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Tuesday, 15 December 2009 11:31

Nigerians Use Diaspora Day To Highlight Business Opportunities

By Christopher Kenneth in Moscow

 MOSCOW, Dec 15 (TRCW) - The Russian Chapter of the Nigerians in the Diaspora Organization (NIDO) in Europe last month brought together top Russian business executives, key strategic investors and African affairs scholars to the first Nigerians' Diaspora Day in Moscow to 'storm-brain' over the search for more effective mechanisms that can substantially boost the level of business interactions between businesses in both countries. 

The event followed a decision of the NIDO global parental organization for members to mark a Diaspora Day in their local communities abroad. Thus, in his opening speech, Bashir Obasekola, the president of NIDOE-Russia, enlightened the audience on the organization's history and objectives, including the need to hold the Diaspora Day on annual basis. "The Diaspora Day was initiated in 2006 by the Nigerian government to tap the potentials of all the Nigerian professionals abroad so as to integrate them into the nation's development process," he added. "This is why the way we organized this maiden event will go a long way into laying a solid foundation for the development of our relationships with Russian business partners." 


This objective was enshrined in the October 30 business forum's central theme, titled, "Working Together for Better Nigeria-Russia Business Cooperation: Opportunities and Perspectives." All the invited speakers spoke extensively on the strategic measures needed to maximally capitalize on the multiplication effect from the positive synergy from joining efforts by both governments and private corporations in tapping the enormous business potentials and investment opportunities in both the Nigerian and Russian economies.


Highlighting the NIDO's ongoing contributions to Nigeria's development, Ayo Ojajune, a member of the NIDOE-Europe Board of Trustees, noted that NIDO Europe has set up a $200mln Diaspora Investment Fund to help fast-track the nation's development. He also noted that the estimated 10mln-20mln Nigerians resident abroad - a figure that is larger than the population of some states in the country - have long since become significant 'financial donors' to their relatives at home. Citing local and international financial institutions' data, he noted that the annual financial remittances by such Nigerians have increased from $1.2bln in 1999 to $7bln in 2008, while other sources say that between $6bln and $10bln are sent home annually. "These money transfers help serve various life purposes for their recipients such as healthcare, feeding, clothing, housing, education, etc. Consequently, some experts have argued that these remittances are more effective than foreign governments’ loans, credits and direct investments."


Exchange of ideas on Russian-Nigerian business ties


The maiden event, which the NIDOE-Russia executives said will henceforth be a regular annual affair in the Russian capital, was organized in collaboration with the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, the Nigerian-Russian Business Council (NRBC) and the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI). The participation of these high-profile government and private organizations in this event underscored the growing understanding among top politicians and key business executives in both countries that more joint efforts are needed to improve the current disappointingly low level of cooperation in order to raise it to a new and higher horizon that is really commensurate with the huge economic potentials of both nations that are similarly generously endowed by nature with abundance of human and natural resources. 


As expected, the gathering provided a unique forum for the guests, which included Timothy M. Shelpidi, the Nigerian ambassador to Russia, Albert Bakov, the Russian co-chairman of NRBC, Alexei Losev, the NRBC's executive director, Sergei Vasiliev, the RCCI director for international cooperation, as well as a host of other Russian business executives with vested investment interests in Nigeria, to exchange their visions on ways to move the bilateral economic cooperation between Nigeria and Russia to a new level of competency and mutual benefits.


Opening the floor as the 'nominal' host, as the event was held on the RCCI premises in downtown Moscow, Vasiliev noted that Russia sees Nigerian expatriates as one of key points of contacts for its Africa relations. "We see them as a vital bridge between Russia and the entire continent, as special envoys of African businesses, cultures, sciences, high technologies and cuisine," he added. Vasiliev specifically stressed the urgent need to expand the current level of business relations between Russia and Nigeria - not only in the traditional spheres of trade and investment figures, where there are conflictingstatistics, but also in other  vital sectors, where both nations' economies have the capabilities to harmoniously augment each other on the international markets. 


Speaking on the conflicting statistical data on bilateral trade, Vasiliev noted that the Nigerian side has estimated the annual bilateral trade turnover at about $1bln, while the Russian side's figure is more conservative, at about $300mln per year. "But the main problem is not in these conflicting figures, but the need to broaden the scope of the existing cooperation to include other vital sectors of our economies," he added. "In this context, the overall coordination of these efforts belongs to the two nations' governments, and their embassies, whose roles in expanding business relations cannot be overemphasized."


