How has it been being the United Kingdom High Commissioner to Nigeria?
It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable three months so far. I feel at home in Nigeria, and I admire the vibrancy and friendliness of Nigerian people. I haven’t travelled around the country, much but I hope to visit as many states during my time here. Apart from Abuja I’ve been to two other major Nigerian cities, Kaduna and Lagos.
In all these places, I see the ‘can-do’ and accommodating spirit of Nigerians, their creativity and rich culture many aspects of which I find really fascinating. I must not forget that Nigerian cuisine is rich; suya is sheer delight. Just like in the United Kingdom, there are many Nigerians passionate about sports, particularly football; speaking of which I must again congratulate the national Under-17 team for its recent brilliant World Cup victory. On the down side though, I am yet to meet Nigerians who support my home Bolton Wanderers Football Club. Hopefully I’ll find them as I get to travel around the country.
Some have alleged that corruption in Nigeria hinders how much aid money the country gets from the UK. How true is that and what’s your government doing to ensure that aid funds reach target beneficiaries?
No UK aid goes directly to the government of Nigeria. We work with reliable local partners. Long-term, our aid is designed to enable developing countries so that they are less reliant on foreign assistance. In Nigeria, this includes DFID working to tackle corruption, including by providing technical assistance to improve financial management and supporting anti-corruption agencies. A stable and prosperous Nigeria will benefit UK trade, energy and security interests, and help reduce crime.
Your country has been forthright in its condemnation of Boko Haram and its terrorist activities in Nigeria and others. What specific assistance has the UK government so far offered Nigeria?
Boko Haram remains a real threat to stability in North-East Nigeria. The UK is providing a substantial package of UK military, intelligence and development support to help Nigeria tackle Boko Haram. We are also supporting regional efforts and have provided £5m to support the Multinational Joint Task Force against Boko Haram.
We have a resident military training and advisory team in Nigeria that coordinates an enhanced programme of military capacity building assistance to the Armed Forces of Nigeria. This team is augmented as necessary by Short Term Training Teams, the size and duration of which are dependent upon the task. They can range from a handful of individuals deployed for a week, to larger deployments for several weeks. Following the recent call on President (Muhammadu) Buhari by the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Rt. Hon. Michael Fallon, that the UK will be doubling to 300 the number of military experts deployed to Nigeria in 2016 to assist the Nigerian military with training and advice on counter-insurgency.
With France and the United States of America, we are supporting an analysis and planning cell focused on the North-East, led by the Nigerian military and based in Abuja. We are also providing support to regional intelligence-sharing arrangements between Nigeria and its neighbours. We have increased our counter-terrorism cooperation, providing training on the response to terrorist attacks, bomb scene management, and improving aviation security. President Buhari has made tackling Boko Haram a clear priority. He has our full support in doing so as you may have noticed from the string of high-profile visits to Nigeria from the UK Defence and political circles.
It has been more than a year since the abduction of the more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls by the insurgents, what specific assistance is the UK giving Nigeria in ensuring the safe return of the girls?
It is really sad that another year has gone by with the Chibok girls who were brutally abducted by Boko Haram still in captivity. The UK and other international partners will continue to work closely together to support Nigeria to find the girls, however difficult that may be. On the specifics of what we are doing, we do not comment on the results of ongoing intelligence operations. Also, operational matters concerning the Nigerian security forces are not for the UK to comment on.
Has the current insurgency in Nigeria impacted negatively on the trade relations between your country and Nigeria?
Trade volumes between the UK and Nigeria have gone up in spite of the security situation in the North-East. Nigeria has seen rates of growth over the last decade above the regional and global average. The country is expected to continue growing on average five to six per cent per annum and rise to the 19th largest economy in the world by 2030. We are keen that UK companies play a role in supporting this growth – through investing capital, resource and expertise in Nigeria, and by exporting to Nigeria high quality goods and services. Through our UK Trade and Investment teams based in Lagos and Abuja, we are supporting UK companies to identify and secure increased levels of business in Nigeria – building on the just over £6 bn of bilateral trade that is currently conducted between our countries. We are investing in Nigeria to help promote the conditions to ensure that business will thrive here.
