From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Nigeria, Mohammed Alibak, has said that Iran and Nigeria are in a new diplomatic era. Alibak who spoke with in Abuja, said relations between Iran and Nigeria have existed for 47 years and are ongoing in various political, economic, cultural and scientific fields.
Amongst other issues, the Iranian envoy further said in recent years, the volume of the relations has increased between Iran and Nigeria.
What is the extent of the bilateral relations between Iran and Nigeria?
As you know, Iran-Nigeria relations are on the verge of 47 years. Iran and Nigeria are two important and influential countries in their respective sub-regions, West Asia and West Africa. These relations are going on in various political, economic, cultural and scientific fields, and especially in recent years, the volume of these relations has increased.
Both countries have very high capacities for mutual cooperation, and in order to improve and actualize relations, consultations with the Nigerian authorities have continued and we are working to expand these relations by establishing various channels of dialogue between the authorities, both online and physical contacts, depending on the prevalence of the Corona Virus.
How do you describe the existing relations between both countries?
In the political field, the two countries have good relations at the bilateral level and multilateral organizations such as OPEC, D8, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Gas Exporting Countries Form (GECF), and the two countries also support each other’s candidates for international seats.
Bilateral political relations are also evolving. We see Nigeria as the gateway to West Africa. After the new government took office in Iran, President Muhammadu Buhari was the first President in Africa to congratulate the election of a new President in Iran. Foreign Minister of State, His Excellency Zubairu Dada also took part in the inauguration as the president’s special envoy and he met with our new President and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E Geoffrey Onyeama, had a bilateral meeting with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Also on the occasion of Nigeria’s National Day on October 1st, Iranian President, Sayyid Ebrahim Raisi, sent a congratulation message to his counterpart. And Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs did the same and sent a congratulation message to H.E Geoffrey Onyeama.
What are the similarities between Iranian and Nigerian cultures?
Iran and Nigeria have long historical and cultural similarities. Both countries have religious, ethnic and linguistic diversity. Although Muslims and the Persian language are the dominant religions and dialects in Iran, other religions also have their representatives in various centres, including the Islamic Consultative Assembly, and participate in the country’s major decisions. We have good agreements between the two countries in the field of culture, and we hope that with their implementation, exchanges of cultural products, including films and serials, will take place between the two countries.
How many Iranians are in Nigeria? Where are they largely concentrated? What do they engage in?
Unfortunately, not many Iranians are present in Nigeria and a few are involved in trade.
What is the current volume of trade between Iran and Nigeria? Is it in favour of Iran or Nigeria?
We believe that Nigeria is the largest market in Africa and Iran is one of the largest markets in the Middle East and a gateway to the markets of the Central Asian region.
Nigeria mostly exports agricultural products such as sesame seed, cashew nuts and Hibiscus to Iran, and in return Iran exports to Nigeria, a variety of products such as auto parts, motorcycle tires, ceramic tiles, paints, bitumen and petrochemical products. Fortunately, trade relations between the two countries have been developing over the past years, and the two sides expect to increase trade volume to more than $500 million in the short term.
On the sidelines of the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States, the Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, met with his Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama and Onyeama called for increased trade relations between Nigeria and Iran. What efforts are you making to achieve this objective?
As I said before, there is a lot of potential for the development of trade and economic cooperation between Iran and Nigeria. The experience of 40 years of oppressive US sanctions against Iran has caused my country to rely on its internal capacities and the potential of the Iranian youth in the path of development.
You may be interested to know that Iran produces more than one million cars a year, some of which are exported to other countries, including the West African region. In the field of electricity, Iran generates more than 80,000 megawatts; international statistics show that Iran’s nanotechnology is among the top five countries in the world. We have a lot of experience in the oil and gas industry and we are ready to share these experiences with friendly countries like Nigeria.
Given these capacities, we at the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Abuja are trying to provide the ground for more familiarity and cooperation between the private and public sectors of Iran and Nigeria.
During the bilateral meeting, the Iranian Foreign Minister disclosed plans to establish direct shipping route from Iran to Nigeria, plans by Iranian-based Mahan Airlines to establish direct flights route from Tehran to Lagos and the establishment of a joint economic commission in Tehran. How soon will these laudable initiatives commence?
Due to the lack of a direct shipping line between the two countries, Iranian and Nigerian traders have no way except using the ports of third countries to transport their goods. This way causes higher costs of transportation and delivery time and as a result, increases the price and desirability of goods. Therefore, considering the special importance of trade with Nigeria, Iran intends to establish a direct shipping line between the ports of the two countries.
On the other hand, cultural commonalities between the two countries and plenty of tourism opportunities, including health and religious tourism in Iran and Iranians’ interest in getting acquainted with the many cultural attractions of Nigeria, has caused Iran to try to provide the necessary platform for more communication between the two countries, introducing the idea of establishing a direct flight between Tehran and Lagos. Regarding the Joint Commission, I would like to inform you that so far, five rounds of the Joint Commission have been held between the two countries and according to the emphasis of the esteemed Foreign Ministers, the two sides are trying to hold the sixth round of the Joint Commission before the end of this year in Tehran.
Aside trade activities, which areas are both countries looking at deepening cooperation?
As I said before, there are many areas for expanding economic cooperation between the two countries and the embassy is trying to establish cooperation between the two sides in various fields such as cooperation in the energy, oil and gas industries, agricultural machinery and equipment, pharmaceutical as well as providing technical and engineering services and development of science and technology parks.