Speech

Nigeria-UK relations to grow stronger in the next century

Ties that bind the UK and Nigeria will grow stronger and not weaker in the next century.

Paul Thomas Arkwright

Your Excellency the Governor of Lagos state, members of the Nigeria-British chamber of commerce, friends and colleagues,

I am delighted to be here to celebrate the Nigeria British Chamber of Commerce’s fortieth anniversary. And this year we are also privileged to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Lagos state. Many congratulations to both these great institutions.

I have been asked to talk about Nigeria – British relations over the next one hundred years. Given the rate of change in the world in just the last few years, and in the UK and world politics in the last twelve months alone, that is a daunting, some say fool-hardy, task. Few predictions that look that far ahead come to pass. But I have been set my task and I will attempt to meet it. So to start with, let’s look at history, briefly, and what has been, before we look at what the UK-Nigeria relationship may become.

I was in Kogi state two weeks ago visiting Lokoja. It was my first visit there. In addition to spending time with His Excellency the Governor and meeting members of the Chamber of cCmmerce, I spent time in the places that matter to Britain’s history in Nigeria. I stood where Lord Lugard stood watching the confluence of the two rivers, and where Nigeria’s name famously was suggested by his wife. It is just over one hundred years since Lord Lugard oversaw the amalgamation of northern and southern Nigeria into one protectorate.

When in Lokoja I saw how British history in Nigeria is complex and includes dark periods. I saw examples of chains placed on slaves trafficked down the river Niger. I know for many of the peoples of Nigeria, evading slavery was their first experience of meeting Europeans including the British. And it’s worth recalling that it was the British who introduced the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. There are references in Lokoja still to British champions like Wilberforce who campaigned not just for the abolition of laws permitting the slave trade, but to ensure the practice itself was eradicated. I am proud of those former British politicians who made the world engage to stop slavery. So I know when we look at history, that the experience of the British in Nigeria is one that raises strong emotions and concerns about how our engagement here began. I understand that. I respect those concerns. The past is not something we should forget and it is something we and I should always try to learn from.

But in Lokoja and elsewhere I have visited in Nigeria I also saw signs of what our future may be like too. I am very positive about that future. I believe that it will be a future based on many of the things the UK and Nigeria have shared, particularly since independence. I am talking about our shared values including a belief in the importance of education as a way for people of all backgrounds to better themselves. Post independence, and in particular since 1999, we also share a belief in freedom of speech and the importance of democracy. I will talk later about trade and investment and the ways in which we in the UK and we in Nigeria in the coming years can work together to promote global growth. To this audience, I know those messages matter a great deal. Importantly, the UK will leave the European Union in the next two years. I am confident that our relationship will continue as one sovereign country to another. That is another change I see as a real opportunity to deepen the bond we share. But I will start with our shared values as countries, and how the UK and Nigeria can work together to promote democracy.

Elections in Nigeria in 2015 changed the world’s perception of democracy, and not just in Nigeria. The example of President Goodluck Jonathan in standing down to allow an opposition leader to take office has set the tone for elections in West Africa. It has shown how far democracy has come in Nigeria since 1999. The leadership and engagement of President Buhari in The Gambia recently, when a sitting President did not follow the example of leaving office having lost an election, showed how there is no appetite now in West Africa to allow leaders to evade the democratic process. I think that’s something we will not just hold on to in the next one hundred years but is something Nigeria and the UK can champion globally. We in the UK will experience another general election shortly – on 8th June. That follows our momentous referendum last year and our decision to leave the European Union.

Some are concerned about the disruptive effective these democratic moments can have. I am not. I have faith in the strength of our institutions in the UK and in Nigeria to allow for successful, peaceful elections. For Nigeria, elections in 2019 will be the next big moment in its democratic journey. The UK will stand with Nigeria and with its institutions, like the Electoral Commission INEC, to ensure those elections are handled at least as well as the elections in 2015. Those of you who will engage in politics either as candidates or as funders of parties know that all Nigerians have a responsibility to ensure that each election in Nigeria is better, more peaceful, and more credible than the last one. Nigerian voters expect nothing less. And all Nigerians have a responsibility to vote too, to engage in the political process. The UK and the rest of the international community will be watching and helping in every way we can to ensure all respect and follow the rules ahead of and through the 2019 elections. Just as we did in 2015. So I firmly believe that our shared belief in democracy forms part of our future together as nations, encouraging others in Africa and beyond Africa to take the same path towards democracy.

