Words MAXMILIAN WECHSLER
His Excellency Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli is among the most visible diplomats in Bangkok, and that’s not only because of the elegant traditional outfits that make him stand out in a crowd.
The highly educated Nigerian ambassador has been an active member of the local diplomatic corps since coming to Thailand in November 2017. “I enjoy my work here and I am happy. What’s more, the Nigerian mission here is accomplishing our tasks and mandate,’’ said Mr Bamalli in a recent interview at his embassy in Bangkok.
During the course of the interview he explained that Nigeria is no longer a big consumer of Thai rice, but is now importing Thai rice processing equipment and expertise. He sees many more opportunities for next-level cooperation between Thailand and his oil and gem-rich nation.
The ambassador was born on June 8, 1966 in Zaria city of Kaduna State, which is one of the oldest provinces in northern Nigeria. “It is an emirate, founded by my great-grandfather around 1804. Prior to that, it was a part of various kingdoms and settlements. But from 1804 there has been an emirate system operating in the whole of northern Nigeria, and it is still in place today.
“On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent state. My father was an important figure in the struggle for independence. He was appointed a junior minister in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in 1960 and in 1965 became the Foreign Minister. In fact he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York that same year.
“After his passing in 2001 at the age of 84, I took over the Magajin Garin Zazzau title. However, since I am still pursuing my career I don’t stay in the emirate to oversee a district like most of the title holders. Therefore, I only retain the title and then advice the emir from time to time when the need arises. The emir assigns some responsibilities to me, especially representation in functions that he is not personally attending.
“I took my primary and secondary education in Kaduna city and then went to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study law. That’s my first degree; I also have a Master’s degree in international affairs and diplomacy, and I’ve taken courses at a number of educational institutes at home and abroad, mostly for short programs on leadership. I attended Harvard and Oxford universities as well as Northwestern University in Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania.
“Most of my professional life has been in the banking sector, even though I studied law and international relations. From conventional banking I moved to Nigerian Security Printing and Minting, which produces our currency as well as security papers for the Nigerian government. I held two positions there: executive director of corporate services and general administration, and subsequently, managing director on the board of directors, where I served for almost two years.
“After leaving the minting company, I went back to Oxford University to study. I was at the university when the present government invited me to be a part of the transitional committee in Kaduna State. After the transition period I was appointed to the Electoral Commission in my state, and a few months down the line I was nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari to be Ambassador to Thailand. So as you can see, I came to diplomatic service in a roundabout way.
“I joined the Nigerian foreign ministry in late 2016.
This is the ministry where my late father and other top pioneer diplomats laid the foundation of foreign service in Nigeria. I accepted because I’ve always felt a connection with foreign services, and with my family and educational background I’ve found it very easy to adjust to this position. My younger brother is a career diplomat. He is currently an assistant director at the MFA’s Trade and Investment Department. He has served in Ireland and Ghana and is now back in Abuja (Nigeria’s capital), waiting for another posting.”
“I arrived in Thailand for the first time in November 2017, when I took my ambassadorial post. My first Asian trip was to Malaysia. My term is four years, which can be extended depending on the wishes of the government. I also cover Myanmar, where there is a large Nigerian community,” Mr Bamalli said.
“We have a good working partnership with the Thai government that builds on the cordial relations that began soon after Nigeria’s inception in 1962. That very year our two countries established diplomatic relations. Our embassy was opened in Bangkok in 2000,” said the ambassador.
“When I first arrived the embassy was in Sukhumvit Soi 71. We moved to the current location in Sukhumvit 61 in May 2018. I like this place. It is very good in terms of security and it’s a great neighborhood. There are a number of ambassadors residing in this area. It is a very quiet area. My family lives outside the embassy and we love the place.
“The embassy has seven officials from Nigeria and about 16 Thai employees. When our citizens need consular assistance they come here. We have an immigration and passport control area at the embassy and we do all the passport services here. Our Consular section is very busy because we issue documents to our citizens living in the Philippines, Hong Kong and Cambodia from here. A diplomat just took 200 passports from the embassy to our people in the Philippines. We have a consulate there but they don’t issue passports. We process everything here and send it to the Philippines or to other countries with our diplomats. It takes our nationals 17 hours to fly to Nigeria to obtain a new passport, which is not feasible.
