In February Russia launched an illegal and unprovoked invasion of its neighbour, Ukraine. In Nigeria, we looked on in shock as Russian tanks rolled across the border and airstrikes reduced Ukrainian cities to rubble. At the United Nations, our diplomats rightly voted in support of a resolution to condemn Russia’s actions.
But over the past seven months, the war has faded from our minds. Politicians and media have turned their attention to challenges closer to home – the economic crisis; food insecurity; violent conflict within our own borders. In Ukraine, however, the war grinds on. Thousands of Ukrainians have died. Whole cities have been destroyed. Every day more and more evidence of Russian atrocities against civilians comes to light.
It is easy to turn away. In Nigeria we face massive problems of our own. Why should we concern ourselves with a war on a far-off continent between countries that we know little about? “It is not our fight,” people say, “It does not matter to us.”
But it does matter. The war in Ukraine affects Nigeria enormously and we need to care. Russia’s invasion sent shockwaves through the global economy. The deliberate blockading of Ukrainian ports and the shelling of Ukrainian farmland have choked off grain exports to the world. In Nigeria we imported 259,000 tonnes from Ukraine last year alone. Now, without these vital supplies, the cost of food has rocketed here and the poorest in our country are being pushed into starvation.
It’s not just food. Putin’s energy blackmail, turning off the taps on oil and gas to Europe, has sent fuel costs soaring. As an energy exporter, this should have been good news for Nigeria, but because of the parlous state of our domestic oil sector, we remain a net importer of refined oil products and our economy has been hit hard.
Online and in the media, we are constantly subjected to Russian propaganda that tells us that the economic shocks are not their fault, that it’s Western sanctions that are dragging the economy down by stopping Russia exporting its own grain and fertilizer. These are lies. Sanctions do not target Russian food exports and financial transactions with Russia can still be carried out within the international banking SWIFT system and with all companies in the value chain. Similarly, there are no sanctions on oil and gas. Russia is using smoke and mirrors to distract us from the fact that they are responsible for our economic pain.
Russia positions itself as a responsible partner and benevolent force in Africa. But we only have to look as far as Mali or CAR to see the truth. Russian mercenaries run amok in these countries, killing, raping and terrorising the people to prop up governments that are now beholden to Vladimir Putin’s regime. If Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it will only be emboldened to expand its use of violence and coercion further across Africa.
In contrast, Ukraine has long been a friend to Nigeria. But most Nigerians are unaware of the increasingly strong partnership that is being forged between our two countries.
Over the past five years, I have been fortunate to work closely with Ukrainian partners to build initiatives across multiple sectors and have seen first-hand the benefits this partnership brings to Nigeria.
In 2017, I travelled to Kyiv in Ukraine as part of the first Ukraine-Nigeria Business Forum, alongside other representatives of Nigerian business, including importers and traders of agricultural and food products, pharmaceutical and health care, sports wares, promoters of educational and skills development programs, as well as high government officials, politicians, members of civil society, academics and traditional rulers.
Through this visit, we created new business partnerships in the pharmaceutical and health care sector, alcoholic drinks and beverages, wheat flour and sunflower oil, confectionery, and agricultural equipment. We also developed new programmes for Nigerian students to go and study in Ukraine.
Since the war, in contrast to exaggerated stories about racist treatment of Nigerian students in Ukraine, several Ukrainian Universities have commenced joint transnational educational programs with Nigerian Universities, which are absorbing displaced Nigerian students who were forced to flee the conflict.
In 2018, I hosted an anti-tuberculosis seminar in collaboration with the Ukrainian YURiA Pharmaceutical company, in partnership with the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria. As a direct result, YURiA is now supporting the Nigerian government by providing drugs to manage TB cases in children.
Since the war started, cooperation has continued. In two weeks’ time I am excited to be hosting a delegation of Ukrainian civil society leaders, experts in politics, economics, security and disinformation, and human rights, who are visiting Nigeria to meet with senior figures across government, business, academia and Nigerian civil society. They are travelling here from their war-torn country to explore how we can continue to build the partnership between our nations. I call upon my fellow Nigerians to welcome our Ukrainian friends with our customary warmth. Our two countries are both struggling to overcome huge challenges and we share common cause. Our values are the same, our enemies are the same. We must stand together.
Doctor of Public Administration and Honorary Professor of the Lviv University of Business and Law Ukraine/Coordinator Joint Transnational Educational Program between the V.N.Karazin Kharkiv National University of Ukraine, Ivano Frankivsk National University of Oil & Gas, Lviv University of Business & Law and Igbinedion University Okada wrote from Abuja, Nigeria.
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