In this interview with corruptionreporter.com Correspondents Benedict Aguele and Esther Ogedegbe, The Danish Ambassador to Nigeria Jesper Kamp spoke on his experience in Nigeria and career as a diplomat and also shed more light on the work of the Danish Diplomatic Mission in Nigeria as well as the war against corruption in Nigeria.
When did you become the Danish Ambassador to Nigeria?
I was officially appointed at the end of August 2018.
How has your experience been in Nigeria?
Very good. There are many issues to handle, but that is part of the job.
What have been some of the most challenging issues you’ve handled?
The humanitarian situation in the North East, piracy and maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea and how we can contribute to the growth and positive development of Nigeria including the security situation of the country. We have also been addressing issues regarding migration, human trafficking, and many other areas, with the government.
There is plenty to do, but for all to succeed, good governance needs to be in place.
Can you tell us a little about your career as a Diplomat?
I started out in the private sector. Many years ago, about 3 or 4 years into my career, I got a call asking if I was interested in taking up a job with the Danish Government. I asked, how do you even know my name, they couldn’t say, they said if I was interested, we could start with an interview.
Then followed personality test, IQ test and other tests. At the end of it, they asked me if I would be interested in working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and offered me a position.
The employment took me straight to our mission in New York. Since then, I have amongst other been the Head of Renewal Energy and Environment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was Deputy Head of Missions in Beijing, China, after which, I was the Head of Mission in Istanbul in Turkey and here I am in Abuja, Nigeria.
Now that you are in Nigeria, what is the focus of your mission in Nigeria?
Part of our focus is the humanitarian situation and providing assistance to the efforts in the North East. We are one of the biggest donors. Danish humanitarian organizations have about 400 staff working all year round in the North East. We are a donor to the Nigerian Humanitarian Fund and have other projects in the North East.
Another focus is on piracy and maritime security offshore in the Gulf of Guinea because a large share of the terminals in Nigeria are owned and operated by the Danish company APM Terminals and approx. 50% of all commercial ships that go to the port in Nigeria are Danish.
We are continuously looking at how we can increase the bilateral trade and that is going very well, as we have several new companies establishing themselves here every year, as well as many of the existing companies, are increasing their investments.
As an example, on Monday I was in Kaduna where we launched a new project in close cooperation with the Kaduna and Federal Government. The scale of the project is for us quite big, with an estimated project cost of about 75 million euros. The project is to assist in creating a business model for nomadic herdsmen and help them make a business out of it.
The feasibility study and planning has been ongoing since 2015, so we’ve been working on it for 3 years now; this is the last phase. The project will settle 1000 herdsmen and their families and about 12.000-15.000 cows.
The settlement will focus on primary dairy production and will operate as a cooperative. Dano/Arla is the main commercial private partner in the project. All the milk that the settlement produces, will be bought at market prices, they will take it to the dairy processing plant, which is one of many means of creating jobs in Kaduna and Nigeria. Dano/Arla will distribute and sell the fresh milk to Nigerian consumers.
You talked about Humanitarian Aid, can you estimate the impact that the Danish Government has had in the North East?
I can’t say estimate isolated for the Danish government. I truly admire the work that is been done there. The solution to the insurgency may, however, be beyond military solutions. Military solutions have now been tried for ten years, without great success, unfortunately, we still have 7.1 million people displaced with 2.1 million people in camps, the situation is getting worse.
Last year, there were 6.8 million people displaced, this year it is 7.1 million. With the new approach of the military, we could even see more displaced people. Last year we had an excess of an estimated of 800.000 people who could not be accessed by humanitarians; this year we are probably talking over one million Nigerians.
I think we spend a lot of money on humanitarian aid, last year alone, to the UN Denmark had a $73 million core donation and we have 400 staffs from Danish Refugee Council and other aid and development projects. I believe we have done an impact on the humanitarian aid service, but it also seems to be a drop in the ocean, and the situation is stagnant at best.
I do believe that both the UN and Nigeria government have to think of new ways to create solutions for the insurgency and the humanitarian efforts, as the approach used in the last ten years has not proven successful in comparison to the scale of the challenge.
Coming from the outside and having been involved in other crisis, when posted to Istanbul, Turkey offered humanitarian assistance and integration to refugees from the Syrian crisis. I have never fully understood why there are over two million Nigerians in IDP camps in their own country for +10 years. It does not seem like a dignified or sustainable solution.
If you look at Syria bordering Turkey, Turkey absorbed more than 3 million refugees and with only very few being placed in camps, because camps in a prolonged crisis situation is not a sustainable solution, it is a short term solution; you come in to get registered, get ID cards, get basic health care and necessities and then go to host communities and create a new life, in your own country.
Syrians who came into Turkey were quickly resettled into the society, but in Nigeria, many of them are kept in camps and I have unsuccessfully been trying to get an explanation from many sides, why Nigerians are kept in camps in their own country. It is beyond my comprehension because it is not worthy of any person to live long-term in a camp.
I was literally crying when I recently visited some of the camps. The efforts are huge and great credit to the humanitarians; it is truly an overwhelming task to Nigeria and the International Donor society. There are more than 2 million people in camps, which is the population of many small countries.
The other part of it is when you live in a camp, you become dependent, you have nothing to do, and you have somebody giving you food, health care, sanitation, and everything. As an individual, you completely shed your dignity, you have no dignity left. What’s your purpose in life if you cannot contribute or be productive? You are just sitting around in a camp.
