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EMBASSY OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA

H.E. Professor Abdullahi SHEHU gave an interview to one of the biggest Russian information media holding RIA NOVOSTI.

Nigerian Ambassador to Russia Abdullahi Shehu told in an interview with RIA Novosti correspondents Daria Labutina and Viktor Maksimychev, whether Nigeria is ready to replace Russian oil and gas supplies in Europe, whether his country is facing a food crisis due to the conflict in Ukraine, and how Nigerian athletes can improve the level of Russian football. The Ambassador noted in what other areas Russia and Nigeria could increase cooperation and what people in his country think about the decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept payment for gas in rubles.

– Mr. Ambassador, recently, in connection with the conflict in Ukraine, there has been talk about the threat of a food crisis. Even French President Emmanuel Macron made such a prediction. Do you share these concerns? How dependent are Nigeria and other African countries on grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine?

– I think it’s too early to talk about the famine due to the Ukrainian crisis. It’s only been a month and we don’t yet know when it will end, although we hope it will happen as soon as possible. It would be too pessimistic to predict famine now. But, of course, it is likely that this will affect the prices of goods and their production.

Russia and Ukraine are major producers of wheat, and Nigeria, like other countries, buys it from them. If wheat production in Russia and Ukraine suffers, it is likely that this will also affect the market in Nigeria, Africa and other regions of the world. But I do not think that this will lead to famine, because the total amount of wheat that is exported to African countries from Russia and Ukraine does not exceed 35%. This means that prices will rise, but we will be able to reduce the negative effect through supplies from other countries or our own producers.

Africa relies on its own production and other sources of grain. So I believe that the commodity market will not suffer as much. In any case, this food crisis will affect the whole world, not just Africa. But we will share this crisis with the world, whether it concerns grain or something else.

– And what other goods does Nigeria import from Russia? Will the country increase the volume of trade?

– The main product, in addition to wheat and barley, which we import from Russia, is potash fertilizers. I think the situation in Ukraine will affect the fertilizer market. But just last week, the President of Nigeria opened a fertilizer plant with an expected capacity of 3 million tons per year. So we expect local production to replace fertilizer imports.

In the field of crude oil and fuels, as you know, Nigeria is a member of OPEC. Russia is the second largest oil exporter in the world, but we do not import oil directly from Russia. Rising oil prices are a double-edged sword. From rising prices, the income of exporting countries will not increase, including for Nigeria. At the same time, it will affect the overall stability of the market for those who import oil – they will have to pay more.

We would not want this to happen, nobody wants the economy to suffer. On the contrary, we are trying to maintain stability in the world oil market so that each country meets its production quota.

We had some difficulty meeting the OPEC oil production quota due to theft and instability in the industry. So if we continue to produce oil at optimal volumes, we can be sure of an increase in income. We hope that the government will be able to optimize this process and the oil market will stabilize.

Our principle is that natural resources are a gift from God, so we should not use them as a weapon and a tool of manipulation. We hope that they will not be used in this capacity, but will go to the benefit of mankind.

– Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia will not use energy supplies as an instrument of pressure. However, last week he decided to convert payments for gas with unfriendly countries into rubles. How can this decision affect global gas supplies?

– This is the national policy of Russia, each country has its own policy. Russia decided in response to the sanctions to transfer payments into rubles. In any trade agreement, the advantage is always on the side of the seller. Who sells, he sets the conditions. This is not barter trade, but trade for money. So it’s normal that Russia sets the payment currency. This is the policy of Russia, and no one has the right to challenge it.

– Nevertheless, a number of European countries, including Italy, France, Germany, Austria, have stated that they will not be able to pay for gas in rubles, so they will probably now start looking for other suppliers. Is Nigeria ready to replace Russian gas supplies?

– It’s up to them, Nigeria is not against selling gas to any country that wants to buy it, without any discrimination. So let them decide which alternative to choose.

– As for trade, in what areas could Nigeria replace European supplies to Russia?

– We are concerned that over all these years the volume of trade between the Russian Federation and Nigeria has been rather low. In recent years, despite the pandemic, trade has grown from $300,000 to $600,000, which is great progress, but still not such a big figure compared to what it used to be. We are making every effort to increase trade with Russia, because Russia is an important partner for us.

There are some challenges that need to be overcome in order to ensure the growth of trade. For example, if we want to export Nigerian goods to Russia, we need to raise standards so that they meet Russian requirements and are competitive.

We will continue to import equipment and technologies from Russia in order to further develop the economy. But the trade balance is not in our favor right now, because the goods we would like to export to Russia are mostly monocultures – coffee, cocoa, gum arabic – they will not be able to balance the amount of machinery that we import from Russia.

