Nigerian Tribune Interview
When you see a man who is brilliantly excelling in any duty post, that person’s success may not be because of his intellectual capacity or capability to harness logistic alone. There must also be a judicious admixture of passion.
Passion was what the Tribune Tourism Magazine ‘s crew of Wale Ojo-Lanre and Wale Olapade found written all over The High Commissioner of Malaysia in Nigeria, His Excellency, Nik Mustafa Kamal Nik Ahmad, when he granted an interview at the moderately furnished Malaysian House, located on Rio Negros Close, off Yedseram Street, Maitama Abuja.
Nik Ahmad is a journalist’s delight any day. Cool, calm and collected. He logically and sequentially responded to our questions without any ill feelings, no matter how sensitive and provocative the question might be.
“Your country seems to be ruled by wicked people who enact wicked laws, one of which stipulates hanging as a sentence for drug traffickers.”
Instead of him raking on you, the amiable Ambassador would take you on an expository journey of the consequences of the activities of drug traffickers.
The soft-spoken diplomat has a robust understanding of Nigerian and its people “You see, Malaysia and Nigeria are Siamese twins, but the difference is that, one is in West Africa and the other in East Asia.”
And throughout the interview, we could see in him the passion and emotional attachment to the values, culture and norms of his country with equal respect and regard for Nigeria.
He patiently, with the candor and mannerism of a debonair diplomat, discussed how tourism became the number two revenue generator in Malaysia. The issue of Islamic banking, expected behavior of travelers to Malaysia, the drug issue and its attendant consequences, why Malaysia has over 118 airports and their vision of making Malaysia the 20th economy in the world.
By the time you finish reading this interview, you will agree that Nigeria needs to learn and do thorough peer review with Malaysia. Excerpts:
YOU have spent almost two and half years here in Nigeria. You must by now have an impression about your host country?
Yes. I do. Nigeria is a great and wonderful country blessed with innumerable resources and stocked with a mass of pristinely intelligent people. We have a lot also to learn from each other. The reality is that Nigeria and Malaysia share a lot in common. In fact, I used to say they are Siamese twins but unfortunately, however, one is surviving in East Asia and the other is coping in West Africa. Both have the same colonial experience. They both belong to many international associations .Their history of formation is the same. They are countries of mega-diverse cultural and multi-linguistic entities. So we have a lot to learn from each other.
But despite all these diversities, Malaysia seems to be more united than ever?
It is a function of governmental structure and determination to survive together. As I told you, Malaysia is a country of 27 million population, made up of 13 states and three federal territories. We have on ground a federal constitutional monarch. The monarch takes care of the ceremonial aspects of country while the Prime Minister takes care of the running of the government business. In Malaysia, despite the fact that we have different languages, different culture, different ethnic groups, different nationalities, different religions, we never allow these to becloud our sense of reasoning as one indivisible people with a common destiny, hope and vision, while our government functionaries harp on those factors that harmonize us rather than fanning embers of disunity. We realized that in unity we stand. We never allow mutual suspicion or ethnic jingoism to rule our national psyche and/or as determinant factor in appropriation of issues, assets or consideration. It is also in our sub-consciousness that many nations that were hitherto strong and enviable some decades ago are now broken down to smaller territories now.
We don’t want Malaysia to be so. Hence, we daily see those things that unite us, and what we have to gain being united. Malaysia will like to be like Switzerland, not like the former USSR, Ceylon, or like the defunct Yugoslavia or the latest, Sudan. You can see the terrible consequences of fragmentation. We don’t want that in Malaysia and I don’t think it is expedient for any country. Our mega diversity is our pot of unity. And we will defend it till eternity.
Malaysia is one of the first; if not the first, Islamic countries to be called a developed economy. What is the miracle?
