Posted by News Express | 4 October 2021 | 478 times
The Norwegian Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Knut Eiliv Lein, speaks extensively in this exclusive interview on the Safe Schools initiative, in which he raises hope of improvement in protection of Nigerian schools, among other gains of the Safe Schools Declaration that’s upcoming this October. He also gives insights into the 2023 general elections as well as Norway/Nigeria bilateral relationship. Excerpts:
By JOHN NWOKOCHA, Managing Editor, Nation’s Capital
Could you take us through your experience in save school initiative?
Thank you for the interest in both Norway and safe school initiative. We are really proud to have been a part of the safe schools from the beginning. Norway together with friends like Argentina and Spain were approached back in 2014/2015 in Geneva by
Your experience. Thank you. And thank you for the interest. In both Norway and the safe schools initiative. We are really proud to have been a part of the safe schools initiative from its beginning.
Norway together with friends like Argentina and Spain, were approached back in 2014/2015 in Geneva by some humanitarian NGOs, including the international RED CRESCENT Red Cross and the Norwegian Refugee Council that had seen over time that schools have become battlegrounds or they have been abused in conflict zones. And that there was a need to focus more on the safety of students but also teachers and look in particular on the role of schools in conflict. And they had at the time made a set of guidelines that they used in conflicts and that they promote in conflicts on how parties to the conflict, but also others could make sure that schools were protected and that school children and teachers and learning were protected. And they approached us and ask how we could lift could lift these guidelines from the NGO world, to also include governments and states.
And that is something we, together with the friends I mentioned thought was a very good idea and that we started off in Geneva, work to write up a declaration on safe schools where these guidelines were also included.
And that's really how it started and how it was born, the safe schools Declaration that we now are going to meet in, Abuja, in October to take one step further.
So the first meeting was in Oslo back in 2015, and since that we had meetings, both in Palma and Spain and Argentina in Buenos Aires.
And we are just very happy that for the first time this conference also comes to the African continent and we are grateful for Nigeria to take upon them the hosting of this big International Conference.
Has the Safe schools initiative solved the problem of attacks on schools in your country?
Norway never really had that problem in the last decades as far as we can remember since the Second World War. So, our response was not to a problem we had, it was a response to a problem that organisations that we support face in countries, where they work.
And one of the interesting things about this conference, now in October is that it's not only the first time the conference is hosted by an African country. It's also the first time the conference is hosted by a country which sees these problems in their own country.
So that's also why it makes the Nigerian hosting role so interesting and so impressive to see that the Nigerian government really stands up to the problems that the country faces right now. And we all are going to work together, we already do work with Nigeria, but also with other countries facing the same problem.
My previous work was on Syria, and Iraq as the Norwegian envoy to the conflict in Syria, and Iraq, and where we saw this firsthand, how schools were, but still are being abused and where the Declaration had a really good impact as guidelines. But for Norway such is not the problem we face back home.
Do you think military approach is a good strategy to deal with banditry in Nigeria?
Well, I'm not sure I would be the one to guide the Nigerian government on their approach to counterterrorism. I think in many conflicts we see the need for all set of tools to fight a situation like that when it comes to that. And we work with the Nigerian government very closely on everything from humanitarian to stabilization, to conflict dialogues. And a lot of the Outreach that they do through bilateral engagements. But also through our support to many of the organisations working with the government.
So but when it comes to Safe schools, it doesn't really take stand in the conflict between parties. What it really focuses on is the need to keep schools safe and to keep students and teachers safe and to make sure that kids can still go to school even in the conflict. And, and that declaration focuses on both or all parties in the conflict to abide by those guidelines and principles. And the stakeholders on the government side would be both military but also within the foreign Ministry and within the education Ministry, so it's a whole-of-government approach to the whole safe schools declaration.
Well I consider you a stakeholder directly or indirectly, looking at the concern that you have expressed over safety of Nigerian schools. You can advise the Nigerian government if you can promote the safe schools declaration narrative this far?
