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PMB, Putin Seal Deal On Refineries, Ajaokuta Steel



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.