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YVES NICOLET Consul-General of Switzerland in Lagos

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As Switzerland Consulate–General in Lagos steps up its presence in the country, its Consul General speaks to Acclaim Nigeria magazine on ongoing activities, his leadership works and the Swiss-Nigeria Bilateral Relations.

Switzerland is a country demonstrative and desirous of a better and greater Nigeria, and can also be described through her numerous involvements as an invaluable ally. Nigeria and Switzerland share a commitment to democracy, rule of law, security and peace attainments, deep socio-cultural and people-to-people ties, economic development and civic participation that have reinforced their bond of over half a century. These shared values constitute the foundation on which both countries relationship is built on.

      The Swiss Confederation, a globally respected people and nation with over seven hundred years existence of nationhood remain a strong, strategic and steadfast partner of Nigeria’s improvements and overall growths pursuits. With various representations in Nigeria consolidating on diplomatic and development pursuits, the Swiss-Nigeria Bilateral Ties continue to enjoy bolstered and beneficial outcomes, as Nigeria looks forward to increased cooperation and friendship with the Government and People of Switzerland in the years ahead.

     Towards this, the Swiss Consulate-General in Lagos, one of its key foreign missions in Nigeria, under a dynamic, dedicated and dutiful headship is leaving no stone unturned in its responsibilities and representations. 

Acclaim Nigeria magazine highlights amongst many, the accomplishments of the Consul-General, as he sets the Mission on a greater level of development through an exclusive interactive session with the Consul-General.

Enjoy the interview excerpts….. 

ANM: Your Excellency, as the maiden CG of the (new) Swiss Consulate General in Lagos, how has your job been so far?

      First, let me start by thanking you for being here and for your laudable national development works through your publication, we also appreciate your efforts and your interest in promoting our works here at the Consulate-General and fostering the Switzerland-Nigeria Bilateral Ties.  As a country, foreign mission, representatives and people living and working in Nigeria, we will continue to value the long-standing and robust friendship that exists between these two great countries, not only that, we will continue to work harder towards making these ties of immense mutual benefits.

      Secondly, to your question, it’s a privilege to head the new Swiss Consulate–General in Lagos; it’s a call to duty, a commitment to serve, and an obligation to fully represent my country in the best interest and efforts possible in this assignment and capacity. As you know, Lagos is a great city-state with over 20 million people, a population bigger than the whole of Switzerland; and a recognized economic hub in Africa and globally. In view of increasing presence of Swiss companies in Nigeria, especially in Lagos, and the growing interests of potential Swiss investors willing to come and do business in Nigeria, our Government in Bern, felt it is imperative to open a new and substantive Consulate-General in the economic heart of the country to cater to these growing interests, and on the 1st November 2016, the Consulate General was opened for active services after 55 years of closure in the country, by the Swiss government through its Federal Counselor and Head of Foreign affairs, Mr. Didier Burhalter, making it the second in the continent after the cape town office in South Africa.

Therefore, my job as the Consul-General (CG) has been that of goals-settings, hard work and development pursuits and my schedules have been very tasking and comprehensive.  It takes wits, competence, focus and robust partnership to deliver effectively in such sensitive assignment as this, and I am bold to say we (me and my team) are, capable and effectively positioned to achieve our given mandate.

ANM: How are you ensuring trade promotions, investments and other socio-economic drives of Swiss interests in Nigeria?

      Thank you for that question, and I will take them in sequence for elucidation and record purposes.

After South Africa, Nigeria is the Swiss second trading partner in Sub-Sahara Africa. It is a country with huge potentials, huge markets, enormous population, well endowed with natural and human resources and a respected political and economic giant in the continent and globally. With these qualifications, it is a coveted primary center for global business attractions. And like every other serious country willing to take beneficial trade advantage of these acquirements, Switzerland is obviously not left out in trade and investment partnership; and our alliances, which dated back to decades now leaves us among the priority countries Nigeria is willing to relate with.

     There are about 50 Swiss companies actively existing, and 10 new firms (which my leadership has facilitated and brought on board), doing business in Nigeria, the majority of whom have Head Offices in Lagos. By these, I mean reputable, productive and profitable-inclined firms in various business sectors adding to everyday socio-economic promotions in the state and country. But there seems to be a trade imbalance between the two countries, while Switzerland imports fuel of over $700 million from Nigeria, it’s having a direct investment of over $300million in machinery, chemicals, foods and beverages, pharmaceuticals and textiles, etc, in the country. As a country also in business, we have to correct this by scaling up trade, investment and industrialization efforts, and I am sincerely hoping that before the end of my tenure, we will achieve a favorable trade balance. In this regard and through my office, we are ensuring the entrant of new companies and the expansion of existing ones in Nigeria to shore up commercial growth and spread.

      Switzerland Consulate General in Lagos is however increasingly boosting trade, investments and socio-economic growths in Nigeria, and as the Consul General, I am constantly in consultations and contacts with top private organizations, other foreign missions and heads of governments and key officers at states, ministries and federal levels for profitable partnerships and supports of enabling and secured environments, favorable policies and support systems to ensure the growths of Swiss companies and corporate activities in Nigeria.

