President Muhammadu Buhari has called on Russia, African countries, to revitalize time-test relationship to explore new opportunities that will benefit over 1.2 billion people.
Speaking at the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russian on Thursday, he noted that Nigeria’s relations with Russia like the rest of Africa began during the Soviet era when diplomatic relations were first established in 1960.
In his words, “It is my hope that through this forum, Russia and Africa will revitalize their time-tested relationship by exploring new opportunities for the collective benefit of our peoples.”
He said the Russia-Africa relationship covered areas such as education, healthcare, solid minerals development and military assistance especially during Nigeria’s civil war.
According to him, Nigeria’s partnership with Russia has extended to the oil and gas sector as well as military and technical assistance in support of fight against Boko Haram insurgency, thanking Russia President, Vladimir Putin for his support especially in the area of security.
Buhari said since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, relations between Russia and African nations have lagged behind historical levels, expressing that the former Soviet Union had been a key partner of Africa.
According to him, “We all remember the strong support we received from the former Soviet Union in our anti-colonial struggles.
“Africa will continue to remember this, and many other significant gestures of solidarity and support that shaped our history as a continent. We are eternally grateful to the Soviet Union for coming to the aid of Africa in its hour of need.”
He noted that the world today is witnessing an increasingly change driven by trade, technology and innovation, stressing that the time has come to inject new energy and pragmatism in Africa-Russia relations for the mutual benefit of both Africa and Russia.
He emphasized that the mutually beneficial relationship must go beyond trade and business.
According to him, “Our re-energised partnership must also address challenges such as counter-terrorism, poverty eradication, human and drug trafficking, illicit financial flows, climate change and migration to mention some of the many contemporary challenges facing our peoples.
“Our continent is rich in human and natural but is lagging behind in capital and technology. This is why we see increased conflict, migration and instability that is also impacting many nations outside Africa.
“On our part, we in Africa have continued to view Regional Integration as a key development priority. Our integration is one that seeks to address our infrastructure deficit, conflicts and terrorism, climate change, human trafficking and of vitality, trade.
“Our integration process also takes into account our diversity as a continent and our unique challenges at the national and sub-national levels. This is why progress has been slow but steady.
“With a population of over 1.2 billion people, for us in Africa, getting our socio-economic integration right presents enormous opportunities as we stand to promote robust, equitable and inclusive growth that will minimize conflict and enhance economic development.
“Today, these aspirations are captured in the Agenda 2063 of the African Union. We are confident that with strong partners like Russia, our goal of having a peaceful and prosperous continent is achievable.”
He said Nigeria as the largest economy and most populous country in Africa with population almost over 200 million people.
Buhari noted that Nigeria’s population is expected to grow to approximately 400 million by 2050.
“This will make Nigeria the third most populous nation in the world behind China and India,” he said.
Speaking on Nigeria economy, he said “Our economy is heavily dependent for its foreign exchange on oil. With the result that our high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not as a result of domestic sector productivity.
“In the circumstances, although we still remain an oil dependent nation, our government in the last four years has focused on diversifying our economy by supporting key job creating sectors such as agriculture, mining and ICT.
“To achieve this, we invested aggressively in infrastructure development and introduced policies and programs that enhance our ease of doing business, reduce corruption in the public sector and enforce the rule of law.
“It is this inclusive economic diversification agenda that we want to forge a new Nigeria-Russia cooperation. Already, we are seeing progress in areas of power generation, solid minerals development and rail transportation and I hope this will be expanded to Agriculture, Manufacturing and other means of Transportation.
He said Nigeria currently has over 200 Nigerian university students in Russia benefitting from Russian Government scholarships which have been on-going since 1960.
Speaking further, he said, Nigeria earlier this year signed a Bilateral Education Agreement (BEA) with Russia which would expand the human capital development support we are already receiving.