We could also export financial technologies to Russia. Nigeria is famous for its financial system, from which Russian banks could learn a lot. Since now Russia is partially cut off from SWIFT, and there may be problems with transactions. But not all banks are affected, so hopefully there are still ways for us to maintain trade relations with Russia, this is very important.

– Is Nigeria ready to trade with Russia in rubles, if necessary?

– It’s too early for us to talk about it, because the sanctions were introduced only recently, and I don’t think we already know what problems our businessmen are facing. But even those countries that have imposed sanctions continue to buy oil and gas from Russia, so this is possible. And for countries that have not imposed sanctions, it should be even easier to continue trading with Russia.

Each situation has its pros and cons. Perhaps the prospect of trade with Russia without dollars and euros will open opportunities for Russia to strengthen its currency and the ruble will become an internationally convertible currency. We’ll wait and see.

If Russia offers such an alternative to Nigeria, we will consider this possibility. If you need anything, we’ll deal with it.

At some stage, we had trade in yuan with China, but I don’t know if it still continues.

– As for OPEC, do you consider the possibility that at some point they will try to exclude Russia from the OPEC+ format?

– Russia maintains good relations with most of the oil exporting countries. We are not aware of any conflicts between these countries and Russia, none of them imposed sanctions against the Russian Federation.

But Russia remains an important player in the oil market, second in volume to Saudi Arabia.

– And if some of the countries that import Russian oil refuse it, will Nigeria be able to replace Russia? –

If there is such a request, we are ready to satisfy it within our OPEC quota.

– You said earlier that Russian companies could help Nigeria develop natural resources. Has anything already been implemented? What materials are we talking about?

– I usually tell Russian businessmen that it is important for them to go to Africa to see what reserves we have and determine for themselves further developments. Only on earth can one see specifically what resources are and what can be done with them. When they come to Africa, they will see that Africa has great potential and opportunities that justify the risk.

For example, Nigeria, 200 million people live there – this is a huge market, and in all directions, every sector is showing growth. There is potential for investors. But they usually say they’re worried about security risks. Don’t listen to propaganda. How many Russian companies have faced real threats in Nigeria? There was no such thing. If there were, it would be some small amount, and they would deal with it.

The potential in the field of mineral resources is wide, as you know, Nigeria, in addition to oil and gas, has reserves of coal, bauxite, and columbite. Any mineral can be found. If you look at the geological map of Nigeria, you will see that the country has huge reserves. For this reason, the Nigerian government, with the support of the USSR, was able to establish the Ajaokuta steel plant. So that materials for steel production can be mined and processed on site. We have large reserves of iron ore, in the center of Nigeria, just not far from the plant.

So minerals are one of the areas in which cooperation between the Russian Federation and Nigeria can be increased both in the private sector and within the framework of interstate cooperation.

– Another area of cooperation is the defense industry. In August, a new agreement on cooperation with the Russian Federation in the defense sphere was signed. Have any deals been made since then?

– The process is underway, this is not a momentary matter. To implement the agreement, some visits of officials, both Nigerian and Russian, are being carried out. Discussions are underway at the level of the Foreign and Defense Ministries of the two countries. The joint commission was supposed to be held at the end of last year, but it did not work out. This year there was no time yet to hold this commission. We hope that we will soon be able to set a new date and discuss progress in the implementation of the agreement on military-technical cooperation.

– Is there any cooperation in the field of sports? Nigeria is famous for its football players, can Russian clubs attract new players from Nigeria instead of foreigners who terminated contracts?

– In the field of football, Nigeria is the leader in Africa, many talented players from our country left their mark on world football. They are open to cooperation with clubs and play all over the world without any discrimination. If any football club, in Russia or in another country, is looking for talented footballers, there are those in Nigeria who can be invited.

If Russian clubs contact us, we will direct them to the right people. We have a national sports committee that coordinates the Nigerian Football Association. Most players who play for foreign teams are members of this association. So if you contact us, we will send a formal request to the committee and it will help to invite good players.

– Nigeria is doing something to promote its players in the world?

– Yes, of course, sport is one of the pillars of both foreign and domestic policy. We use sports to promote Nigerian culture, talented Nigerians. We invest a lot in the development of sports and not only in football. Therefore, you will not see almost a single competition in football or in any other sport, wherever Nigeria is represented. So we have a lot of talent and our government in its policy seeks to promote sports both at the federal and state levels.

– Against the backdrop of all the sanctions against Russian athletes at international competitions, can there be alternative sports organizations and championships where Russia would compete with the same countries of Africa, Latin America, China?

– As I said, we hope that this crisis will pass, but at the same time, we must see the potential opportunities even in such a situation. One of these opportunities is an occasion for Russia to look towards Africa, to think about how Russia can diversify its relations with Africa, not only in terms of sports, but also in the field of trade and economic development. Africa is a potential market, a growing economy, it has resources, and Russia needs a policy aimed at establishing good economic relations with Africa.

