By Kingsley Opurum,
It goes without saying that Russia is an economic powerhouse and a good strategic trading partner, which Nigeria should not hesitate to forge robust partnership with, as the opportunity has come knocking on its door.
Pundits have already started calling on the Federal Government of Nigeria to waste no time and ratify the agreement on the promotion of investment with a view to strengthening bilateral trade relations with the former Soviet Union nation.
Apparently, the inability of the Federal Government of Nigeria to ratify the framework, which it signed with the Russian Federation some years ago, has continued to hamper the growth of trade between the two countries.
Reports have shown that lack of political will and support by both governments, are also some reasons for the low volume of trade. Trade volume between the two countries currently stands at 400 million dollars, which authorities in both countries have repeatedly said that it should be many times larger, given that Russia is the biggest market in the former Soviet Union and Nigeria the biggest market in Africa.
Foreign affairs commentators have stressed the need for the speedy expansion of bilateral trade, adding that both countries have enjoyed very cordial relations over the past 50 years with cooperation in education and other technical areas.
Emphasizing Russian hospitality and friendliness, A Russian-based Nigerian scholar, Dr. Charles Peters, said that many Nigerians have benefited from Russian training programmes and scholarship, and that Russia has a prison exchange agreement “which allows Nigerians, who violate its laws, to be repatriated”.
“Today, there is no Nigerian serving jail term in any part of Russia. More than 5,000 Nigerians reside in Russia peacefully,” Dr. Peters said.
Early this year, Russia affirmed that Nigeria was one of its strongest trade partners and hoped to strengthen such relationship in the coming years.
During the Russian Federation National Day celebration at the Russian embassy in Abuja, Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Nikolay Udovichenko, said that the country hopes to strengthen bilateral trade and investment cooperation with Nigeria.
He also said that Russia would continue its educational programme to Nigerian students on scholarship basis.
“Nigeria is one of our greatest trading partners and we have had a strong relationship in the last years but hope to strengthen it and do a lot more together in the future.
“We would continue to support Nigeria in achieving economic and social development by helping Nigeria utilise its resources in more effective ways.
“We are glad that we can celebrate our national day in a country that has been very supportive.
“The Russian government has offered many Nigerians scholarships to study in Russia and we extend our gratitude to those who have studied in Russia for always being supportive and cooperative,” he said.
Russia and Nigeria had taken steps to deepen their economic and political ties when on May 30, Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, held diplomatic talks with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, during an official working visit to Moscow.
The foreign ministers had discussed issues pertaining to the steady development of bilateral ties in political, trade, economic and humanitarian areas.
Analysts described Onyeama’s official working visit to Moscow as a step in the right direction and more concerted efforts should be made towards bolstering up diplomatic ties of both countries.
Also, Udovichenko said that his country would build a strong economic relationship with Nigeria.
Receiving the Managing Director, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Mr Bayo Onanuga, at the embassy, Udovichenko said Russia was ready to partner with Nigeria in its efforts to rebuild its economy.
He said that a Russian delegation, to be led by the Minister of Agriculture, was due in Nigeria in November to discuss areas of cooperation between the two countries.
The envoy said similarly, Russian major oil company, Gazprom, had entered into a joint venture partnership with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to exploit abundant gas resources in the country.
Udovichenko also recalled the agreement signed between the two countries for the setting up of a nuclear research centre in Nigeria which would eventually lead to the building of a nuclear plant within the next seven years.
He said that Russian companies were ready to give more favourable terms to Nigeria and work toward transferring technology to build the capacity of Nigerians.
The envoy said 10 Nigerians were receiving training in Russia in nuclear technology as part of the agreement signed in June.
He stressed the need for closer cooperation between the media of the two countries so as to create better understanding and protect the image of both countries.
Analysts have also recalled when Nigeria was seriously grappling with the fight against Boko Haram, which hit its nadir, and turned to supposed allies for assistance but was abandoned to its fate; Russia was the only available country to render that much needed assistance by selling arms, tanks and helicopter to the Boko Haram-ridden country.
Nigeria is considered the economic powerhouse in the West Africa region. It is one of Africa’s fastest growing economies and has the largest population in the continent, which is why the giant of Africa should strain every sinew to take practical steps to bolster economic and strategic ties with Russia.
However, Ibrahim Usman Gafai, Charge d’Affairs at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Moscow, said in an interview that economic relations between both countries have steadily developed during the past few years with a number of leading Russian companies establishing their presence in Nigeria.
Russian investment in Nigeria covers such areas as energy, iron and steel and hydro carbon. Over the years, the diplomatic relationships have also witnessed the establishment of Russia-Nigeria Business Council (RNBC) which oversees economic activities between the two countries.
So far, the two countries have held three meetings of the Joint Commission, the last being in 2009. The Joint Commission is the platform for the two countries to sit down and draw up agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on how to conduct businesses and investment in each other’s country.
One of the strategies is to encourage trade promotion through solo exhibitions of good made in each other’s country. Nigeria businesses are encouraged to carry out such solo exhibitions in Russian cities such as Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Krasnodar and Kuzbas regions.
On the other hand, Russian businesses are also encouraged to participate in various annual trade fairs organized by different Chambers of Commerce in Nigeria. In addition, the Moscow’s Nigerian Embassy will continue to call on the two countries to create an investment forum to showcase their potentialities in each other’s territory. The major challenge facing investors from both sides of the divide is dearth of information on each other’s business environment. This has, over the years, created a condition of uncertainty and misgivings among prospective investors.
As part of the initiatives to contribute to revamping the Nigerian economy, Nigerians under the auspices of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization in Europe (NIDOE), the Russian Chapter in collaboration with Russia-Nigeria Business Council, Institute of African Studies and Russian ministries and agencies have adopted corporate strategies in identifying and wooing potential Russian businesses and industry directors to invest in Nigeria.