India’s new minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan on Tuesday embarked on a three-day visit to Nigeria, reflecting the NDA government’s continued commitment to boosting ties with African countries.This is Muraleedharan’s first visit abroad since assuming office and he will attend “Democracy Day” celebrations in Abuja and interact with the Nigerian leadership on June 12, the external affairs ministry said.He is expected to meet leaders from other African nations who will attend the event. Muraleedharan will also visit Lagos on June 13 and interact with members of the Indian community in both cities.“This visit is reflective of the close and substantive ties between India and Nigeria,” the ministry said.During its first term, the NDA government stepped up the outreach to Africa to consolidate India’s long-standing ties with the continent and to counter China’s growing influence, officials familiar with developments said.President Ram Nath Kovind, vice president M Venkaiah Naidu and Prime Minister Narendra Modi made trips to some two dozen African countries during the NDA government’s first term. The Africa Forum summit hosted by India in 2015 was attended by 41 heads of state or government.The 55 countries of Africa will have a crucial say in India’s quest to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. India has extended 152 lines of credit worth $8 billion to 44 African nations for agriculture, infrastructure, public transport, clean energy and irrigation.India-Nigeria ties were elevated to a strategic partnership in 2007 and both sides have strong defence cooperation. Bilateral trade was worth $11.76 billion in 2017-18 and Nigeria is India’s largest trading partner in Africa.India is also Nigeria’s largest trading partner globally and the African nation is the 5th largest supplier of crude oil and the 2nd largest supplier of LNG to India. Indian firms have a large presence in Nigeria, which is home to the largest Indian community in West Africa.