Nigeria, Saudi Arabia trade volume non-existent – ​​Envoy – The Sun Nigeria

From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja

the Nigerian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Yahaya Lawal, has said that trade volume between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia is nonexistent.

Lawal, immediate past Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, told Daily Sun in Abuja at the end of the Second Session of the Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission that the countries are mapping out strategies to promote trade.

Among other issues, Lawal called on the government to go after agents who are involved in the trafficking of children and girls outside the shores of the country.

How do you view the outcome of the second session of the Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission?

I would say, of course, this is the second session as you are aware, the first Nigeria is hosting. The first session held in Riyadh about ten years ago. So, it is a good beginning. Although not many agreements have been signed, but it is a very, very important beginning which will further advance Nigeria-Saudi cooperation.

Specifically, which agreements were signed and in which fields?

Of course, there was the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and agreement which actually bring the two business communities together. I think this is a very important partnership because we are trying to develop the private sector; that the private sector drives economic cooperation between our two countries. I think this framework is important and it provides the space for the two private sectors to collaborate and interact.

Some MoUs were not signed as a result of lack of consensus; which MoUs and in which fields?

I wouldn’t say lack of consensus. Some were actually agreed, but, unfortunately, the Saudi delegation does not have the mandate to sign such agreements. They are largely security-related agreements, which this delegation doesn’t have the mandate except signed at higher level.

Having been in Saudi Arabia for some time, which areas do you think both countries can deepen cooperation for the mutual benefit of each other?

There are many areas of cooperation that we are exploring. Again, this is why we have this platform, the platform of the joint commission. All aspects of our bilateral cooperation are discussed, ranging as I said, from security, defence, drug trafficking, human trafficking, labor cooperation, education, health, exchange of prisoners and so on and so forth.

Trade and investment – ​​Trade and investment is the most important area that I consider, in my view, should be pushed forward because, these days, relations between nations, the real content or the real thing that drives relations between nations, is economic cooperation – trade and investment and this is what we are exactly trying to do here also.

What is the current volume of trade between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria?

I would say, practically, at the moment, it is informal. Very informal! We don’t have statistics. There is no volume.

No volume?

No volume.

What accounted for that?

Because we don’t have a framework of cooperation to promote trade between the two countries and that is exactly what we are trying to do through the joint commission. You have to formalize this relationship, otherwise, it will be informal trade. There are no exchanges. Practically, there are no exchanges between our two countries because they are very informal, petty traders who go forth and back, maybe through Hajj or Umrah. That is what is at stake at the moment.

The issue of drug trafficking into Saudi Arabia existed before your arrival at the mission. What is the Nigerian government doing about it?

We are doing quite a lot. I am aware there were two agencies, the NDLEA and their counterparts are cooperating even outside this framework. It is a menace that can affect both countries. So, this cooperation has been existing; but through this MoU that is going to be signed, I think that cooperation will further be strengthened and deepened.

Any plan for prisoner transfer agreement between both countries?

It is also one of the MoUs actually to be discussed or under discussion I would say because this session could not make progress on this particular subject. Negotiation will continue even outside the session, with a view to arriving at consensus that may lead ultimately to the signature of this MoU.

The issue of capital punishment for drug offenders has raised a lot of concerns. Is the Saudi government ready to back down on the issue, maybe reducing the death sentence to life imprisonment?

This is for the Saudi government to decide. We cannot dictate to the Saudis on what to do and how to legislate on what subject. It is their sovereign right.

The figures of the numbers of Nigerians traveling to Saudi Arabia on pilgrimage came down as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Is the government ready to increase the figures?

More or less, I think the situation has normalized. Of course, the last Hajj, it was still experimental. It wasn’t a full, normal Hajj.

How many Nigerians embarked on the pilgrimage?

We had about 40,000 and our quota is by far higher, more than double of that figure. It is almost 100,000 a quota. So, hopefully next year, we will have a full and normal Hajj without restrictions.

How many Nigerians are legally in Saudi Arabia?

I am happy you said legally. You have more illegal than legal. Let me say that the legal ones, maybe you have tens of thousands of legal ones, largely professionals – doctors, nurses and they are doing quite well I must say. There are teachers, in all fields. Of course, there are also Nigerian residents, some who were born there, who have documents, who are legally resident with their documents as Nigerians. You have quite a number of them. But of course, there are illegal ones who don’t have documents or overstay. Mark you, it is a place where people come and then overstay because they have the cover of the pilgrimage or the Umrah, the lesser Hajj. They come, perform the Hajj and disappear.

What is your greatest headache as Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia?

Consular issues, of course!

What steps are you taking to address them?

We are working with the Saudis. You are talking of overstaying for instance. It’s a big problem. People are usually rounded up, put to jail and then, repatriated. That’s a big problem. Some of the problems also arise from migrants and workers. The workers have one problem or the other with their employers, especially the domestic workers. So, it is part of the issue also under discussion – labor and domestic workers issue is one of these MoUs that are also under negotiation.

Are you convinced that these negotiations will help to nip in the bud the issue of human trafficking?

The real problem is from here. The agents are here, those who allow the children or use our children, our girls, to be trafficked.

Is the government going after them?

I hope so. This is a responsibility of our government. As far as we are concerned, from Saudi Arabia, we collect information and we send home about some of these agencies that recruit people and send them. They are the ones who are committing and creating problems for us. So, they need to be tackled and dealt with here at home so that we can stop and nip this in the bud.

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