A follow up to that question. Part of our investigations in the North East and in the camps suggests, that the reason why this war is not ending is as a result of Service Chiefs having “something to do with it” that suggests they are making a lot of money from it themselves. We have not found the leadership of the country making them accountable for this, for example, the Chief of Army Staff tenure was extended without explanation, this would be the first time this is happening and yet there haven’t been solutions to the insurgency, what do you have to say about this?
That is a domestic issue, of course, and I believe the decision made at the discretion of the President; he most likely has good reasons to do it.
From a Danish perspective, we very much believe in rotation and sticking to the principles and guidelines stemming from experience laid out by former governments. In a Danish context, there has to be unusual conditions not to stick to the rules. It is always good when you have somebody in a post for no more than two tenures because rotation can give a new perspective of the crisis and what is going on, it gives you renewed energy and impetus.
The military approach has so far not been able to claim undisputed victory; that being said the situation is extremely complicated. My deepest respect and condolences for all of the losses of families of the victims and the military. The strategy of the last ten years has not proven successful. So, perhaps it is a time for a new approach and that could include a peace and reconciliation process, time for dialogue. I know people would question if you can have dialogue with terrorists, but this might be part of a solution. The first part of the dialogue could focus on a ceasefire agreement, in order not to lose any more Nigerian lives on the part of the insurgency.
I think Nigeria should be open to a peace and reconciliation process in the North East because while the newspapers might be stating one thing, I have recently visited and seen some of the camps and I do not think the situation is necessarily getting better for the Nigerians in the camps.
What’s your perception about the current war against corruption in Nigeria?
Denmark has been ranked number 1 on the corruption perception index on transparency international for about the last five years or so. Corruption is something that we take extremely seriously. From a Danish point of view, anything larger than a small gift is considered corruption. We recently had a case with some high ranking officials who had received an IPad as a present, they immediately got fired and are risking imprisonment. In China, when I was a posted to Beijing, the current President imposed new laws that made every Chinese citizen subject to the new government’s crackdown on corruption – named “Tiger and flies alike”. As an example, they imposed the death penalty on corruption larger than three million Renminbi, or $463,000. I do not advocate for this type of punishment at all, but there have to be consequences to corruption.
In China, the prosecution cuts across board. It doesn’t just affect low-level officials; a Mayor was incarcerated for life for corruption. It is not about political parties or factions, because for any fight against corruption to be credible, it has to make an example of those who are guilty, even if it is in your own political party, the opposition or the private sector. The government has to pursue corruption equally amongst their own ranks as they do outside if it does not, it loses all credibility, not only by the citizens but in the eyes of the world.
My impression is that the President is truly doing his best, to fight corruption and improve good governance, but he is also fighting systemic corruption in Nigeria that over decades have been embedded in society, and cannot be removed easily. The fight has to be role modeled and fully supported from the top. The President cannot do it alone, it can only be done by with the full support and a concerted effort by all of government and society. Doing it alone would be like climbing a mountain with an elephant on your back – impossible.
I have spoken with people across the board, the PDP, the APC and I believe corruption in Nigeria is one of the single biggest challenges of the country.
There is money enough to go round in Nigeria. Nigeria is a middle low-income African country. But corruption has made the distribution of the wealth extremely uneven. Corruption is not just passing money, there are many ways you can be corrupt. For instance, if I give you preferential contracts where it is not on market terms, it doesn’t have to be cash.
I recently talked to Peter Obi, who did a huge effort not only on corruption but also in good governance in his state. He told me when he came into office, there were 25 official cars for the governorship, he asked “how many cars do we use at a given time?” they said five and then he requested that the remaining 20 be sold. It might be more or less, by the point of the story is that it is an example of good governance.
Nigerians are very smart, they are innovative, talented and motivated, they will work 2 or even 3 jobs to get to the top, they will educate themselves. For all those reasons, Nigeria will come out on top, if the government gives Nigerians the basic infrastructure (electricity, roads, sanitation, internet, healthcare, etc.) to help Nigerians succeed.
Corruption money usually finds its way to bank accounts or investments abroad and therefore it does not have any positive effect on the economy of the nation; it is simply lost to society because it is not reinvested.
In 2018 we had a Nigerian delegation joining to the IACC (International Anti-Corruption Conference) in Copenhagen. Besides that, I have to admit that though we are number 1 on Transparency International, we do not have any direct concrete anti-corruption projects in Nigeria. However, we have zero tolerance in a Danish context when operating in Nigeria or the rest of the world, which means that if I or any of my colleagues have the slightest suspicion of fraud or corruption in connection with Danish activities, we have reporting duty so investigations can be carried out.
In terms of building Institutions, what do you think Nigeria can learn from The Danish Government?
This is a very good question, as no nation is stronger than its institutions that it is built upon. In Denmark, we aim to have institutions cooperate, communicate and integrate on interrelated topics because having institutions, and not work in silos as it reduces efficiency and effect significantly of any government.
As a final statement, “The true strength of a nation is measured by the strength of its institutions and not the individuals governing the institutions. If one is caught in corruption, there have to be consequences. If there are no consequences, people will keep engaging in corruption. All individuals in their respective positions are to be accountable to the system and the nation, not the other way round. There has to be accountability. Once there is accountability people will think twice before they engage in corrupt practices. Accountability, accountability, accountability, is absolutely key to fight corruption and have good governance.”