From his side, Bakov stressed the importance of individual contacts among business partners in boosting mutually beneficial cooperation. Thus, citing personal experience, he noted that though his company had always contemplated on investing in Nigeria, it was only after the visit of the Nigerian ambassador to his factory two years ago that the strategic decision to invest in the African nation was taken. "This is why I believe that NIDOE-Russia and the NRBC will greatly help to further develop the mutual cooperation in both private and public sectors of the two nations' economies."


Igor Kudrin, the president of Inecotech, who had previously visited Nigeria on the country's government invitation, called for parts of the NIDO Investment Fund to be used to bankroll the preliminary studies and proper documentations of potential investment projects for foreign investors. "This is because some of the investment projects in the mining sector presented to us during our business trip to Nigeria had no business plans, geological and cost feasibility studies reports," he said. "This is why it will make more sense to use parts of this fund to finance these studies on such projects. Alternatively, such studies could also be bankrolled by either the state and/or federal governments. If this is done and these projects eventually come onstream, all parties, including NIDO, will gain from the profits."


NIDO to enlighten Russian investors on Nigeria's business procedures


The Nigerian ambassador praised the maiden Diaspora Day organizers for their efforts, as the event has opened a new braining-storming arena and a unique platform to showcase Nigeria's enormous investment opportunities to Russian investors contemplating on expanding their businesses to the Africa’s most populous nation. 


Equally important, according to the ambassador, is the conference's call on all Nigerians in Russia with the required skills, business acumen, entrepreneurial experiences and resources to motivate their Russian business partners into making strategic investments in the Nigerian economy. "This is why the role of NIDOE-Russia is very significant. It is very important for investors to know that lots of business opportunities exist in Nigeria, but the main problem has always been that some foreign investors do not know the appropriate procedures on doing businesses in Nigeria," he said. "In this regard, I see one of the NIDOE-Russia's objectives in encouraging its Russian business partners to incorporate companies in Nigeria and later help integrate them into the local business community. This is a direct responsibility of every NIDO-Russia member."


Stressing the fact that the currently robust bilateral relations at the highest political levels between the two nations' leaderships are now favorable to joint business ventures, the ambassador noted that since President Dmitry Medvedev's historical visit to Nigeria in July 2009, several top Nigerian government officials, notably, the Kogi State Gov. Idris Ibrahim, have visited Russia to woo local investors, seek new equipment and mutual trade opportunities. 


"The Nigerian Embassy is here to help all Russian investors seeking business opportunities in Nigeria. This is why I need to note once more that the embassy is the only official source of information on business activities and procedures in Nigeria."


The ambassador also reiterated the Nigerian Embassy's readiness to help all conscientious Russian investors get the vital information needed to incorporate businesses in Nigeria and also help fast-track the processing of their traveling documents to facilitate their visits to the country. "The Nigerian Embassy is here to help all Russian investors seeking business opportunities in Nigeria. This is why I need to note once more that the embassy is the only official source of authentic information on business activities and their procedures in Nigeria," he added. "This is why I would like to use this forum to advise all future foreign investors to desist from the rampant practice of using the Internet as a default source of authentic information on business procedures in our country." 


Now is the time for actions


Speaking on behalf of the Russian academia, Pyotr Kupriyanov, a senior research fellow at the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, focused the audience's attention on the long established importance of Nigeria on the African continent and its over 50 years of mutually beneficial relations, first  with the Soviet Union, and currently with contemporary Russia. "Suffice it to say that there was a time, when a whole department of our institute was dedicated to Nigeria alone," he noted. "Besides, roundtable discussions extending over 30 years have been held on this African nation, while last year, we marked the 30th anniversary of our relationship with it, in fact, the only country in Africa that we have maintained such cordial ties with."


Kupriyanov called on businesses in both countries to convert the numerous theoretical studies and researches on Nigeria into practical use. "Now is the time to seek how to convert this enormous knowledge on Nigeria into a special business guide for Russian strategic investors eyeing the African nation as a vital destination for their overseas-bound investments. Indeed, contemporary Russian strategic investors intending to do businesses in Nigeria need to be more active and dynamic in their endeavors, like it was in the 1970s," he added. "In this aspect, the Institute for African Studies in particular, and the Russian Academy of Sciences as a whole, are ready to cooperate within their capabilities and resources with the NIDOE-Russia to significantly boost the level of cooperation between Russia and Nigeria."

 (Reprinted from The Russian Corporate World magazine, 2009)



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