      Secondly, I am also in constant networks with the Swiss business community in Nigeria, encouraging and assisting them within the purview of my office on the need for increased productivity and wider spread out across the country. We have survived as a business group during Nigeria’s recession, which afforded some of us opportunities of growths in certain areas too, and now in the post-recession period, there is the need for us to take advantage of the good governance of the land while contributing our meaningful quotas too.

      Thirdly, The Consulate General in Lagos, had earlier in the year organized a ‘Nigerian Week’ in Switzerland; a working and comprehensive business initiative in the three French, Italian and German-speaking cantons of Switzerland to expose, explore and engage with prospective Swiss businessmen/women and investors to the huge potentials of business opportunities in Nigeria. The event was a huge success as we recorded over 50 New Business interests willing and ready to enter the Nigerian Markets to burgeon the numbers of Swiss commercial activities here. It was an interactive forum, where interested investors comprehensively interrelated with Swiss diplomats and colleagues in Nigeria, with assurances from them that the Nigerian clime is good and welcoming for Swiss products and services. Companies with interests in sectors such as Pharmaceuticals, Food & Beverages, Wrist-watches, Agriculture, Chemicals, and a lot more will be visiting Nigeria soon for active involvements.

In June 2018, we held the second leg of the Nigerian week in Lagos, where Swiss companies came to further explore the potentials of establishing businesses here in Nigeria. They interacted with Nigerian professionals and investors, and now, I am proud to say 10 New Swiss companies have been added to Nigeria economic sphere. It’s a milestone for us and w are not relenting on our oars.

        Fourthly, our Trade Delegation team led by Mr. Johann Schneider Amman, Minister of Economy, Education and Research visitation to Nigeria, and the positive outcomes of his visit indicated a very healthy economic interface between both countries.

Let me say, this high-level visitation was last witnessed 18 years ago by the Swiss government to Nigeria.

So Minister Ammans visit is a statement of continued friendship, deepened diplomacy and developmental ties.

Morealso, the SwissNigeria Business and Commerce chambers( SNBC) inaugurated in 2016, through my facilitation, and overseen by accomplished and highly revered Nigerian and Swiss nationals,  is a veritable and progressively moving forum advancing business growths between the two countries. And, I strongly recommend for Nigerian business individuals and groups willing to do business with Swiss to join this business platform

“Switzerland is a strong, strategic and significant partner of Nigeria; and as our government representatives here, we will continue to maintain expected representations and promote the treasured relationship enjoyed at all frontiers of growths and progress”.

ANM: What was the Consulate-Genera’sl role in the 2018 Agro foods and PlastoPrintPack event organize by the Fait-trade in Lagos and what’s your assessment of the trade exhibition?

     The Agro foods and PlastoPrintPack were organized to promote trade and investment growths, especially in agricultural related and packaging businesses. The Switzerland and German Consulates General among other stakeholders co-hosted the event held at Landmark Center in Victoria Island, Lagos, because of our burgeoning business interests in Nigeria. The need to continually find avenues to bring investors, corporate ventures and customers together became imperative and FAIRTRADE is globally doing a wonderful job in this area, so the synergy was great. It was our first time as a Consulate-General, and Swiss companies had very encouraging representations, the attendance was record breaking and the patronage was very inspiring. You also covered the event and you can see it was a success in all ramifications.

Even the cocktail reception held at the German Consulate General later in the evening of the opening session, which you were also there, was also well attended. In other words, Nigerians appreciate our efforts and this is a wake-up call not to relent in our oars. And I strongly believe next year we will do better.

ANM: Do you see the trade relationships between Nigeria and Switzerland in the years ahead?

      Definitely yes, but all the parties must continue to work hard towards it. For us a Government and People, we are on top of our game and improving by the day, and, I am also assured the Nigerian Leadership and Citizens will continue to encourage us in this alliance. This is a great and beloved country and I see greater collaborations between Nigeria and Switzerland in the days ahead.

       It is also pertinent to state that Nigerian business presence in Swiss is very low at the moment and considering the relationship we share, this can be improved on. Let me, therefore, use this forum to encourage Nigerian investors to come and invest more in Switzerland. Our nation is a very fertile and a rewarding ground for investments returns and organizational developments. It is a competitive environment, where standard, quality, honesty, hard work, and legality, among others, are determinants for corporate growths. So for any prospective Nigerian investors willing to do business in Switzerland: safety, profitability, conducive and other investment enabling factors are strong stimuli.  Let me further advice the Nigerian foreign mission in Bern to do more in these regards, by motivating and engaging more Nigerian business establishments at home and in Switzerland to increase business and other development concerns. 

