President Muhammadu Buhari spent the first three days of this week visiting the United Arab Emirates, UAE, the first by a Nigerian leader since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states in the early 80s.
The high-level visit to the world’s second largest Arab economy marked an indication of the strengthening of relations between this country and Middle-East after many years this being in the back burner.
As part of his visit, President Buhari held talks with the effective head of the government, His Highness Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayad Al-Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the UAE armed forces. Apart from the bilateral talks at which critical issues such as trade, investment, security, war against corruption and energy were discussed, the President participated in the World Future Energy Summit, itself dominated by climate change and energy issues. The visit was also packed with a wide range of business meetings with business leaders in the UAE to attract investments leading to jobs creation and the larger goal of economic development in Nigeria.
On Tuesday before his departure home, the President addressed a group of African Ambassadors, had a session with Nigerian professionals before meeting a larger group made up of members of the Nigerian Community in the UAE.
At the meeting with the Nigerians in that country, President gave a resounding off-the -cuff speech in which he addressed the major issues of security, trade, war against corruption, challenges in foreign exchange transfers as part of the larger issues affecting the economy and as to be expected, employment and opportunities for diasporas back at home.
When he ended his speech, the highly impacted audience members rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation.
The high point of the President’s visit was the signing of a wide range of agreements. These agreements are the first by the Buhari administration since it came into office and are on the threshold of the major policies of government, namely security, economy and corruption.
It is noteworthy that in the nearly-thirty years of the existing relations between Nigeria and the UAE, only three Memoranda of Understanding, MOUs were signed at various times in the past. This was the first time an agreement was signed and it is historically important that there were six of such agreements put on the table from the start. Four of these are agreements on Mutual Legal Assistance, MLA and the balance of two, relating to trade and investment.
The one that immediately caught public attention is the agreement on criminal matters to facilitate ” the widest measure of Mutual Legal Assistance” to improve the effectiveness of both countries in the investigation and prosecution of crime, and the confiscation of criminal proceeds.
Under this agreement, proceeds of crime were defined to include “any assets derived or realized, directly and indirectly, by any person as a result of criminal conduct or the value of any asset, “asset” itself defined as “money and all kinds of moveable or immovable or tangible or intangible property, and include any interest on such property.”
With this milestone agreement, it is expected that stolen assets such as the ones by a high-profile banker who was jailed by the EFCC a few years ago, estimated in billions of Naira in real estate and shares held in Dubai may be returned to Nigeria. Now, there is a legal basis to ask for the return of such assets.
The second MLA on criminal matters, which is equally expected to bolster President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against corruption is the agreement on extradition between the two states.
By this, each of the states has agreed to “extradite to the other,” upon request and subject to the provisions of the agreement “any person who is found in the territory of the Requested Party(say UAE) and is wanted in the Requesting Party (say Nigeria) for any prosecution or trial or execution of a sentence in respect of an extraditable offense committed within the jurisdiction of the Requesting Party.”
The agreement defines extraditable offenses as those that are punishable under the laws of both countries by a term of imprisonment of not less than two years “or by a more severe penalty.”
The third MLA is to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of sentenced persons into society through giving them the opportunity to serve their sentence in their own countries.
The last of the four Mutual Legal Agreements deals with civil and commercial matters.
By this, each of the two states shall grant each other support in the service of summons and other judicial documents or processes; taking of evidence and in the execution of decrees, settlements and arbitral awards.
It is important to note that this agreement will apply to any civil or commercial matter before or after the signing of this agreement.
The two other agreements are for the reciprocal promotion and protection of investments and for the avoidance of double taxation. These ones were drawn to intensify economic cooperation between Nigeria and the UAE and to create conditions conducive to investments by nationals and companies of both countries.
These last two agreements are critical to the success of the economic side of the visit.
The Crown Prince and some of the business leaders the President met had shown an effusive determination to place investments in Nigeria. However, by their investment tradition, the UAE does not invest in a country with which they don’t have a protection agreement. This is what was just signed.
With an eye on UAE’s outsized Sovereign Wealth Fund, officially put at USD 800 billion (but unofficially at over three trillion Dollars), Nigerian officials are eager to start work on the expansion of economic cooperation between the two states.
On the security front, President Buhari and the Crown Prince discussed a range of regional and global issues. The UAE has agreed to assist Nigeria in the war against Boko Haram terrorism and in the rehabilitation of the damaged, North-East subregion of the country. They are sending an assessment team of the Emirates Red Crescent to the affected areas to find out precisely what is most needed for that country’s intervention.
A two-man, high-level committee was set up by the two countries to coordinate the incoming support for the North-East. The contact person for Nigeria is General Babagana Munguno, the National Security Adviser. His UAE counterpart is the Group CEO of the conglomerate Mubadalah. The two would be meeting every three months to review progress in this effort.
While both countries left off to further scrutinize the signed agreements in case there are areas to be amended, there is also the indication that a number of other agreements are in the pipeline to strengthen security and economic cooperation between the two. The country which parades two of the world’s most successful airlines, the Emirates and Etihad is interested in assisting Nigeria restart a national airline.
Another of these upcoming agreements will lead to the opening of the UAE market for Nigerian exports. The one being worked on security cooperation is to bind the ministries of interior to information sharing to fight corruption and terrorism.
The two leaders also emphasized their cooperation on climate change and energy issues. By this, it is expected that the UAE will key into the President’s plan to boost access to electricity by tapping into the abundant renewable energy resources available to this country. The UAE has built a whole city that relies on solar energy that is reportedly carbon-free. Climate change is a major topic of concern to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Another line of discussion between the two states will feature plans on the regeneration of the Lake Chad, to reduce poverty in the region and cut African emigration to Europe.
In the assessment of officials on both sides, the visit scored big on issues of security, environment, trade and investment and the war against corruption.
The President was accompanied on the delegation by the NSA and the ministers of Finance, Justice, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Investment, Environment, State Minister Petroleum and that of Works, Power and Housing.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President for Media and Publicity