Nigeria is one of the key players in our energy security. India is largest buyer of crude oil in the Nigerian market, importing almost 8 to 12 percent of its petroleum requirements from the African country.
In 2005, before arriving in Lagos, I had heard several unflattering stories of crime and conning in Nigeria. Hence, I was a little apprehensive even though my training and knowledge dictated otherwise. However, I was relived to be vindicated of any doubts I had with the beauty and simplicity of ordinary Nigerians who welcomed me with great aplomb and genuine affection.
I was put strait to work as the Acting High Commissioner of our diplomatic mission in Nigeria. Our bilateral trade and investment with the African nation have intensified over the years. As soon as I stepped into office I received a message from Hindustan Machine Tools (HMT), which had a joint venture with Nigeria Machine Tools (NMT), that the local authorities had diluted HMT’s equity substantially, and rather arbitrarily so. I tried reaching the top Ministers and concerned officials but in vain. I was convinced that the decision could only be overturned at the highest level. I was fortunate for a Nigerian partner to arrange a call on President Obasanjo within a few days of my deputation.
I had heard so much of him and his regards for India during his military training in the country. I was excited and quickly got the HMT delegation from Bangalore. There were several Ministers present in the meeting; President Obasanjo looked at me and said, “I know India better than you. I was the one who got all Indian companies to Nigeria.” I couldn’t agree more, since it was quite true given his penchant for India-Nigeria partnership for mutual development. I expressed my gratitude to him for receiving us and pleaded his intervention in the matter concern. He immediately overturned the decision, asking the company to work in a more professional and efficient manner. I was impressed with his swift decision making and I found myself more and more taken by his persona every time I met him. It was during his time that OVL-Mittal (OML) secured important oil blocks, and another local company was involved in reviving The Delta Steel project — the largest steel plant in Africa.
President Obasanjo later offered us the Nigerian Rail renovation contract since India had originally set it up decades ago but hadn’t come across the opportunity to modernise the network. Nigeria had made a remarkable impression on me. I had the great fortune of knowing Presidents Yar’Adua, President Jonathan, and President Buhari as well in their various roles; their affection for India is conspicuous.
An Interactive Partnership
India-Nigeria bilateral ties have traditionally been warm and friendly. India established its diplomatic mission in Nigeria in 1958 — two years before Nigeria gained independence from British rule in 1960. Both countries have been at the forefront of the international struggle against colonisation and apartheid, and have closely collaborated in various international forums concerning the developing world. In a landmark visit to Nigeria in September 1962, Indian Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru’s interaction with Nigeria’s first Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa rendered mutual goodwill, respect and friendship between our two countries and their leaders. Years later, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited Abuja briefly for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2003. However, it was the historic State visit to Nigeria by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in October 2007 that provided a new impetus to our bilateral ties. The Abuja Declaration and first major Line of Credit of $100 million were signed to chart the course for future. Common experience of our colonial past and our large multi-ethnic, multi-religious developing societies with a large percentage of youth have brought the two countries closer. We share common perspectives on international political, social, and developmental issues as witnessed in various meetings at the United Nations, World Trade Organization and other global platforms. Moreover, both countries stand in strong opposition to all forms of terrorism.
Two Nigerian Presidents, Shehu Shagari and Olusegun Obasanjo, were the Chief Guest on India’s Republic Day in 1983 and 2000 respectively which is a distinct honour for the mutual friendship between the two countries.
Current Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari visited India to attend the third India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS-III) held in New Delhi from 26-30 October 2015. He was accompanied by a 121-member delegation consisting of Governor of Kano State, Mr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje; Governor of Delta State, Mr. Ifeanyi Okowa; National Security Adviser (NSA), Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd); besides Permanent Secretaries in the Ministries of Defence, Power, Communications Technology, Agriculture, Foreign Affairs, and Industry, Trade & Investment.
The most recent high-level interaction was the visit of former Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari, accompanied by his wife and a 13-member official delegation comprising of Parliamentarians, Senior Officials, and Ministers to Nigeria from 26-29 September 2016. The Vice President called on Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, and held bilateral talks with his Nigerian counterpart, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. The Vice President also delivered a lecture at the University of Lagos and addressed the Indian community, both in Abuja and Lagos, as well as the National Defence College, Abuja. He was accompanied by a 22-member Business delegation and, along with his Nigerian counterpart, addressed the India-Nigeria Joint Business Forum organised by the Indian High Commission in association with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) in the state capital.
