Ingo Herbert, a lawyer by profession has been the German Consul General in Lagos, Nigeria since September 2015.
Born in Wolfsburg, Germany the diplomat is married with two children. Before his present station, , he had served as Deputy Head of Mission at the German Embassy in Pretoria and Tanzania.
Previous assignments include Deputy Head of Division at German Foreign Service, Ministry for Cultural Affairs in Berlin and Press Officer at German Embassy in Tel Aviv.
In this exclusive interview with AYOBAMI ADEDINNI, he speaks on the trade relationship between the Republic of Germany and Nigeria, prospects of economic growth and sundry issues.
Can you tell us about your career as a diplomat?
I am a career diplomat. I entered the German Foreign Service in 1988. I have had different postings but this is my first time of being Head of Mission. I was Deputy Ambassador in South Africa and Tanzania. I have been in the Middle East and Moscow.
By training, I am a lawyer. I have been Consul General for two years. In important countries like Nigeria, the embassy is always in the capital with the government. However, just like you have the Nigerian Consulate in Frankfurt and New York, other cities like Lagos play role as the economic capital.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, we only have a consulate in Cape Town and Lagos. We do all the consular work for Nigerians. Abuja is doing a very limited work.
How are you going about improving relationship between Nigeria and Germany?
As I pointed out, in principle you could say the political and security relations are handled by the Embassy in Abuja. In Lagos at the consulate, we focus on the economic, cultural and scientific cooperation.
For instance, for trade promotion and strengthening economic relationship, we have what we call the Delegation of German Trade and Industry but there is also the Nigerian German Business Association. So, we work very closely together to foster economic relations.
By end of September in Frankfurt, at the Nigerian German Business Forum, we hope to have at least 60 people from Nigeria
On the cultural aspect, under present funding from the German government but independent in their work. So, they are in the cultural domain and well established. Among artistes, they appreciate what they do in music. Now, more Nigerians want to learn German.
On the scientific aspect, we have the German Academy Exchange Service with scholarship offer. In all, we have about 1, 500 Nigerians studying in Germany. There are other applications as we speak, but we cannot fulfill the Visa request on time.
There is also the Deutsche Welle which is funded by the German government. They have their correspondents covering the whole West Africa here in Lagos. They are completely independent in what they do and how they do it.
For the German Academy Exchange Service, we have 2 lecturers in Ife and Ibadan. These are the focal area. We are working with the delegation to get more German companies to come to Nigeria to foster cultural exchange in both sides. We have Nigerian artistes living and working in Germany.
What are your challenges?
One is the improvement of Nigeria’s image in Germany and to get more German companies come to Nigeria again. Many were here but left during Abacha.
Although everyone knows doing business is not easy, many German businesses look first to Kenya and other countries. But also they see Nigeria because of the market. This is a major challenge. Although it remains very difficult doing business, but with the right partners, there are lots of opportunities.
We are big because we have a big consular section with many staff and then to maintain a good service we don’t outsource our visa application system, we do it ourselves. Yes, we have a reputation for being strict, we check because it is necessary due to a lot of fraud. This is also a challenge every day.
On the official level, we have the bi-national commission which meets every two years. There was a meeting last October chaired on the German side by the Foreign Minister. As you may know, we have elections on 24th September. So, there won’t be a meeting this year but next year.
They are a working group and they meet to dialogue on the Permanent Secretary level of the Foreign Ministries. This is handled mainly by Abuja.
In the last 3 years, we have seen more German companies opening offices in Lagos. Now, they come in droves to distributors. For instance, a company opened in April. You may not know the company, but you know the product, Nivea Cream.
We have about 80 German companies in Nigeria and most of them are here in Lagos. We have companies like Julius Berger, although it is no more a Germany company but it is still under German management.
What are steps being taken to ensure German companies are brought back?
The figure of German export to Africa is low compared with the rest of the world. In 2015, only 2 per cent of our export came to Africa. We are number one export nation even by passing China. My guess is Germany is currently looking at the Africa and exploring the possibility and opportunity.
You see in Nigeria for years, you were focusing on Oil and Gas for decades. You neglected the industrial base which existed before. And now Nigeria has finally realized in the business community that there is a need to diversify.
There are lots of initiatives that have been taken and it is right starting with sectors like agriculture where you can employ a lot of people, the construction sector among other. All these attract investment both local and foreign.
We have other impediments like corruption, having a functioning port infrastructure, functioning energy sector among others.
However, I would like to commend the current government on their business dialogue.
In Germany, one of our success is close dialogue between the govern net and the business community. It is very important to listen to each other.
The backbone of the German economy is not the big companies like Siemens but the small and medium sized companies. Medium sized means they have about 3000 to 5000 employees. When you mention manufacturing, Nigeria becomes interesting.
