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In about five years he has been president, Muhammadu Buhari has visited so many countries and attended so many meetings but his recent travel to Russia is, in some ways, one of its kind and the travel will, for a long time, if not eternally, be remembered for its gains.
The president travelled to Russia to attend the Russia-Africa Summit. He and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit in Sochi, Russia, where the two leaders agreed to put Nigeria-Russia relations on a fast track and pursue the completion of all abandoned projects initiated by the two countries.
The Russian trip, mainly because of the multiplicity of its gains to Nigeria and its citizens, made some commentators and even ordinary people to, rightly, dubbed it Buhari’s most successful foreign travel. In fact, even those whose penchant it is to condemn the president’s foreign travels because, in their view, has become one too many, have reasons to describe the Russia visit as one distinct trip.
Of course, the critiques of the president’s numerous trips are right to see the Russia trip differently, if only for the fact that there is, indeed, true and undiluted love between Nigeria and Russia that dates back to the era of the former’s civil war in the 1960s, with most of the military assistance it got to prosecute the war coming from Russia.
Undoubtedly, the MIG fighter planes that came from the Soviet Union, and not from US, Britain or other western nations whom Nigeria used to see as its natural allies, aided Nigeria to prosecute and win the war against Biafra.
Again, fortunately or otherwise, Nigeria has now found itself facing new challenges such as the intractable Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east zone, banditry mainly in the North-west, cattle rustling in the North-central, and other forms of criminal activities such as kidnapping and armed robbery affecting most parts ic the country, and the Russians have pledged to bring their assistance.
This pledge made by the Russians, following the presidential visit, no doubt, constitutes a significant and fundamental takeaway from the president’s visit, not least because Russians are known to mean what they say and say what they mean.
In this light, while Nigeria has waited now for two years to take delivery of the Super Tukanos winged fighter aircraft, identified to be crucial in the Boko Haram battle, from the US, the president can, off the shelf, pick the MIG Alpha jets from Russia that “cheaper, and quicker, yet more durable and efficient,” in the words of the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It is also significant, as Garba Shehu, the president’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Media and Publicity, has said, that Buhari got a deal for the technological upgrade and timely delivery of the balance of seven, out of an existing order for 12 attack helicopters. These assortment of military hardwares are needed by Nigeria to deal with the new wave of crime bedeviling the country.
Thankfully, the Nigeria-Russia military technical agreement will be revived. This agreement, when revived, Putin said, will ease for Nigeria the process of procuring military hardware, which will be done on government-to-government basis, eliminate middlemen and reduce cost, ensure training of military personnel, modernisation of the armed forces, refurbishment and renewal of infrastructure and equipment in Nigeria.
Interestingly, one of the three key themes of the summit is security, thus, making it possible for African states to, with Russia’s support, designed a regional security plan for the security of cities and borders with special attention paid on how to check the movement of illegal explosives, weapons, drugs and smuggling with a view to helping African economies grow and counter threats of terrorism.
Specifically, the Nigeria-Russia Military Technical Agreement that became moribund will now be revived, with Russia already doing its own part in this regard while, on Nigeria’s part, Buhari said he has “directed the minister of defence to work with the ministry of justice to conclude this matter within the shortest possible time.”
Presidents Buhari and Putin have, gladly, opened a new chapter in the historically important relationship between the two countries as they both agreed to expand cooperation in energy, petroleum and gas, trade and investment, mining, steel, aluminium and phosphate, education and agriculture and many other sectors.
For example, in the area of oil and gas, the agreement and MoU signed between the NNPC and the Russia’s Lukoil that owns seven refineries and a record turnover of USD 38 billion is significant for Nigeria. The two oil giants – NNPC and Lukoil – will upgrade their commercial relationship to a government-to-government backed partnership, to work together in upstream operations with a view to revamping Nigeria’s refineries.
Expectedly, the president, who as a Minister of Petroleum Resources supervised the construction of some of the country’s refineries, became interested in the effort to revive the now moribund refineries, and made clear his wish to work with Russian businesses to improve the efficiency of our oil and gas sector. He said that his administration will “ensure this initiative is implemented within the shortest possible time.”
In this vein, agreements were reached between the countries in respect of the joint venture between the NNPC and Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, for the development of Nigeria’s enormous gas resources. This agreement entails that Nigeria and Russia will work, through the NNPC and Gazprom, to develop Nigeria’s gas facilities and establish nuclear power plant for Nigeria in the not too distant future.
Of course, not too many people are aware of the existence of the Nigerian nuclear programme, which, in the past 40 years has not gone beyond the stage of the establishment of office and research stations. Happily, now, this project will be taken to the next level, thanks to the discussions that took place between the two leaders. Putin invited Buhari to join him in taking the next step in the implementation of the project by commencing the construction of the nuclear power plant.
Other agreements were reached on the revival of key but uncompleted Nigerian projects that include the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill in Kogi State, the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot-Abasi, Akwa-Ibom state.
On the issue of education, Russia promises more scholarship for Nigerians. Currently, 100 Nigerian students are enjoying the Russian scholarship while a total of 797 students from Nigeria, measuring in different fields, have benefited from the Russian scholarships.
Russia also promises to help Nigeria attain its goal of food security and production, especially in the area of wheat. Russia, now the world’s largest producer of wheat according to Putin, will help Nigeria grow wheat to meet its domestic and market needs, expected to exceed five million tonnes in 2020, from the present less than a million tonnes produced.
Thus, in many ways, it can be said that Nigerians have benefited immensely from the Sochi summit beyond, probably, their expectations. Yours sincerely os proud to be part of that historic presidential visit to Sochi for the result-oriented Russia-Africa summit.
And this is what presidential visits are intended to achieve. A president’s foreign trip, ideally, even if it is casual, should be accompanied by some gains and benefits to citizens of visiting leader’s country.