Nigeria has potential to attract investments, says Rustico

Italy-5-CopyItaly is currently hosting a six-month exhibition on agriculture, which kicked-off in May. How would you assess the programme so far?

The exhibition, tagged Expo Milan 2015, is a universal exposition which Italy is hosting from May 1st to October 31. This is the most important event ever with focus on nutrition and feeding. Never before was there such a big event on this subject. For six months, Milan will become the centre of the world where 140 countries will showcase the best of their technologies to give positive answers to vital needs which is to guarantee food for everybody, food which must be of good quality, produced with respect to the planet. The space being used for Expo Milan is 1. 1 million square metres. More than 140 countries and international organisatipns are participating. We expect 20 million visitors in six months. Expo Milan 2015 will be the platform for exchange of ideas and meetings of countries, governments, companies, universities, among others, to think together about the innovations for the future, which should be sustainable.

Expo Milan 2015 will be very positive. There will be the possibility to taste the best foods of every country. Each country is organising special events. Obviously, we will have the foods of all the countries and each country will be eager to present the best. Expo Milan is a non commercial operation. It is being organised by Italy, having won a bid to host the event. The first exposition was in London in 1851. The next one was in Paris in 1889. Every universal exposition has a specific subject of universal interest. Universal exposition is prepared in a special site. In our case, it is 1.1 million square metres, specially dedicated or Expo Milan 2015.

Italian companies have been working to put the site in order for the past five to six years. It is a huge opportunity to see the possibilities of each country for cooperation. There are plenty of business societies taking part. It is a huge opportunity for every country to present its capabilities, to have business meetings. For six months, Milan will be the centre of business and movement in Europe and the world.

Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me the results of the ongoing expo after two months. The 1st of May was the opening day. From May 1 to the 30th of June, 89 official visited Milan, 35 National Days were organised, 26 official visits of Heads of States and Heads of Governments. Mrs Obama was in Milan at the beginning of the Expo, which was well appreciated.

In May, which was the first month of the expo, Expo Milan recorded 2.7 million visitors. At the end of June, we had 6.1 million visitors. By June 30th, Expo Milan Society sold 8.4 million tickets and they have agreements which are to sell 15.6 million tickets electronically. There is the expo business matching session to match businesses. There are 1,750 companies which registered for the meetings. They are from 72 different countries. There are 400 other companies that are not on this platform. There have been 350 meetings already done in one month.

It comes every five years. The last was in Shanghai. It offers enormous opportunity for Nigeria, which was a giant in agriculture and will return to being a giant in agriculture. This is what we wish. You have lots of capabilities and already you are going very fast. We wish that in a few years time, you will return to being the biggest in agriculture and production in Africa; and one of the main ones in the world. Nigeria has a major role to play. You have very rich tradition, so many foods in your country, you are blessed by nature.

Currently, the scope of business relationship between Nigeria and Italy?

We have a prevailing excellent traditional relations between our two countries. We also have very strong economic ties. You have lots of Italians who arrived in Nigeria since one or two generations back. Lots of Italian companies operate in Nigeria traditionally and they have been successful and are happy being in Nigeria. They are proud to be in Nigeria. On the other side, in Italy, we have the most important Nigerians on the continent. There are about 160,000 Nigerians presently living in Italy. A lot of them even speak Italian and they are integrated in Italy. We believe Nigerians are the Italians of Africa. We are very similar in character, reactions. We have different cultures but similar characters. We understand each other very much. There is a flow of excellent ties.

For Italy, Nigeria is at the moment, the most important market in Sub Saharan Africa. You are our second most important market . We believe in the future of our relations with Nigeria for several reasons. You are the second African producer of oil. You are the first demographic power in Africa. In 2050, there is a projection you will be the third in the world. In terms of population, the growth potential for Nigeria is great. After India, China, it will probably be Nigeria. The estimation is between 400 million to 450 million by 2050.

Already you are at the centre of ECOWAS, which is very important. This means that whatever company that wants to come to West Africa, it has to come to Nigeria. Africa has fastest growing economies in the world. We believe that with the right policies, you are going to grow the energy sector. Italy has the capability to partner in whatever sector that is interesting to Nigeria. On the other hand, Nigeria has huge base of people. A lot of manpower, very educated, and there are great resources from the Nigerian side which can further develop economic relationship between our two countries.

Essentially, there is a great deal of common interest between Nigeria and Italy. We are looking forward to organising, in the next few months, a presentation of Nigeria in Rome and Milan. I will have to discuss this with your government, in order to present the opportunities of the country in the most important sectors. Normally in Italy, when an ambassador is posted to a country, before leaving, he has a meeting with the companies in the country. In my case, it was done a little bit at the last moment because I had a short notice to come to Nigeria. But the hall was filled to the doors and there was no space to put people because Nigeria has a lot of appeal. Everybody was impressed.

hree days ago, I received a letter from the main association of enterprises, the equivalent of your MAN and NACCIMA put together. They want to know the opportunities in Nigeria for the Italian companies. So, in the coming months, we are going to work to make country presentation. When President Buhari was sworn in on May 29, Italy sent the Minister of External Trade and Vice Minister of Economic Development. We had a long discussion and agreed that it is very interesting to organise a major mission to Nigeria in 2016. But of course, we will have to agree with your government on this.

