By Lizzy Okoji
Moscow, – Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation, Mr Abdullahi Shehu, has pledged Nigeria’s commitment to resuscitating trade relations between Nigeria and Russia.
Shehu made the announcement in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Sunday in Moscow, saying that he was ensuring that Nigeria exported more goods to Russia.
He said that one of his priorities since assuming office as Nigeria’s top envoy to Russia was engaging with businesses and investors in Russia, to facilitate and boost trade relations between Russia and Nigeria.
Shehu lamented what he described as the low volume of trade between Nigeria and Russia, saying that trade plunged further between the two countries, following the outbreak of coronavirus in 2020.
The envoy said that to address the low trade challenge, he had to consider areas of the Nigerian economy to focus on to ensure balance of trade and increase export from Nigeria to Russia.
“We have had robust trade relations with Russia. At a time, our volume of trade was with the Russian Federation was highest, especially when the trading was more in the area of arms sales to Nigeria.
“Not long ago, some military hardware were purchased from Russia and the volume of trade became relatively high.
“On their part, Russia exported manufactured and industrial products to Nigeria. On our part, our comparative advantage is to export unprocessed commodities to Russia.
“But we have to make these commodities to be competitive in the international market and with other options that the Russian market is looking up to from us to export to Russia.
“This is what we are building on but as it is now, the volume of trade is relatively low and compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When I assumed duty here last year, my intention was that after the coronavirus pandemic, we needed to increase the volume of trade.
Shehu said that he had started making contacts with relevant private sector organisations, including Russian Chambers of Commerce so that Nigeria could identify areas of comparative advantage, to boost its trade with Russia.
“But unfortunately, with the current crisis in Ukraine every attention is focused on the crisis and the development has affected trade between Russia and Nigeria.
“You know that Nigeria use to import a lot of fertilizers and grains from Russia and Ukraine and we hope that this situation will soon come to an end so that we can continue our economic relations with Russia.
On bilateral relations between Nigeria and Russia, Shehu said that both countries had sustained a long standing relationship, dating back to the Soviet Union era.
He said that Nigeria would never forget the support it received from Russia during the Nigerian civil war.
“We have had a warm and cordial relationship with the Russian Federation, beginning with the Soviet Union in the 60s when we established bilateral relations after Nigeria’s independence.
“We have had instances where the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union before it, supported Nigeria politically and militarily to resolve our civil war situation in the 60s.
“Immediately after that, relations between Nigeria and the Soviet Union proceeded on the economic platform, which led to an agreement to build the first and most integrated steel complex in Africa, the Ajaokuta Steel Company.
‘The complex was completed at about 90 per cent in 1983 when the Russians left but unfortunately that company still remains moribund till today.
“So, in that regard, we can say that we started well but it seems as if we have not sustained the momentum,” the ambassador stated.
Asked if Russia would support in Nigeria’s current fight against insecurity, Shehu said that “Russia holds strongly to its policy of non-interference but that it will be willing to assist Nigeria on Nigeria’s request.
“Russia’s policy is that of non-interference. Let me take you back to the colonial era:
“When other countries were scrambling for influence in Africa, Russia, then the Soviet Union said that it was not an imperialist power and, therefore, it did not colonise any country in Africa.
“Their position is that they will not interfere in your domestic affairs unless you invite them to come.
“At the time they assisted Nigeria during the civil war, it was Nigeria that requested for assistance and they provided the assistance.
Shehu said: “now, we are facing a problem and if you have not requested them formally to come, how do you expect them to come.
“They cannot just come into our country like that and this is what we are doing diplomatically to engage with them to discuss the possibilities.
“So, on arrival here last year, we negotiated a military technical cooperation agreement with them and we signed the agreement last year and the content of the agreement is there for both parties to implement.
“So, Nigeria should see what it has offered in the agreement and determine what they need from Russia.
“I am here to promote it and discuss it,” said Shehu. (NAN)