“In 2018 about 1,400 Nigerians resided in Thailand, but I think the number has gone down significantly since then. Now it is maybe 700 to 800. Our nationals are not obliged to register with the embassy but we would prefer them to do so if they plan to stay here long-term.
“People don’t normally come to the embassy unless they have issues. The relationship between Nigerian citizens here and Thai authorities has improved significantly since my arrival and most Nigerian citizens here now have their documents in order and everything is valid. The harassment of our nationals has decreased. It used to be bad,” said Mr Bamalli.
“Some of our nationals hired Thai lawyers, but they couldn’t do anything because our people were taken straight away taken to the Immigration Detention Centre and deported. Some of those people were unruly and we don’t have any issue with their treatment. Others were completely innocent of any wrongdoing, however, and oftentimes it came down to a misunderstanding of what was needed from them.
“Many times they had the proper documents but didn’t know what they were supposed to present. So I went to see high-ranking officials at the ministries of foreign affairs, Interior and Justice to request English translations of the relevant documents so that we can at least assist our citizens in understanding and fulfilling the visa requirements.
“Many Nigerians were arrested simply because they could not understand the documents written in Thai language or converse with the immigration police because of language barrier. Thereby contributing to the delay in renewing their stay permit and other related issues,” pointed out Ambassador Bamalli.
“Nigeria has almost 200 million people, so obviously we have a lot of purchasing power. Nigerian people eat a lot of rice and potatoes as well. For many years Nigeria has been buying a lot of rice from Thailand, and that has contributed to the strength and stability of our relationship,” Mr Bamalli said.
“But in recent years we began growing rice at home, and we plan to achieve full rice sufficiency just like Thailand. Presently we don’t buy rice from any other part of the world. We grow our own rice and buy the means to process the rice. So now we are not buying rice from Thailand, but what we are buying is equipment for rice mills and other agricultural implements.
“Thailand exports rice mills to Nigeria and Nigerians are coming here to buy machinery to process our home-grown rice. That’s what is happening now. After Nigerians acquire rice mills here, Thai people accompany them back to Nigeria and stay there for three or four weeks to set up and test the equipment also to train local people. We want to export rice to our neighboring countries. I believe that if Thai entrepreneurs invest in Nigeria’s agricultural sector they are going to make a good profit. We have about 60 types of rice in Nigeria.
“Thailand and Nigeria are already collaborating in many areas, including technical support in health and related areas. The potential for growth between our two countries is very good. Nigeria will soon be one of the world’s most populous countries. We are already the number one economy in Africa. We are already being called the ‘giant of Africa’. Thailand is also taking a big role as a major regional player. We can do a lot together. There have in the past been important high-level visits on both sides and this is something I am trying to promote. I want to create a road map of high-level visits at different times,” Mr Bamalli said.
“Nigeria is truly a giant of Africa. Most of the countries surrounding Nigeria are not bigger than some our states. Lagos has a population of 20 million and Kano state has about 20 million people also. My state of Kaduna has about 12 million people. Most of the countries surrounding Nigeria have a population of less than 12 million. We are telling Thai entrepreneurs and investors, if you will invest in Nigeria, for example, apart from nearly 200 million population we have in Nigeria, by extension you might be serving to additional 100-150 million people in Niger Republic, in Chad, in Ghana, in Cameroon and in Benin Republic that surround Nigeria. Our products get to all these countries. That’s why the Thai embassy in Abuja covers I believe 10 or 11 countries.”
English is vital
“English is the official language of Nigeria. Students speak English in all schools, hospitals and courts – everywhere. All government forms and communications are in English as well. It is good that we have a common language because ethnically Nigeria is quite diverse.
“We have three principal ethic groups and each group has its own distinct language. In the North, where I come from, we have the Hausa-Fulani, in the East it is the Igbo tribe and in the West, around Lagos, we have the Yorubas. Throughout the country there are smaller ethnic groups that speak their own languages. So the English language gives us all a means of communicating with each other, which obviously is very important.
