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RIYADH: Nigeria on Thursday pledged its full support for Saudi Arabia’s ambitious bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Riyadh.

The two countries have a long history of cooperation and have always supported each other in international forums, Yahaya Lawal, Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

“It is certain that Nigeria has given its full support to the Saudi bid to host Expo 2030,” the envoy said. “President Muhammadu Buhari gave the green light when he recently spoke with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”

The Crown Prince announced the Saudi bid in October last year and the official bid was submitted in December during a virtual meeting of the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions. The Kingdom has already received a number of international approvals and has become a strong contender. The application process has five stages, culminating in a vote at the end of 2023.

Lawal said that in general, relations between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are strong.

“Our relations, especially at the political level, have been largely excellent,” he said. “A close understanding exists between our leaders and we will exchange 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, the Nigerian Trade and Investment Minister, Mariam Yalwaji Katagum, was here. This therefore signifies the importance attached to this bilateral cooperation.

Trade is a key element of the relationship, according to the envoy, and one that Nigeria wants to further strengthen.

“Trade is very important, although not as important as we would have liked, but it is growing,” he said. “Remember that both countries are members of OPEC, so they have very close cooperation within the framework of OPEC, and now OPEC+, in order to continue to stabilize 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 progresses.

Lawal noted that late last year, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan visited Nigeria and met with his Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, to discuss all aspects of the bilateral relationship.

“We are also planning a return visit this year to the Kingdom, as the Saudi foreign minister has invited his counterpart to Riyadh,” Lawal said.

“The date of the visit has not yet been decided. We hope that before the visit there is the joint bilateral commission between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. It was supposed to meet last December in Abuja but due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19 it was postponed. We are therefore waiting for a new date to meet in Abuja.

The joint bilateral commission is a very important cooperation framework, he said, in 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 where Nigeria would like to develop closer ties with Saudi Arabia, according to Lawal.

“Trade is one and it was discussed during the Saudi foreign minister’s visit to Nigeria,” he said. “We need to develop trade between our two countries. Investment from both sides is also important.

“Nowadays, all relations between countries are largely based on trade, trade 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 relations and raise them to a strategic level. We entered into an agreement in 2019 to establish what we call the Nigerian-Saudi Business Council; this is where we want to focus now.

Discussions are underway for the formation of the council, Lawal said, and once it is operational, all key trade, investment and trade issues will receive due attention.