Buhari, Putin to strengthen Nigeria-Russia relations

•Russians to return for Ajaokuta steel mill completion

President Muhammadu Buhari and Russian President, Vladimir Putin on Wednesday agreed to put Nigeria-Russia relations on a fast track, and pursue the completion of partially completed and abandoned projects initiated by both countries.

At a bilateral meeting held on sidelines of ongoing Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, the two leaders agreed to start new infrastructure projects and expand trade and investment, security and military cooperation.

In statements made by both leaders, Nigeria and Russia will work together to improve efficiency of Nigeria’s oil sector, which is the backbone of the economy, in a way that will see to rehabilitation of epileptic oil refineries through establishment of framework for a joint venture between Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia-based leading oil company, Lukoil.

According to a statement issued by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President (Media & Publicity), both NNPC and Lukoil will work towards the prospection of oil deep offshore.

It said Nigeria and Russia also agreed to revive and solidify the venture between the NNPC and Russia’s gas giant, Gazprom for the development of Nigeria’s enormous gas potential and infrastructure.

The statement revealed that the issue of uncompleted and abandoned Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill was presented by President Buhari.

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The statement noted that Buhari’s request for the return of Russia, on a government-to-government relationship for completion and commissioning of the plant was accepted by President Putin.

Earlier in the day, the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Arch Olamilekan Adegbite had a very fruitful discussion with his counterpart in Russia on Ajaokuta.

The Russia government agreed to support the development of Nigeria’s rail infrastructure by constructing 1,400 kilometers track from Lagos to the South-South city of Calabar.

There was also a discussion on the advancement of an ongoing project for the establishment of a nuclear power plant in Nigeria.

According to President Putin, the next step in the implementation of the project should be the commencement of the construction of a power plant.

On security and military cooperation, one that existed for fifty-nine years of Nigeria’s independence, President Buhari agreed to renew Nigeria-Russia Military Technical Agreement that 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.”

This military cooperation agreement is expected to give impetus to further cooperation indirect procurement of military hardware on a government-to-government basis at a lower cost as well as training of military personnel and modernization of armed forces and renewal of infrastructure and equipment which President Putin promised to undertake.

On the protracted issue of the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, 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.”

The two Presidents also addressed partnerships in education and agriculture. The Russia leader said they would give additional scholarships to Nigerians.

“We seek your Government’s support especially in the areas of wheat production. Today, Nigeria produces less than one hundred thousand metric tons of wheat locally while our imports are projected to exceed five million tons in 2020.

“We, therefore, need your support to bridge the deficit which will create jobs and save our foreign exchange for other important areas like security, defense, and infrastructure,” President Buhari said.

On this, President Putin promised to promote joint efforts, given his country’s ranking as the current number one wheat producer in the world.

“We can do a lot together,” Putin added.

The Russian President said Nigeria should take advantage of Russia’s potassium resources to advance President Buhari’s local fertiliser production program. Putin promised his country’s support for the geological prospection of Nigeria’s solid minerals and gave assurances of working with Nigeria and other African countries to secure and stop the incidents of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as they did in securing the Somali coastal areas.

President Putin expressed further determination to secure Nigeria and the rest of Africa from terrorists. He told President Buhari that 2,000 ex-ISIS terrorists joined Boko Haram last year.

In conclusion, President Buhari said: “to move forward, may I suggest that our countries organize 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.”

President Putin agreed to the proposal.

Both leaders emphasized the need for reform of the United Nations Security Council. President Buhari asked Russia to support Nigeria’s aspiration for permanent membership of the council.

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