Absolutely. And we are concerned about what we've seen in the last year here. I mean, I think the numbers speak for itself when it comes to school kidnappings. And, also to schools being closed, which is a thing that is easily forgotten. One thing is kidnappings and is the most dramatic ones, but both COVID and insecurity lead to, a lot of children, not being able to go to school like they should. And that has implications both for those children, but also for the families and for the society. So yes, we are concerned and I discussed this with the whole range and I feel like the Nigerian government is willing and able to discuss this. And I discussed this with everything from the chief of Army staff and chief of defence staff to the ministry of education, to the foreign minister to the vice president. So I meet a lot of Nigerians who are even more concerned than we are, because it's on as you know, in their country, with their kids, with their students, with their teachers.
So, I feel there is absolutely an understanding of the urgency among people that I meet both in government, but also in local governments and in the NGO worlds and interest groups.
So, so we have good discussions on this and I hope the situation will improve and we work with the government and with others. And I think the safe schools declaration is one part of that. And remember when we started out it was only a few countries that signed on. Today, there's way more than a hundred and thirty countries, including Nigeria, who's very early on to signal that they take this serious.
And that is a good story on a pretty bleak backdrop in the world. But not only Nigeria but also this region, the neighboring countries have all signed on to it and actively using the Declaration.
How long are we going to face the impact of the troubles that we see now? How soon are we going to feel the impact of the safe schools declaration in these warring regions in Nigeria?
But remember, this is nothing new. I mean, the safe schools Declaration. Nigeria has been on board since 2015. So the Declaration in itself is not gonna solve anything. It's one of many tools that we have in our toolbox. I think the increased focus now on the situation in schools in Nigeria, which has been there for the last half year or so. It is the momentum that's going to improve the situation. So I think from the new from the new chief of Army staff from the Air Force from the presidency down and to the governors, I think there's a renewed focus on this and this summit now in October also can help putting the spotlight on the importance of Keeping schools safe. So I hope the momentum now is there to counter all the violence that we have seen recently. But the Nigerian government has to go in front on this one. We are supporting and my experience is that it's being taken very serious by your government.
If you have been following keenly our national conversations on insecurity you must have observed the debate on whether shutting down telecoms services in some parts of the country is not depriving citizens of their rights. Do you have an official opinion on this?
We don’t have an official opinion on what approach they are using. Of course, I also see that debate and I see pros and cons, and in the end, that is, is a question for the Nigerian government and not that we as foreigners have a strong opinion no.
So, from your understanding of the momentum being gathered by the Declaration do you see an end to attacks on our schools especially in the north east/north west, by the time the initiative is fully implemented? What is the guarantee that’s not a declaration on paper?
Now, like I said, I mean the Declaration in itself doesn't solve anything. It's a tool among many and of course, there's many parties to conflict like this. So, do we think it's an important tool. We think it's a tool that came about because there was a need for it and where states have committed to protect schools and I think that's important here as well as many other places. So if that was to be implemented everywhere, that would help of course, but alone it doesn't solve any problem. It's guidelines that needs to be used, needs to be adopted, needs to be respected when nothing is solved if things are just implemented or ratified. They need to be all the way down to the ground, to the battleground. They need to be to be acted and used in practice.
Just like any law, if things are not implemented…. They are of no use. But again, I think the conference now coming up in October here, hosted by the Nigerian government shows really kind of that they take it serious and we are here not only to not only to discuss the Nigerian situation. This is an international conference on the safe schools Declaration how to take the safe schools declaration, to implement it, to use it in practice. This is just exactly what we're going to discuss at the conference on the Nigerian situation. But also in other places that are in conflict. So this is not a gathering on Nigeria. It's an International Conference on the safe schools, declaration and exactly like you mentioned, how to take it from being a declaration on paper to really truly be implemented in Conflict zones. He's Peter Lynch.