Another aspect is the automotive industry. In about 10 to 20 years, we will be talking about driverless cars. The potential is enormous. In Benin Republic, Volkswagen has started with the Assembly but on a very low level but that also depends on the conducive environment.
During unification in Germany, the East Germany’s economy was almost ruined. It took 25 years to rebuild. Of course, West Germany was richer. So, there could be transference of more than 70 billion Euro every year.
Nigeria is coming out of the recession slowly but you cannot expect a boom time again so easily. I can only advise to bring more German partners.
There are so many young people. You have to create jobs and more than 50 per cent of the population is between 15 to 25 years and they want to do something. Government should not just focus on Oil. Although the world is now going to electronic mobility, there is still need for it. We have this project in Germany to focus more on renewable energy.
By 2050, we target having 80 per cent of our energy from renewable energy. There is potential in renewable energy. This is a challenge for our very sophisticated environment. Some technology still has to be developed. You don’t have the technology.
Relationship between Nigeria and Germany
We have the Nigerian German Energy Partnership and that is included through the embassy. There are committee meetings on both sides in which energy companies are part of it. We also have Public Private Cooperation.
On the other hand, we have two focal areas. One is to support economic growth to strengthen especially SMEs business activities and technically to gather up additional funds from the European Union (EU) for the renewable energy sector to support project. There is a project of about 25 million Euro to support the project.
How vast is Germany in the world energy market?
In the Oil and Gas sector, we do not have major companies. First of all, I usually say that luckily we do not have Oil. We buy our Oil and Gas from the world market. Of course, we have Oil and Gas companies in Germany but I don’t think they are playing world leading roles.
Where Germany is involved is I guess the technology. When it comes to energy generation in renewable energy, Germany is leading. We have a very ambitious policy to develop the technology for instance on solar panel production.
We have moved to cheaper places for production but the technology is more advanced. Therefore, we are an advocate of free trade.
What’s the initiative for young Nigerians?
The implementation is with the Delegation of German Trade and Industry. We have two interesting programmes for young Nigerians. We have MAKE –IT which is specifically for startups and supported by the German government through the Ministry of Economic Cooperation.
The other thing is when people ask about the German concept. There is a vocational training which is the specialty of the German system. They are trained in the company and may be for 3 months go to school. Each of the 16 states in the Federal Republic of Germany is involved in this.
They learn about Marketing, Accounting and this system has been helping for more than 100 years.
There is also appreciation of skilled workers.
Here in Nigeria, you only look at the university certificate. A good education does not necessarily mean you only have to go to tertiary institution.
With our German Vocational training, we try several programmes. We have a German Round Table. The German Development Agency (GIZ) has a lot of training in Plateau and Enugu states. We have companies that are willing to train people and then the school system.
There are lots of young Nigerians who need a job. Companies tell me, “we need skilled workers but the candidates we receive are not well prepared for the job”. There is a need for industrial trainings. There is a lot of industrial activity in Lagos and Ogun states.
In Germany, we have about 5 per cent unemployment rate although the economy is doing very well. We have the shortage of about 200,000 skilled workers especially in the area of electronics and mechanics.
Here in Nigeria, there is so much potential. However, an environment has to be created where people can have the opportunity of using their great potential. Nigerians are open, eager and ready to take chances. They have a chance to doo something. What you need is Nigeria as a whole. I think you have a Nigerian identity. Anytime you are outside the country, you feel like Nigerians not Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo. But then, there is the need to create policies and good economic framework. You can restructure without hate speech or violence.
Corruption needs to be removed. I hope the social media can strengthen institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
For instance, if anyone is involved in Visa fraud, such is fired immediately. In Germany, if you want to be a millionaire, you enter business not politics. We know our Members of Parliament (MPs) and how much they receive.
My expectation is that you use the potential, develop the framework in all the sectors of the economy. In this day of world politics, we need more partnership and we would like to see Nigeria as one of our most important partners.
Worth of German investment in Nigeria
Trade in 2015 was 3 billion Euros. 1.8 billion euro export to Germany and 1.2 billion euro to Nigeria.
I have been in South Africa, Tanzania but I cannot travel much in the country. In Nigeria, there is so much beautiful landscape. For instance, there is insecurity in the North East. But I have been to Abeokuta,, Ibadan, Osogbo, Port Harcourt and Benin City.
But honestly, not like you will travel in South Africa or Tanzania. But in Lagos, I go out a lot. Every weekend, I try to discover Lagos. I don’t go much to the beach. I am very much a cultural person. I enjoy the country scene. I love Jazz and Afro beats. I love sports. We have a Tennis court here in the compound.