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Australia's relationship with the countries of Africa

CHAIR —I welcome the representative from the Australia-Nigeria Council. You have been sitting in the audience here for part of this morning and most of this afternoon, so I appreciate that you have been very patient in waiting to appear. You were scheduled to come on about 15 minutes ago on the original program but we have had some changes, as you would be aware, and the committee really appreciates that you have been here listening to the evidence. We have the submission which you were jointly authored with Professor Fitzgerald, who spoke to it earlier. I now invite you to make some comments and then we will go to questions. While I do not in any way want to inhibit the discussion, we do have to be conscious of time, but we will make sure you sufficient time for us to hear what you want to say.

Mr Kukoyi —Thank you, Mr Chair. Having been here in person and listened to what some of the earlier witnesses have said, I would like to say at the outset that in terms of looking for practical solutions or ways of moving forward I think people like me are a major asset to Australia. I have spent over half of my life in this country, which I have adopted as my new home, and I am one of those Nigerian-born who are in this country and who we call the Nigerians of the seventies. We were the founding Africans in this country. That is very important. Most of us who came during that time came to this country as what we called private overseas students. We came to be educated in Australia with the intention of returning but, ultimately, that did not turn out to be the case for some of us, like me. I thought in my opening remarks I should just set that straight.

The important thing I want to do is use my own life experience as a bit of a guide for the committee to understand the Africa that I want to put in a proper context. I say that because I am one of those Nigerians who are called the pre-independence babies. Some of you may be aware that this year marks the 50th or golden jubilee of Nigeria. The anniversary of that watershed in the country’s history was on 1 October, just two months ago. A lot happened over there, not many people knew that, and really unfortunate things.

Having said that, I would like to look at Nigeria pre independence and post independence, because unless one does that it is difficult to really get a grasp of why that country is where it is right now and in fact why a lot of the West African countries, in the east and some in the middle are the way they are. A lot of them look up to Nigeria, and not many people know that. Pre independence, Nigeria was a country under Britain and it was the best—no question whatsoever. Some people like to criticise Britain. I am one of their great supporters, any day. They left great institutions.

Post-independence it was unfortunate that some of those who took power I guess obviously did not really understand what governance is all about. We in Nigeria today are really paying the price. Not many people understand that but I was born there so I know in detail up-to-the-minute information I get, and I go back often. The country is paying the price of what happened 50 or 45 years ago. I think there is still more price to be paid before things can turn around, because corruption is so endemic. Mr Ruddock rightly alluded to it; I was nodding my head in agreement. For some Nigerians it is very hard pill to swallow, that it is a fact of daily life. It is from the top and it has found its way down to other aspects of the society.

The military came into power in the 1960s, about 1966, which also related to the civil war for five or so years. I was only a young boy then, yet I remember what was going on. There was a struggle over oil and Biafra wanting to secede from the rest of the country. All that is still today hanging around. It frightens a lot of people when they hear that. Nigeria’s democracy today is fairly fragile. My last trip was in April-May. There are different sections of Nigeria. Under the British regime what we had was the west-southern region, which was called west; the eastern region, which is where the oil is; and the northern region. It is important to understand the three. The west south-west is where a lot of the brains are. That is my tribe and a lot of the academics, highly educated overseas, Britain and the US, a few in Australia, a lot of entrepreneurs. The east has got a bit of that. The north is very much the Muslims, nomads, not well educated, and today they hold power in the country, which is causing a lot of problems.

So what we do at ANC, the business council, is that we are very upfront with prospective Australian investors, that if you wish to invest in Nigeria you have to be extremely careful. Yes, it is a country endowed with natural resources; there is no doubt about that. However, governance, political stability, it is stable yet things can happen anytime, as we have seen in the last few days in Cote d’Ivoire. That is not peculiar to them; it can happen in any of the African countries, and it worries a lot of people. So what we try to do through ANC these days is not only in terms of trade and investment, we are actively involved with the professionals in Nigeria, the educated ones. Two or three weeks ago a delegation came here through my facilitation to meet with the national Institute of Accountants in Melbourne and Sydney. As a CPA member myself I facilitated it, and the whole idea was to forge the kind of professional development relationship, to begin the process of equipping them with the knowledge and skills to start being the catalyst for change in that country.

We focus on Nigeria. Some people ask me, ‘Why do you?’ I say, ‘Well, I focus on Nigeria because (1) it is the most populous of the African countries and (2) in West Africa, everything that happens in Nigeria has enormous bearing on the rest of Africa; I tell you.’ I will give you an example. There is a communications company called MTN. It is South African based. Nobody knew MTN until it came into the Nigerian market. Nigeria made MTN. That is the power of Nigeria. I always say to people, ‘Love it or hate it.’ That is the power and influence of Nigeria in Africa.

