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ussia and Nigeria have taken steps to deepen their economic and political ties, after Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Geoffrey Onyeama, held diplomatic talks with his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, during an official working visit to Moscow on May 29-31.

Lavrov held talks with Onyeama and his delegation on May 30. The foreign ministers discussed issues pertaining to the steady development of bilateral ties in political, trade, economic and humanitarian areas. They concentrated on prospects of cooperation in the nuclear industry, hydrocarbon processing, infrastructure projects and exports of Russian industrial products to Nigeria.

The ministers further held an in-depth exchange of views on international and regional issues, focusing on countering terrorism and extremism, settling crises in Africa, primarily in the Sahara and the Sahel, and fighting pirates in the Gulf of Guinea.

After the closed meeting, Lavrov told a media conference here that the meeting noted a strong potential for cooperation in areas such as hydrocarbon production and processing, nuclear power industry and agriculture, and further expressed mutual interest in continued military-technical and military cooperation and training civilian specialists and law enforcement officers for Nigeria at Russian universities.

"Certainly, the complicated problems that persist on the African continent require coordinated actions of the Africans themselves, with the support of the international community," Lavrov said.

Russia consistently demands that Africans, first, find the "keys" to African problems, and that the international community should provide moral, political and material support to these efforts. Russia, for instance, has advocated for the fastest possible elimination of instability on the continent, primarily in the Sahara-Sahel zone, South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic.

The Russian Foreign Affairs Minister, however, noted Nigeria's considerable contribution to peacekeeping efforts in all these regions, and added that Russia would be ready to contribute to common efforts to strengthen regional stability through the appropriate efforts at the UN Security Council, through our bilateral relations with African countries, including training peacekeepers and equipping peacekeeping contingents in African countries.

Russia and Nigeria plan to step up an uncompromising fight against international terrorism that threatens national security in both countries and, objectively, the security of all countries. With regard to Nigeria, this of course refers to the heightened activity of the Boko Haram terrorist organization that was associated with so-called ISIS.

"We will continue to support the Nigerian government's efforts to fight this evil. Of course, the well-known initiative of President Vladimir Putin on establishing a wide-ranging anti-terrorist front based on international law and without attempts to artificially bar someone from taking part in it remains relevant," Lavrov stressed in his comments at the media conference.

Dr Maurice Okoli, Chairman and CEO of Markol Group, which is based in Moscow but with business links to Nigeria, China and Britain, explained that the visit of Nigerian Foreign Minister Geofrey Onyeoma and his business delegation to Russia came at the right time when Nigeria as a country is facing numerous challenges.

"Russia and Nigeria have enjoyed a very good political and economic relationship that has lasted for many years and this visit will definitely lift that relationship to another level. We are also looking forward that the visit will touch political and economic issues for the mutual benefits for both countries. It is our hope that this visit will help to boast cooperation between Nigeria and Russia especially in the area of fighting Boko Haram insurgency thereby improving security and stability in Nigeria and the region in general," Dr Okoli wrote in remarks and observations to GNA interview.

Dr Okoli added: "Russia as country has experienced islamic insurgency in the past and having great wealth of experience in handling such issues, i have no doubt that Russian government advise and support will be of an immense value in dealing with the problem of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and west Africa sub region."

There is high optimism among business elite and, of course, conditions for raising especially Russia-Nigerian economic cooperation. 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, 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 one of the bilateral economic conferences held previously, 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."

And also quite recently, Ibrahim Usman Gafai, Charge d'Affaires and Minister Plenipotentiary at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in Moscow, told Ghana News Agency (GNA) 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.

Tellingly, Russian investment in Nigeria covers such areas as energy, iron and steel, and hydrocarbon. 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 was held as far back 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.

Russia’s trade figures with Nigeria and many African countries are hard to find. 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 has been an attempt to balance the current trend through boosting economic relations between the two friendly nations," Ibrahim Gafai acknowledged in the GNA interview.

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.

But, 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 Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Within the context of strengthening the entire relations, it is also necessary to foster cooperation with support from the Intergovernmental Russian-Nigerian Mixed Commission for Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, and also by stepping up direct contacts between members of the Russian and Nigerian business communities as suggested by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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