By Akanimo Sampson
President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday departed Abuja, Nigeria’s capital for Japan to participate in the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 7) holding in the city of Yokohama, from August 28-30.
Buhari’s participation will be his second, having attended TICAD 6 in Nairobi, Kenya, in August 2016. With the theme, Africa and Yokohama, Sharing Passion for the Future, the opening session of TICAD 7 will be performed by the Japanese Prime Minister and host, Shinzo Abe.
Buhari is expected to deliver Nigeria’s statement during the plenary session three in which he will appraise Nigeria-Japan relations and takeaways from TICAD 6, and also attend a state banquet as well as honour the invitation of Emperor Naruhito to a tea reception at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo. In addition to a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Abe, Buhari will equally attend some side-events and meet chief executive officers of some Japanese companies with huge investments in Nigeria.
Formed in 1993, the now triennial TICAD, which has been convened alternately in Japan and Africa since TICAD 6, according to the organisers, is the largest international conference held in Japan which “provides an open forum that generates innovative discussion among various stakeholders on African development.” Participants are drawn not only from African countries, but also international organisations, private companies and civil society organisations involved in development.
TICAD 7 is expected to focus on Africa’s “economic transformation and improvements in business environment and institution through private investment and innovation; promotion of resilient and sustainable African society for human security; and peace and stability in support of Africa’s domestic proactive efforts.”
Nigeria has gained tremendously since her participation in TICAD 6 at the highest level, during which Japan pledged $30 billion investment “for the future of Africa combined with the private sector”, $10 billion infrastructure investment, and $500 million for vocational training of 50,000 Africans.
Since the Nairobi Conference, Japanese government and companies have been very active in supporting Nigeria’s agriculture, healthcare, electricity and youth empowerment.
While in Yokohama, President Buhari and his delegation are expected to push for broader Japanese assistance in the areas of science and technology, innovation, human resource development, education, agriculture, power, health and disaster risk reduction, among others. The President is accompanied by Governors Babagana Zulum of Borno State, AbdulRaham AbdulRazaq of Kwara State and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State; ministers and other top government officials.
The President’s Special Adviser on Media, Femi Adesina, who made all these known in a statement, said his principal is expected back in Nigeria on Saturday, August 31.
Historically, the Nigeria- Japan relations reached a crescendo 18 years ago when former Prime Minister Mori visited Nigeria. The visit was the first by any Japanese Head of Government to Sub-Saharan Africa since the end of the Second World War. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had earlier visited Japan on assumption of office in 1999. Ten years after, senior officials of the Japanese and Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministries met under the Japan-Nigeria Special Partnership Programme to discuss mutually beneficial array of issues.
Three Special Partnership meetings have been held in the past between the two countries. In addition, the Nigerian International Affairs Minister visited Japan at the invitation of the Japanese Foreign Minister 10 years ago, to discuss issues of mutual benefits. Since the upsurge in business and economic relations, there has also been exchange of visits by the trade, business and investment commissions of both countries.
Japan has over the years promoted an active cooperation with Nigeria in the educational and technical fields, through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which sponsors educational exchange programmes, builds schools and offers grants to scholars for specific studies in Japan. JICA, which has office in Abuja, has also helped the giant of Africa in the field of rural electrification and agricultural projects, such as rice production and milling in Edo and Imo States.
The grants in aid are being used for the improvement of education, rural development and health care delivery – rural electrification, solar energy development, construction of additional classrooms for the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Programme, the treatment and eradication of killer diseases like; malaria, polio, VVF, HIV/AIDS, guinea worm, etc.
TICAD was however, launched by Japan 26 years ago as an international forum designed to refocus the attention of the international community on Africa’s developmental issues and to mobilise for its support. The essence was to promote the building of bridges between Asia and Africa; and to provide a platform through which the Asian experience, in all aspects, could be harnessed and applied for the benefit of African development.
There has been TICAD 1 – 5 held in Tokyo at different times. Before the Nairobi confab, the Japanese Government during the last Yokohama conference, pledged to provide up to $4.00 billion of soft loans to Africa to help increase momentum for infrastructure improvement. In addition, Japan promised to double the disbursements of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa in five years. She has been true to her pledges.
Marubeni Corporation of Japan is involved in the development of Nigeria’s energy sector. The corporation rehabilitated the Egbin Thermal Station in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria and is still very much engaged in other power projects in the country. Other companies like the Chubu Electric and Mitsubishi Company of Japan are also involved in power projects in Nigeria.
From the Nigeria side, the driving force in her economic dealing with Japan is the Vision 2020, a grand agenda which Abuja adopted as the main thrust of what Nigeria is out to accomplish by the year 2020. It is a 13-year plan of dramatic socio-economic transformation of the country. The goal of the vision is to transform the Nigerian economy to be in the league of the 20 most industrialised countries of the world.
Nigeria’s economic potential is well recognised. She is the biggest economy in the West African sub region. Given the country’s considerable resource endowment and coastal location there is potential for strong growth. Previous efforts at planning and visioning were not sustained. The history of economic stagnation, declining welfare and social instability, has undermined development for most of the past 30 years.
Investment Opportunities in Nigeria
There are over 2000 industrial establishments in the country. Among these are a giant oil industry, Iron complexes, steel rolling mills, pharmaceutical industries, food processing, car assembling and the up-coming Export Processing Zone (EPZ). The Buhari administration economic policy favours and places priority on greater investment in agricultural production and manufacturing and exports of production, abundantly skilled and versatile human resources and access to a vast local market of over 180 million people and beyond in the sub-region.
Nigeria established diplomatic ties, at ambassadorial level, with Japan 55 years ago, and since then bilateral cooperation between the two countries has been growing steadily until the 1990s when there was a downturn in the trade and commercial exchanges between them. However, the emergence of democratic governance and the reforms in the economic, financial and investment sectors of the economy have led to an upsurge in the number of Japanese businessmen doing business in Nigeria. This is manifested in the pattern of the balance of trade which tilted towards Japan up to 2001 and towards Nigeria from between 2002-2006 especially with the former’s increased purchase of crude oil and petroleum products from Nigeria.