That shared belief and confidence in democracy is just one example of our wider shared values. The UK and Nigeria believe all children have a right to better themselves through education. The UK Government has said that across Africa through our spending on international development in the next 5 years we will support 5.8 million children to gain a decent education. I am discouraged, but not despondent, about the large number of children in Nigeria who do not go to school. I am particularly concerned at the number of girls who are excluded from the education sector. In northern Nigeria, more than 50 per cent of girls have no experience of formal education and 80 per cent of women and young girls can neither read nor write. That is not acceptable. It is something together we the UK and Nigeria must address. Doing so is vital not just to those children’s personal futures but Nigeria’s economic success. As I heard John Kerry say a few years back, any team that keeps half of its best players on the bench will not achieve its full potential. That’s why last year the UK helped over twenty three thousand girls in northern Nigeria stay in school by providing cash transfers to support them. And why we helped almost fourteen thousand more in 2016 to improve their literacy.

Every year two million young people join the Nigerian workforce. They look for jobs in companies many of you own. So it is in our mutual interest to ensure whether they come from the north of Nigeria or any other part of the country that the work force that emerges has the skills you as employers need. It is just as important that the private sector in Nigeria combines its efforts to create jobs to meet that massive demand for work that Nigeria faces. Nigeria’s economic growth needs to be inclusive, with companies creating the jobs that Nigerians need and can fill.

Some people make comparisons between the relationship the UK has with its former colonies and the relationship other countries – like France – have with their former colonies. Others point to new partners in Africa like China and say the UK should do what they do and act as they do. But the UK has its own relationship with Nigeria and I prefer it. I have heard people call the UK Nigeria’s parent. I’d like to challenge that description. The UK today, and in the future, is Nigeria’s partner, not its father or mother. That’s something tangible and real. As a development partner in Nigeria, the UK remains steadfast in our support for the people of Nigeria.

We continue to spend just under half a billion UK pounds each year on development assistance in Nigeria. The UK has been among the leaders of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in the north-east of Nigeria. We scaled up our humanitarian funding from £1m in 2014 to 2015 to £74m in 2016 and £100m 2017. In 2016 in Nigeria, we delivered food assistance to more than 1 million people and treated 34,000 children at risk of death from severe under-nourishment. We provided essential household items to more than 225,000 people who have fled from their homes and provided more than 135,000 people access clean water and sanitation. The north-east of Nigeria can seem a long way from here in Lagos. I know many of you are acting to help those most in need there. We cannot and must not forget those living as citizens of Nigeria who don’t get enough to eat every day. They need our help and the Nigerian government’s help.

The UK has a commitment, enshrined in UK law, to spend 0.7% of our Gross National Income on development assistance. The UK will remain steadfast in our resolve to partner with Nigeria to support social and economic development. But I see a future where Nigeria, by virtue of the policies and investment that current leaders make, will require less aid to develop. Where our development partnership could grow to be more an exchange of ideas, a transfer of technologies, a genuinely balanced trade relationship. And the UK will use its position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, G7, and of course, the Commonwealth to help and support peace and security with Nigeria in Africa and throughout the world.

Now I want to turn to trade and our trading relationship with Nigeria. Some people say the UK has withdrawn from trade and investment in Nigeria and Africa. That’s not true and I challenge that suggestion wherever I hear it. The UK is still the largest European overseas investor in sub-saharan Africa, and the second largest globally. The UK’s bilateral trade relationship with Nigeria is still worth £3.8bn per annum. Shell, a British-Dutch company, has invested billions of pounds into Nigeria and has around sixty onshore or shallow water oilfields and seven hundred wells. Nigeria remains the largest oil producing country in Africa, in spite of the depressed price of oil at this time. But I want British businesses to think beyond the oil and gas sector.

The UK could regain its position as the top non-oil trading partner with Nigeria. That’s my personal ambition for the coming years, and one I think is realistic. I meet British companies all the time who are interested in the other sectors Nigeria has to offer: power (including solar), infrastructure, agriculture, education, the digital economy, fintech. I also encourage smaller and medium sized British companies to come to Nigeria to trade. We can be innovative, and encourage franchising of British companies in Nigeria as Hamleys have famously taken forward. We will be launching a new report on Franchising on May here in Lagos, and I hope many of you will be able to make time to attend the launch.