“We have over 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria and the same number of languages. That’s why we cannot communicate except in English.” Pointing to a diplomat who joined the interview, Mr Bamalli said. “He can’t understand what I am saying in my language, and I can’t understand him either.
“Religious preferences are quite diverse in Nigeria as well, and religion is something that can be very contentious. We have two principal religions – Islam and Christianity. I am a Muslim. There are many people who are into traditional religious practices and also a very small number of atheists.
“If you are familiar with our styles of modern, traditional dress, as soon as you see someone you can tell what part of Nigeria they come, north, west or east. Smaller tribes also have distinctive apparel designs, and of course, different cultural features. In Nigeria, we have the option of choosing a traditional outfit or conventional Western attire. As long as it is proper attire it is all acceptable in official functions and the workplace and in government office.”
“To visit Nigeria Thais need a visa. We issue visas here at the embassy within 24 hours once the papers are in order. There are several airlines flying to Nigeria. Our national carrier doesn’t come to Thailand, but you can from Bangkok to Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines and from there you go to Abuja. There are also flights to and from Kano and other cities. Or you can fly Emirates from Bangkok to Dubai and then to either Lagos or Abuja. Egypt Air has regular flights to and from Bangkok and from Cairo you can fly direct to Abuja. Another alternative is Turkish Airlines.
“Since my arrival here the number of Thai people travelling to Nigeria has gone up, although it is still not so many. Before between 100 and 200 Thais visited Nigeria every year, but in the past year this increased to about 500.”
“I have a big family in Nigeria and I communicate with them regularly by mobile phone. In fact, every morning I see my mother on the mobile.
“I lived many years in Lagos, which is much like Bangkok. It is quite busy, a lot of traffic and densely populated. That’s why I am not bothered about the traffic in Bangkok. You could say Lagos is a commercial city like New York and Abuja is more like Washington DC. It is the administrative capital, with about six million people compared with 20 million people. I enjoy working in Abuja, but I also like Lagos.
“I’ve spent 26 years working in the banking, telecommunications, manufacturing and public sectors. And this is why after attending an intensive 4-month course at the University of York, I was made a Senior Chevening Fellow, which is honor bestowed on people with significant professional achievements.” Mr Bamalli is also an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, where he earned a GMP in 2011. He holds the royal title of Magajin Garin Zazzau, the second most senior princely title of the Zazzau Emirate.
“In closing Mr Bamalli said: “I am happily married to Mairo A. Bamalli, and we are blessed with five children, one boy and four girls”
Brief CV of H.E. Ahmed Nuhu Bamalli
(a) Kingdom of Thailand, 2017- present.
(b) Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 2017- present.
• Commissioner Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commission, 2015-2017.
a) Commissioner in charge of finance.
b) In charge of 4 Electoral Zones in the State.
• Acting Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer & ED Corporate Services Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc, November
(a) Executive director in charge of corporate services, 2011-2012.
(b) Managing Director, 2012-2014.
• General Manager Human Resources Management Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTEL), 2007-2009.
• Assistant Director Abuja Metropolitan Management Agency, 2006-2007.
• Regional Manager Public Sector (Joined as Deputy Manager in 1998 and rose through the system to senior manager Grade) FSB International Bank Plc, 1998-2006.
• Assistant Manager KMC Nigeria limited/First Security Discount
House (FSDH), 1992-1998.
• 2015: Oxford University UK Diploma in Organizational Leadership.
• 2009: University of York [Fellowship on Conflict Resolution
(Senior Chevening Fellow)].
• 2002: Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy.
• 1998: Enugu State University of Science and Technology (Post Graduate Diploma in Management).
• 1989: Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (L.LB Hons).
• Commissioner, Kaduna State Independent Electoral Commissioner, 2016- 2017.
• Member, Transition Committee Kaduna State, 2016.
• Director Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria, 2014-2015.
• President African Banknote Association, 2013-2014.
• Chairman Board of Directors, Tawada Limited (Subsidiary of Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc), November 2012-2014.
• Director Laurman Limited, 2009-2010.
• Director Ryden Oil and Gas, 2009-2010.
• Royal title of Magajin Garin Zazzau: 2001- present.