Beyond all the fanfare and the ceremonies, the state visit by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-thani to Nigeria offers the both countries an opportunity for stronger cooperation and prosperity.
President Buhari solicited the support of his guest to help drive investments into Nigeria as well as support for the efforts to recharge the Lake Chad.
Bilateral history: Official relations between Qatar and Nigeria dates back to the opening of the Embassy of the State of Qatar 16th December, 2013, in Abuja. Nigeria reciprocated and opened an Embassy in Qatar July, 2014.
Qatar has a history of investment and economic cooperation with Nigeria. In 2014, Qatar invested in Nigeria through Qatar National Bank which acquired 23% stake in Ecobank. In 2016, Nigeria signed a Bilateral Air Services Agreement with Qatar to pave way for more direct flights between major cities of both countries. An agreement to avoid double taxation and tax evasion was also signed by both parties.
Meanwhile, in June 2017, Saudi Arabia led a diplomatic, travel and economic boycott against Qatar. Three other neighbours in the Gulf Arab neighbors joined the action of the Saudis who accused Doha of financing terrorism and undue interference in the internal affairs of other states. The Qataris have denied these charges. Some African nations joined the diplomatic rift and sided with the Saudis, some downgraded their missions or recalled their ambassadors from Doha. Nigeria deliberately maintained neutrality on this matter and advocated an end to the blockade, earning the trust of the Qataris.
Nigeria and Qatar should explore the opportunities that could mutually benefit both nations:
Defence-security cooperation: The Nigerian security forces are battling several advesaries in multiple combat fronts. Since 2009, Nigeria has been undertaking a counter-insurgency/ counter terrorism campaign in its northeast and Lake Chad region. The Nigerian military is stretched elsewhere – from the low intensity conflict in the rural northwest, to security operations in the volatile middlebelt region and the oil producing coastal region of the country. Nigeria is an important military force for stability in the African region – keeping peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Sudan and lately, Gambia. This offers the opportunity for Nigeria and Qatar. The both countries will benefit from organising joint military training and exercises for infantry, air and special operations units to share tactics, experience and improve the Combat readiness and operational proficiency of both parties.
Likewise, there are opportunitiss for intelligence cooperation and in combating ilicit movement of contrabands and finances. Recently three Qatar Emiri Air Force C-17s transported armored vehicles to Malian armed force to support Mali and G-5 sahelian states in their counter-terrorism operation. Nigeria can also benefit from Qatari military asssitance in the area of equipment transfer to the Nigerian military.
Economic opportunities: As Nigeria seeks to diversify the country’s oil-driven economy, it can take advantage of Doha’s similar drive to open up new markets and diversify its economy amid the ongoing blockade by its neighbours.
Doha is looking to create new global trade links in an attempt to alleviate its regional isolation by powerful Saudi Arabia with which it shares its only land border.
Enhancing bilateral ties and economic cooperation will improve trade between the blockaded country and Nigeria, especially in agriculture, tourism, and precious metals. In return, Qatar can make direct investments in Nigeria’s critical sectors including energy, finance, education, agriculture, aviation, food security, infrastructure and healthcare. Also, technical assistance and investment in Nigeria Air by Qatar airways can prove an important factor for the national airline project to become a reality.
Qatar is the world’s biggest liquefied natural gas exporter and can assist Nigeria in the development of infrastructure to support the efficient distribution and usage of domestic LPG, known as cooking gas. This investment can help Nigeria play bigger in the global LNG market which is boosted by growing energy demand in China, which is now closing its coal-fired power plants over environmental concerns. European countries like Germany are seeking to source more liquefied natural gas (LNG) from new export source as part of an energy diversification and security effort to reduce dependence on Russian Gas. Trade cooperation should include skills development and exchange programmes to provide new skills and opportunities for young people in both countries.
One really important thing: President Buhari’s request for Qatar’s support towards recharging of the Lake Chad is very important for the stability of the Lake Chad region. The fresh water lake has lost 90 per cent of its surface area due to poor water management and climate change. This is one thing Nigeria must follow up on to secure the commitment of the Qataris.