Sweden Ambassador to Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroun and ECOWAS, Carl Michael Gräns, was recently in Lagos to inaugurate the Sweden Consul office. In this interview with NGOZI EGENUKA, he spoke on Swedish-Nigeria businesses, security and others.
What can Nigeria learn from Sweden given to answer its current security challenge?
That is difficult, because we have challenges in Sweden too. It used to be a very safe country, but now we have challenges like many countries in Europe and all over the world. The Police structure is crucial in this regard. In Nigeria, you have a Federal police, but state don’t have. I have met many governors looking for a possibility to have state policing system. This is purely a Nigerian issue, but I can see that the police is part of this process. In a longer term, you need to focus on socially political elements. Livelihood for people, education, women empowerment, gender equality, these are very general issues and the basis for the future society. If people have good livelihood and education, they usually don’t rob or kidnap people.
In what ways can Nigeria strengthen its democracy?
We are all struggling with democracy. It’s not something that is fixed. Nigeria’s election is next year, and we could see people already preparing for it. It’s natural that people, especially, media, focus on personalities. When it comes to election, however, I hope that there are more discussions about politics than personalities. What do we want to do with the country? What do you want to develop? We can see these same problems in Swedish newspapers, mostly. We like the political game, but the voters are not interested in the game, but make their choice based on how government can improve their daily living.
As you have opened a consulate in Lagos, does that mean there will be more travels to Sweden from Nigeria?
I hope so. The reason is to get closer to each other, and hopefully, we will achieve that. You know we just came out of the pandemic and the travel restrictions are being lifted. The COVID-19 restrictions in both countries have also made it difficult to do business. So, what we are doing today is part of the recovery post pandemic.
What was the trade between Nigeria and Sweden like in 2021?
I don’t have the figures yet, but it was low because of the pandemic. My impression when talking to companies suggests that we are doing pretty well, even with the pandemic. They found ways to move on. They seem to be positive with the outlook for 2022.
Last year, there were lots of conversations around clean energy and smart city ways in Lagos, what has been done on that?
I just met with the governor of Lagos State, and he is engaged in so many projects. Lagos is a big city and so much is ongoing. It also has many challenges in the area of traffic and waste management. That was one of the topics in the Nordic Nigeria Connect last year. We wanted to showcase Swedish and Nordic companies who are successful in these areas.
Aside from clean energy, what other areas of collaboration do you have with the Nigerian government?
It’s really about the companies. I am a representative to the government and I try to represent companies, which are privately owned. They have special competencies in certain areas and they have Swedish thinking when it comes to the environment and social development. Some look into energy and how to produce it in a friendly way. We also have trainings for female drivers. This kind of broad thinking is typical of Swedish companies. They don’t just deliver a product and leave, they think of a broader picture, and look for ways to empower others.
What’s the focus of the bilateral trade between Nigeria and Sweden?
We have had a trade relationship between the countries since Nigeria’s independence. Some of the companies present came in the 60s and 70s. Then we have new sectors coming. For the last years, I would say Education and Technology (Edtech), Fintech, HealthCare. It is quite interesting to see new sectors of cooperation coming. We are broadening our economic and commercial relations. When it comes to Nigeria exports to Sweden, it has been mainly oil, but we want to diversify and see more products exported like fashion.
What are the goals of your embassy in the country this year?
I want to continue my cooperation with different states in Nigeria and support the development of cooperations and hopefully make more business in the future. We also want to support youths and startups. Most of the new startups are owned by young people. Sometimes, Swedish-Nigerians, who met probably in school and started companies.
Is gender equality a priority for the Swedish government?
Yes. We think that society cannot develop and prosper without women being involved. They are halve of the population and could be halve of economic growth. So, gender equality is one of the basic platforms for a prosperous society. For instance, a Swedish company, Oriflame, before the pandemic, had more than 40,000 Nigerians (women mostly) selling the products and earning money for themselves. That is also economic female empowerment.
Was there a rise in number of Nigerians going to Sweden within the last two years?
The number of Nigerian students is growing yearly and we want that to continue because young talented Nigerians are getting educated and some of them start companies and go back to Nigeria. So this is also about social development, not only economic, in a broader perspective.