NIGERIA - RUSSIA BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP FOR NEW HEIGHTS
NIGERIA is considered the economic powerhouse in the West Africa region. As it is popular known, Nigeria is one of Africa's fastest growing economies and boosts the largest population. After the change over of the presidency in May 2015, from Goodluck Jonathan to Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian diplomatic mission said it was ready to take practical steps to bolster economic and strategic ties with Russia.
Quite recently, 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 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.
Interestingly, Russia and Nigeria's two-way trade was a modest $350 million in 2013. 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.
"Unfortunately, trade volume between Nigeria and Russia has been comparatively low and highly skewed in favor of Russia. There is an attempt to balance the current trend through boosting economic relations between the two friendly nations," Gafai acknowledged in the interview.
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.
In another interview with Buziness Africa, Rex Essenowo, Chairman of NIDOE-Russia, talks about current opportunities and wide ranging perspectives for strengthening business partnership and the huge potential that exists for mutually economic cooperation between Russia and Nigeria.
He believes strongly that NIDOE-Russia and the Russia-Nigeria Business Council could help greatly to further develop the mutual business cooperation both in the private and public sectors between the two countries.
The key issues and questions raised were focused on trade and investment possibilities in Nigeria. What has been done and what has not been done in order to boost economic development in Nigeria, and how the relationship has benefited both countries.
A very important issue is the post-election investment climate. Nigeria is always considered as one of the most attractive investment destinations in the world before the 2015 general elections, so it is necessary to keep that environment stable in order to boost the country's relationship with Russia.
"As already known, we are only doing our best to supplement government efforts at boosting economic development, which in turn can benefit the population. On implementation of various agreements that were signed, we could not achieve 100% results, that is the reason why we keep pushing forward to make some considerable changes," according to the views of the Chairman.
"Most of the issues are still based on logistics, we have been able to identify other setbacks and challenges which depend much on the part of the governments of Russia and Nigeria," Essenowo said.
At the last NIDOE-Russia workshop that took place in April 2015, the Chairman and CEO of the Business Council, Valeriy Vozdvizhenskiy, expressed high optimism about the new Nigerian administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, noting assertively that "there is a lot to do, for example, starting from implementing the numerous MoUs that were signed by the previous administration."
But NIDOE-Russia Chairman Essenowo pointed out explicitly: "Personally, I will suggest a quick review of those key areas that can impact positively on the lives of Nigerians and on the economy of Nigeria. One important aspect is providing sufficient and required information about Nigeria for the Russian business and investors' community as well as widening the scope cooperation in different sectors of the economy."
Further, Essenowo said that "NIDOE-Russia wants to see different directions in the Russia-Nigerian economic cooperation. We are really tired of wasting potentials and the rate of poverty our country, despite our enormous amount of resources."
Russia and Nigeria should not only be regional leaders or key players in world market of oil and gas, but they must become real strategic partners in economic cooperation and development.
There are millions of the educated youth and graduates unemployed, while many Russian companies need external markets and new cooperation for their technologies; the technologies are quite affordable.
There are thousands of Nigerians who were trained in the Soviet Union and in Russia now, could effectively be used as bridges. For example, Nigerians would love to see a Nigerian Ambassador who speaks Russian language to deal with strategic and development issues as well as identifying with and tapping into the fast growing vibrant Nigerian diaspora in the Russian Federation.
The face of African diplomacy is changing steadily. At least, during the past one decade, Russian-speaking African ambassadors from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Madagascar and Zambia have been appointed to the Russian Federation. Besides, there are Russian-speaking diplomats that make for a new face of Russia-African diplomacy.
The former Nigerian Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Mr. Assam Ekanem Assam told a Nigerian press that he was determined to get Russian businesses to invest in the economy with a view to enhancing growth and explained further that Moscow was home to most dollar billionaires in the world who were looking for a safe and secured environment to invest their money.
He also told the media that Russia as a BRICS (the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has a lot to offer Nigeria in the area of investment in agriculture and the oil and gas sector – especially now that major European countries are facing economic downturn.
As far back as in October 2013, the Russian Ambassador to Nigeria, Nikolay Udovichenko said during a business forum in Abuja that Russia was interested in developing cooperation with Nigeria in the fields of investment, energy, trade and agriculture, among others.
"We see new opportunities for Russian companies. Suffice it to say that Nigeria has all chances to become Africa's biggest economy in the nearest future. That is why we and the Embassy of Nigeria in Moscow almost simultaneously decided to amplify efficacious bilateral cooperation," he said.
Udovincheko noted however that Russia considered Nigeria to be a strategic partner in Africa because of its numerous opportunities in human and natural resources, and added that "Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and it needs objective and balanced information that promotes cooperation and harmony between different groups in the country and the international community."
With all these laudable ideas on raising economic cooperation, significant corporate projects are yet to be undertaken. But now, new hopes in Moscow and Abuja are that the countries' annual commercial ties will rise to billions of dollars in the few coming years. Russia plans to help Nigeria explore for oil and gas. Nigeria has expressed interest in Russia, helping it build nuclear power plants, petroleum pipelines, railways and other infrastructure.
Both Russia and Nigeria have a wealth of minerals — and some could be the basis of additional commerce between the two. Nigeria's natural resources include gold, bauxite, zinc, tantalum, niobium, iron ore and coal.
Nigeria and Russia are both "large economies" and "rich in natural resources," Goodie Ibru, head of the Chamber of Commerce of Lagos, Nigeria's largest city, said at a bilateral economic conference in 2013, adding that "although Nigeria is smaller in terms of technology and infrastructure development, there's a lot for both countries to benefit from."
The Federal Government of the Republic of Nigeria has, indeed, expressed its support for any Russian genuine and legal investment. Without doubts, Nigeria remains "one of the best countries in the world to do business because of guaranteed return on investment."
Russia has pledged to help Muhammadu Buhari to fight terrorists in Nigeria. It is selling weapons to Nigeria and training Nigerian troops in counter-terrorism. Moscow was delighted during Nigeria's election campaign to hear Buhari say he wanted his country to forge a "special relationship" with the BRICS countries, and in particular, Russia. The other BRICS members are Brazil, India, China and South Africa.