Did President Buhari take note of the Brits? -By ’Tunji Ajibade

Filed under: Political Issues |

Tunji Ajibade

 

Several guests were here when President Muhammadu Buhari was in London. It’s been my intention to inform the President about them. But some may accuse me of “too-know” if I presented a complete roll-call here. I don’t even need to be told. I ought to know that Vice President Yemi Osibajo had eminently briefed the President regarding visitors. Nevertheless, it’s grave injustice to Nigerians if I don’t take the gargantuan responsibility upon myself to personally report a particular set of guests to the President. The Brits. They came. With a large and powerful delegation, and I was surprised. Well, it happened that the President had left London and returned home at the time they were here. It was just that the number one citizen had left for Daura before the Brits gathered in Abuja. The Vice-President received them. I suppose that was the plan even before Buhari decided to depart from London. But I find a few things worthy of note regarding the visit by the Brits, and this is what I want the President to bear in mind.

The first thing to notice was the timing of the visit. The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May was in Japan at the time her Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, came to Nigeria. Why is this important? Nigerian presidents normally travel with the Minister of Foreign Affairs. If it were not that Buhari was away on a medical vacation, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, would have been part of his entourage when he was out of the country. What made May to spread out her team to different parts of the world?

Note that Johnson came with another cabinet member, Secretary of International Development, Ms Priti Patel. In the long queue behind them were officials from the UK as well as the UK’s high commission and agencies in Nigeria. Then, Johnson and Patel went to Maiduguri. Johnson was in Lagos where he stood at the harbour to make fine comments about the Nigerian Navy. Thereafter, everyone in his team assembled in Abuja. They met with the Vice President, several other government agencies and ministers, including those for Foreign Affairs and Budget and National Planning. While Johnson was speaking after the meeting with Osinbajo, he praised the relations between Nigeria and his country, and how much his government was working to make it stronger. Our ministers said they were happy the UK investors were interested in Nigeria so they would do everything needed to encourage them for the benefit of both nations.

As for Patel, she eulogised the several development programmes her country had been part of in Nigeria. Her nation had been assisting Nigeria regarding developmental issues and would continue to do so, she said. But what did the Brits really want which made their PM go to the East while her top cabinet officials headed for Africa? The move itself gave a signal of haste. It was clear the Brits wanted to achieve so much in a short time. Note that about the same time, the UK’s Secretary for Brexit was in Brussels, exchanging diplomatic but heated words with the EU officials over how Britain would finally withdraw its membership from the body. This is the main background to the visit to Nigeria by the Brits. Brexit. The reason they spread themselves thin, moving at full steam.

Britain shall be on its own soon, so it needs to strengthen its own trade links with other nations without the EU dictating to it. The UK won’t be out of the EU until 2019, but it is hitting the ground running, planning ahead, encouraging more businesses to come to Nigeria, looking to grow its market share. This is worthy of note. In a speech by the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr Paul Arkwright, late 2016, he gave insights into where Nigeria stood in post-Brexit situation as of that time.

A few issues have since come up, but his view remains largely relevant. He acknowledged that the decision the British people made to leave the EU would lead to change, and much detail about that change was still uncertain. Yet, he said there were some certainties. He said Prime Minister May made a clear statement that Brexit meant Brexit, and that the government was determined to make a success of it. She was also clear that there would be many elements to making a success of Brexit. One of them is the role of Britain in the world. Arkwright said, accordingly, Britain was committed to working with its international partners to achieve a safer, healthier and more prosperous planet.

He added that Britain’s links with the Commonwealth, of which Nigeria is a major member, were unique and dynamic. He notes that Britain’s undertaking to spend on international development and on defence is enshrined in the law and means that Britain will remain an engaged international contributor. His country has been, and always will be a trading nation, keen on entrepreneurship and innovation. He said his government is committed to making Brexit work well, for the British people and for the country’s relationships with the global community. He points out that the scale of the task of delivering Brexit is huge, but there has been no undue delay in addressing it. He added that the significant new ministries that had been created since Brexit began were the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for International Trade, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Within those departments there is already a lot of thinking, and analysis underway, he added. These changes are also worthy of note.

As for what Brexit means for Britain’s relationship with Nigeria and what has or will change, Arkwright said very little has changed. The UK remains the 5th largest exporter to Nigeria. The bilateral trade relationship is worth $3.8bn per annum. Shell, a British-Dutch company, has invested billions of pounds into Nigeria. Shell owns approximately one third of oil produced in Nigeria. Arkwright said the historical and cultural links between Nigeria and the UK, the common language of English that the vast majority of Nigerians speak, the strong educational and business links don’t change. He said these connections would become stronger. Arkwright was straightforward when he said, “The UK is naturally looking to grow its market share, to encourage more businesses to come to Nigeria and to invest…” There are roughly 20,000 British and dual nationals living in Nigeria now. He desires to see this figure grow as British businesses of all sizes are encouraged to look outward still further, to export and do business in Nigeria. Of course those aims were what Johnson and Patel came to pursue in Nigeria, and what May singly went to pursue in Japan.

At the time Johnson and Patel were here, I had listened to what they had to say. They said it so well that our ministers were nodding in agreement behind them while they spoke. I also noticed that while our ministers spoke, Johnson was smiling, nodding with satisfaction. For the Brits, this was a successful visit. But how ready are we to make a success of this drive for us? Do we have a strategic approach to what they want to throw at us? Do we have a package into which we will fit such activity, or they just do whatever they want in ways that don’t fit into our development aspirations? Have we defined those aspirations? It’s the angle I want the President to take note of. The Brits had a job to do, they defined it, and they set themselves to it. Arkwright said after May stated that “Brexit means Brexit”; she rearranged the ministries, and created new ones relevant to the policy goals of her government, post-Brexit. Then, she set fire to the backsides of her officials, compelling them run with her vision.

These form part of the reasons I think the visit by the Brits especially is worth noting by the President. Their dedicated approach to their national aspirations is an example of the importance of the role of the head of the house. Two years have passed since the president arrived office, I think it’s time he undertook a thorough check of what has worked according to his vision and what hasn’t, and take more steps that show Nigerians that he remains committed to his vision just as his UK counterpart is displaying to her people.

 

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