President Muhammadu Buhari and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have agreed to put Nigeria-Russia relations on a fast track and pursue the completion of key projects initiated by both countries. Top among the projects to benefit from the arrangement are the moribund Ajaokuta Steel Plant and some refineries.
They reached the deal yesterday in Sochi, Russia.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in a statement last night that at a bilateral meeting held on sidelines of ongoing Russia-Africa Summit, the two leaders agreed to start new infrastructural projects and expand trade and investment, security and military cooperation.
Shehu said that Nigeria and Russia would work together to improve efficiency of Nigeria’s oil sector, which is the backbone of the economy, in a way that would see to rehabilitation of epileptic oil refineries through the establishment of framework for a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia-based leading oil company, Lukoil.
Both NNPC and Lukoil will also work towards prospecting for oil in deep offshore.
The two counntries 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 issue of uncompleted and abandoned Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill was presented by President Buhari. His request for the return of Russia, on a government-to-government relationship for completion and commissioning of the plant, was accepted by President Putin, Shehu said.
Earlier yesterday, the minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, held a fruitful discussion with his Russian counterpart on the Ajaokuta complex.
The Russia government further agreed to support the development of Nigeria’s rail infrastructure by constructing 1,400 kilometres track from Lagos to the South-South city of Calabar.
There was also discussion on the advancement of 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 construction of a power plant.
On security and military cooperation, one that existed for 59 years of Nigeria’s Independence, President Buhari agreed to renew Nigeria-Russia Military Technical Agreement that 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 cooperation agreement is expected to give impetus to further cooperation in direct procurement of military hardware on a government-to-government basis at a lower cost as well as training of military personnel and modernisation of the 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 actualised in a professional and painless manner.”
The two presidents also addressed partnership in education and agriculture with Putin saying that his country would give more scholarships to Nigerians.
Buhari said: “We seek your government’s support especially in the areas of wheat production. Today, Nigeria produces less than 100,000 metric tonnes 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 such as security, defence and infrastructure,” Buhari added.
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 stated.
The Russian president urged Nigeria to take advantage of Russia’s potassium resources to advance Buhari’s local fertiliser production programme. He promised his country’s support for the geological prospecting of Nigeria’s solid minerals and gave assurances of working with Nigeria and other African countries to secure and stop piracy in the Gulf of Guinea as they did in securing the Somali coastal areas.
President Putin expressed his 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 organise 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 emphasised the need for reform of the United Nations Security Council with Buhari seeking Russia’s support for Nigeria’s aspiration for a permanent membership of the council.
Border Drill: Benin Republic unrepentant — FG
The Federal Government has accused the Republic of Benin of being recalcitrant in its importation of prohibited goods for ultimate dumping in to Nigeria’s market in spite the partial border closure order.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed made the accusation when he featured on a “TV Continental”, live Programme, monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
“Regrettably, the signs out there are not positive in the sense that in the last few weeks, the amount of seizures that have been made do not show that our neighbours are in a hurry to comply with Nigeria.
“As we speak today, there are three ships heading toward Benin Republic laden with about 105,000 metric tons of rice.
“This is a country of about 12 million people. That rice is meant for ultimate consumption of Nigerians.
“In addition, Benin Republic just negotiated with Japan to receive rice worth 30 million dollars.
“It is clear that the ultimate destination of the rice will be Nigeria and that is why we are appealing to our neighbours.
“First preservation is the first law of survival, we are doing this to preserve our economy and the security of our country,” he said.
The minister who disclosed that the border drill will be in place as long as necessary, noted that Nigeria could no longer continue to play the big brother at the expense of its economy and national security.
“The facts at our disposal reveal that 10,000 vehicles are imported every month into the Cotonou seaport.
“For a population of about 12 million people to be importing 120,000 vehicles in a year means that the vehicles are going to Nigeria with sufficient market.
“As I have said, there is no gain without pain, there will be discomfort at the beginning ultimately we believe it is going to be to the ultimate interest of Nigeria,” he said.
The minister reiterated that both Benin Republic and Niger Republic were hurting Nigeria’s economy and security because of their non compliance with the ECOWAS Protocol on Transit Goods and State of Origin.
“We have been on this dialogue since 2015 and the truth of the matter is that there has never been any legitimate transit trade between us and the two countries
“This is hurting our economy, affecting our security and no country will fold its arms when the overall interest of its people is being jeopardise,” he said.
The minister said that government decided to prohibit sale of fuel in filling stations less than 20km away from the borders because of the high level of smuggling of the product to neighbouring countries.
He said no fewer than 160 filling stations were affected by the directive and they were in such a large number because they primarily engage in smuggling.
“These are stations that when you drive into them in the day time, they will not be dispensing fuel until late in the night when they will smuggle the product across the border,” he said.
Mohammed disclosed that a very sizable proportion of the subsidised imported petrol into the country was finding its way to Benin Republic, Niger Republic and some other West African countries.
“What we find out is that we are actually subsidising the product not just for Nigerians but for many West African countries.
“For instance, if the landing cost of pms is about N200 today, in order to cushion the effect on the people, government sells at N140 per liter.
“Meaning that for every liter of fuel bought, the government is paying N60. If you consume one million litres a day, the government is paying N60 million a day.
“You can imagine that from what the government pays, it is the neighboring countries that benefit about 50 per cent of it,” he said.
Mohammed said that it had been provenly established that 95 per cent of illicit drugs , arms and ammunition came into the country through the land borders with attendant effect on increase in terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and other crimes.
He said with the border drill directive, there had been drastic reduction smuggling of drugs and arms into the country, thereby reducing rate of crimes.
The minister said that government was aware of the effects of the border drill on the citizens, particularly the spike in the price of rice, but the people must bear the temporary pains to reap the benefits.
NAN reports that most of the viewers that called in to the programme supported the government on the partial border closure directive.
They contended that Nigeria had been reduced to a dumping ground for decades.
Some of them gave the examples of China that closed its borders for decades to achieve its vision of self reliance and becoming a nation to reckon with globally
SDN Trains CBOs, Journalists On How To Track NDDC Projects Using Technology
In continuation of its efforts at bridging the gap between service providers like the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC and communities, Stakeholder Democracy Network SDN in partnership with the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation engaged community based organizations and media practitioners in a one-day start-up workshop to equip them with the requisite skills need to support the NDDC in actualizing its core mandate of developing the Niger Delta.
An official of BudgIT, a nongovernmental organization with a focus on participatory governance through accessible budgets and public data, Mr Adewole Adejola led participants through the rudiments of budget and project tracking. Employing vivid experiences from Tracka, an arm of BudgIT established to address critical issues related to projects in Nigeria, Mr Adejola carefully the processes of project assessment and evaluation to the participants.
The event which took place on Tuesday at the Aldgate Hotels in Port Harcourt included breakout sessions where participants identified several issues related to project execution and proffered solutions to them.
Some participants who spoke with FR News at end of the event expressed gratitude to the organizers of the workshop, adding that the skills they have acquired from the training would be used to ensure that NDDC projects sited in their communities are not only completed but also executed according to design and specifications.
Recall that SDN in collaboration with other development partners has held two other events as a build-up to developing an application geared towards improving the level of engagements between NDDC and citizens in Rivers State. On the 14th of November, the SDN in partnership with the Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation and the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Foundation awarded prizes to winners of the hackathon organized to enable young computer programmers from the region design a user-friendly application that would be launched as a technology tool to help community members interact better with the NDDC.