Tuesday, July 26, 2016 4:49 pm
He is an astonishingly unassuming, but highly qualified career diplomat, who had spent over 30 impressive years in the Nigerian Foreign Ministry. Having served virtually, in all the major cities in the world, Mohammed Tahir is the Charge’ D’Affaires or Head of Mission of the Nigerian Embassy, as a substantive Ambassador to Liberia is yet to be named. He spoke to ABUBAKAR HASHIM in his office in Monrovia
Q: What has been the journey so far between Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Liberia, as Liberia celebrates 169th Independence Anniversary?
The journey so far has been splendid and rewarding. Liberia has been independent for 169 years now. Liberia has been in the forefront in the formation of the Organization for African Unity (OAU), now AU. We have had good rapport at leadership and at citizenry levels. You are aware of the challenges faced by Liberia during the civil war. And the role Nigeria played in the settlement of the crisis. Nigeria had been a leading member of ECOMOG. We had shed our blood to see peace in the country. The Federal Government had spent a lot of money, both financial and material, to see peace and development in Liberia. As at today, we are still spending. Thank God, there is today, relative peace in the country for the last 13 years. A government that has support of the people, support of the Federal Government of Nigeria, ECOWAS, AU and the entire world.
Specifically, apart from the then military support through ECOMOG, the head of UNMIL is a Nigerian, General Salihu Uba. On a bilateral basis, a lot of assistance has been rendered. During the elections, Nigeria contributed both financially and materially. We also sent monitors to assist in the elections. We did a lot to see that peace reigns in this wonderful country. We have also been consistently sending Technical Aid Corps (TAC) volunteers in various fields of endeavours, particularly medical and teaching personnel. During the Ebola crisis, Nigeria sent not only money, but doctors, nurses to come and assist in fighting the Ebola saga. One good thing is that both the Liberian government and the people acknowledge our assistance.
What areas of challenges are you facing?
Well, there are few challenges. Liberia is presently undergoing a security transition. There is UN draw down. They need troops to man border areas and training of Liberian personnel, particularly the police. We are assisting in that capability. These are the only challenges. Otherwise, we have been our brothers’ keepers. We don’t foresee any problem as far as Nigeria and Liberia relationship is concerned.
We have Nigeria’s investments here. The banks, Obasanjo Farms, Dangote is up-coming. You may like to throw more light?
Yes. The Nigerian government is happy with the rate of investments in Liberia. We have banks that are giving employment to Liberians. So also Arik Air, the Obasanjo Farms, that is here not to make too much profit but to assist Liberians to take care of themselves. It’s a big project. Dangote is also trying to come in. There is also a Nigerian, Chief Tony Chinyere, who is also trying to build an oil refinery. So in good time, we are likely to have many Nigerian investments in Liberia. The only thing is that the investment terrain is not conducive. That is why most Nigerian investors do not want to rush their investments into the country. The market is too small and then the population is small. There is need for Liberians to open up and allow the business to flourish. Moreso, the long time to get documentation in starting of a business is another challenge.
Let us turn our attention to Nigerians here in Liberia. Nigeria’s image in neighbouring countries is more of the negative side. Many Nigerians are caught at the airport, sea port or border posts with drugs. What is the present trend in Liberia?
Yes, but we have the good, the bad and the ugly. We have the Nigerians who have been here for so long, who have been able to take the Liberia nationality in order to make their business conducive. We have the new entrants, those who have been here not quite long. The problem we have is that when people hear dollar is being spent here in Liberia, the tendency is that people rush to come. Some want to use Liberia to travel to the US. Some have been disappointed. Some are here doing one job or the other. So we have the bad ones, those that come in with drugs.
A lot have been arrested. Just a few days ago, some were arrested at the airport. Some also have been caught in armed robbery. They have been arrested and are presently facing the law. I was at the prison in Monrovia, there were 15 Nigerians. Out of this number, eight were there due to rape cases. Though they complained that it was a set up by neighbours who want to take over their properties. The crime has been taken to court awaiting judgment so these are the few bad eggs. So also our films that come in here. Some do not portray good image of Nigeria.
What benefit Nigeria stands to gain in this relationship with Liberia? Some say Nigeria is ‘a father Christmas’?
No. I don’t think so. Nigeria has the largest black population in the world. You find Nigerians everywhere you go. In other to keep Nigerians safe and prosperous, you have to nurture good relationship with neighbouring countries and even countries afar. A great number of Nigerians are living in this country. That’s why you need a good relationship. Secondly, Nigeria had fought to bring peace to Liberia. We do not expect pay back from the Liberian authorities. If you look at other countries, if they go into other countries in terms of conflict resolution, they allow their business companies to come in to invest. In our own case, it’s our businessmen.
It’s not the Nigerian government to tell or convince our business men to come and do business here. Rather, it’s the business men that will come over and invest here in Liberia. That’s not the fault of Nigeria or Liberia. If UBA, GTBank can come in, why not other Nigerian businesses? We have the Nigeria/Liberia Joint Commission that sensitizes business opportunities in Liberia and in Nigeria. It’s not the government that invest, it is the businessmen that invest. We at the embassy are ready to assist in whatever way, to pave the way for genuine investors. A lot of opportunities for investments are in Liberia. Good fertile land, for agriculture. It is left for the businessmen to come in and invest. We are ready to assist in this regard.