Dr Benson Alfred Bana is the Tanzanian Ambassador to Nigeria. In this exclusive interview with Daily Trust Saturday, he speaks on the existing diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Tanzania, cross cultural relationship in Africa and the struggle for African independence.
How will you assess the economic cooperation between Nigeria and Tanzania, and has the coronavirus pandemic affected their trade relations in any way?
Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are hard in developing countries alike; therefore, you expect that in different ways, they had actually affected trade volumes between Nigeria and Tanzania. A lot could have been done in terms of exploring new avenues for promoting the countries trade relations, meeting different chambers of commerce in different states but this did not happen due to COVID-19. Anyway, the pandemic had affected our working itinery.
At the moment, we are scheduled to take stock of the prevailing trade relation between Nigeria and Tanzania with a view to improving the relationship and exploring other areas of collaboration in trade terms.
But, as far as trade relation between Nigeria and Tanzania is concerned, we haven’t reached the level we would have liked, and this is due to a few numbers of factors. One is the geographical location; Nigeria is on the far West of Africa, while Tanzania is on the far east of Africa. So even if there are possibilities of expanding trade, transport, logistics, shipping and the likes are areas that discourages traders from engaging business.
But, there is improvement in terms of getting Nigerian companies to want to do business in Tanzania. At the moment, I can say we have about four or five companies doing business in Tanzania; the famous Dangote group of company, they have a very huge cement company in Tanzania, I think the largest in Africa with the exception of Nigeria. We have Sahara Company in oil and gas industry, we have UBA doing banking, we have ECOBANK also doing business there.
At the level of exporting capital from Nigeria to Tanzania, there is significant improvement if one has to look into the trading deals in 90s and the current trading deals but, we also need the Tanzanian companies to penetrate Nigerian market. This has not been possible because, in terms of capital, Tanzanian has a very few entrepreneurs with sufficient capital to be able to export elsewhere, compared to Nigeria.
Nigeria is the giant of Africa, the largest economy in Africa with a huge market of over 200 million people. That is why every country likes to do business with Nigeria.
Another area that would have stimulated the trade would have been direct flight from Lagos and Abuja to Dar es Salaam or Kilimanjaro.
How long have you been in Nigeria?
Not too long; I arrived here on January 31 this year, and I had the opportunity to submit my letter of credence to His excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari on August 25 due to the restriction that accompanied COVID-19 lockdown. That will now allow me to explore what we want to explore, I have a mission here, and objectives to accomplish. With my team, I believe we will make it a reality.
One of them is to invite Nigerian billionaires who have capital to explore business opportunities in Tanzania in fishing farming, in the tourism and leisure industry. Automotive engineering, pharmaceutical and medical equipment related industries, agricultural produce business and real estate business. These are the opportunities that are available in Tanzania and we would like many Nigerians with capital to invest in Tanzania instead of going to Dubai to invest.
I had the opportunity of visiting Abuja Chamber of Commerce this week, and by next week, I will go to Lagos Chamber of Commerce and try to locate investors who can be convinced to go and invest in the various fields that I have mentioned in Tanzania. To further improve the bilateral relations.
What’s your impression of Nigeria?
Nigeria is a very huge country; it has a tremendous successful history with rich culture. I lived with Nigerians elsewhere and what impressed me the most is the different characters of the people.
Notwithstanding the stories we hear, when you arrive here, you will know that you are living with very lively, nice and interesting people. Secondly, Nigerians are all over the world, their diaspora is huge.
Somebody tells me that about 55 million Nigerians live outside Nigeria – in South America, Canada, United States of America, Europe, South Africa and my country Tanzania.
Your education system is still intact. Compared to other African countries, you still have a vibrant quality education system.
These are some of the most important factors that I noted in this country, and when you go Europe, the best surgeons, the best lawyers and the super specialists are by and large Nigerians. Above all, the way you are able to merge the traditional and modern culture is impressive. For example, the traditional institutions of the chief, emirs, Oba have been preserved. I followed with interest the recent past gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states. You will see the candidates – very respected people aspiring for the governorship position, going to the traditional chiefs for words of wisdom, and how they should conduct themselves.
The traditional institution is a highly respected entity and has coexisted well with the modern institutions. I would want to know how Nigerians preserved the traditional institutions.
The last thing I want to say had impressed me since I arrived here is Nigeria has huge population, but God fearing. My local staff are like preachers. If we are conducting a meeting and you ask them, can you lead the meeting? They will start with prayers. That is admirable, when you have God fearing people you are in a way creating a nation that subscribed to the teaching of the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible. When I’m here I don’t feel that I’m in a strange country. That’s what impresses me. I don’t know if there are records but people come here for spiritual healing, like spiritual tourism.
How many Tanzanians do you have in Nigeria?
According to my statistics, those who officially registered are 112 but there are so many Tanzanians. Tanzanians love Nigerians and a lot of them are married to Nigerian women.
You mentioned earlier that the volume of trade is not as high as you expected, can you give a figure?
This is what I’m trying to locate, if you go by the Central Bank statistics, you don’t get much, but we know they’ve been trading in coffee, cotton but I don’t have a figure. I tasked my assistant to go and do some ground work. That is why we went to the chamber of commerce.
We haven’t been able to take stock of what Nigerian businessmen could be able to buy in Tanzania. The problem we have is that Nigerians would buy sesame from Tanzania, but it’s not being used here, they export to Pakistan and elsewhere. So, you have to grow some industries. My government has placed emphasis on the need to increase intra African trade. And, with the new created organ – African Continental Free Trade Area, we will benefit much.
You just spoke about the African Continental Free Trade Area; how can African countries promote the intra continental trade?
Tanzania is a signatory much as Nigeria is, we are yet to ratify the convention but we are on the process. The African Continental Free Trade Area is a derivative of the African Union, and if we want to succeed, we must promote trade between and among African countries, reduce tariffs, and make sure that instead of taking our crops or gold to Europe, why can’t we process them here and benefit from this ready market of about 1.2 billion people.
Africa is a huge market but we have been unable to exploit the opportunities that are available. Our economies are being unnecessarily integrated into our former colonial powers. You have Francophone Africa, you have Magrib, you have Anglophone, so our economies are still integrated into their international capitalist system. If we can disintegrate our economies from them, I am sure Africa can have a voice in international trade.
What other areas can Tanzania explore in its relations with Nigeria?
Nigeria has about 170 universities. That’s what I was told by the Minister of Education. So, we want our students to be able to come to universities in Nigeria, and we want Nigerian students to go and pursue their degrees in Tanzania. At the moment, we have students from Tanzania at the University of Abuja and University of Port Harcourt.
We used to have high level staff exchange at university level – professors from Nigerian universities will go to Dar es Salaam University as visiting lecturers during their sabbatical leave, and things like that.
Above all, since I came to Nigeria, I’ve been able to learn some Hausa words. I know “Nagode”, “Ina kwana”, “Ina wuni”, “Sannu” and my daughter learnt to speak Hausa in school. Swahili in Tanzania is rich, we are about 62 million people and every Tanzanian can speak Swahili, it’s our national language, so they can interact anywhere in Tanzania. In Nigeria, if I want to go to Katsina, I need to know a little bit of Hausa words, if I want to go to Oyo, I must understand pieces of Yoruba and if I wanted to go to Imo State, I must understand bits of Igbo but in Tanzania, we are all Swahili.