By Ismaila Chafe
The Presidency says the successes recorded by the recent visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Sochi, Russia, where he actively participated in the Russia – Africa Summit, “is mission fully accomplished.”
The President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, who in a Special Write-up on the President’s visit to Russia, enumerated the achievements of the visit, specifically condemned what he described as including “a toxic newspaper editorial’’ written by Punch Newspaper.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has returned to Nigeria from his four-day visit to the Russian Republic extremely happy with the success of the visit.
The outcome of the visit is the best response to a few skeptical audiences back home, including a toxic newspaper editorial, “Buhari, Stay On Your Job,” by the Lagos-based PunchNewspaper asking him to not travel.’’
The presidential aide, however, stated that based upon the results of the visit, it must be concluded that the President’s mission was fully accomplished.
He noted that the definite high point was the decision by the Russians to agree to a government-to-government understanding that would see them return to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill and commission it.
He lamented that Nigeria had expended well over five billion dollars without it coming to fruition.
“When he (Buhari) campaigned early in the year for his re-election, which he won with a majority of four million votes, marking a difference of 14 per cent against his closest rival, President Buhari reiterated an earlier promise to complete Ajaokuta to provide jobs and the steel backbone that the nation’s industrial complex needed so desperately.
“Could this have been achieved if he had locked himself inside the Aso Rock Villa? The answer is obviously a “no.”
“Yet, this was not all that he secured. Presidents Buhari and Vladimir Putin opened a “new chapter” in the historically important relationship between the two countries.
“They both agreed to expand cooperation in energy sector, petroleum and gas, trade and investment, defence and security, mining and steel development, aluminium and phosphate, education and agriculture and a plethora of other issues.
“This to my pleasure had been spelled out in an elaborate manner by Tonye Princewill, an astute leader in the All Progressives Congress (APC), in an opinion article he widely circulated,’’ he added.
President Putin noted that the traditional friendly relationship between Nigeria and his country has gained a new momentum, symbolized by a 93 per cent growth in trade between the two nations in 2018.
He promised that “Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience of upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructure.”
He further explained that, “in President Buhari’s view, this summit was a necessary anchor “to kick start what has been a very cordial and mutually beneficial relationship in past years…there are similarities between Russia’s journey under your leadership (Putin’s) and Nigeria’s aspirations for the future.
“We can learn a lot from the experiences of Russia’s ongoing reforms of transitioning from an oil dependent economy to a modern, diversified and inclusive economy.”
According to him, it is noteworthy that Nigeria got everything her delegation asked for.
To this end, he said one of Russia’s leading rail line service providers, MEDPROM indicated their interest in undertaking the 1,400-kilometer Lagos-Calabar rail track that will pass through all the states in the South-South sub-region.
He maintained that the agreement and MoU signed between the NNPC and the Russia’s Lukoil was another spectacular agreement along these lines.
Lukoil owns seven refineries and a record turnover of 38 billion dollars.
He said the two oil giants would upgrade their commercial relationship to a government-to-government backed partnership, to work together in upstream operations and in revamping Nigeria’s ill-functioning refineries.
The signing ceremony was witnessed by Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari signed for the Nigerian side while Vagit Alekperov, President, signed on behalf of Lukoil.
In support of this, he said, President Buhari made clear that he wished to work with Russian businesses to improve the efficiency of Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, giving a strong assurance that his administration will “ensure this initiative is implemented within the shortest possible time.”
He said: “Of no less significance is the MoU resolving past issues, paving the way for the revival of the rested joint venture between the NNPC and Russia’s gas giants, GASPROM for the development of Nigeria’s enormous gas resources and its infrastructure.
“In that waggish but poisonous editorial, the newspaper in question raised concerns about terrorism, kidnapping and general insecurity in the country.
“It asked a question, wondering why the President would travel abroad when there is, in the country, the problem of kidnapping and fire from oil tankers had caused the loss of life and devastation of shops.
“Yes, these are sad and unwelcome. This is a President who is praised for his prompt response to the Onitsha fire, first by releasing a message of commiseration same evening and thereafter, dispatching the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs on a condolence mission.
“The minister gave directive on the spot to the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA for the immediate deployment of emergency assistance to the Southeast.
“Either out of ignorance or mischief, the Punch failed to see how important it is for the President to seek international support in tackling home grown terrorists, the Boko Haram, reinforced by 2000 ex-ISIS fighters as disclosed by Mr. Putin.
“Not only did President Buhari get that needed support to fight Boko Haram terrorists, he got the two countries to cooperate extensively in the strategic fields of defence, civil nuclear energy and in dealing with piracy and oil pipeline vandalism in the Gulf of Guinea.
“The Nigerian leader also got a deal for the technological upgrade and timely delivery of the balance of seven, out of an existing order for 12 Attack Helicopters.
“These and an assortment of military hardware are direly needed by Nigeria to deal with the new wave of crime bedevilling the country,’’ he said
On security, Shehu disclosed that the Nigeria-Russia Military Technical Agreement that lapsed a few years ago without being renewed will be given due attention by Nigeria.
He said Russia was ready on her part, while President Buhari gave a response to this, saying, “I have directed the Minister of Defence to work with the Ministry of Justice to conclude this matter within the shortest possible time.”
According to Shehu, the significance of this agreement lies in the fact that it opens the door to the procurement of military hardware, on a government-to-government basis, eliminating middlemen and reducing cost.
He said the agreement also allowed the training of military personnel, modernisation of the armed forces, refurbishment and renewal of infrastructure and equipment, “which President Putin said he is ready to assist Nigeria to undertake.’’
“The one perennial business and, if you like emotional topic between the two countries is the protracted issue of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria, ALSCON, Ikot-Abasi, Akwa-Ibom State. It will be resolved too.
“President Buhari announced 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 presidential aide also disclosed Russia had agreed to revisit Nigeria’s nuclear programme, which had been abandoned for about 40 years.
“There are many of our citizens who do not reckon with the fact that this country has a nuclear programme for about 40 years.
“However, that has not gone beyond the setting up of research stations. Arising from these discussions, President Putin invited President Buhari to join him in taking the next step in the implementation of the project by commencing the construction of the nuclear power plant,’’ he added.
He further stated that the two Presidents also addressed issues in education and agriculture.
“Russia said she would give additional scholarships. There are currently 100 Nigerian students studying under her scholarship and so far, 797 students from Nigeria have benefited from scholarships for training in Russia in various academic fields.’’
On agriculture, he said Russia had agreed to support Nigeria in laying a solid foundation for food security.
According to him, this will partly come through raw materials (phosphate) supply for President Buhari’s very impactful Presidential Fertiliser Initiative that has seen the reopening of dozens of blending plants and the return to work of thousands of employees.
“Russia, now the world’s largest producer of wheat according to President Putin, will work with Nigeria in growing wheat to meet domestic and market needs.
“This is in response to President Buhari who made a request to Putin, that “we seek your Government’s support especially in the area 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, defence and infrastructure.”
Shehu concluded that, “for Nigeria and President Buhari in particular, the Russia-Africa Summit had served the desire of the two countries to diversify and further strengthen the bonds of our robust bilateral relations.
“A solid foundation has indeed been laid for the promotion of the mutually beneficial cooperation between both nations.’’