Can we know your reaction to reports that foreign countries are sponsors of terrorism in Nigeria and this is why it’s difficult for the Nigerian government to name those behind the increasing kidnappings, banditry and brutal attacks on schools, communities?
Yeah, I see speculations about that too. It's a very complex picture in this country, in the Northern parts of this country. Whether it's school kidnappings or gangs or extremist violence, I think I don't sit on the whole picture either. What we see is a dire need to continue, work on the deradicalisation on law and order, well, the whole toolbox to fight the tendency and the violence that we see. And I think the Nigerian government is doing that together with other stakeholders. We being one of them. And I think hopefully you'll see some improvement in the situation and in the years to come. Because the statistics that we've seen over the last year, just on schools is scary. I think we are counting 1400 kidnapped kids, just, since last December, 16 killed more than 1.3 million kids affected by schools being closed and the unrest so and it's expensive. I mean, it costs Nigeria millions, both the violence in itself, but also the effects of kids not going to school. So here I think we all have an interest in this being improved.
So with this background information on insecurity how did you react when you were posted to Nigeria to serve your country as an ambassador? What picture do you have of Nigeria?
So my first thought, when I sat and looked at my new portfolio, a year and a half ago, when I was preparing to come here was that it's so wide. The engagement that we have is a wide. So it's is everything from bilateral relations on working together in the United Nations and multilateralism to promote trade. I mean, we have 70 Norwegian companies about working here in oil and gas in Maritime, in renewable energy in recycling. And, you know, a lot to the pure security related questions to Maritime Security, piracy to fighting Boko Haram and ISIS to helping Nigerians in need stabilization and humanitarian help to being here for Norwegians who live in this country.
So, it's a really wide portfolio. And it's become even wider as I came here, digging into Nigerian Arts to music, to films to so. So, I looked very much forward when I came here to see the whole variety in our portfolio and our bilateral relationship, which is very good. And then, of course, Nigeria as you know, is a heavy weight from both in Africa, but especially in this part of Africa and West Africa, so I have very good conversations with your leadership on the Sahel on challenges in the region, but also opportunities in the region. So especially now in Norway is at the Security Council in New York for two years as an elected member.
We discussed very closely with Nigeria on how we can tackle crisis like environment and security on women, peace and security. And so I find Nigeria partnering in a lot of the work we do both here in the country between our countries, but also regionally.
Would you describe Nigeria/Norway relationship as robust?
It's very solid. We have good counterparts here. We have a lot of common goals on the multilateral scenes and on many of the other things we're working on.
Can you throw more light on the bilateral relationship, educational, economic, scholarships and other exchange?
Well, firstly, we are one of the biggest contributors to schools and education here in this country and that we do through direct support to UNICEF for instance, we are one of their big supporters in this country. And we also do it through big engagement in programs, like EDUCATION CANNOT WAIT and other international partners of Nigeria on the educational scene. So we work closely with Nigeria. But also with, with a lot of partners that work closely with the government and with Governors and others here. So we're one of the big ones on education in Nigeria. When it comes to exchange programs, there are not that many Nigerians in Norway these days for studying also because of COVID. And there are not many, if any Norwegians here in Nigeria either these days.
So, hopefully that can pick up in the years to come when I went to Business School in Norway, back in the days. I had two very good, Nigerian friends who came there for their master's degree, and that was very learning for me and I hope this can pick up again after the COVID epidemic.
You have mentioned that your country has a number of companies operating in Nigeria, can you shed light on this?
Yeah, on the business side, we have quite a few companies here, too few with permanent presence. But many with interest. So, about 70 Norwegian companies with their interests here in Nigeria. About half of them are in oil and gas. Yes, in oil, and gas related services. Then, quite a few in Maritime and other Maritime businesses and then growing number of tech companies coming up in Renewables in recycling plastic, waste management and things like that. And also in more digital things. So it's interesting to follow those companies. They are, of course, intrigued by a big market with the ability to pay for the services.
