SPEECH DELIVERED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, CON, AT THE FEDERATION COUNCIL OF THE FEDERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION, IN MOSCOW, RUSSIA, ON JUNE 20, 2018.
- It is a great pleasure to be here today in the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. I bring you the very warm greetings of the government and people of my country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who gave me the privilege to serve as President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly. It is in that capacity that I head the delegation of Nigerian Senators to Moscow on this auspicious occasion; and what a special privilege it is for me to address you, the distinguished lawmakers of the Russian Federation. I thank you all for honouring me and my colleagues with your esteemed presence, and for your attention as I share some of my ideas with you today.
- It is wonderful to be back in your beautiful country, especially during the World Cup, and for this, I wish to congratulate the Russian people for the successful hosting of the 2018 World Cup tournament. The burst of colour, spectacle and sportsmanship on display – as well as the smooth running of the event – are a reflection of the level of planning, preparation and capacity on your part as host nation. It is a vibrant symbol of global unity that serves as a most fortuitous backdrop to our visit .
- My first visit to Russia was in October last year, to attend the IPU General Assembly where I met Valentina Matviyenko, Chairperson of the Federation Council. She graciously extended an invitation to me to visit the Russian Parliament. We are here today in this hallowed chamber as guests of Madam Speaker and this honourable House, in fulfilment of that promise. I thank you most sincerely, Madam Speaker, for this kind gesture. I have every confidence that this will mark the beginning of a new phase of inter-parliamentary cooperation between our two nations, as well as a springboard for renewed vigour in Nigeria-Russia relations in general. It is heartening to observe that over the years, we have cultivated and nurtured a relationship that has been mutually beneficial, and served as a fine example of true friendship among nations.
- My country Nigeria is a young nation in comparison to yours, especially going by the pegging of the age of sub-Saharan African nations to the period of colonialism and the subsequent emergence into the independent era. Modern Nigeria came into being in 1914, around the same time as the First World War was breaking out; and only a few short years before the Russian Revolution. The Nigerian National Assembly is in its eighth incarnation since our independence from the British in 1960. And, following the ending of a long spell of military rule in 1999, we are proud to say that we have had democracy for nearly two decades, in what is known as our Fourth Republic.
- As the Nigerian legislature, we in the National Assembly are confident of the prospects for building on the gains of democracy, for the greater prosperity and well-being of those we are elected to serve.
- Various indicators may serve as useful pointers to the work we have on our hands as Nigerian leaders, to bring about the expected turnaround in our country’s economic fortunes and fulfil the yearnings of our people. Nigeria has only recently emerged from economic recession, and is currently in a period of recovery which we are seeking to consolidate by pushing through major reforms to diversify our economy for growth and development. We are confident of our chances in this regard. Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $405.10 billion in 2016 – that is about 0.65 percent share of the global economy. From an estimated contraction of 1.54 percent in 2016, we have projected a GDP growth rate of 3.5 percent for 2018. A PricewaterhouseCoopers Report indicates that Nigeria can achieve an annual growth of 4 percent in the run up to Year 2050.
- I do not hesitate to stress that, however tentative or conservative the projection, Africa is looking to the future, and Nigeria is at the forefront of that push. Africa is the future. There is nothing hyperbolic about that statement. More than half of the countries with the highest annual growth rate are on our continent, and this has been the case since the Year 2000. Household consumption in Africa is expected to double by 2030, to $2.5 trillion; and combined consumer and business spending will reach $6.7 trillion in that same year.
- Furthermore, a massive demographic dividend is expected to deliver an unprecedented advantage by 2050, when our continent will account for 40 percent of the world’s population – 7 and one in four persons on earth will be African. There is a lot of hope riding on what some are calling ‘The African Century’. We are the youngest continent, with a population of 1.3 billion Africans whose numbers are set to double by 2050; and more than half of whom are young people. The number of African youth expected to reach working age by 2035 will exceed that of the rest of the entire world combined.
- Nowhere is the surging power of Africa’s youth more inescapable than in Nigeria. Ours is the most populous country on the youngest continent, with some 68 percent of the Nigerian population between 18 to 35 years of age. This youth demographic is transforming every sphere of life in our country, especially with regard to entrepreneurship, sports, arts and entertainment. Over 500 tech start-ups have come onstream in 8 Nigeria in the last 10 years. Moreover, a KPMG Report found that investment in the African FinTech sector rose from $198 million to $800 million in 2017 alone.
- The truth is self-evident, my fellow parliamentarians: Africa cannot be ignored; and it is those that engage with us now – to build links and deepen relations – that will be strong partners in the highly anticipated African future. Many have already looked to the horizon and are working to forge more meaningful links with African nations. I daresay this visit presents an opportunity not only for cementing the relationship between our two countries, also, because Russia should not be left out on the economically significant Africa of the future.