The first step was taken in 2019 at the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi. Unfortunately, then the pandemic began and it was difficult to implement the declaration signed at the summit. However, significant progress has been made in some areas, and we look forward to the next Russia-Africa summit, which will provide a platform for deepening Russia’s relations with African countries.

– Nigeria intends to take part? 

– Yes, sure.

– At the level of the president? 

– Yes.

– Have you already received an official invitation? Where and when will the summit take place?

– Usually the organizing committee decides this issue together with the African Union. So far, we have not been told the date and location. But consultations are underway, last week the chairman of the African Union, the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, called up Russian President Vladimir Putin. I think they discussed the summit but haven’t agreed on the dates yet.

– At the embassy we met many Nigerians living in Russia. They do not plan to leave because of the conflict with Ukraine?

– There are many students from Nigeria in Russia, some of them come here to work. As long as everyone is doing well. You know, we empathize with Russia because of the current situation. And all Nigerians living in Russia, whether they are diplomats or businessmen, or students, understand that they need to be aware of the situation in the country where they live. We sympathize with everyone who suffered because of this situation, no one would want people to die. Especially with regard to Russia and Ukraine, where so many Russians live. I know that no one is happy with what is happening.

In terms of security, we advised the citizens of Nigeria in Russia to be especially careful in observing the laws at this time, to be on the alert. But we haven’t had any reason to evacuate anyone from Russia yet.

– It was reported about eight thousand Nigerians in Ukraine, five thousand of which are students. Have all of them been evacuated?

– About two thousand Nigerian students were evacuated from Ukraine, not to Russia, but to Eastern European countries – Romania, Hungary, Poland. Most of them returned home to Nigeria, but some remained in these countries, hoping to return to Ukraine to continue their studies when the situation is over.

– Did some of the Nigerian students stay in Ukraine?

– Yes, maybe, but I don’t know. The Embassy of Nigeria in Ukraine did everything to ensure the safety of students and evacuated everyone.

– Indian students evacuated from Ukraine were offered by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation to continue their studies in Russia…

– Yes, we also received such a proposal from the Russian authorities. The Russian Foreign Ministry informed us that those who wish to stay in Russia after evacuation from Ukraine can legalize documents and enter Russian universities on the same conditions that they studied in Ukraine. The Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation even sent out a note that for students who studied on a budgetary basis, there is also the opportunity to study on a budget if they want to stay in Russia. So far, no one has approached us with such a request. If they want to return to Ukraine, that’s their choice.

– Are there many Nigerian students in Russia?

– Russia and Nigeria signed an agreement on bilateral cooperation in the field of education. There are about 500 Nigerians studying in Russia who receive scholarships.

– Is it easier to get a scholarship in Ukraine than in Russia? Why so many students from Nigeria

– I don’t know, you should ask the Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine. But in addition to those who receive scholarships, there are more than 1,500 Nigerians who study on a commercial basis. And they learn very well. We contacted them when the crisis began to make sure they were safe. They told us that they were continuing their education. Some universities have written to us, for example, Belgorod University told us that there is no cause for alarm, although Belgorod is located near the border with Ukraine. They reported that the students were continuing their classes, somewhere in person, somewhere in absentia, and assured us of the safety of the students. We have about 50 students at Belgorod University.

– Is Russian education valued in Nigeria?

– We supported bilateral cooperation in the field of education back in the days of the USSR. Some Nigerians have studied here to be engineers and doctors and are now working in Nigeria. And some got married here and stayed, or returned to Nigeria, but have relatives here.

– During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, many Nigerians entered Russia as football fans, according to the relevant documents, but then stayed …

– Yes, we encourage our citizens to live anywhere they like, as long as they abide by the law. Nigerians are very enterprising, capable, they study well, they make good engineers. Despite the fact that they have to learn Russian one year before the start of classes.

– Is there anywhere to learn Russian in Nigeria?

– No, it’s very difficult to learn Russian in Nigeria, so they usually learn while in Russia.

– Is there any statistics on how many Nigerians live in Russia?

– It is very difficult to say the exact number, even approximately. There are no reliable statistics. Some people register and some don’t. When I arrived, I was told that more than 25,000 Nigerians would live in Russia, but these are not official statistics.

– In the news, from time to time there are words of support for Russia from the inhabitants of African countries. In the Central African Republic, in Madagascar, they even take to the streets with Russian flags… Is there anything like this in Nigeria?

– I’m in Russia now, how do I know what’s in Nigeria? Everyone has their own opinion. There are those who support, there are those who do not. We don’t have any statistics on this.

Thank You.

Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria   

Link to original text in Russian   https://ria.ru/20220331/shekhu-1780954346.html

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