What we try to do, though, is to then put that in proper context and utilise it for positive advantage. So I am involved as well in getting these professionals—which I think Professor Fitzgerald mentioned—largely in the legal sphere and in finance, banking. That is part of my training. A lot of Africans, generally speaking, are entrepreneurial, very enterprising people, but most of them lack access to capital to commence business. That is a fact. When I went back, I saw all these small businesses. Some business men and women said to me, ‘Oh, we can’t get money from the bank.’ So they struggle.

I have been trying to talk to some of the people in the finance sector here about coming to set up, in some of the African countries, access to finance for some small businesses. A lot of women suffer a great deal. I saw that firsthand myself. Recently, I connected two of the women that came on the panel, two or three weeks ago now, with a group called JERA, Justice Equality Rights Access. They do work with women in different parts of the world to empower them through small business ventures. These two women who were on the accounting delegation were so delighted, they felt so relieved, that that could happen. It was not part of the agenda, though another colleague of mine, while they were here, brought it to my attention. I went, ‘Hey, let me see what we can do,’ so we connected them, and I think from there they have kept contact since they returned, about a week and a half ago now.

These are some of the things we are doing in a real, practical sense. That is the kind of person I am. That is the entrepreneur in me. I was with another Nigerian partner of mine. We started the first-ever African business in Queensland back in the early eighties. In terms of trading with Australia, when I saw the terms of reference for the committee, I would not have thought the committee would be aware of such a thing. All we did back then was import a lot of crafts from Africa, and in fact we created a lot of employment for some people back then. We were importing from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, though the two of us were Nigerians. Of course, the reason was that we could not get a reliable supply source in Nigeria. Ultimately, the business ceased to exist in about 1987 because of lack of supply. There were moments when we were out of stock in the shop, incurring rent and—what can I say?—we could not get goods in. It was quite frightening. So I have had firsthand experience with this kind of stuff on the ground level.

If I were to do any kind of ranking in terms of the challenges facing not just Nigeria but the continent in totality, I would put governance transparency as No. 1. But then closely aligned with that is the issue of poverty. A lot of the—

CHAIR —I am sorry to interrupt, Mr Kukoyi. I do apologise. Hopefully, you will be able to continue your comments, but I am just conscious of the fact that a couple of committee members have indicated they have planes booked that they have to catch. I really do apologise, because you have been waiting for quite some time. I need to go to Dr Jensen, so we will keep going and maybe through the answers you can raise the other issues.

Mr Kukoyi —Sure, no problem. Thank you.

Dr JENSEN —Thanks. You probably heard me pose this question to Professor Fitzgerald earlier. In Africa, people who are publicly stating they believe that processes are being put in place to remove corruption are in fact paying lip service to Western concerns, and they state privately, ‘This is Africa; this is how it’s done.’ They are almost perplexed when the corruption issue is raised. This issue is corrosive and the greatest inhibitor to progress in Africa, in my view. How can the corruption issue best be addressed, in your view?

Mr Kukoyi —It is a huge challenge. I think it will have to start from the professional people we are dealing with, to be honest—and I have just come from a Chartered Secretaries conference on corporate governance and all that, on the Gold Coast. I think it is best addressed by educating or re-educating the educated Africans who are in the system and very frustrated. There are those who want to see progress, but they feel they have no ability to effect change. That is what I see. It would also take concerted efforts from people like me, Africans in diaspora, and we would need to be very committed to openly campaigning about it. It is going to be unpalatable to some of the countries, dare I say.

In January this year, I was on national television in Nigeria, on a program watched by, I think, about 100 million people, and I raised this issue. Two journalists interviewed me, insisting that it was a legacy of the colonial era. I said: ‘No, it’s not. The colonial era was 50 years ago. You’re not telling me that, 50 years on, that can be justified? No way.’

So, going back to what I said earlier, people are going to have to pay a price. Honestly, this is very serious. I cannot agree with you there in totality, because there is a high price to pay in effecting that change. I do not have a manual that outlines the steps. I can see that it would take changes at the top. Some leaders have to be removed. I know that people on the ground level want to do the right thing, because I deal with a lot of people on the ground and I have family and relatives over there. They just want to be able to get jobs, employment, to enable their families to survive, and they find they cannot. There is so much national wealth, but they do not see it. These are the real issues.

So, when people go into Africa and say they want to invest—the mining rush, I call it—I am a bit sceptical. I met some of them at this conference—which is still going on today; I could not hang around—and some of them are my professional colleagues. I asked: ‘How can you invest in a system that is this crooked? You tell me.’ ‘Oh, we are going to work to Australian standards.’ Remember, one of the committee members asked the question of Mr Angwin, I think it was. To me it makes no logical sense. ‘Are you going to perform to Australian standards?’ Well, Australian standards only apply here in Australia. There is always the temptation to not perform to Australian standards when you are in a different setting, a setting that has no standard—or, if the standard is there, it is only on paper; there is no will to enforce it. These are the real issues.

