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.

Nikolay Udovichenko

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.

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