By JOE OMBUOR
NAIROBI, KENYA: Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Kenya Amb. Solomon Akin Oyateru matches every inch of his towering frame and compelling personality with a passionate desire to bring Kenya and Nigeria closer for greater mutual good saying; “Nigeria considers Kenya a very strategic country in Africa”.
“I look forward to building a solid platform for co-operation during my tour of duty that I personally consider a very important assignment given the fact that Nairobi hosts two key United Nations agencies,” he says.
Amb.Oyateru who has been in the country for just over a year now, says his priorities include improving the balance of trade between the two countries, saying the balance has for long been in favour of Kenya. “We import lots of tea, coffee and floricultural products from Kenya. Tea imports alone are worth over Ksh1 billion. Air transport is such that KQ makes nine flights a week to Lagos and is about to crown that with a direct flight to the capital, Abuja.
“But all that is about to change with revamped bilateral engagement. Nigeria is capable of exporting industries to Kenya as was demonstrated by the announcement during President Jonathan’s official visit that the Dangote Group planned to invest US$400 million in a cement plant in Kenya. With the newfound partnership and memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed during President Kenyatta’s visit to Nigeria followed by President Jonathan’s visit, we should see the volume of trade double in the next two years and probably quadruple in the next five years.
“Nigeria can also export to Kenya skills and technology in the oil and gas industry where it has superior experience and advise Kenya on how to avoid pitfalls that it has waded through with these minerals. Opportunities also abound for joint ventures in areas such as solid minerals to mutually benefit the two countries.
“Kenya on her part is better versed in tourism and the hospitality industry in general, expertise it can export to Nigeria. This includes management structure in the national parks that have proved more successful in Kenya. Agricultural exports ought to incorporate skills in dairy, beef and horticulture that are better developed here.
“On the financial sphere, Kenyan banks and insurance sectors are yet to have themselves felt in Nigeria. A few Nigerian banks have set up base in Kenya, but there is room for more. It is high time MPesa, Kenya’s world acclaimed innovation that offers efficient electronic payment platform was exported to Nigeria. President Jonathan’s official visit will sure accelerate the bridging of these bilateral gaps.
Of the unprecedented diplomatic spat caused by the June 3, 2013 melodramatic deportation of Anthony Chinedu and five others, he says: “The loud row it created was caused by lapses in administrative procedures that since then have been resolved through diplomatic channels. To avoid similar occurrences in future, we are negotiating a draft immigration agreement that has been discussed by the two governments.
Amb. Oyateru says the two economic giants on the East and West of the continent could explore the possibility of floating companies on each other’s stock exchanges to strengthen their bases so that in future there would be no need to go abroad to raise capital for major projects on infrastructure.
On the thorny issue of drugs that for years has been the Achilles heel of Kenya/Nigeria relations, Ambassador Oyateru says Nigeria has put in place one of the most draconian laws governing drugs and other hard substances.
He says the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) set up in 1990 was among the first of its kind in Africa to combat the growing, processing, manufacturing, selling and trafficking of narcotics and other hard drugs. “NDLA has imported sophisticated equipment for purposes of detection. Besides, a crackdown on money laundering that goes side by side with drug trafficking has been put into effect.’
He says Nigeria’s anti narcotic laws are such that traffickers caught abroad are tried once they get to Nigeria and any of their assets linked to drugs confiscated.
Amb. Oyateru discloses that NDLEA personnel were part of the Nigerian government delegation that accompanied President Jonathan on his state visit to Kenya. “They had useful bilateral discussions with the Kenyan anti narcotic agencies including the police after which a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was concluded between the two countries for exchange of information and expertise on how to stop the menace,” he says.
Commenting on the problem of terrorism where Nigeria has been battling the homegrown Boko Haram terror gang and Kenya the Somali based Al Shabaab, Amb. Oyateru says closer cooperation between the two countries and collaboration in areas such as intelligence are effective antidotes against terrorism. “You can rest assured that Boko Haram and Al Shabaab are not sitting pretty as Kenya and Nigeria come closer,” he says.
What does he consider his greatest achievements since taking the Kenyan mission? Amb.Oyateru, with a big smile that lights his entire face: “Of course the official visits by President Jonathan, the first by a Nigerian Head of State in 25 years. The last one was in n1988 by former President Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. Equally important was the signing of a joint commission for co-operation agreement in Abuja in July, 2013 to regulate bilateral agreements in all spheres including immigration.
Amb. Oyateru says that in the multilateral sector as his country’s representative to UNEP and the UN Habitat based in Nairobi, he took part in the establishment of a Hydrocarbon Pollution Restriction Project (HYPREP) in august 2012 to implement UNEP assessment of pollution in Ogoni land within the Niger delta area. The project includes the restoration of land, rehabilitation of the people, assessment of radiation, sustainable development and compensation.
He also cites the partnership agreement signed with the UN Habitat to champion African urban agenda whereby Nigeria supported the UN habitat with a donation of US$ 3 million spread over a period of four years. “A state in Nigeria equally signed a similar partnership of US$2 million bringing the total Nigerian donation to US$ 5 million,” he adds.
Nairobi is Amb. Oyateru’s first posting at ambassadorial level. He doubles up as his country’s Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-Habitat in addition to accreditation to The Seychelles.
His first overseas posting was Poland where he served as an officer at the embassy in Warsaw, followed by stints in Austria as First Secretary, Namibia as Senior Counselor, Ireland where he was in charge of political and economic matters and London, Nigeria’s largest mission where he headed the political affairs desk. Intermittently back in Nigeria, he served at various desks at the headquarters.
Amb. Oyateru started his diplomatic walk in 1980 when he joined the Foreign Service shortly after his graduation with a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy from the University of Lagos.
Born in Jos, Plateau State of Central Nigeria 55 years ago, Amb. Oyateru had his primary and secondary school education in his home state before proceeding to the University of Ile Ife for postgraduate studies, graduating with a first degree in political science. He is married with four children, three boys and one girl to his wife of 30 years, Her Excellency Janet Abiola.