Dr JENSEN —Thank you.

CHAIR —I might follow that up, but Ms Parke is next. I was thinking as I was listening to you that you are very passionate about your home country and the problems it faces, and this committee has had a lot of comment in evidence and submissions about the issue of corruption. I do not in any way wish to dispute that directly, but do you think there is a case for trying to be positive about how we look at Africa? In other words, it seems that maybe we single out the continent as if it is just the one stark example of widespread corruption. I can think of at least one of the major economies of this world, a former Eastern European country, about which, if you pick up any newspaper or any magazine in this country on any day, you will read opinions, evidence, about systemic corruption at senior levels of government, including increasingly through their resource industries.

Mr RUDDOCK —It does not make it excusable.

CHAIR —Hang on; I am not saying it is excusable. That country is Russia. I suppose what I am putting forward here is: are we applying standards and adopting a position with respect to relationships with the continent of Africa that we refuse to or do not adopt in relations with a range of other countries because either they are well established or they are First World or Second World countries? Again, that is a commentary, but it seems to me—and it is not the old argument that because we do it here we should do it there. Rather, we have to recognise at the end of the day that many of these countries of Africa are over 50 years old, but that is not a long time in terms of Western development.

Mr Kukoyi —That is true.

CHAIR —When you have huge examples of corruption that existed in the US recently, with Bernie Madoff, you start to think, ‘Hang on; how precious’—

Mr RUDDOCK —Is he in jail?

CHAIR —He is in jail, but he was also allowed to operate for a heck of a long time. Sorry.

Mr Kukoyi —Chair, I think the only remark I would like to make on your comment is that the situation in Africa is that the continent is the least in the position to afford the depth of corruption. That is the point. That is it.

CHAIR —But it seems it is also in the situation where it is maybe the least capable of itself, in many countries, doing anything to correct it—

Mr Kukoyi —That is right.

CHAIR —which is why they need outside assistance.

Mr Kukoyi —That is correct.

CHAIR —It seems to me that we have to be careful that we do not end up in a situation where people say we should cut off or we should not try and do something about this in any real sense because it is too corrupt—

Mr Kukoyi —No, I would not propose that at all.

CHAIR —because that is not going to get us anywhere.

Mr Kukoyi —Yes. I would not propose that at all. Definitely yes.

Ms PARKE —I have a couple of questions. About 15 years ago, the great Nigerian author Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged after a sham trial by the military regime. The Shell corporation had been implicated in that case and suffered severe reputational damage from that. Do you think that these days foreign resource companies operating in Nigeria have learned that lesson from Shell and adhere to better corporate social responsibility? Or is it still—

Mr Kukoyi —In regard to that, I will say: maybe no. The reason is this. My uncle in fact was the founding father of the oil industry. You may have seen his name. Everybody knows his name. He was the former managing director—retired now—or CEO of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the NNPC. Until today in Nigeria, no-one can give the country the exact number of the barrels of oil that go out of that country—as we are talking right now. That is how endemic this level of corruption is.

When I read the Nigerian High Commissioner’s submission to committee last year, I was so disappointed to the extent that we rang him—not just me but the remaining members of the executive—to register our concern. We were told that we were being brainwashed. With all due respect, you are trying to paint a picture but have you seen the poverty in the country that is endowed with so much wealth? I personally support about 40 to 50 people over there with my income here because they cannot get jobs. To say that some people have learnt a lesson from Shell, we say that is wrong. There is a quartet there: Shell, AP—which was BP but was taken over by AP, African Petroleum—Chevron and Exxon Mobil. It is a cartel. They dictate what happens in that country on the oil front. I have spoken to some of the accountants privately and they said to me that everyone is wondering what to do about this quartet. Part of what I have been saying is about the huge price the country has to pay. It is going to have to happen somehow.

Ms PARKE —Thank you for that answer. What role can the Nigerian diaspora play in improving relations between our countries and in influencing our trade and aid policies?

Mr Kukoyi —That is where a lot of our focus is. Working with Professor Fitzgerald—who happens to be my former law professor—we are in the process of putting together groups of individuals who believe in this quest. You have to believe in it, but it will be a long haul. There is no doubt about that. It is not going to happen overnight. Since I made contact with some of the Nigerian professionals, there is a new sense of enthusiasm which is heartening me a lot and I think the other members of the executive. We think that maybe there is a ray of hope. I think that most of them had given up hope that there is a solution to this huge problem. It is actually hard to quantify the problem because it has so many aspects to it. It is crippling the nation. I am not too ashamed to face up to the truth.