I recall former MoS External Affairs, Anand Sharma was sent as a special envoy in connection with Indo-US Nuclear deal to seek Nigerian support at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). During the meeting, President Yar’Adua in his opening sentence itself conveyed his country’s support to the Indian cause and agreed to speak to their other African friends. Apparently, he had an Indian Professor in college, whom he often remembered on the occasions of our meetings.
Business: The Key Driver
Trade and Economic relations have been the fulcrum of our bilateral ties. Nigeria is one of the key players in our energy security. India is largest buyer of crude oil in the Nigerian market, importing almost 8 to 12 percent of its petroleum requirements from the African country. India and Nigeria are each other’s largest trading partners as well. Also, over 35000 strong Indian diaspora population contributes to Nigeria’s national development. Indian industrialists and businessmen, many of them being third or fourth generation tycoons, have been prominent in Nigeria’s industrial journey. In fact, K. Chellaram & Co., Nigeria’s prominent FMCG importers, established their presence as early as 1923 in the country. Similarly, Chanrai family has well assimilated into the Nigerian milieu like scores of other Indian diasporas.
President Obasanjo told me on more than one occasion that Indian companies were the second largest employers in Nigeria after the Federal Government, a fact we acknowledged in public as well. At present, over a hundred companies are operating in Nigeria that are owned and/or operated by Indians or Persons of Indian origin. Prominent among them being Bharti Airtel, Indorama Corporation (Indonesia PIO), Olam International (now Singapore registered), Tata Group, Bajaj Auto, Birla Group, Kirloskar Group, Mahindra & Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, NIIT, Aptech, New India Assurance, Bhushan Steel, KEC International, Skipper Nigeria, Dabur, Godrej Group, and Primus Super Speciality Hospital, besides another 15 prominent companies in the Nigerian Power Sector. Nigeria’s pharmaceuticals, steel and power transmission, and automotive sectors are dominated by Indian companies. Nigeria-based ethnic Indians are economically active in areas relating to consumer goods manufacturing and retailing, construction, and air services. Several agreements and institutional arrangements are in place to ease the flow of trade and investment between the two countries and in the African sub-region. Several business delegations have been exchanged and CII plans on leading another such delegation in near future.
In order to expand trade and investment, India extended a Line of Credit worth $100 million for three power projects: (i) Enugu, $40 million; (ii) Cross Rivers, $30 million; and Kaduna, $30 million. Nigeria is short of power, and produces just about 7000 MW which is higly insufficient for the most populous country in Africa. Hence, India can play a greater role in its infrastructural development, including the renewable energy sector, especially solar power.
India-Nigerian defence cooperation is over five decades old. India helped set up the first Nigerian Defence Academy in 1964 and continued to provide training instructors till 1973 until it became fully functional. India continues to provide training slots and tailored training modules for the Nigerian armed forces. Several senior Nigerians, including Presidents Obasanjo and President Buhari, have been trained at Indian defence institutions and hence, share a deep personal attachment with India. An MoU for Defence Cooperation was signed during the visit of PM Manmohan Singh that activated the bilateral defence and security cooperation, including in the anti-piracy and maritime cooperation, with primary focus in the field of counter-terrorism, sea piracy, intelligence sharing, and exchange of visits between various training institutes.
The first meeting of the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) was held in New Delhi in April 2013, and the second was held in Abuja in May 2014. In addition to that, India offers about 200 training slots under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme to help the country through capacity building across various sectors ranging from IT to parliamentary affairs. Also, a large number of Nigerians study in Indian universities and technical institutes.
Cyber Security is yet another area of essential bilateral cooperation and could be enhanced further; Nigeria was an active participant in the Pan Africa e-Network initiative for e-governance, telemedicine, and tele-education.
India is the largest democracy in the world and Nigeria is the largest nation in the African continent; both the countries have similar views on international issues and India continue to champion the cause of the developing world at the Global stage. India and Nigeria suffer greatly from terrorism and religious fundamentalism, and could work together towards early passage of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) for comprehensive guidelines on counter-terrorism measure. With respect to our history of mutual trust and affection, we can conclude with the belief that new heights in India-Nigerian relations remain to be scaled.