The Bangladesh High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Masudur Rahman, speaks on the trade volume between Nigeria and Bangladesh, as well as the need to increase the targets in the coming years. In this interview with Linus Aleke, the Bangladesh diplomat also talked about the bilateral relationship between both countries, among other sundry issues
What is the significance of the Victory Day celebration to Bangladesh citizens and their friends across the globe?
The victory day of Bangladesh is the day that Bangladesh was victorious from the nine-month-long liberation war that began on 26th April 1971 and ended on 16th December 1971. So, that was the day Bangladesh became independent and the victory day reflects the huge sacrifice of the freedom fighters and also the visionary and legendary leadership of the father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the four national leaders of Bangladesh then, who were also making critical decisions and the good people of Bangladesh. It was a spontaneous struggle for liberation and 100 percent of Bangali people wanted the freedom to be achieved and that is why it is very important in our lives.
What is the level of Bangladesh’s bilateral relations with Nigeria?
I spoke earlier about Bangladesh’s new constitution which is anchored on four pillars vis- democracy, secularism, nationalism, and socialism. These four corners of our constitution today resonate with the four “Ds’ of our foreign policy thrust. Democracy and demography deal with nationalism, which is the essence of value, creeds, and culture of the soil, which is encapsulated in the concept of demography that binds the whole nation, united under one flag. That is how demography and nationalism coincide. Coming back to development, another D, which is the socio-economic development, freedom from poverty, freedom from being treated arbitrarily and being equally treated with dignity, as well as economic emancipation. That was exactly the dreams of our founding fathers. That is also encapsulated in socialism, our socialism is talking about zero discrimination amongst people, free from malnutrition, and equitable distribution of resources. Diaspora which is the fourth leg is also engrained in the context of foreign policy initiative, which is very much evident in our country’s economic diplomacy and our desire for people to prosper in whatever human endeavour. That is how we can improve our diplomatic synergy with other nations of the earth.
What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Bangladesh?
The volume of trade between the two nations is not much. It is still a work in progress. We have just $75m of two-way trade between Nigeria and Bangladesh with Bangladesh exporting about $15m only and another $60m worth of products and services, are imported from Nigeria. But this can be expanded beyond many folds in diverse fields. You have seen that we are already engaged in agricultural collaborations in the context of people-to-people. There are tangible yields in the context of productivity. We are, however, hopeful that our collaboration in the agricultural field, garment and textile field, as well as pharmaceutical sector will grow. Also, the Small and Medium Enterprises SME Areas will be important key elements to deepen our economic relations with Nigeria.
You spoke about collaboration in the agricultural field, can you dwell more on that?
A Bangladesh agricultural researcher, who graduated from Mymensingh Agricultural University, and working with Bangladesh Rice Research Institute, is now working with Nigerian rice farmers in Bauchi State. He knows how rice paddy can be improved to be highly resilient and yield more per hectare as well. This can be achieved through an organic formula. Other Bangladesh agricultural experts are also working with rice farmers in Bauchi. The farmers are extremely satisfied, as testimonies from some of the rice farmers in Bauchi, reveal that a hectare that was hitherto yielding three tons per hectare is now yielding seven tons per hectare. Imagine such a success story in rice production in Nigeria. It not only enhances their productivity but makes farming profitable and attractive. We are also good in the area of delicacy vegetable production, which is good for tourism, especially hotels and the entertainment Industry. These are the areas we are currently engaging and we are optimistic that the moves would boost our diplomatic ties, in the context of people-to-people relations. Currently, we have two agricultural agreements pending, we are hoping to sign them. I also told you about twelve other bilateral agreements pending. Twelve is quite a significant number. If they are signed, you will see that the momentum of trade and collaborations in other fields will be expanded and expedited. Bangladesh will look forward in the coming years to deepen our engagement with great vigour.
What would you say are your tangible and verifiable achievements since your assumptions of office, as the Bangladesh Ambassador to Nigeria?
If you talk about achievements, I can tell that the first one is people’s awareness of Bangladesh. I had been very visible in the Nigerian media through my regular media engagement. I have also been engaging with the intellectual community and the think tank. At all levels, I had engaged extensively. I had put up my country’s version of knowledge and shared the best experience, expertise, and the kind of knowledge that we can exchange. I had openly discussed this and that has created a good understanding between Nigeria and Bangladesh at the policy and government level. There is a positive movement, a visit has taken place from Nigeria at the level of a minister. The former Minister of Digital Economy, Isah Pantami, visited Bangladesh with a seven-man delegation, and that has brought development. Another SME delegation also went, this was in addition to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who equally visited Bangladesh during the D-8 commissioners meeting as well as the visit of our senior officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Minister of Rural Development and Cooperative, also visited Nigeria, during the swearing-in ceremony of the incumbent president. There is a positive attitude at the two capitals and we are trying to engage our parliamentarians with their Nigerian counterparts to enhance and deepen their political relations. Bangladesh’s exports to Nigeria were just too insignificant at the level of $2m to $3m. Today, it has increased to $15m. More and more Nigerians are willing to patronize Bangladesh products. We are also working hard to get Nigeria’s investors to Bangladesh, we are expecting the trade volume to expand beyond $100m, in the next few years. These are the basic areas that I can say have happened. When I came to Nigeria in 2022, there were only pending four bilateral agreements. Today, no fewer than 12 are pending. You can see that a huge momentum has been put into this, it is all about making it happen. This is in addition to the elections in the two countries which delayed so many things. In the coming years, we will intensify our diplomatic ties.