Islamabad – In just the past two years, the bilateral trade volume between Pakistan and Nigeria has increased fivefold, heralding the start of what might be called an age of “economic diplomacy” between the two countries.
Much of the credit for this ongoing revival of trade relations goes to the High Commissioner of Nigeria to Pakistan, Dauda Danladi, who took up his post in Islamabad in 2012.
Speaking with The Express Tribune in an exclusive interview, the High Commissioner discussed the future of Pak-Nigeria bilateral relations and the potential for Pakistani companies to export to the oil-rich African nation.
“Pakistan and Nigeria have entered a new era of economic diplomacy,” Danladi said. “We have agreed that this April, Pakistani experts will be going to Nigeria to establish the Pakistan-Nigeria Business Council.”
The establishment of the council — a step in the direction of doubling the trade volume again by 2015 — is likely to be supported by a top-level meeting of the two governments in Nigeria soon after.
“Before the end of the second quarter of 2014, Pakistani president Mamnoon Hussain is expected to lead a high-powered delegation to Nigeria,” said Danladi. “It would be historic because it would be the first time a Pakistani president will be visiting Nigeria ever since diplomatic relations started between the two countries.”
The president’s visit is believed to bring about important bilateral agreements.
“The visit of the president will also reestablish the framework of cooperation, because agreements and Memoranda of Understanding will be signed in the area of scientific and education cooperation, agricultural cooperation, direct air service link and preferential trade.”
These latest efforts in revitalizing Pak-Nigeria relations appear to follow a campaign by the High Commissioner to sensitize business communities in both countries about potential opportunities.
“We have been able to mobilize around 42 industrialists who visited Nigeria between August and September in 2013, covering seven of Nigeria’s 36 states,” the Nigerian envoy said.
The mobilization involved personal visits to the chambers of commerce and industry in all major Pakistani cities, Danladi said.
During these visits, the High Commissioner said he was accompanied by a crew from the Nigerian state television. The news reports about Pakistani industries were aired in Nigeria and a similar documentation of Nigeria’s industry was shown to Pakistani business people.
This visual initiative, which cut through news about militant attacks, resulted in awareness among the Nigerians and Pakistani business communities about each other, Danladi said.
“As a result of these activities alone, we were able to increase the bilateral trade volume from USD100 million to USD500 million,” he said.
Pakistan has historically had a trade surplus in the bilateral trade volume, according to previous reports.
The key areas of trade include agriculture, pharmaceuticals and textiles to name a few. One company from Lahore got an order of around 100 tractors during the visit to Nigeria, Danladi said.
Danladi said Pakistan’s business people can help introduce professional and technological innovation in the Nigerian industry.
“We are calling on Pakistani companies to come and establish rice processing industry in Nigeria,” he said. “We want to join hands with Pakistani firms to also resuscitate the dormant textile industry in Nigeria.”
Nigeria, which has the 10th largest oil and gas reserves in the world, is also interested in learning from Pakistan’s experience in dairy and poultry production, he said.
But the cooperation can extend beyond agriculture and industry to science and education, as well.
“If we are able to get the education and science agreement signed (during President Mamnoon’s visit to Nigeria), it will open up the doors for exchange of visits, exchange student programmes, collaboration between universities and academia, and perhaps collaboration in research and development,” the High Commissioner said.
Pakistan and Nigeria, which are both members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the D-8, also have a history of defence cooperation. Both countries are also grappling with militancy problems– notably the Taliban in Pakistan and the Boko Haram militant group in Nigeria.
Danladi said the two countries are trying to collaborate by sharing their experiences on counterterrorism, and through capacity building and trainings, to “see how together we can reduce the menace of terrorism” which now requires an international approach.
The Nigerian envoy said his appeal to the Muslim Ummah is to “give peace a chance.”
Public opinion in Pakistan might be tilting against the peace talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan initiated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but Danladi called for more patience and commitment in the dialogue process.
“Violence historically has never achieved anything,” he said. “Let peace reign in Pak and in the region. Let there be global peace.”