At the same time, they are also frightened by the complexity of this big country where one of mine and the embassy’s role is to help them and guide them into the country. And we also have a really good Chamber of Commerce, Norwegian/Nigerian Chamber of Commerce doing a fantastic job.
So that goes. When it comes to organisations, there are a few mainly in the humanitarian field, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the biggest one doing fantastic job in the northeastern part of this country and helping Nigerians in need. So, we're very proud of the hard work they do in difficult circumstances every day.
What’s the attraction to for anyone to visit Norway?
I think there are, of course, many good reasons to visit Norway once it's possible to travel again after the pandemic. We, we are proud of our nature, our clean nature. But we're also proud of our societies, which is constantly being voted one of the best to live in because of the high degree of trust between leadership and people and good health care and good educational systems. So, we travel abroad and we tell about our story and we meet new countries with open minds and love to learn a lot from their story too.
We were a small country of five million people. So we always been looking out whether it's sailing or Maritime or oil and gas or trade. Because we were small in ourselves. So, we're small open nation and have a good relationship with the almost any other countries.
How has Nigeria benefited from Norway and vice versa since 61 years ago?
Like you said, we had the diplomatic relations since the very beginning 61 years ago, and we've been here all the time. It's hard to measure how we benefited. I think, when I speak to my colleagues, whether it's in Vienna where, or Geneva or New York, where the big multilateral organisations are. They always say that one of the closest partners we have on the multilateral agenda and the multilateral world is Nigeria. We not only have a lot of things in common to work for, whether it's anti-corruption or safety security, or human rights, but we also sit next to each other in most UN seating arrangements because Nigeria and Norway are close to each other, also in the alphabet order. So many Norwegians have very close contacts and friendships with Nigerian diplomats. When it comes to trade. There's been a lot of trade on oil and gas, fish, stock fish and fish. And fish import is a big Norwegian trade commodity here, but also a lot of other exchanges that has been going on.
How long have Nigeria/Norway fared together?
We work closely together now on a lot of security-related issues, whether it's Norwegian support dialogue and the communal dialogue or its support to conflict struck areas. We don't have any formalized security hardcore, security cooperation, but other than that, it's
It's a lot of working together in solving conflicts.
How has Norway supported Nigeria in fighting COVID-19 pandemic?
Right. Well Norway has focused a lot of our support into the multilateral channels. So COVAX, the vaccine, which is the accelerated to help developing countries. And Nigeria has benefited a lot from that. So we are big supporter behind the vaccines that have arrived in this country. But there's more to do, much long way to go before Africa is where it should be.
Nigeria is a big country while Norway with five million population is a small country…?
So do you have a plan to shift your surplus vaccines to Nigeria?
Like I said, we have focused all our support, through the multilateral channels. So, all our surplus.
I don't remember the last statistic 350 to 400 million dollars have been given to COVAX for vaccine distribution. So we haven't done any other bilaterally with countries. We've done it through that system and they have dispersed based on needs. So there were a big supporter also to Nigeria on this one.
Finally, as Nigeria moves towards general elections what lessons can Nigeria learn from Norway experience in democracy?
Yes. Absolutely. We just had an election a week ago where the government was voted out of power. I am excited to be here. And to cover the upcoming elections. It will be my first Nigerian election experience. I hope it will be peaceful. I hope it will be focused on programs on what politicians and aspiring politicians want to achieve in the country. I hope it will be people-centric to keep the focus on the needs of the Nigerian population. And then I look very much forward to see it and of course realizing there's a big difference in holding an election in the country of 5 million, to a country of more than 200 million people. So I will not, I'm not here to give any lesson on how that can be done. But we work closely, we are going to be with Nigeria and monitor the elections. We're going to be with Nigeria in the preparations for elections, and I'm personally, I'm really excited to be here and to see the next year and a half until the elections.
No comments yet. Be the first to post comment.