat. Two years before coming here I had served in South Africa. But Nigeria gave me the opportunity to see a vibrant democratic society; the most populous country in Africa and a country with very interesting people. I was reading an Indian leaflet not too long ago and it said a country is as good and bad as the people are as good and bad. My point of view is that, Nigeria will always be memorable for me with a beautiful historical revolution and cultural expression of mild and accommodating people. No matter what part of the nation you are, you will find hospitable people. You will also see that there is a lot tolerance towards the established authorities; being polite towards the PHCN, towards the absence of NITEL and so on. These are indications of a good docility. Another aspect which I love very much is a good family bond. Mothers and how they treat their children. This is a very important element which I saw in the Nigerian woman. The third is piousness which shows a certain kind of richness in the soul.
In such a country with many interesting minds, you are going to find a lot of thinking people. They may not necessarily influence everyday life, but don’t forget that in a vibrant democracy, it is very important to help people who are thinking. You see that Nigerians are very political persons. They discuss, they criticise and this is very healthy.
Greece has great thinkers. Is the quality of thinking reflective in the quality of life in the country?
Don’t forget that Nigeria has been through a lot as a result of dictatorship. In a way, this has contributed to stabilising the society. Don’t also forget that the civil war was a traumatic experience. But, don’t forget that Nigeria has two very important intellectuals and I find it important that the recipe of rediscovering ourselves is here. You find humanism in Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka just to mention these two. I think it is important for the young generation to be sensitive to their mission, to become mature citizens and to seek many things. There are so many others who have made significant contributions. One person I really liked was the late [Yusuf] Bala Usman. He was a great historian.
You touched a very important and sensitive point. One of the seven point agenda is education. For me, education is like infrastructure.
The second aspect is to see that there are certain moves regarding the growth of the infrastructure because you will agree with me [that] your friends, family and immediate extended family deserve to have good education and elementary health care and the opportunity to move around the country.
Again, if infrastructure is improved and empowerment policies are put in place, people will have the opportunity to employment and use of their talents in [sectors] like textile, which I think is one of the most interesting elements of Northern Nigeria.
ping because of the water bodies that surround you. It is the same thing here in Nigeria. What level of cooperation do we have with Greece in terms of managing our waters and in shipping?
The relationship between Greece and Nigeria is old and [was established] more than 60 years ago. We have a very strong investment presence in Nigeria. Leading Nigerian companies like the Leventis, Mandillas, Nigerian Bottling Company, and many of the flour mills are products of these relations. Patterson Zuchonis (PZ) is a company that was created about 150 years ago. The Greeks have the first commercial fleet of shipping in the world. We have been the carriers of Nigerian crude oil. But what you mentioned now is very interesting because the maritime industry is not linked only to the Niger Delta.
You have to take into consideration that Nigeria has a coastline of about 850 kilometres from Badagry to Calabar and I fully agree with you that there are a lot of potentials for the future development of the maritime industry because the development of the Delta is a very important aspect of this. But it is not the only one.
There are other dimensions which need to be strengthened like maritime education. Oron and Badagry have two institutions which should be fervently developed for the future.
Also, another ingenious thing in the maritime industry is to use it as sea transportation for passengers. In the general development of a coastline, there are so many aspects like fishing, repairs and maintenance. It is a very crucial subject and we hope that, at both the federal and state levels, these institutions will be developed.
My feeling is that a new chapter is being opened. Don’t forget when we talk about diversifying the economy which means trying to be more independent of oil and gas. The maritime industry is, in my humble opinion, an area that could be developed. It is my belief that in the future, agriculture and maritime sectors will be two very important areas of cooperation with Nigeria. I think that both countries could gain from the experiences and possibilities.
Are you worried that some of these companies are not thriving as they used to?
No, because from the turnover of the companies from year to year, most companies have grown from strength to strength. In Nigeria, per capita income is increasing. For example, Leventis has set up a snack factory in Ibadan. The food industry is growing very well which is an indication that the average Nigerian patronises these commodities.
Unicem is an $850 million investment in Calabar between the flour mills and Dangote Group. So even in recent times, investments have continued to grow.
The Haier Thermocool brand is another part of PZ which is very successful and just opened an outlet in Calabar. This is an indication that the Nigerian society is developing. My view is that non-oil investment in Nigeria is moving. Of course, there are certain impacts from the general economic crisis. But the Nigerian standards of life are improving.
What areas would you give emphasis to if you were made president of Nigeria?
First of all, when you are an envoy to a country, you have to make the most of the situation and show your respect for the country. You try to lay focus on the positive aspects and whenever you are obliged to be critical, you are in critical solidarity with your friends. So, for me, what is most important is to move on with the priorities like the seven point agenda; try to deal with infrastructure and natural resources. Like I said, education is like an infrastructure and is cardinal. I would focus on improving the entire education sector: you have to create graduates who will match up anywhere. You are going to ask me is [my concern] only with the ministry of education? No, because you also have to create conducive environment, well equipped with books and other facilities. The education system in Nigeria has to be linked to standards that are universally acceptable. It is very important because it prepares for good citizenry.