I arrived in Canberra, Australia on 19th May 2021 to commence my tour of duty as the High Commissioner of Nigeria to the commonwealth of Australia, with concurrent accreditation to New Zealand, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. During this period, the world was of course experiencing its largest disruption since World War II in every facet of human endeavour, the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic has therefore caused damaging effects on economies and public life. While many countries in the world are facing severe dilemma and difficulties on revitalizing their national economies, developing economies most of whom are not particularly benefiting from the global economy are completely overwhelmed.
With this background on my mind, I set out to plan on how best to broaden the bilateral relations between Nigeria and Australia and the other Nations in the Pacific Region. The fact is that trade relations with this region is negligible and much has to be done to improve this. One area that has developed probably independent of government is the Education sector. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian students are undergoing various programmes in many Universities around the world. Some on scholarship, while the vast majority are on private sponsorship.I therefore thought that the first priority might be to strengthen educational collaboration between Nigeria and Australia. Australia’s educational system is highly developed as can be expected and Nigeria has a lot to learn and emulate. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Education sector employs nearly 8% of Australian workers, it is the fourth largest export earner, after coal, iron ore and natural gas, bringing in around A$16 billion in 2013/14 and up to A$40 billion in 2019. No wonder, the opportunities abound everywhere in the country and Nigerians continue to excel in them.
Having realized the paucity of information on the investment opportunities and incentives that exist in both countries, I therefore developed a plan of action on education amongst others, which I prefer to call ‘Partnership for Tomorrow’. First, we have to note the challenges faced by our country on education especially funding, then find a fulcrum through which we can connect the country with international sources of finance or support to protect and provide quality education for our teeming youths. That is a huge challenge. However, at a primary level, I am creating linkages with many Australian universities including Torrens University Australia, Tafe Queensland, Australian National University, Charles Darwin University, University of New England etc. Through strengthened collaboration and partnership with the Ehizua Education Hub, incidentally owned by a Nigerian, Mr. Mathias Ehizua, further partnerships are being developed with these institutions including the University of Technology Sydney, EMEA Kaplan Business School and others to attract direct foreign investment in education in Nigeria. The idea is to encourage partnership with Nigerian universities to drive student and teacher exchanges, scholarship, training and exchange of best practices, joint research programmes and support. I am proud to say that these engagements are bearing some fruits.
Additionally, we are also working on a proposed partnership between the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the University of New England in New South Wales. I am hoping that this will be tied up soon so that it can form the basis for other institutions to also benefit. The Enugu State University of Technology has also expressed interest in discussing a partnership agreement with any interested Australian University. We need these sorts of collaboration to increase the capacity of our higher institutions especially as our country does not yet have a university ranking among the top 200 universities globally. With our size, economy, diaspora, international students, this is a misnomer. Nigeria has the highest number of students from Africa studying abroad. This is verifiable and I have seen this throughout my working experience in the United States, China, Europe and Australia. I am therefore working on midwifing an agreement between Nigerian and Australian Ministries of Education for enhanced cooperation and engagement. Partnership would be needed to support educational development especially to address future-oriented skill development, training and improve research methodologies in our relevant institutions.
In line with the above, the High Commission under my stewardship is organising a summit titled ‘Nigeria/Australia Business Summit’ in July 2022. The summit will take place in Canberra and Melbourne under the following thematic areas: Mining, Education, Agriculture, Technology and Tourism. The summit will provide a platform for an enlightened discourse on the numerous investment opportunities in both countries and how to leverage on them for mutual benefits. The idea is to create knowledge and visibility for Nigeria as an investment hub in Africa and unlock the numerous investment opportunities that abound there. The Mission will explore the holding of these sorts of summits in all the countries of the Pacific as well as replicating the Nigeria/Australia Senior Official Talks in these countries. In fact, there is so much to do.
When people say that Nigerians have an incurable desire for success, I think I understand where this is coming from. As the saying goes ‘Naija no dey carry last’. Imagine Nigerians leaving their country and traveling about 13,947 km just to achieve a goal. It’s not for the faint hearted but trust Nigerians, they will always take the bait. I am therefore a very proud High Commissioner here in Australia due to the exploits of our brothers and sisters. Many of them are breaking new grounds, making a name for themselves and indeed Nigeria. I have visited at least 5 Australian States, aside New Zealand and Fiji and the successes and accomplishments of Nigerians in these shores speak of our staying power, brilliance and the unique zeal to work hard and achieve success no matter the challenges. I have also met Nigerian students who are excelling in their academics, pursuing various degree and Ph.D. programmes. Mr. Olabanji Odunsi Osinubi invariably comes to my mind and stands out. A brilliant Nigerian student, who studied two Professional Accounting Graduate programmes within the same academic year at Torrens University Australia. This is who we are, and there are many Olabanjis in other Universities here. There is also Mr. Cornelius Azolibe, a 25-year-old Nigerian who arrived Australia at the age of 14 and now a flying officer-recruit with the Royal Australian Air Force. His pride and accomplishment can be seen with his countenance and the Nigerian seriousness he displays at work. In other Pacific countries, our light continues to shine and may it never dim by the grace of God. In New Zealand, Grace Nweke, a towering shooter with the Northern Mystics netball team, has made a meteoric rise from a student in 2019 to a training partner and a fulltime member of the team in less than three years. In 2021, she set a new ANZ Premiership scoring record and has become a star with her technical ability and strength, displaying a true Nigerian spirit, which is indeed unique.
I also recall with excitement while presenting my Letters of Credence to the President of the Republic of Fiji, His Excellency President Ratu Williame Maivalili on 22nd March 2022, I met some exceptional Nigerians in the country. One of them who I can only mention here due to space constraints was Professor Paul A. Iji, currently the Dean of the College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at the Fiji National University (FNU). He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of New England, Australia and University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He has been involved in teaching and research in several areas of animal science, including nutrition and animal production systems and has published more than 150 journal papers and presented over 180 conference papers. Recently, he was listed among the top 2% of more than 8 million researchers globally.
Professor Olasoji Ajibulu is another person I am proud of, a retired but not tired Associate Professor in Medical Radiation Physics and a former Head of the School of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences of the Fiji National University. The brilliant Professor still represents the Republic of Fiji on many national and international assignments. I found him very useful when I presented my Letters of Credence to the host government. His name opens the way for you while in the Republic.
However, one common decimal that continues to ring from all these people in the diaspora is their desire to be involved in nation building and the political process, so they continue to wonder why some of them are not involved in contributing to the acceleration of our national development like many other countries are doing. This is also a bridge that we will cross together soon, to fast track our efforts towards national development. Indeed, Nigerians are ubiquitous and contributing positively in all human endeavour.
Ambassador Madubike is the High Commissioner of Nigeria to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific.