Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari is not cast in the mould of the legendary Ajala the traveller like some other Nigerian leader that we know. A careful man and a defiantly ascetic personality, he also is not one for winding curves and convoluted patterns: he cuts to the chase.
Evidence of this can be readily gleaned from his travel itinerary since his emergence as President of Africa’s most populous nation. He goes only to places that he really is persuaded that he must go. For security reasons, he has visited Chad, Niger, Cameroun and Benin Republic. For international engagements, he has gone to the US and Germany. And now, he has also gone to India. For what?
India, the second most populous nation on earth is like Nigeria a former British colony. But Buhari did not go the India to speak the Queen’s English. His visit was to participate in the Indo-Africa summit convened by the revivalist Modi administration. But it has also afforded the Nigerian leader variable opportunity to touch base with a nation that is acknowledged today as Nigeria’s largest trading partner. And growing
Proof of this is the fact that India is now Nigeria’s largest crude importer with an estimated 20 -25 percent of India’s domestic oil demand currently being met by Nigeria. This translates to India purchasing 30% of Nigeria’s daily crude production amounting to some 400, 000bpd. This US$10bn trade is reinforced by Indian oil companies being involved in oil drilling operations in the country.
Overall, India’s economic interest in Nigeria has continued to grow, rising from USD 293.71 million in 1999-00 to USD 875 million in 2005-06. In 2007, the value of non-oil bilateral trade was estimated at between USD 6-7.9 billion. Exports to India accounted for USD 3.9 billion between April and September, 2006. India’s exports to Nigeria were valued at USD $875 million in 2005/06.
Singly then, Nigeria is the largest trading partner of India in Africa and also the largest market in Africa for Indian exports. Bilateral annual trade turnover was over US$ 17.3 billion in 2011-12 registering the growth of over 34%. During 2012-13, Indian exports further grew by 1.33% though bilateral trade slightly declined to $ 16.8 billion.
Some 100 or more Indian companies today operate in Nigeria. Prominent among them are Bharti Airtel, Indorama, Olam International, Tata, Bajaj Auto, Birla Group, Kirloskar, Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, NIIT, ApTech New India Assurance, Bhushan Steel, KEC, Skipper Nigeria, Dabur, Godrej and the Primus Super-speciality Hospital.
Put in other terms then, for a Buhari administration that is buffeted by very heady economic headwinds, engaging India correctly is a task that must be done. And it is looking like both parties may very well be abreast with what is at stake.
The first move in the currently unfolding engagement may have itself been made by India. Days into the emergence of Buhari as President, the Indian High Commissioner to Nigeria, in what observers perceive as a clear act of diplomatic hardball gave an uncharacteristic interview berating the former administration in the land and alluding to the fact that its officials and operatives may have corruptly frustrated the Asian nation’s bid to get a better foothold in the Nigerian oil sector.
The concerned officials and institutions mentioned in the story have since stated their own side but the mere fact that the High Commissioner spoke, and in such light, clearly demonstrated that India was pushing on all fours.
Equally, India also came prepared to give a number of freebies to the mother continent. It is offering African countries concessional credit of $10 billion for 10 years, grant assistance of $600m & 50000 scholarships.
Some of the answer may be found in the historic frame of Third World solidarity. But it is more than that. India under Modi is pushing to take a front place in the world. It wants a seat in the UN Security Council. It has learnt from China that an Asian country can push its weight if it strives hard. After all, the once limping Chinese economy is now a massive $17trillion fortress! And of course there is the added fact that India’s Modi is presently re-discovering that one sure way to create jobs for its burgeoning population is to partner with far-flung nations on different levels.
And with the high standards of the west and better industrialized Northern hemisphere, India knows that it has to chiefly look south to begin its journey. So it is being nice to Southern nations (including the 54 that comprise the African Union) that can take some Indian personnel, business, money and kebab in return for giving India access to its markets, cheap raw materials and citizens.
Remarks Catherine Grant Makokera of the Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Division of ISS Pretoria:
‘While it is always difficult to generalise continental activities that largely take place at a bilateral level, there are some common objectives in India’s approach to Africa. The three notable areas …are India’s search for new markets, for resource security, and for allies in multilateral negotiations – including at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organisation and United Nations.’
The question then is not what India wants per se but rather what Buhari and Nigeria set their sights to get when they accepted to join in the Indian party?
Some of this can be answered by the President’s address at a session with Indian business players when he reportedly stated that in lieu of the fall in oil prices, his government was already implementing policies that may hurt operations of some businesses in the short term, but which it believed were right for a sustainable economy.
BY RICHARD MAMMAH & FELIX OLOYEDE