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Buhari’s 51st Foreign Trip: From Russia with Gains

By Eric Elezuo

On October 22, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari embarked on what was probably his 51st foreign trip since he assumed power in 2015. He was headed to Sochi, in Russia for a two days working visit tagged Russia-Africa Summit with tens of other African leaders also participating.

Two days after energy engagements, a cross section of stakeholders agree that Buhari has returned home with a ‘bag of goodies’. It was believed that the President struck a deal of over $150 billion investment which has the potential to lift the Nigerian economy substantially and take it out of doldrum.

According to the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), which led a team of excited Nigerians to applaud the President’s laudable achievements, Russia will invest huge sums of money in different sectors of the Nigerian economy.

In a statement signed by its chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the largesse include a ten billion dollar coastal rail line which will traverse Lagos, Benin Onitsha to Calabar in Cross River state. “Another is eighty billion dollars in nuclear energy, with four nuclear plants to be built in four regions of the nation.

“Other phenomenal gains of President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to Russia are the investment of about 1.5 billion dollars in the revival of the long-abandoned Ajaokuta steel project, and two billion dollars for military equipment; two billion dollars will be invested in wheat production.”

The group believes that the results are manifesting with the huge inflow of foreign direct investments.

“We therefore commend the tireless efforts of Mr. President to reposition the country in all facets of life and enjoin Nigerians to continue to lend their support,” BMO stated.

In his assessment, an entrepreneur and a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Tonye Princewill, who claimed that Buhari’s achievements in Sochi portends an early Christmas gift to Nigerians also foresee the creation of jobs and more jobs from the trips of that singular visit. He declared thus in his writeup:

“As I scrolled down the 13 different agreements that were reached, I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of pride at the amount of effort and teamwork that must have preceded the visit and the different areas of the country and the economy impacted by them. My single biggest emotion though was relief. Because of the top three priorities we need as a country which are Jobs, Jobs, Jobs. I see millions of jobs from this visit alone. But as with so many agreements, meetings, summits and presidential visits, follow up is key. With a new cabinet that has results to deliver and a more collaborative legislature however, I see few challenges to a positive outcome.”

The gains were a product of Buhari’s carefully mapped trip which provided opportunity to hold bilateral talks on the side with the Russian President, Vladmir Putin, and like a choreographed displayed, all the propositions of Buhari and his team received a clear nod from the Russian leader, including co-organizing the fifth Joint Commission meeting to review and ratify all the agreements (about 40) contained in the Intergovernmental Nigeria-Russia Joint Commission on Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Protocol of November 11, 2016.

Buhari’s achievements from the Sochi-Russia trip can be itemised as follows:

Revamping of the abandoned Ajaokuta steel Plant

Buhari specifically requested that Russia and Nigeria enter a partnership on a government-to-government basis for the revival of the multi-million dollar plant, and received a clearance to the effect. It is worthy of note that the Ajaokuta Steel plant has defiled every attempt to put it to work by successive governments ever since it was initiated by the Alhaji Shehu Shagari government many decades ago. The project has gulped millions of dollars in its wake, and still remained comatose.

On the protracted Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot-Abasi, Akwa-Ibom State, President Buhari said that he had asked the Ministry of Justice “to submit a comprehensive report on the UC Russel (the Russian owners of the plant) matter…I want to assure you that the aim of our reforms is to ensure such investments are concluded and actualized in a professional and painless manner.”

Enhancing the Country’s huge gas potential and infrastructure

Another huge economic gain of Buhari’s trip to Russia and parley with the Russian president was the acceptance of Russia to play a significant role in further developing Nigeria’s huge oil and gas industry.

Consequently, Russia will help revive Nigeria’s moribund oil refineries through the establishment of a framework for a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia-based leading oil company, LukoilRussia will also explore some of Nigeria’s oil in the deep offshore.

Nigeria and Russia also agreed to revive and solidify the venture between the NNPC and Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom, in order to develop Nigeria’s enormous gas potential and infrastructure

Rehabilitation of the Nigeria’s Rail transport sector

Agreement was also reached to the effect that Russia will assist to develop Nigeria’s rail infrastructure by constructing a 1,400km rail line from Lagos to the South-south city of Calabar in Cross River State.

Security and Military Cooperation

President Buhari agreed to renew the Nigeria-Russia Military Technical Agreement which had lapsed within a short time, saying: “I have directed the Minister of Defence to work with the Ministry of Justice to conclude this matter within the shortest possible time.”

The military deal is expected to foster cooperation in direct procurement of military hardware on a government-to-government basis at a lower cost. In the same vein, Russia will train Nigeria’s military personnel and modernize its armed forces. Putin’s Russia also promised Nigeria aid in equipment and infrastructure for the military.

Education and Agriculture

Both presidents also agreed to enter a partnership on education and agriculture. The Russian leader said his country will award more scholarships to Nigerians.

Establishment of Nuclear Power Plant

Talks were also finalized on the establishment of a nuclear power plant in Nigeria. Putin agreed that the next step in the implementation of the project should be the construction of the plant.

In his humble assessment of facts, President Buhari understood the place of both countries in the scheme of affairs, saying that Nigeria though has a lot of similarities with Russia, has so much from the world super power

Buhari said: “There are many similarities between Russia’s journey and your leadership and Nigeria’s aspirations for the future. We can learn a lot from the experience of Russia’s ongoing reforms and transitioning from an oil dependent economy to a modern, diversified and inclusive economy.”

In all, the Buhari was able to get his Russian counterpart to agree to return to negotiation table to fast track the completion of all abandoned projects which the two countries had signed to do.

In addition, President Buhari hinted on the need to improve the United Nations Security Council  and called for the Russian leader’s support in Nigeria’s push to become a permanent member of the council.

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