It is a great pleasure to be here to launch an exciting new chapter in the story of the UK-Nigeria partnership, with this Chevening Alumni economic prosperity forum.
I am delighted to see so many Chevening Alumni here with us today – and to welcome invited guests from government and industry who will be joining our debates and discussions.
And I’d like to start by recalling the spirit of the Chevening awards – Chevening is a global programme that awards fully funded Masters scholarships to people who demonstrate great leadership potential. It’s a phenomenal opportunity, and the competition is fierce. None more so than in Nigeria where Chevening attracted more applicants than any other country worldwide last year. Applications for 2016 have just closed and I hope Nigeria will again be the source of most applicants.
In addition to the criteria for academic excellence and leadership potential, you alumni all know that one of the most important conditions is that when you complete your studies – and that you come back with a vision to deliver in your chosen field with your new skills, experience and networks. All alumni here have delivered on that commitment in different ways, some of you have achieved truly great things and I know many more of you are firmly on the road to do so.
The value of the global Chevening network – more than 43,000 graduates across the globe – is immense. And it is why we at the British High Commission, with the support of the Chevening Alumni Fund, and the Prosperity Fund, has brought together this forum to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Nigeria today.
All of us in this room know the scale of the challenge here in Nigeria – the oil price slump, the current recession, the challenges of transforming an economy towards a more diversified, inclusive economic base.
The UK is firmly committed to supporting this effort. We know the task is difficult – but the UK-Nigeria relationship spreads widely, encompassing security, infrastructure, skills and capacity development, and enhanced trade relations that will help Nigeria recover, prosper and realise the potential we all know this great country has.
Many of you will know about DFID’s suite of programmes – supporting entrepreneurs, women and girls in the north; building capacity in institutions to guide and deliver the complex infrastructure programmes that are needed to underpin Nigeria’s development. Our Department for International Trade here in Lagos works tirelessly with UK and Nigeria companies – making connections, helping open up avenues for mutually beneficial exchange between our countries’ businesses. The British Council has programmes in exchanging culture and education – spurring innovation and entrepreneurship, helping to build the skills of the future. Our network currently has a presence in 6 cities across the country, given the UK the greatest reach of any diplomatic mission in Nigeria. The UK’s investment and belief in Nigeria is clear.
But above all, today, I want to point to the investment that we have made in so many of you – the UK-Nigeria relationship is fundamentally about people. And you represent a cornerstone of those people to people relations.
And the reason that this is so important is that lasting solutions to Nigeria’s challenges will not be those that come only from outside. They will be rooted in Nigeria and driven by Nigerians. That is why your thoughts and ideas and ideas is so important. This session is about creating a platform where we can hearing from you and giving your words amplification as some of the brightest and best in your different sectors.
I am proud of our relationship with Nigeria. We as a mission are very proud of the partnership embodied in the Chevening Alumni Association of Nigeria. Seeing what Chevening Alumni have achieved here in Nigeria is immensely satisfying to all my team – but I believe, we believe you can and will achieve yet more. We hold great confidence in what you represent about what Nigeria can achieve in the future. I look forward to hearing the debates this morning, the ideas you will debate – and more importantly I look forward to seeing what you will achieve, and what we will achieve together.