For us, Nigeria is a strategic country. It’s a friendly country and we share same democratic values. We are impressed how Nigeria managed this difficult moment. Not only for the country but also for the rest of the world. We are very proud of this result. All friends of Nigeria are proud. It is important that Nigeria succeeds in its democratic transition. This makes us much closer.

We had similar challenges. We had terrorism in the 70s and the 80s but of course, in a different context. Because we suffered, we can understand very well, what is happening in Nigeria. We are very sensitive and feel closer to Nigeria. Nigeria is important for us, as friends and people. Since last year, we have decided to strengthen our relations with Africa. We have a strategy for Africa, called Italy-Africa. Nigeria is central to our plans.

What’s the trade volume between Nigeria and Italy?

One and half years ago, it was three billion euros.

You met with the President before the inauguration. What’s your strategy in strengthening the relationship between the two countries?
President Buhari is a man with experience and we believe he is committed to making the country have a much better future. We believe that concerning Boko Haram, he is preparing a very effective strategy. We met with President Buhari at the G7. The G7 countries showed him support. We believe he is capable to deliver and each of our countries is ready to help. We need to know what the needs are on the Nigerian side in training. I believe the President is committed.

This is a big opportunity to rediscover all your potentials, because Nigeria was a giant in agriculture before the discovery of oil. You have the space. Your crops grow three times a year and develops much faster. Our crops grow once a year. That is not to talk of the potential for your mineral resources. You have something which is very important for all countries in the world. Despite poverty, the reality is that a market of 170 million people is very attractive for any company in the world. This market is going to move very positively with the right policies in energy, gas sector, and improvement in the agriculture sector.

Already, the car companies have been attracted to Nigeria’s economy. Italian major groups are interested to come and invest in your country. You can attract investment from the rest of the world. With the right policies, to stay out of your country would be mistake. Of course there is the issue of security but we trust that the President has the capability and the political will to surmount the challenge. He already has the strategy. He has presented it to the G7 and to Obama.

With all these opportunities, you have a bright future because in Italy will say Nigeria is a planet in Africa. We are very proud to be your friends. We have to work together. We have room to invest in Nigeria. We have no limit. With the right policies, the rest of the world will come. With the right policies, why would a company not invest in Nigeria. Look at what is happening in your telecommunications sector. How long did it take? 14 years. We are 60 million in Italy, in very few years, you developed a gigantic sector of over 100 million subscriber base. You also have Nollywood. Nigerians are extremely brilliant. You have everything to get there. Boko Haram is a negative issue at the moment but we really believe that soon, it will be a thing of the past. We hope it will be destroyed very fast because we are all close to Nigeria. This is an attack on human beings. We believe Nigeria can overcome this. You are considered the best in Africa and I’m sure that with the political will of the President, there will be results soon. We think that Nigerians can trust the President and we are happy and want to make a stronger relation.

Electricity is the major problem for the development of the country. You need 40,000MW; that’s what the experts said. This is a huge opportunity for foreign companies because every company will be willing to partake in a market with such potential. This is a gigantic opportunity, provided that you have the right policies. There are a lot of things that I don’t have to explain but with the right policies, you will have the problem of too many companies coming here.

You mentioned how Italy was able to destroy terrorism. In Nigeria, there is a debate as to the strategy to use against Boko Haram; either to use military might or to combine it with negotiation. From the experience in Italy, what would you advise?

Military response is not enough. You need a number of processes. I don’t want to enter the negotiation process, its’ discussed internally between political parties of your country. But we believe that to dry out insurrection, you should do what we did in Italy, with some differences of course. Meanwhile, you need to make efforts to develop the region that is affected. You need to help the people, invest a lot in helping them rebuild their region. You need to give them schools, mosques, churches. You need to help them.

What we did when we had this kind of attack, for instance, was to dry out the water where the terrorist fish is swimming. It’s important to give a future to these people in the affected region. Although, it’s not easy to do now because when you build the school, Boko Haram might attack it. So, this is very complicated but from what I saw at the G7 meeting, your President is using an approach which is not only military. We are very happy because he is using a democratic approach. Boko Haram is trying to hide among people. You have to make the people feel confident that the state is there and that Nigeria is helping them. And this requires an enormous effort.

This is the spirit we had against terrorism. At the initial stage, we focused on the military and police but then, we realised it wouldn’t work much because for one terrorist, we had 100 people who were like minded. And so, the terrorists couldn’t move among them. What we did to catch the one terrorist was to make these 100 people to be sympathetic to the issue. Then they cannot move because you see them very clearly and then you catch them very quickly. Our success was not because we focused only on military might and intelligence. They are absolutely necessary but they are not enough. This was our experience in Italy. We had to create a logic whereby people denounced terrorists, and because terrorists got confused without the people, it was very easy to catch them. In the long run, we succeeded in turning the tide against them, turning everybody in the nation against them.

Every human being feels the impact of what is happening in the North East. It is terrible. If you are a human being, you get shocked. I think the time is up to push them back. Our strategy was not to use military and intelligence alone, though they are very necessary; but to use other means, which the government employed. We are confident that Nigeria can overcome this. The advantage of having President Buhari, with huge experience, in the saddle will greatly help in this aspect.

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