From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Nigeria, Alexei Shebarshin, has said that Nigeria needs to avail itself of an atomic cooperation with Russia in order to attain economic advancement.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Shebarshin listed three key areas, namely: Energy, agriculture and transport infrastructure as the bedrock of Nigeria’s economic progress.
The Russian envoy also said that the commissioning of the Ajaokuta Steel Mill that has been pending since the 1980s, would have a tremendous effect on the volumes and structural transfiguration of Nigeria’s industry.
Among other issues, Shebarshin x-rayed Russia’s relationship with Nigeria, saying that the relations have always been characterized by friendship and mutual respect.
After 60 years of diplomatic ties with Nigeria, how would you describe the relationship between Russia and Nigeria?
In 2020, we celebrated the 60 anniversary of Russian-Nigerian diplomatic relations. Throughout the epoch, these relations have always been characterized by friendship and mutual respect. From the political perspective, they have been harmonious: Building on the invariable mutual deference to each other’s sovereignty and integrity, our two countries engaged in reciprocally beneficial cooperation where interests coincided. Admittedly, there is a lot we are yet to commonly achieve in trade and economy. The potential of partnership in these areas is immense.
Why is Nigeria so important to Russia that Russia had to develop a comprehensive cooperation with Nigeria immediately after her independence?
In the 1960s, the Soviet Union (USSR) – that Russia later succeeded to – triggered and fostered decolonization worldwide. On December 14, 1960, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 1514 ‘Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples that had been proposed by the USSR and became a milestone in the way of Africa’s struggle for its sovereignty. The great idea of Moscow was to embrace the emerging nations into the UN family and in so doing, create a world of political equality and fellowship of all working people. It was only logical that the USSR welcomed the immediate establishment of full-fledged diplomatic, economic and political relations with newly emerged independent Nigeria.
With the assistance Russia has offered Nigeria in terms of financial and material resources, is Russia satisfied with the pace of development in the country?
In its foreign contacts, the Russian Federation engages in projects of reciprocal benefit. Over the years, it has offered higher education to over 100,000 Nigerians, including 12,000 sponsored from the Russian National Budget, which is a considerable contribution to the human capital of Nigeria. There have also been a number of industrial and infrastructural projects in the country led by Russian companies. And we are building on this legacy now. Potential for the enhanced cooperation is tremendous in many fields. At the same time, it is worth noticing that every cooperation dwells in areas of mutual interest. Where Nigeria shows a smart interest, Russia eagerly replies with options for a partnership.
From your experience in Nigeria, what areas can Nigeria focus on in order to improve the nation’s socio-economic and industrial development?
As it seems to me, there are three key areas in the bedrock of Nigerian economic progress, the development of which may proceed in cooperation with Russia. First of all, we should be talking about energy. Nigeria needs better power supply to match the potential of its industry and life expectations of its people. In this context, it may avail itself of the complete groundwork for atomic cooperation with Russia that has been awaiting for a while now for its furtherance. Secondly, agriculture bares a potential of Nigeria’s strategic advantage that consists of the synergy of the country’s rich soils, vast territories and numerous population, as it has been historically. The diversification of the country’s industry in favour of agricultural initiatives appears a promising trend of the incumbent Nigerian leadership. In this respect, Russian companies are ready to scale up bilateral projects related to fertilizers, machinery and other farming equipment. Thirdly, the transport infrastructure is a vascular system of every economy, and Nigeria is not an exception. Discussions of Russian involvement in the development of this Nigerian sector made a considerable part of the bilateral panels at the Sochi Summit of 2019. Of course, it goes without saying that the commissioning of the Ajaokuta Steel Mill that has been pending since the 1980s, would have a tremendous effect on the volumes and structural transfiguration of Nigeria’s industry.
Since the Sochi summit, what has been the outcome so far?
After mere three months of the Sochi Summit, the world plunged into the pandemic with all the ensuing restrictions of movement and business activities. As of date, it would not be fair to talk about active realization of the Sochi initiatives. However, they are all valid and wait to be ratified as soon as circumstances permit it.
What is the essence of the political dialogue between Russia and Nigeria?
Russia and Nigeria share most of the principles of global political organization. In the UN, our two countries render support to each other in humanitarian, ecological and political issues, including eradication of terrorism. Both countries acknowledge with mutual respect, the roles they play on regional scale and globally. In our bilateral agenda, as already mentioned, we enjoy a practically oriented project-based cooperation in the fields of mutual interest.
What is the current volume of trade between Russia and Nigeria?
It is about half a billion US Dollar. Noteworthy is that there is no oil share in this figure. The commodities constituting structure of our bilateral turnover are mostly of the agricultural nature: Wheat, cacao beans, palm oil, et cetera.
What new areas are both countries looking at exploring?
Atomic energy, pharmacy, agriculture, education, heavy industry and mining. Potentially also, railways and light industry. However, our mutual priority now is the speedy establishment of the firm intergovernmental partnership aimed at soonest immunization of Nigerian population with Sputnik V vaccine that
has already proven its 90 per cent efficacy in 13 countries worldwide. The technical work on the establishment of this partnership is in constant progress and we are looking forward to its fastest completion.