Mr. Harry Purwanto is the Indonesian Ambassador to Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Gabon, Cameroon, Liberia, DR Congo, Niger, Sao Tome & Principe and ECOWAS. In this interview with KINGSLEY OPURUM, he explains the reason why Indonesians are disinclined to come to Nigeria. Also, he speaks about capital punishment for drug traffickers and other sundry issues. Excerpt.
What is the level of drug-related crimes in Indonesia?
Drug trafficking is one thing that is seen as a serious challenge in Indonesia, in addition to other things like terrorism, radicalism, corruption. According to statistics, in 2014, 4.5 million Indonesians needed to be rehabilitated from illicit drugs, and also, according to statistics, everyday, about 30 to 35 young Indonesians die because of drug-related diseases and also drug-related crimes. Because of that, right after the inauguration of the Indonesian President in October 2014, he decided that he would not grant clemency on the death penalty cases when they come to him.
Also, we have national drug agency which is trying to review and reform regulation and coordination among Indonesians as well as do big programmes on rehabilitation and also empower the civil society, the youth and the NGO to do something in countering drug-related crimes and drug addiction among the young population.
On the issue of the Indonesian law prescribing death sentence for drug traffickers, there is this growing perception that only foreigners living in the country face this capital punishment for drug-related crimes and Indonesian citizens are exempted from this law even if they are convicted of such crime. What is your take on this?
That’s not true. Actually, we recognize the death penalty in our regulation and penal code since we became an independent nation in 1945. And now, we have 16 offences that attract death penalty. They are drug trafficking, corruption, premeditated murder, treason, terrorism and so on.
On the drug-related offences, it’s not true that we are only targeting foreigners because more Indonesians have been executed by the Indonesian authority on the ground of capital punishment for drug-related crimes.
Since 1945, about 73 Indonesians who faced the death penalty were executed, not only for drug trafficking but terrorism, premeditated murder and so on.
In 2008, 11 Indonesians were executed whereas, only two Nigerians were executed. Therefore, any report saying that the capital punishment for drug-related crimes is targeted at only Nigerians and other foreigners living in Indonesia is misleading.
The international community has frowned on this existing law, decrying it as monstrous and calling on the Indonesian government to rescind such law, which prescribes death penalty for drug traffickers. Is Widodo-led government doing anything to adhere to that?
Death penalty is a prerogative rights given to any country on trying to find a solution to the challenge facing them. And if you look around the world, you will see that there is no one agreeable resolution that obligates any country to abolish death penalty. In Nigeria, you still recognize death penalty. In implementing the death penalty, considering the seriousness and extreme nature of such death penalty, Indonesia tries to be very selective. We are transparent and accountable in our due process of law. We apply the death penalty only for serious offences. The death penalty is not applied to children, pregnant women and mentally-ill persons. The death penalty is implemented after every legal process has been exhausted. To guarantee the fairness and openness of the process, Indonesia gives ample access to legal assistance to foreign countries, to give their consular assistance to those involved in crimes. They will face a trial, where every legal avenue will be exhausted before execution, and Indonesia is very careful to avoid miscarriage of justice in implementing the death penalty. After all the processes from the first court, appellant, the Supreme Court, the review, trial, clemency, and then death penalty is implemented.
Has the death penalty been able to militate against drug-related crimes and other serious offences in Indonesia?
Well, we don’t believe that such punishment will solve the problem but rather we go for capital punishment as the last resort. But what we are doing in Indonesia now is awareness; we do dissemination of information; we do a lot of programmes to make people aware of this menace, which is endangering people and our nation. Also, we do many programmes for rehabilitation of people in drug-related addiction and those who are in prison.
Recently, the Indonesian Minister of Trade and Investment embarked on a 2-day working visit to Nigeria. Can you reveal the purpose of his visit?
It is very interesting that in two months, two Indonesian Ministers have visited Nigeria. The first is the Minister of Foreign Affairs in June and she had a bilateral meeting with her Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyema. She also met with the Acting President, and the meeting was to explore the possibilities to enhance bilateral relations between Indonesia and Nigeria and promote our economic and trade relationships to a more enhanced, balanced and sustainable level. I think there are three Indonesian Presidents who have visited Nigeria but we are still looking forward to having Nigerian President visit Indonesia. Former President Jonathan was planning to visit Indonesia in 2014 but he cancelled it until when he lost his re-election in 2015. Also, we want to have meetings at the highest level, involving President to President by President Buhari going to Indonesia and also President Joko Widodo coming to Nigeria.
Indonesian entrepreneurs are interested in visiting this country between this year and next year. Now just recently, the Minister of Trade of Indonesia visited Nigeria in order to encourage Indonesian business society to see the potentials of this country and come to explore the possibility of them investing in Nigeria, to sell the Indonesian products in Nigeria and to export not only the consumer products but also raw materials for manufacturers in Nigeria. He also managed to meet his counterpart, Nigerian Minister of Trade and Investment as well as Minister of State, Aisha Abubakar. They both discussed on the possible way to boost our economic relations between Nigeria and Indonesia, where products or raw materials that Nigeria doesn’t have and if Indonesia has them, will be exported to Nigeria and Nigeria will do the same ,like Indonesia will like to buy more oil from Nigeria .
He also explored the possibility of establishing preferential trade agreement between Indonesia and Nigeria. Afterwards, he met the President of ECOWAS and discussed with him the possibility of establishing preferential trade agreement. This is the main of purpose of the visit of Indonesian Minister of Trade to Nigeria.
In addition to that, there are also many meetings between the Indonesian state-owned companies and private companies and their Nigerian counterpart. Some bilateral MoUs have been signed between Indonesian private sector and Nigerian private sector, like Nigerian oil and gas companies and Indonesian oil and gas companies. I think the visit of the two Indonesian Ministers to Nigeria has encouraged our bilateral trade as we are seeing one Indonesian company doing refinery in Akwa Ibom. Indonesian companies will also invest in palm oil. You will also see Indonesian companies invest in solid mineral in Nigeria.
Why do we have a very small number of Indonesian Investors in Nigeria?
Actually, as an Indonesian Ambassador, I will encourage Indonesians whether officials, business people or students to come to explore the potentials of Nigeria. But one thing that prevents Indonesians to come to Nigeria is because of the Nigerian high visa fee to Indonesians. The visa fee for Indonesians to go to Nigeria is the highest. For Indonesians to go to Nigeria, they have to pay $245 (245 dollars). They pay less for visa to other countries. This is the reason why we have limited number of Indonesians in Nigeria.
Has the Indonesian government approached Nigerian government on this?
Well, I have made an official request to the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review the visa fee policy for Indonesians just to encourage our bilateral economic and trade relations to the next level.