- Fellow parliamentarians, as leader of the Nigerian delegation to your country, my interest is the interest of the Nigerian people; as yours is the interest of the people of Russia. We are living in a global village that is undergoing rapid change. The recalibration of the world and the various power blocs is happening right before our eyes. New trade partnerships are being struck, new diplomatic alliances being made, new frontiers being forged; and the decisions made now will determine the direction of countries and peoples for years to come.
- In the emerging global order, world powers are looking to Africa, and it is not difficult to see why. Africa is not merely rising; Africa is here. There is a world of opportunities on the continent. The 54 nations of Africa represent a huge geographical bloc with enormous potential for investment and strategic partnerships that will benefit only those that venture. Our position, therefore, is simple: those who are serious about expanding their interests in Africa must necessarily see Nigeria – the powerhouse in the region – as the gateway to the continent.
- We are optimistic about the future. And we are eager to renew old friendships with nations like Russia, while forging new partnerships in the quest to boost trade and tackle some of the challenges of development confronting our nation, and indeed the whole of Africa. I therefore come to you today with a message I hope you will receive in the spirit in which it is given – that a world power such as Russia should necessarily play its role on the African continent, and do so consistently. Russia should reckon with Nigeria as the central area of focus in Africa, and take a more serious view of its longstanding ties to our end of the world.
- I make this point because we are not seeing enough of that at the present time. There is a vacuum currently, and the reality is that no other country can take your place. You once had a significant presence on our continent; and identified strongly with the struggles of African nations – even naming a university here in Moscow after the great Patrice Lumumba, one of Africa’s most potent independence heroes. That was the kind of engagement we saw in the Soviet era. In this new age with its abundant promises, we must rekindle the fire that once warmed the Russia-Africa relationship. Indeed, Russia should take its rightful seat in engagement with Africa. There is great value in Africa-Russia ties, and it is in both our interests to nurture it. We therefore anticipate that your future strategy will factor in closer relations with Africa, starting with Nigeria.
- Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa is unassailable. An improved relationship between us would be a definitive pathway to a stronger relationship with the whole of Africa. Let us, therefore, pledge to revitalise the ties between our two countries. It is important, at this point, to stress that the relationship we seek is one based on partnership. We recognise that aid alone will no longer sufficiently tackle the challenges ahead. Partnership, on the other hand, will open the door to new investments and other opportunities. It is for this reason that we in Nigeria are putting a lot of effort into ensuring that we build a strong foundation for the future. And one of the ways we are doing that is by deepening links with other parliaments such as yourselves, because legislation is a necessary key to unlocking potentials in people, and delivering better prospects for citizens.
- I therefore come to you today as an economic ambassador of Africa’s largest economy. Our economy is increasingly stable and offers immense potential for investment. Our people are self-motivated, ambitious and seeking new opportunities and avenues to make their mark in the dynamic world of today. And I say to you: let us work together to explore new and exciting areas of cooperation and economic opportunities that will be mutually beneficial to our peoples.
- For us, there are compelling arguments for looking to Russia. I say this for the obvious reason that our two countries share certain, striking similarities. Our two nations are among the 10 most populous countries in the world; and are among the Top 10 in gas reserves. With a population of nearly 190 million people, Nigeria is set to surpass the United States of America as the third most populous country in the world by 2050. In terms of diversity, Russia at 190 ethnic groupings is not too far behind Nigeria’s 250.
- As a fellow oil producing nation, we do believe that Russia has a keen insight on some of the challenges we face in Nigeria with regard to the economy, as well as our drive towards diversification. Your work in stabilising the macroeconomic framework of your economy is admirable, as noted by the IMF, which recently appraised your country as saving for a rainy day, letting the exchange rate float, introducing inflation targeting, and shoring up the banking system. As your economy, like ours, recovers from recession, we say that part of the consolidation process must be a stronger focus on Africa, and Nigeria in particular. As leaders of our nations’ parliaments, therefore, we must think of not just today but well into the future, to pursue and implement initiatives that release the potentials of our peoples in their desire for economic development.
- With Russia and Nigeria projected to be the biggest economies in Europe and Africa respectively in just three decades from now, it would be a travesty if we did not strive to strengthen cooperation and partnership to reap the gains in terms of GDP growth. As the country with the biggest gas reserves on earth, Russia should be a leading player in the African oil and gas sector. Stronger collaboration for gas development would help Nigeria solve acute problems of power generation as well as provide for other local uses. The time is ripe to redefine the relationship between our two countries, based on partnership, to improve the state of infrastructural and economic development, for the good of our people.