It is true. Malaysia achieved this through proper planning, vision-driven strategy and prompt response to diversification. Our vision is to become one of the first 20 economies in the world. Hence, anything we set our minds on, we implement to the letter. This is why we launched our own vision 2020 in 1990. We have not derailed. Also, our ability to read the global economy in the early 80 which forced us to diversify our revenue generation factors, helped us a lot.
You know that in the pre and early post independence, Malaysia was world’s No 1 producer of rubber and tin, but we realized that to lead the world as intended, we must do some extra work. We then diversified into the manufacturing of electronics, and tourism.
As of today, manufacturing is the highest revenue earner for the country, followed by tourism, then petrol, palm oil and timber.
Then what happened to tin and rubber?
You know in the early 80s, there was this economic recession which affected the prices of tin, rubber and oil. As we set ourselves a goal of becoming no 20 of the world economy, we decided to diversify. So we embarked on massive development of the manufacturing sector with specialization in electronics and electrical. We also realized the enormous potentialities in the tourism sector. We quickly commenced the development of the infrastructure necessary for the enhancement of the tourism sector. Nigeria too is heavily blessed with a lot of tourism potentialities. Now, because of the insight and strict adherence to policy implementation, tourism is the second revenue generator for Malaysia, second to manufacturing, while oil takes a distant third followed by palm oil, timber and others. And I want to tell you that 20 million tourist visited Malaysia in 2010.
So what happened to tin and the mining gorges?
This was where creativity and seriousness came into play. In other countries where heavy mining activities were carried out, the gorges and lakes created environmental problems, but do you know what? We turned all of them into resort sites and tourist attractions. The large mining lakes that have continued to attract massive inflow of tourists all over the world are in Malaysia. That is through tourism. We turned sites that should been liabilities and environmental hazards into money making, wealth creation, employment generator sites.
Also, these former mining sites are now locations for Bollywood film makers. In fact, James Bond, Ian Flemings, shot one of his films in our country.
I am using this opportunity to call our Nollywood giants to visit Malaysia and use the resorts as locations to shoot films. It will be interesting also to let you know that some of the medical tourism sites which Malaysia is famous for are also planted within the mining sites!
So how did other resources fare?
We did not relegate any into the background. We also tuned them inward; to keep the industries working, That is why we have been able to reduce the poverty level and unemployment drastically. Let it be known that any country that exports its minerals and material resources in the crude and raw form may never grow and developed rapidly. In Malaysia, we processed all our mineral and materials resources. No timber leaves our shores without being processed. The tin is not only processed but used to produce our ancestral sword, which some Malays hold so dear to their hearts. Imagine what the scenario will be, if Nigeria processes all its exports commodities? This would drastically reduce the poverty level, inflation, unemployment, dearth of fund, and increase the GDP.
Let’s go back to tourism. What is the miracle?
We had a clear vision of what type of tourism we wanted. We realized that we are in the middle of great countries; Singapore, Jakarta, Manila, Vietnam, Brunei. These countries attract a deluge of tourists and travelers. These tourists used Malaysia as a transit post. We decided to tap into this, if only to just attract and lure five per cent of these tourists.
So, our government embarked on tourism promotion taking cognizance of the 3S of tourism, Sun, Sand and Sex. These we don’t desire. We now focus on the rain forests, some of which are over 130 million years old, national parks, where we have the largest numbers of ancient elephants, tigers and orangutan, which is only found in Malaysia. Also since we don’t have the pyramids like Egypt, nor the Taj Mahal like India, we have the people, the Portuguese, the Chinese, the Indians and others whose mode of living are unique and interesting. We packaged and promoted our Home Stay Program, whereby an international tourist, even city dwellers, would visit and stay with the rural dweller in their homes and do things the way they do.
What are the tourism incentives?
Tourism is about infrastructure. It is about promotion. It is about packaging. With our 27 million population, we have 118 Airports, six are international. We have 22 seaports and harbors and road network that covers 98,721 kilometers (61,342 mi) and includes 1,821 kilometers (1,132 mi) of expressways. (The longest highway of the country, the North-South Expressway, extends over 800 kilometers. We generate 24,00 megawatts whereas we need only 20.We also keep our road sane. Road repairs are carried out in the night, not during the day time. And during the peak hours, long vehicles and articulated trucks are barred from entering the city which is from 6- 10 am and 4-6pm.
