From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, yesterday, said Nigeria has not shifted from its non-aligned position on international affairs.

He stated this against the backdrop of a statement issued recently by the Federal Government, commiserating with the Russian Federation over the Moscow concert hall attack.

Tuggar, while interacting with members of the Diplomatic Correspondents Association of Nigeria (DICAN) at the Tafawa Balewa House, Abuja, was asked if the statement meant that Nigeria was shifting position on the Russia-Ukraine crisis and if Nigeria had left its non-aligned status. He replied: “This is not the case. Nigeria has been consistent, even when we had the bipolar world, we were non-aligned, we were not with the US, nor were we with the Soviet bloc at the time. We dealt with both sides.”

He said Nigeria is an equal opportunity aligner, a country that aligned with the interest of Nigeria and continued to do so, which is why Nigeria continued to emphasise on strategic autonomy.

Tuggar also said the tradition of condoling with countries when they have had such an unfortunate incident continued.

“It is not new, and Russia is not an enemy. If you go back to the Soviet era, the cold war era, the Soviet Union had very close relations with Nigeria. Ajaokuta Steel Complex was built by the Soviet Union at the time, which consisted of both Russia and Ukraine.

“And we continue to maintain very good relations with them. Our position of violation of territorial integrity of countries remains the same, it remains consistent.

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“We condemned the violation of Ukraine’s territorial space when it occurred, but it does not mean because of that, we would stop dealing with Russia. We will continue to deal with Russia.

“The same way we are dealing with Ukraine, the same way we are dealing with other countries. And whenever something happens to them, whenever there is any misfortune, we will commiserate with them the same way they commiserate with us.

“So, let us understand this and let us not read too many meanings to it. We do that out of our humanitarian concerns,” Tuggar said.

Tuggar, while also responding to a question on if the nation’s foreign policy will continue to be African-centred or will expand, responded in the affirmative that it will expand, said: “We will continue to expand, we will continue to engage other countries, but you also have to bear in mind that whatever you do in foreign policy, your starting point is the constitution of Nigeria. And in that constitution are the foreign policy objectives in Nigeria and those are constant. You cannot change that.

“And one of the foreign policy objectives, in fact, two, one talks about our region, West Africa, another talks about Africa itself. So, those are immovable and you can see how it also makes sense for Nigeria to pay close attention to what happens in its region because when outsiders also engage with us, they not only engage with us as Nigeria, but they are also engaging with us as a leader in our neighbourhood, in our region, on the continent and this is going to become even more so because we are growing in terms of population, we are the most populous, we will continue to be so, we will be the third most populous country on the planet by 2050. And of course, our economy is also going to continue to grow. We are the largest economy on the continent and, therefore, when people look at us, they will approach us through that perspective as well.”

On his part, DICAN Chairman, Fred Idehai, said DICAN members are committed to supporting him to succeed in his responsibility as the minister of Foreign Affairs.

“We also assure you of DICAN’s partnership to project the nation’s image positively before the international community, as well as drive the country’s foreign policy in line with the renewed hope agenda of the president,” Idehai said.