Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Lagos, Mr. Michael Derus, in this interview with Zacheaus Somorin, said that his country has been making several efforts in assisting Nigeria in solving its energy problems. He also spoke about DAAD scholarship, which many Nigerian scholars have benefited from
What have been the gains and benefits of Nigeria/German relations in recent times?
I think one cannot really strike a balance which is in pros and cons of relation but a positive fact in itself is that we have been having a cordial diplomatic relations for years and we have many things we can learn from each other. As I said earlier, it has been a very positive way of dealing with each other. Despite problems in everyday life, there is something we could definitely learn from Nigeria; on the other hand, as we are all very much aware of the already mentioned dynamics of Nigerians, there are, however, shortcomings especially in the energy supply. And as you might have known, there have been many discussions on how to support in overcoming the problem in power supply. And to that end, in 2008, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two nations referred to as that is the Nigeria-Germany electricity partnership.
In the first five years of this memorandum of understanding since 2008, despite the fact that we have not seen so many concrete results, but we have a strong feeling that the federal government's dedication to do everything to make sure that the activation of the energy sector is achieved; and that has been the reason for the renewal of this memorandum of understanding last year's October with the signing of a new MoU which is based on 2008 template and declaration of intents which has the main goals of Germany’s support in terms of building up energy supply through sustainable source like water, wind and solar.
Of course this is to foster the way of using gas here for the benefit of Nigerians and also for Germany, to have German companies on ground to do things like this on the spot and having of course access Nigerian products like oil and especially gas for the German market.
Despite that we have a very intense exchange at the political level. There is a bilateral commission which have been meeting, though in recent times, though we have not had meeting recently but the commission is still on ground. Depending on the confirmation on the Nigerian side, Germany have the next round of this bilateral commission till this year so that we can have an intense way of contacting each other.
Can you mention in specific terms, the extent of the German energy support to Nigeria?
To give you a bit more insight in that kind of arrangement which has been concluded through the signed MoU. It’s the basis for the facilitation of the engagement of the private sector in that field and the government itself now has power station which is established here; giving the fact that German companies, with their know-how with technology and having access respective projects, Germany, especially in sustainable energy, is considered globally, as a world market leader – we are very strong in using alternative energy sources and sustainable energy, especially for local and regional power generation in the country like Nigeria there is much room for implementing projects like that.
How many Nigerians have benefited from the DAAD scholarship and what is the projection for the future?
The academic cooperation which has been established since Nigeria's independence is the Germany exchange service. We have, in general number, around 145 scholarships per year mainly in the field or courses that are related to development. I think we will have level maintained; and if you look back in time, I think it has been a very positive cooperation.
Last year, we, at the University of Ibadan, an alumni meeting. What I heard from our German academic exchange lecturers there was that around 2000 Nigerians have done there postgraduate programmes in Germany.
What has been the effect of such benefit on Nigeria side – on academics and the society at large?
I think it raises professional level for academics and it is something that might contribute also for education and training of the students. So the multiplier effect of that in the academic sector is immeasurable. Thus, it is a very good form of cooperation because trained teachers can reach many people; and that raises the professional level of their students and empowering more Nigerians to be competitive in fields where there is transfer of knowledge and technology.
Recently, Nigeria was confirmed as the biggest economy in Africa, what is your opinion about that?
It is something that did not come as a surprise, everyone expected it and I would not underestimate the effect that such would have on the psyche of foreign investors. On the other hand, one has to see, not only the economic strength of the country but also the individual income situation which has not changed through the rebasing.
So there is, on one hand, a very positive impact through the rebasing, on the other hand, one has to see through the fact that there is a lot to do in terms of individual income situation which has not changed through the rebasing. So the Nigerians labour force should catch up with that and I think the fact that we can observe such an improvement, it terms of the growth of the middle class, it is a good signal. Despite that, there is still a lot of work that has to be done.
I only can repeat that the power problem does not only affect the economy sector but also the private including individuals. I have the feeling that this rebasing is a very strong incentives for the Nigerian economy.
What about the living standard of the people?