Let’s talk about Nigerians in Malaysia. How many are in jail?
I do not know how many Nigerians are in jail in Malaysia. There are many Nigerians in Malaysia. Last year alone, we issued over 12,000 visas. Right now, over 7000 are studying in various institutions. Sometimes, there is a problem of identity assumption. For instance, last year, there was a report that a Nigerian committed suicide in a hostel. When I read the news, I quickly made an investigation into the case. I was surprised to find out that the deceased was not a Nigerian but a Guinean! However, I was also embarrassed last year when another report came out that a Nigerian had been kidnapped by another Nigerian, both of them students. When I looked into the issue, I found out that it was a fact! It was like a set up by one of them to farm more money from his rich parents. The majority of the few Nigerian bad eggs in Malaysia are from well to do families who resorted to misbehavior out of indulgence. For I don’t see the justification; why some parents will be paying their children over a thousand dollars every month in a country like Malaysia It is too much. There is no way such a student will not misbehave.
There is this issue of Islamic banking which is a little controversial. What is your view on this?
There should be nothing controversial in this issue of Islamic banking, which I will say is good for Nigeria. I understand the fact that people might be uninformed or have too little knowledge of its operation. What we should try to do is for everybody to have an open mind on the issue and then look at the inherent advantage and opportunities in the system before we say 1234. Islamic banking should not be confused with religion. It is a process of banking being conducted in line with the way of Allah. Allah, the most compassionate, the beneficent, the merciful, who abhors exploitation. If we are sincere with ourselves, the formal banking system is heavily exploitative, pro–rich, and breeds poverty when it comes to lending and granting credit facilities.
This is because, one, the banks charge interest; two, the interest rate is often too high. Three, there must be collateral, which you have to forfeit in case you did not make profit; four, profit or not, the bank will collect the agreed interest. But in Islamic banking, the bank will lend you money to execute a project or finance a business without any interest. The business must not be those against Islamic injunctions. The bank will not leave you to your fate as it will be a participant in the business. The profit will be shared at the end of the day. And if there is no profit you will not forfeit your property or anything personal effect or loss, which you did not plead in the first instant because there is no collateral needed in this form of credit facility. Allah is against exploitation not dividends.
But you said ‘the business must not be against Islamic injunction is that not infusing religion into it?
Well. It is simple. I am a Muslim and you want me to participate in a concern that it is against my faith, I will not. For instance, asking me to finance or participate is such enterprises that promote prostitution alcoholism, piggery and others. This is not a new concept.
Your country is having one of the crudest penalties for drug trafficking, that is death by hanging. Don’t you think it is high time for change?
To the ordinary fellow on the street who does not appreciate the consequences of drug trafficking. It will look so. But to us who know the import of these acts, we cannot treat the offender with kid gloves. A drug trafficker is a mass murderer. He does not care a hoot for the consequences of his actions. He only cares for his dirty money. Such a kind of a fellow does not deserves mercy. He does not deserve to live. He is worse than an animal. That is why we always urge applicants for Malaysia visa to read and assimilate our rules, laws and policy very well before they set their foot on Malaysia’s soil.
Don’t you think there should be parole for some people on compassionate ground?
If the offense is drug trafficking, the law is clear on that, there is no parole .It is death by hanging. This penalty is not discriminatory. It applies to anyone found guilty of drug trafficking. If a Malay is caught today, Insha Allah, he must face the consequence. So, it will be difficult for any government to plead clemency for its citizens if they are caught in the web. This is equity. This is fairness. This is justice. And as for us in Malaysia, we cannot tolerate drug trafficking, prostitution and terrorism because we want to remain truly Asia, the best of the East.