RIYADH: Nigeria on Thursday pledged its full support for Saudi Arabia’s ambitious bid to host World Expo 2030 in Riyadh.
The two countries have a long history of cooperation and have always supported each other at international forums, Yahaya Lawal, the Nigerian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News during an exclusive interview.
“Certainly, Nigeria has extended full support to the Saudi bid to host Expo 2030,” the envoy said. “President Muhammadu Buhari has given his go-ahead when he spoke recently to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The crown prince announced the Saudi bid in October last year and the formal application was submitted in December during a virtual meeting of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions. The Kingdom has already received a number of international endorsements and has emerged as a strong contender. There are five stages to the candidature process, which will culminate in a vote in late 2023.
Lawal said that in general the relationship between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia is strong.
“Our relations, especially at the political level, have largely been excellent,” he said. “Close understanding exists between our leaders and we will exchange views from time to time on various issues of bilateral cooperation.
“We also have various high-level visits, ministerial visits to the Kingdom and vice versa. Just a few days ago, Nigerian Minister of Trade and Investment Mariam Yalwaji Katagum was here. So that signifies the importance attached to this bilateral cooperation.”
Trade represents a key element of the relationship, according to the envoy, and one that Nigeria is keen to further enhance.
“Trade is very important, although it’s not as large as we would have wished but it is growing,” he said. “Don’t forget the two countries are OPEC members, so they have very close cooperation within the framework of OPEC, and now OPEC+, in order to continue stabilizing the international oil market.”
He highlighted the “excellent cooperation between the two countries, especially at the political level” and added “trade is growing; all cooperation is moving forward.”
Lawal noted that late last year, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Nigeria and met his Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, to discuss all aspects of the bilateral relationship.
“We also expect a return visit this year to the Kingdom, as the Saudi foreign minister has invited his counterpart to Riyadh,” said Lawal.
“The date for the visit is yet to be finalized. We hope that before the visit there is the joint bilateral commission between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. It was to have met in December last year in Abuja but due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, it was postponed. So we are waiting for a new date to meet in Abuja.”
The joint bilateral commission is a very important framework for cooperation, he said, under which a wide range of issues — including political, economic, security, military, trade, investment, technology and labor — can be discussed.
There are a number of sectors in which Nigeria would like to develop closer ties with Saudi Arabia, according to Lawal.
“Trade is one and this was discussed when the Saudi foreign minister visited Nigeria,” he said. “We have to build trade between our two countries. Investment on both sides is also important.
“These days, all relations between countries are largely based on trade, commercial exchanges and investment. We also have other important areas, such as the oil sector, information, the digital economy and digital cooperation.
“Our interest is to further strengthen our bilateral ties and to elevate them to a strategic level. We had an agreement in 2019 to establish what we call the Nigerian-Saudi Business Council; this is where we want to put emphasis now.”
Discussions are in progress for the formation of the council, Lawal said, and once it is up and running all the key issues of trade, investment and commercial exchanges will be given all due attention.