Decimation of B’Haram, ISWAP: Nigeria, Argentina constantly
From Aidoghie Paulin, Abuja
Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Argentine Republic, Philip Ikurusi, said Nigeria and Argentina were in constant communication on building capacity in an effort to decimate Boko Haram and the Islamic State in East Africa Province. West (ISWAP).
In this interview with Daily Sun, Ikurusi revealed the efforts made by the Nigerian mission to deepen cooperation between Nigeria and Argentina. These efforts, according to Ikurusi, include signing a Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA), encouraging Nigerians to consider Argentina as a viable tourism location, creating an enabling environment in Argentina for relations trade with Nigeria and the consular cooperation created. to resolve delays in the issuance of visas, among others.
Nigeria and Argentina enjoy warm relations as both have embassies in the respective countries, how has this contributed to the diplomatic exchanges between them?
First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to His Excellency Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, for my appointment as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federal Government Republic of Nigeria to the Republic of Argentina.
Nigeria-Argentina diplomatic relations were established in 1981. Nigeria initiated the opening of its embassy in Buenos Aires, with Argentina following suit in Abuja. This step proved to be crucial in opening diplomatic channels and communication, thus allowing the respective countries to understand their strategic place in the world. Proof of this is the signing of several Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and multiple high-level visits by Nigerian ministers to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since then, Nigeria and Argentina have collaborated with each other on several fronts. Talks on the bid, open government and South-South cooperation are ongoing. It is safe to say that the future is bright in terms of sustenance in warm relationships.
Why is Argentina not on the radar of most Nigerians when it comes to tourism?
Argentina is an attractive country that has a lot to offer the Nigerian tourist. However, we need to discuss the physical distance between the two and the currently available travel routes. In the South Atlantic Corridor, a direct flight would take about eight hours by air from Lagos to Buenos Aires. However, with the current stopover situation in European and African countries, it lengthens the travel time to more than 20 hours. This brings me to the point where Nigeria and Argentina are working towards signing the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA). In April 2021, the Honorable Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika visited his Argentinian counterpart to rejuvenate the BASA agreement. In the meantime, as we wait for an outcome with BASA, efforts are being made to attract Nigerians to Argentina as a viable tourism location.
In terms of people-to-people ties, how many Nigerians visit Argentina each year?
As you know, the global pandemic is entering its third year. Its worst-hit tourism sector is only in the early stages of a return to normal. Unfortunately, Nigeria and Argentina have not been exempt from this pandemic when it comes to COVID-19 protocols. Consequently, the influx of Nigerians to Argentina and vice versa has been lower than expected. We hope to see the numbers increase as COVID protocols ease and this is already happening as data from our consular section indicates an increase in the number of Nigerians inquiring about Argentina in terms of tourism.
What are you doing to make Argentina economically viable for Nigerians interested in doing business with the country?
The right conditions must be in place for Argentina to be considered economically viable for the Nigerian. We are working to create an environment here in Argentina that is conducive to future business relations with Nigeria. We are working with the Argentine-Nigerian Business Assembly (ANBA) to organize an investment business forum. We, the Mission, are in talks with the Argentinian entrepreneur CACEAU for the creation of businesses in the fields of cotton production and poultry farming. There are other establishments we are in communication with to help foster these good conditions.
What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Argentina, before your arrival and now?
The pandemic is a major contributor to the volume of trade between Nigeria and Argentina. Before and since my arrival at the post in April 2021, there has been no change in the status of the pandemic, which makes an accurate overview of the volume of trade between the two countries an unfair representation. However, agriculture turns out to be the only sector conducive to collaboration due to its comparative advantage over Nigeria.
Why is Argentina not also on the radar of Nigerians in terms of migration for economic opportunities, scholarships and the like?
There are a number of factors that influence the influx of a group of people into a country. First of all, apart from economic and educational opportunities, the main language spoken in a country is important.
Argentines speak Spanish as their first and often only language. Second, the distance between the two countries is a major factor. And as I mentioned, the lack of direct flights has also influenced the number of Nigerians who visit Argentina every year. It also ensures that the Argentine remains firmly off the radar of the inclined Nigerian. However, with the aforementioned efforts that the mission is undertaking, we hope to bring about a change in this area.
Is their visa regime hard on Nigerians or they are not black friendly because there are other countries whose main language is not English and flight times are longer, but Nigerians visit these countries in large numbers?
The word receptive is relative to each person’s definition and experience. I have personally received a warm welcome from the Argentines since my departure on mission. However, the visa regime is not relative to everyone’s experience. Unfortunately, Argentina, as a South American country, is not immune to the drug trafficking situation we hear about in the world news. This has resulted in strict issuance of visas to standard passport holders including Nigerians. The mission is working diligently on a draft memorandum of understanding on consular cooperation, created to resolve delays in issuing visas.
How many Nigerians are in prison in Argentina? And do we have a bad reputation in the country?
Well, to say that the number of Nigerians in prison in Argentina is directly proportional to Nigeria’s overall reputation in the country is a misnomer. First, due to data protection policy, the number of Nigerians imprisoned in Argentina cannot be released. This information is directly returned to the competent authorities in Abuja. Finally, I am sure that among the large number of Nigerians here in Argentina, some are of concern. However, the majority are law-abiding.
Starting from Argentina’s rich natural resources and a diversified export-oriented industrial base, particularly the agricultural sector, how can we replicate this in Nigeria?
As you rightly mentioned, Argentina has a comparative advantage over Nigeria, particularly in the agricultural sector. As you know, Nigeria has about 84 million hectares of arable land of which only about 40% is cultivated. This is where Nigeria’s agricultural potential lies. In line with the current government’s diversification policy, We, the Mission, are working to link Argentina’s agricultural expertise. Expo-Agro, which is the main agricultural exhibition in Argentina and one of the most renowned in Latin America, extended an invitation to the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and a second invitation to the Governor of the State of Nasarawa. This will allow the two distinguished guests to meet potential partners and establish collaborative relationships and potential investment opportunities.
Argentina is famous in the field of sports. Is there a possibility of cooperation in this area?
I am happy to report that negotiations are ongoing in the field of sports between Nigeria and the Argentine Institute of Football Technology. The main objectives of the discussions are deeper engagement and development of young people by creating an academy. In 2021, I had the privilege of meeting the President of the Argentine Football Association, while my counterpart met the President of the Nigerian Football Association, all with the aim of strengthening relations.
Nigeria is fighting insecurity on all fronts, from kidnappings to banditry and terrorism. What is Argentina doing to help Nigeria fight insecurity, including decimating Boko Haram and ISWAP in the northeast?
Nigeria is not isolated in the fight against Boko Haram and ISWAP in the North East. There are four countries bordering Nigeria in the North East region which also face the same problems. Terrorism is a threat on many fronts to a nation, which Nigeria does not take lightly. Now, with regard to Argentina, Nigeria is in constant communication regarding capacity building. We have an agreement with the University of Defense in this area, which has existed for a long time.
I would like to conclude by encouraging Nigerians who are interested in Argentina as a country to feel free to contact the Embassy with any questions they may have.