There are two sides to it. One, we have to look at the parameters which form the basis of the rebasing, which are expression of the general fundamentals of the economy and on the other hand, there is still a gap compared to south Africa which now is number 2 and which has, maybe, three times the personal income.
But I think that this rebasing might be an incentive in social and economic program and also in the effort of combating social crisis. The already mentioned forms of cooperation between germany and Nigeria might also help in addressing some of these issues.
Let me mention in this context another very important strategy which might also have a very positive impact on the situation on ground. There is need for vocational training, like that of Germany in which do not only do training on the job, but receive more education on their respective fields.
Just recently, an MoU was signed between Industrial Training Fund and the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry on vocational training. I think that is not only a contribution to qualification for better jobs, but also a first step and incentive to upgrading labour force qualification in the country. So for potential investors who come to Nigeria, to verify wether it makes sense to have a direct investment here or not, are always asking for professional skills.
And vocational training is always a good contribution to that.
Are there structural or constitutional similarity between The Nigerian Federal system and that of Germany?
Nigeria of course is a young nation in its constitutional existence. Both are republics. Relatively in terms of constitutional arrangement, but we have some things in common. Germany has sixteen federal states and Nigeria has 36. So with that, there is a difference. In Germany, the regional tribes have developed over the centuries which means what we have reflected in our constitution is a product of centuries of regional development.
The situation here is a bit different. Just last week, I attended a very interesting lecture by an historian on the amalgamation process of Nigeria in 1914 during which very different ethnic and regional parts of this country were brought together. So the independent constitution was based on that experience. So contextually, there is still a struggle for overcoming the regional differences. If you look into the German constitution, an important part is a political situation whereby the federating states participate very strongly in tax and budget revenue; and beyond that, we have a system of equalizing prosperity because one of the constitutional gains is to create similar conditions of living all over Germany and there was really a great challenge to meet up with that after Germany's unification when we had five new federal states who had been dismantled as a central states, with different economic systems.
And given the fact that at the time of German unification, the former was nearly bankrupt and the country had to restructure or re- establish the old structures. So I think the challenges were different on one hand, and the other hand, I think if Nigerians are interested in looking into the German federal system and if perhaps to review its constitutional aspect and gather information from other parts of the world, the German experience would be it an interesting reference.
How is your country dealing with corruption and what modalities do thin Nigeria can adopt in fighting it?
Corruption constitutes a crime so we have criminal investigation in cases that occur. The general level of corruption in developed countries is different because we have over a long time established authorities and administrative procedures in which people know what their rights are.
For instance, in any administration, people ask for the service they need with information of whether they have to pay a fee or not; for example when it comes to medicals where people don't have to pay before being admitted because it is the fundamental rights of citizens to always ask for what they need from the authority.
So the attitude and knowledge of people that they do not owe anybody in order to be admitted is a very important step to creating a general awareness that a citizen is entitled to quick services hence not being exploited. I think these are things are fundamental things that should be made public so that people would know.
Many analysts have contended that to stop official corruption in any part of the world, the issue of social security must be taken seriously
(cuts in) I think there are some issues in your analysis that are correct and I am absolutely convinced that this is what happens in so many countries in the world which you know were from being a developing country and they changed their own situations to a developed nation.
If people could catch up in their personal income situation, if they have more social security, the challenge of unfair treatment and the number of people asking for bribe will go down. That is a problem, which, on a long term basis, will be solved because there is no rule that in certain part of the world people are more corrupt – it has to do with social and economic nature of a particular country. So I am very confident that with all the effort that the government is deploying to curb corruption, if the phenomenon stops, Nigeria will make a progress that will also be in favour of the social economic development.
There have been complaints and allegations that your embassy denies Nigerian visa on untenable basis, is that true?
There are of course, different reasons for denial. I can tell you that we have very strict regulations which we have to obey and follow. That means we cannot arbitrarily deny someone visa if such an individual is qualified. So wherever people fulfill the requirement of travelling to Germany for a short time stay or long time stay, visas will be granted. The requirements for travelling may be different, we expect people who go to Germany, during their stay, to have a secure financial basis that would sustain them over a certain period of time. The motive for going to Europe or Germany may be different.