      Importantly also, if we are wooing more investors to come over and do business in Nigeria, then Governments at various levels must continue to motivate us. The provision of infrastructural facilities, adequate security, stable fiscal exchanges, availability of forex, continual tackling of graft practices and ease of doing business, visa facilitation, rule of law and good-governance at all times, among several others should be constantly and adequately ensured. Nigerians also have a role to play by supporting governments laudable initiatives and programmes toward ongoing nation-building pursuits. International development stakeholders’ should also be readily available to help Nigeria achieve its Sustainable Development Goals speedily. Nigeria is a regional key stakeholder and all hands must be ready on deck to help her realize and continue her greatness.

ANM: Sir, in addition to trade what other efforts is your government contributing to Nigeria’s growths?      

      Well, it is broadly known that the Swiss Government through its foreign missions, and other private corporations and Swiss nationals living and working here are daily advancing developments in Nigeria and supporting the Nigerian governments in its progressive pursuits through numerous aids and socio-economic contributions.      

You are aware of the Swiss recent and full repatriation of the $700m looted fund from a deceased military head of state back to the purse of Nigeria, the first any foreign country will do for Nigeria. This shows the strength of solidarity of Switzerland to Nigeria, it is a categorical statement that Switzerland does not and will never support an illicit and ill-gotten wealth of the people to its land for whatever reason or guise.  Through this gesture and many others, we not only desire developments and progress for Nigeria; we are also working tenaciously working towards it.

“Swiss Consulate General in Lagos and other Switzerland representations in Nigeria have enviable track records of contributing to trade, socio-cultural, education and integrated economic developments across the nation; and through our ongoing development involvements and Social Responsibilities initiatives, we are moving forward”

Swiss presence and inputs are daily improving the lives of Nigerians in the following areas:

         On other socio-economic contributions, the Consulate General in Lagos, hosted a classical opera/cultural event at the MUSON Center, Onikan, Lagos this year, it jointly involved the participation and co-sponsored of Nigerians and Swiss nationals and firms.  

    Also not too long ago, the Swiss Consulate-General in Lagos, The Swiss embassy in Abuja, in support with the Swiss Agency for Development & Cooperation, SADC, collaborated with Development Support Institute to provided 10 Toilets facilities to Pupils & members of Anglican Pry School, Ayobo –Ipaja;  part of our social responsibilities project to meaningful addition to the lives of Nigerians.

     Our national day, held once every August 1 in our Consulate-General and Embassy is very good platforms where Nigerians, Swiss, and our various diplomatic and development friends interact in a very relaxed ambiance and this year was not an exception.

       Our embassy in Abuja is also advancing the progressive causes in Nigeria in line with the Nigerian government development drive, especially in the areas of development collaborations, security, peace-building, IDPs interventions and improvements, fund assistance, vocational programmes, and other development supports

      In terms of Cultural and Educational Exchanges, our country has one of the best educational institutions in the world, and our government helps in the provision of qualitative education, research development, scholarship opportunities, leadership and growth, conference participation amongst others for qualified Nigerians students, scientists and researchers.

       Let me also add that for genuine travelers to Switzerland, our visa refusal rate is low, we will continue to encourage productive and profitable engagements to our economy by Nigerians traveling to our nation.

ANM: How are you enjoying Lagos generally?

       Oops!! Here am I again in Lagos. When the opportunity came to start and head a consulate General here, I saw it as a challenge and took it straight on. Since, 1984 when I joined the ministry of foreign affairs in Switzerland, I have had the privileged of meritorious service in many nations of the world, such as in Frankfurt, Lagos, Beirut, Moscow and Damascus, Bosnia Herzegovina, etc. Now, I will be retiring in Lagos in a couple of years from now.

So starting and ending a diplomatic career in Lagos, is not a mere coincidence, it is one of the pointers to the fact of the great friendship and relationship existing between us a country

      Lagos is a great place to work and live in. I currently reside here with my lovely wife and with my two handsome boys who also interacts quite well here. My family is a great source of joy and inspiration for me. Lagos is therefore symbolic for me in a number of ways, because as a young diplomat this is where I technically started my journey as an envoy.

We were young then and full of vigor, we will go to the Bar-Beach and fun places around (with friends) to unwind, have fun and I will ride my power-bike around. The population wasn’t this much then, and that was well over 30 years ago. We can’t do that anymore now, we are not getting younger again, (Laugh), but we still find time to relax with friends after a busy day at work in some cozy places around.

      Let me, therefore, use this opportunity to further commend the efforts of the Lagos State Government or entrenching salutary leadership, advancing the good cause of Lagos and Lagosians. His Excellency, the Governor is rapidly changing the City-State for the better. Great initiatives are spring up every day by his government and these are progressively positioning Lagos as a global reckoning envy center. I also salute the Oba of Lagos, His Royal Highness, Eleko of Eko Oba Rilwan Akiolu, for his fatherly, peaceful and beneficial reign in Lagos.

ANM: Thank you for talking to us

      It is a pleasure talking with you and using your platform Acclaim Nigeria for promoting development and sustainability in Nigeria and beyond. Keep up the good works.

Long Live The Swiss Consulate in Lagos..! Long Live Lagos!!.. Long Live Nigeria!!