If you ask the Nigerian High Commissioner what the unemployment figure in Nigeria is, he would not talk about it. There is a long queue of graduates. Our country has produced so many graduates but there is no employment in Nigeria for them. Incidentally, a lot of Nigerian graduates are now in South Africa, so most of them are working. The manufacturing sector in Nigeria was completely crippled. These are some of the issues I raised in the interview of national TV. Not everyone would be able to say the things I said, I guess. I was able to say it partly because my family name is known, so maybe people think I can be tortured only so much. But there are some others who could not say what I said, to be honest, though they would like to say it. People in my position who can exert influence to effect change will do it. I say to the committee: I am at your disposal. If you need me in any capacity to facilitate what you are doing, I will make myself available. I have contacts who are very influential people on the continent. But this will be a long haul. There are no short-term, quick fix solutions.

I have a lot of Tanzanians, Kenyans and Ugandans coming to me. Their countries are not much different. They are facing similar things, though maybe not to the same depth. They have resources—there is gold, I think, in Tanzania, and titanium, which is being exploited by Chinese and Indians. The Tanzanians do not know what quantity of it goes out. So they come to me and ask, ‘Ade, can you help us?’ I actually feel privileged. But my next question of course is: how do we go about it? So there are a lot of issues.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thanks very much for coming along and sharing your obvious expertise and knowledge with us. There are a million questions I would love to ask you but time is not going to let me so I will confine myself to one question. You were saying right at the beginning that Nigeria comprises different groups in different parts of the country. It raises the question about Nigeria and perhaps other countries across Africa of whether these are really countries in their own right or whether they are just lines drawn on a map by Europeans a couple of hundred years ago. Would you see further fragmentation of the existing states of Africa, and would that be good or bad? What would you see as the future of Africa from a governance point of view?

Mr Kukoyi —That is a very important question that I think underlies a lot of issues. In terms of the regions: yes, there were pre-existing kingdoms. Where I come from was the Yoruba kingdom. The Yoruba were in the south-west; in the east were the Igbo and in the north the Hausa.

The Yoruba—I will share this with you; it is very important—want to go their own way, because they are so skilled. I am one of them. I am not saying they should go their own way yet, but they believe they will survive on their own, and there is no doubt about it—they are so skilled and educated. They have got everything that the nation requires to really self-sustain.

They also believe that other areas of the nation are drawing them back. For example, the north—they really have nothing there, to be quite honest, and they are the ones creating a lot of instability in the country. The Muslims—because most of the Yoruba are Christians: Catholics, Anglicans or whatever—have a lot of influence from the Middle East. Even right now—it may not be reported internationally but I can tell you this because my younger brother works and lives there in the north—there is always a tremor waiting to just erupt. They do not believe in governance. They are nomads—very different.

So, to answer your question: I would say that, as in most African countries—I will be very honest—the democratic institutions they have right now are quite precarious. That is what we are seeing in Cote d’Ivoire right now. It could happen in Zimbabwe; it could happen in Kenya.

I think ultimately it is only a matter of time in some of those nations. That is what happened with Eritrea and Ethiopia. That is more recent. I think ultimately it will happen, to the extent that some groups feel severely disadvantaged by others who are maybe not willing to work together cooperatively in the national interest. They will probably say, ‘Okay, you go and we’ll go and let’s manage each other’s countries’—or whatever name they are going to call it—‘separately.’ I think there is a real prospect of that happening. It is a question of when. I really do not know.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Will that be better or worse, do you think, in the longer future?

Mr Kukoyi —Let me look at the positive side. I think those groups that are well organised to tackle the challenges of a nation-state will be okay. It touches on an issue I raised in a television interview: some people really do not know whether they want to be here or there. They need to decide. As Australians would say, they do not know whether they are Arthur or Martha. You have got to decide. If you do not, then it seems to me that you get to a fork in the road and you are stuck. At that point, you can actually make the nation stagnate. I think it is happening in a lot of African countries right now.

CHAIR —Time has beaten us unfortunately, but if there are other comments that you would like to have made to us today by all means write to us with any additional observations and comments. Please send those through to the secretariat and we will certainly welcome them. Thank you for being very patient and for taking an interest in our proceedings. This is the first major inquiry of any committee of this parliament, for a long, long time, that has looked at the African continent in a broader way and in an intensive way. One of the things that we have heard back from many witnesses is that it has provided an opportunity for a lot of people in Australia—in universities, in business, in the diaspora, in a whole range of areas—to appreciate, as we have, that a lot of people in Australia have an interest in, an involvement in and a focus on Africa and Australia-Africa relations and issues right through. That has given us and them an opportunity to build more networks and hopefully will encourage organisations like yours and others to make those further contacts and increase our understanding, which is what we are about. Thank you very much for your appearance. All the best for Christmas and New Year to you, to the other witnesses and to my colleagues.

Mr Kukoyi —Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you to Hansard as well, and best wishes to them too.

Resolved (on motion by Ms Parke):

That this committee authorises publication of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 4.44 pm