Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: India - Nigeria
Mains level: Bilateral ties between India - Nigeria
It was a coincidence straight out of the silver screens in Mumbai
The leaders of India and Nigeria both began their respective
second terms within a day of each other following their unexpectedly
decisive election victories.
The challenges faced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nigerian
President Muhammadu Buhari during their first terms were uncannily similar:
security against terror, monetary and fiscal conundrums, a communal and
sectarian divide, chronic unemployment, rampant corruption, rural distress
and a fragile neighbourhood being the recurrent themes.
It may be tempting to both Indians and Nigerians to shrug at these
similarities as banal trivia; however, under them lies plenty of substance
and potential linking the two countries and aspirations of their people.
Nigeria being Africa’s most populous country (191 million) and
economy ($376 billion) as well as the world’s sixth largest oil exporter
(about 2 million barrels per day) is evidently important to us.
According to the latest Indian Department of Commerce statistics,
Nigeria is India’s largest trading partner in Africa (19th overall) with
total trade estimated at $13.5 billion in 2018-19. As official Nigerian data
show, thanks to our booming oil imports, India is Nigeria’s largest trading
For the same reason, Nigeria enjoys 4:1 surplus in bilateral
trade. Nevertheless, it is still a sizeable market for India’s manufactured
exports, such as (2018-19 figures) miscellaneous machinery ($500 million),
vehicles ($495 million), pharmaceutical products ($447 million), textile
items ($299 million), iron and steel articles ($152 million) and plastics
Outlook for India’s investment in Nigeria
In contrast to the stagnancy in India’s global exports, its
exports to Nigeria surged by 27% last year to reach around $2,880 million.
Indian investments in Nigeria are estimated at around $15 billion
with a further $5 billion in the pipeline.
There are at least 180 Indian companies operating in Nigeria with
pharmaceuticals, steel, power, retailing, fast-moving consumer goods and
skilling as their mainstay.
Approximately 50,000 Indians reside in Nigeria, some of them for
Most of them are professionals, such as engineers, accountants,
bankers, trainers and health-care experts.
Success despite apathy
While all these facts go to underline the substantive nature of
India-Nigeria ties, they also point to two important contextual factors.
All these achievements are the outcome of valiant attempts by
individual stakeholders with scant official encouragement or support.
The enormous potential still waits to be leveraged in such sectors
such as upstream hydrocarbons (despite India being the largest buyer of
Nigerian crude), agriculture, health care and skilling.
Despite their growth, Indian exports to Nigeria are still around a
quarter of China’s.
Although bilateral ties have had to face strong headwinds during
the past five years, more could have been accomplished. Mr. Buhari, who was
trained in India as a military officer and holds this country in high
esteem, attended the third India-Africa Forum Summit held in October 2015
and met Mr. Modi for bilateral talks.
Then Vice President Hamid Ansari’s bilateral visit in September
2016 broke the hiatus in top-level contact since Manmohan Singh’s Nigeria
visit, as Prime Minister, in 2007.
Though some ministerial-level visits took place in the past five
years, these were mostly for multilateral events in India. The last session
of the Joint Commission Meeting was in 2011 and the Foreign Office
Consultations were held in 2003.
Bilateral ties have not drawn commensurate proportion of the
resources offered by India to its African partners largely due to some
Defence cooperation has been mostly episodic and training
As the two leaders begin their respective second innings, they
need to give a push to India-Nigerian ties sooner rather than later.
Actions along few force-multiplier axes suggest themselves. With
oil and other commodities becoming a seller’s market, an early summit
between the two leaders is an obvious imperative.
It could evolve a multi-pronged strategy to leverage evident
economic complementarities in sectors such as hydrocarbons, infrastructure,
institution-building, defence and agriculture.
A purposive follow-up session of the joint economic commission
soon thereafter could provide an incremental and sustainable road map
empowering the relevant bilateral stakeholders.
If handled deftly and with political will, it could usher in an
India-Nigeria economic synergy that has been untapped for some decades.