Some say BREXIT will diminish the UK’s trading power. We are clear that will not happen. The UK has been, and always will be a trading nation, keen on entrepreneurship and innovation, sustaining old ties, and forging new ones. We are very proud that the UK is still the fifth largest economy in the world, and ranked in the top six globally for ease of doing business. More than ever, we want to safeguard our reputation for providing an environment in which companies can prosper and pioneer for the future. The characteristics which have made the UK a world leader in financial and other services have not altered with the decision to leave the European Union. Nor has our openness to business from around the globe. It is striking that on 1 August last year the first rupee denominated Masala bond to be issued outside India was arranged in London. 3 months ago it was London where the Nigerian Finance Minister chose to launch the latest Eurobond issue. And I see huge potential in Nigeria as a market for British businesses, and huge potential in the UK for entrepreneurial Nigerians willing to trade and invest.

I have heard people say it is too hard to get a visa to go to the UK from Nigeria. The facts suggest otherwise. In 2016, around 140,000 people applied for visas to the UK. Of those that applied for student visas, 90% were successful. For those that applied for other visas, around 70% were successful. We have introduced a same day visa service – at a cost – for visas in Nigeria. And a service that can mean you get a visa within 5 days, at a lower cost than the same day process. Our turnaround time for all other visas is 15 days. We want Nigerians to travel to the UK. They come to do business, to study, to see family and to invest in our economy. They, you, are welcome.

There are as many as 250,000 Nigerian nationals or dual Nigerian – British nationals living in the UK at the moment. Some claim the total Nigerian diaspora in the UK is well over a million. There are perhaps 20,000 British nationals here in Nigeria. The key thing for any visitor to the UK, whether they are from Nigeria or anywhere else, is that they respect the law and the length of time their visa says they can stay in the UK. A minority of Nigerian visitors don’t do that. It is only with that minority that we have an issue. But those who want to trade and invest in the UK are very welcome to do so.

So in concluding I will make a few predictions about the UK and Nigeria in the next one hundred years, and our successors can look back and reflect on whether I am right or wrong.

My first is that Nigeria’s role in the world will change significantly. In 2050, Nigeria will be the third biggest country in the world – bigger than the USA. Between them, China, India and the USA have been the three biggest countries in the world for generations. Nigerian leaders in the private and public space must start talking about this now. How to address the challenges that hold Nigeria back and how to unleash the potential that the growth of Nigeria’s population offers are the questions the Nigerian business and political elite must address.

My second is that Lagos and London will be major global economic centres: if anything I think Lagos – Africa’s fifth largest economy in 2016 - will become more important in the coming years as the African example of how to break down barriers to doing business and bring in foreign investment. I believe British businesses will be a big part of Lagos and that economic growth in the next century. I also believe Lagos will, over the next 100 years, continue to shine through its entrepreneurship, energy and creativity, and that it will come to be regarded as one of the world’s truly modern, 21st century mega cities. But the challenge will be to ensure that all of its citizens, including those who live in settlements or slums, benefit from the development of the city, and are included in plans for urban development. Lagos will only become a modern and resilient city, if the rule of law is respected and its poorest citizens have faith in the rules being followed.

Thirdly, I believe the UK and Nigeria will together continue championing democracy. I believe the path towards democracy and away from military rule, is irreversible now for Nigeria, and Nigerians are committed to taking it. The UK again will help with Nigeria’s path, in whatever way we can. But the elections in 2019 are the next big milestone along that path which we should all prepare for properly and where respect for the rules by political leaders and their parties will be key.

Finally, I believe the ties that bind the UK and Nigeria, that are cultural, linguistic, historical and business links will grow stronger not weaker in the next century. The UK and Nigeria are already strong partners, and I believe that partnership will be stronger still when my successor as High Commissioner stands here before you in 2117 to discuss the state of the UK – Nigeria relationship and celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Nigeria – British chamber of commerce. Because ultimately relationships between countries come down to relationships between human beings. The privilege of being British High Commissioner here is not only that I represent Her Majesty The Queen, but that I represent the people of the UK. And when I hear about the affection of so many Nigerians for the UK, when I feel the passion of Nigerians when they speak of the English football team they support, or the appreciation for the wonderful UK education system which so many of you have benefitted from, that’s when I truly appreciate that it’s the human bond which brings us together. That is a bond which I believe will never be broken. Indeed, it’s a bond which I believe can only get stronger during the difficult years ahead. We all have a part to play in strengthening those bonds. Thank you for all you have done, and all you will do, to help me in that noble endeavour.

Thank you for your kind attention. I would be delighted to answer any questions you may have.

Published 21 April 2017