- Ours is the second largest film industry in the world; and contemporary Nigerian music has gone global. I would not be surprised if Nigerian stars like Timaya, WizKid, Davido or Tiwa Savage are selling out concert halls in Moscow or St. Petersburg very soon, as they have been doing in major cities around the world. In sports, well, please allow me to say humbly, that it will be difficult to take your eyes off Nigeria during the ongoing World Cup tournament. If anything, we have already won the battle of the football jerseys; the Super Eagles kit is an instant classic, a coveted collector’s item, universally acclaimed as the best national kit in Russia 2018. Naturally, the entire Nigerian nation is behind our team, optimistic for a sterling performance in the rest of the tournament and confident that our boys will now produce the sleek moves to match the sleek looks.
- Fellow parliamentarians, there are many other issues that call for closer cooperation between our two countries – which contribute to sustainable peace in the larger world – and these include Terrorism and Human Trafficking. For one, Russia is currently one of the destinations where young Nigerians are trafficked for sexual exploitation. This is a worrying phenomenon for both our countries, and we should develop common strategies for tackling the problem.
- Terrorism is a global threat. What affects one, affects all; and we look to Russia to join us in building stronger collaboration for the fight against this common enemy. Terrorism, most significantly in the shape of the Boko Haram sect, has continued to pose a serious challenge to the internal security of Nigeria. When, at the height of the crisis, we were having difficulty obtaining international support, Russia memorably saved the day by supplying military equipment and assisting us with the training of personnel.
- We are grateful that you did not abandon us in our hour of need. While Boko Haram is largely decimated now, the threat remains, and new terrorism challenges are arising; one of these being the Herdsmen-Farmers’ crisis that constitutes a clear and present threat to our national security. We hope for your continued cooperation and partnership towards combating the threat; and with your support, I have no doubt that Nigeria will prevail.
- As members of parliament, we know better than most, the absolute indispensability of democratic governance. Parliament is a symbol of democracy. As such, we have a role to play in bringing democratic good governance to the people.
- We recall the strategic role Russia plays in world peace and cooperation on development; for example your contribution in trying to find a lasting resolution to the crisis in Syria; also, your role in bringing stability to global oil prices by your cooperation and agreements reached with OPEC countries. With the recent call by one of the G-7 countries for your return to the G-8, it is clear from the aforementioned, that you have a role to play.
- We urge you to look at the bigger picture and make the sacrifices or concessions that would bring you back fully to that table in the interest of the countries that can benefit from your role and partnership with the global community. The world needs Russia, Russia needs the world too and because of that, Africa will benefit.
- If we take a look at China-Africa and United States-Africa relations, you will find out that Russia is probably doing less trade with Africa in comparison with the true position you occupy in the comity of Nations. Nigeria certainly needs stronger cooperation with Russia; and we hope that Russia can also see that for global progress, she needs us too. There is the usual saying that if you don’t tell your story, other people will tell it differently and this may not be the true reflection of you.
- I commend Madam Speaker’s commitment to strengthening and ensuring that the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament continues to play its role providing the framework to provide shared prosperity as well as engendering stability in the country’s governance system. I must say that we are very much aligned in these goals. Every parliamentarian has a role to play, and it is my appeal that we all rise to the challenge as the occasion demands. For us as leaders, what really matters is providing for our people who expect us to do everything necessary to ensure the right outcomes. After all, the most basic duty of those of us in government is to take action, always, in the public interest.
- In closing, permit me to express, once again, my delight in being here in your beautiful country. It has been a most pleasant experience. I must confess that, until my visit last year, I had not given much thought to how little I knew about your country. For most people around the world, all they have to go on are portrayals in Hollywood films or biased media, which, more invariably than not, cast Russian characters as the archetypal villains, the bad guys. The time has come for the world to get a measure of the real Russia.
- I would urge, therefore, that you consider more ways to enable other people experience the rich culture of this wonderful country – its art, architecture and history, and best of all, the warmth of its people. The ongoing World Cup is a great opportunity to foster better understanding of your country, and it is my hope that you will build upon this. Football is indeed “a unifying force,” as President Vladimir Putin declared days ago at the Opening Ceremony of the World Cup. His words, that “Russia is an open, hospitable and friendly country,” should ring true regarding your country’s image in the global imagination from now on.
- As for me, I look forward to many more visits to the Russian Federation. It is my hope that today signals a new phase in Nigeria-Russia relations, as shaped by inter-parliamentary cooperation in particular, and that this stronger relationship will be of immense benefit to both our peoples.
- Once again, I thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and distinguished lawmakers, for inviting me and my delegation for this very worthy interaction. We will leave the Russian Federation with fond memories and a renewed assurance of our longstanding cordial relationship. 33.I thank you for your time and interest in our country.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA