Saturday, April 14, 2012

‘Nigeria not at war with British Airways over airfare’

 Written by Kolawole Daniel, Abuja

THERE are reports that many Nigerians are serving jail terms over drug related offenses in Brazil and some other countries, how does this affect the image of Nigeria abroad?

A country with about 150 million populations will have its own fair share of the good, the bad and  ugly. However, I believe that as long as the principles of fair hearing are adopted and the fundamental human rights are not infringed upon in the course of investigations, a person who has been found to have erred, should face the full wrath of the law. I believe that no country wants to hear that its citizen are in prisons in other countries because it doesn’t give it a good image, but I also believe that what must be emphasized is that our citizens, who are serving jail terms abroad, must be given fair hearing and full legal representation.

Since many of these people leave the shores of the country in search of pastures green due to the state  of unemployment in the country, what do you think government should do to alleviate the situation?

I believe that government is in the process of creating more employment, strengthening our educational system and migration laws, increase the capacities of Nigeria’s embassies and create  awareness for patriotism. So, I believe that if government is doing its bit, it also behoves on us as Nigerians to realise that we collectively and individually put our hands together to ensure that jobs are created, that there is better education and ensure that there is better value systems for our children. Above all, we should have the interest of the country at heart at all times.

How will you assess the foreign policy thrust of the present administration?

The foreign policy of this administration, I believe,  is on foreign direct investments and I must say that in the last couple of years, Nigeria has seen her export grow in leaps and bounds. We have signed trade treaties with a number of countries. We have signed trade treaty with Turkey and Serbia, energy pact with Germany and reviewed bi-lateral commission with United Kingdom.

So, as regards our foreign policy thrust which is on direct investment, I will say Nigeria has done remarkably well. When the new ambassadors were being posted out, the Minister of Foreign Affairs reiterated to the ambassadors that their mission was to go into the countries where they have been posted and positively engage those countries  because it is by so doing that we can actually know what we can do with those countries as regards to their economy.

So, on that front, our economy will grow and I will say we are doing well. However, one area I think we should look at is our glorious foreign policy of the late 90s, those years when Joseph Garba was the  president of the United Nations General Assembly and Emeka Anyaokwu was at the Commonwealth. We had a lot of visibility in those years and I think we must return to the point  where we started to take the leadership of a lot of   international organizations. If we head these organizations that we are, it will definitely help our foreign policy and direct investments because a lot of these foreign organizations are economy driven as well. So, I will to a large extent  say that we have done very well and there is room for us to do more.

The Minister of Finance, Dr Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is aspiring for the World Bank Presidency,  do you think the Federal Government is doing enough to ensure her emergence?

That is part of the reasons we have  embassies in these countries because we are supposed to engage these countries on a number of issues. What  we export outside of Nigeria is the true reflection of our aspirations and one of our aspirations is to see one of ours head the World Bank. I also believe that  making her the president of the World Bank goes with horse trading with a lot of countries. I know that Africa has already endorsed her but we (Africa) only have 19 votes. So, we will need to get across to other countries and rally support for her. I know that we have missions in all these countries  and Nigeria’s missions are doing their best in this regard.

If the British Aiways refuses to bring down its fares what do you think will happen?

I don’t think we have a face-off with the British Airways. They have been invited to the House of Representatives for a fact finding mission. The aviation sector has been deregulated and government has put in place regulatory body that oversees the price regime and ensure best practices. I think what the House committee on Aviation did was to call the British Airways to get facts so that we can actually call the regulatory agency that we have oversight function over and find out if there are lapses that led to the arbitrary price regime with the British Airways, vis-a-vis all the other airlines; and look at the enabling laws that set up the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to see if there is anything we can do to help NCAA to live up to   expectations.

As to what would likely happen, if the British Airways don’t back down, I really don’t think we have got to that stage yet. I don’t think it is a political matter; it is a commercial matter; it’s about pricing. By the time we engage NCAA effectively and consider the market forces and the comparative price range within the same region, I am sure it will not get to that point.

So, you don’t think the British government could consider taking measures that will in turn affect Nigeria negatively as a result of this?

As I said, we are part of the solution, not the problem and Nigeria’s foreign policy is about resolution of issues through dialogue and effective engagement. I think we are going to parley, I believe that the issue will be resolved amicably.

You are one of the few women in the House of Representatives, how are the women in parliament fairing because you are just 24 out of 360?

Obviously the mathematics doesn’t add up and we are still clamoring for more female lawmakers  in the House of Representatives. However, I must say that as people, we are pulling our weights together and we are working hard to be heard and seen. From the impression we are creating on the Nigeria’s political landscape especially, the parliament, you will think we are more than we actually are. That goes to show that we are doing the best that we can.

Constitution review is around the corner, are there specific gender issues that women in parliament want to bring forward during the proposed amendment?

Yes, we are looking at the language of the constitution, we want to ensure that there is gender mainstreaming in the constitution amendment. We want to ensure that the 35 per cent affirmative action is included in the constitution; it must be part of our rights as women. There are also so many other issues that we are looking at with regards to children and their rights.

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