By Victoria Ojeme
The Ambassador of Russia to Nigeria, Mr Nikolay Udovichenko, in this interview, speaks on the relationship between his host and home countries and Russia’s alleged move to influence the just concluded presidential election in the United States.
What is the trade volume between Russia and Nigeria?
The trade volume between Russia and Nigeria may not be too substantial – about $500 million. But we should bear in mind that there is no oil and gas share in it. Not accidentally that while trade volumes between Nigeria and other countries decreased sharply this year, trade statistics between our countries stay at the same level or even become slightly higher. In our trade relations, we are focusing on sharing technologies, modern solutions, supplying agric products to ensure Nigeria’s self-sufficiency.
Meanwhile, we would like to promote cooperation in the sphere of power supply. Our giant companies such as Gazprom, Rosatom, Lukoil are ready to work with Nigerian partners on mutually beneficial conditions. In this regard, I would like to specifically emphasize Gazprom, which is keen on developing more active ties with Nigeria.
It is obvious that the local market has a great potential for increasing bilateral cooperation. For Nigeria investments in the domestic gas supply will have a huge multiplier effect on GDP, create new jobs. Gazprom is ready to develop joint projects across the gas chain in Nigeria and is looking forward to seeing the long-term policies for gas industry put in place. In this respect, the average Russian investor is encouraged by the New National Gas Policy drafted by the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and its “Nigeria-first” approach.
So, cooperation in gas market between Gazprom and NNPC may greatly benefit Nigeria. We hope that the companies will pass from purchases of spot gas to utilization of all opportunities that Gazprom possesses as global gas market leader.
All these questions of bilateral relations were discussed during the regular session of the Russian-Nigerian Bi-national Commission, which took place in November in Abuja. During this session, Russian and Nigerian parties reached a number of agreements in various sectors. Following this meeting, in particulars, delegation from Edo State has already visited Krasnodar, one of the most developed agric regions of Russia, where they held talks with poultry and mes processing plants, milk and other agric companies, discussed issues related to the development of the Nigerian agricultural sector.
I am sure that prospects of our bilateral relations will benefit both countries and definitely result in increasing our trade volume in future.
Apart from energy you talked about are there other areas where the Russian government would like to improve in these bilateral relations?
I have already mentioned the agricultural sector which is considered the cornerstone of Nigeria’s diversification policy. Russia is ready to supply foods as well as develop local production of agric products, processing equipment and machinery.
One of the important issues that was also discussed during the Bi-national Commission session is resumption of aluminum production, which was established with the assistance of the Russian company,
Rusal, at the Alscon plant in Akwa Ibom State. In fact, it was a very helpful development for Nigeria’s economy – it received a new aluminium industry, many people found jobs, a power plant supplied the local community with electricity. But as a result of inexplicable court decision, this production was stopped a few years ago, and up till date, the company has not been allowed to resume operations. Nigerian authorities promised they would examine the possibilities to resolve this issue for the benefit of all parties involved. Of course, we have also confirmed our readiness to participate in reviving Ajaokuta Steel Plant and developing the machinery-building industry.
There are many other spheres where we have big potentials. I’d like to stress once again that the embassy has a firm intention to bring business and investors from our countries together in order to discuss different options of cooperation. I can say for sure that if such giant Russian companies asGazprom, Rusal succeed in Nigeria, it will be a very positive signal for other Russian enterprises.
Recent bombings by Avengers of Niger Delta, have they, in any way, affected any Russian company? Or will Russian companies think twice before bringing more business here?
Directly, these events have not affected Russian companies. But, of course, all emergency situations negatively impact on investment climate. Obviously, any investor seeks safe haven and wants the security his investments guaranteed, although the key task when entering a new market is to find a reliable partner in the country. The embassy maintains contacts with Russian companies – we consult them about current situation, prospects of cooperation, possible risks and, certainly, do our best to create better conditions for cooperation. In any case, we wish acceptable and long-lasting settlement in Niger Delta to be reached as soon as possible, because business doesn’t like waiting too long.
How many Nigerians benefited from different education and training programs in Russia over the last two years?
First of all, I would like to mention the scholarship that the Russian government is granting to Nigerian citizens. In cooperation with the Federal Ministry of Education we worked outan absolutely transparent system of selection based on personal interviews with each aspirant and conducted by a joint selection committee. Under this program, about100 aspirants from Nigeria depart for Russia each year for higher education in the spheres most needed by the Nigerian society. We also provide short term training courses for the law enforcement and security forces staff. Each year dozens of Nigerian policemen raise professional level in training centers of the Ministry of Interior of Russia. I hope we will be able to increase the number ofparticipants of such programs.
What is the procedure of visa issuance and how many visas are given to Nigerians?
First of all, we are trying to make this procedure as clear as possible and ease it where possible. For example, this year, we lifted requirement to presentNDLEA certificates when applying for the Russian visa. In fact, the only criterion is to go through personal interview. If we see that applicants can clearly explain why they want to go to Russia and their purposes are frank and legitimatelike studies, work, business, then they will have no problem to receive visa. Coming back to the number of visas given to Nigerians, we issue up to 2,000 visas every year.
There are some allegations that Russia is selling drones to the Nigerian government to fight Niger Delta Avengers. Is that true?
I tell you frankly that there were no supplies of drones from Russia, which could be used for such purposes. We are in close cooperation with the Nigerian government on the issue of some military supplies, but it’s not about drones.
What was Russia’s contribution to the just concluded election in the US?
I doubt that there was any Russian contribution to the outcome of the US election. Another matter is that somebody wanted Russia to be involved in the campaign. The name of our country was used to blame one of the candidates, but if anybody mentioned Russia in this context, it didn’t mean that was true. That’s why many allegations we heard from different corners are not reliable. Finally, I am sure these speculations had no impact on the choice of American people. Russia was ready to work with any president elected during the US election.
Could I guess, firm Russian position on key issues of international agenda, including Syria crisis settlement, resulted in the fact that its name was mentioned in media more often.