But the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office still feels Nigeria is unsafe in its travel warning to British citizens; do you think this is encouraging to people who want to do business in Nigeria?
The British government has a duty to inform UK travellers around the world of security risks wherever they may occur. But that should not stop British businesses coming here (Nigeria), well prepared to make the most of the abundant opportunities the country has to offer.
Have alleged violation of human rights by Nigeria’s military affected your country’s selling arms to Nigeria?
We do not have a different set of rules guiding arms sales to Nigeria or any country for that matter. If Nigeria were to seek to buy military equipment from British suppliers, their licence applications would be assessed on a case-by-case basis against National and European Union Consolidated Criteria. These criteria cover all exports of arms and controlled military goods, including those provided on a gift basis. Respect for human rights is one of the factors taken into consideration in the export licensing process.
How is the UK military helping Nigerian troops with regards to respect for human rights?
All our counter-terrorism and military capacity building work is delivered in line with Her Majesty’s Government Overseas Security and Justice Assistance Guidance in order to mitigate the risk of human rights violations. Any training carried out by the UK military is done in full compliance with our human rights obligations, and we use training courses to remind the Nigerian military that this is an important aspect of our work.
What is your view on the alleged unprovoked attack and killing of some 200 Shiite Muslims in Zaria, Kaduna State, by the Nigerian military?
Like many across Nigeria, I followed reports of the violence that broke out in Zaria between Nigerian security forces and the Islamic Movement of Nigeria with great concern. As I pointed out in a statement shortly after the December 12 incident, Nigeria’s religious and ethnic diversity adds a great deal to this country’s rich culture. The diversity is something all Nigerians should be proud of. It is important, therefore, that Nigerians of all faiths are allowed to assemble and worship freely. It is equally important for the security forces to conduct their operations within the rule of law. In addition, demonstrators need to ensure their protests are peaceful and that they act within the law.
There are allegations that corrupt Nigerian officials service the British economy. What efforts is your government making to ensure that banks in the UK act more responsibly before accepting money from these officials?
The British economy does not thrive on the proceeds of corruption. To put it in a more straightforward manner, there is no place for proceeds of corruption in Britain. We have a zero tolerance approach to corruption in any form and tackling corruption remains a high priority for the Prime Minister (David Cameron). The UK government does not aid corruption in Nigeria or elsewhere. The arrest and prosecution of James Ibori in a UK court demonstrates our commitment to this agenda. Here in Nigeria we are scaling up our efforts to help address the political and economic incentives for corruption, the Nigerian authorities’ capacity and ability to tackle it, and strengthen how the Nigerian public sector is accountable to Nigerian people. We welcome President Buhari’s commitment to tackling corruption as a priority, including the early reform of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
James Ibori, now in jail in the UK for money laundering, is said to have stolen $250 million but only $17 million was recovered from him. How true is that? How much has been returned to Nigeria?
The UK has ensured that assets seized, confiscated or forfeited that fall within Article 57 United Nations Convention Against Corruption 2005 are returned to the country from which they were stolen. We are working with Nigerian authorities to deliver an effective mechanism for the return of stolen funds and assets from Nigeria.
Are you saying looted Ibori money in UK possession had been returned to Nigeria?
None of the money from Ibori’s confiscation has as yet been returned; his confiscation hearing is scheduled to take place later in 2016. Assets have been forfeited and confiscated from linked trials and we are, through the Home Office, working on the modality of their return.
Decades ago, the Nigerian government tried to kidnap Umaru Dikko to try him for corruption charges. Is the UK going to accede to any request by the Buhari administration to extradite former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to answer corruption charges in Nigeria?
It is a matter of public record that on Monday 5, October (2015 that) £27,000 was seized from Diezani Allison-Madueke at Westminster Magistrates Court along with smaller sums from two other individuals, but we are not providing any further detail at this time and it should not be inferred that this relates to any previous statements made by the UK National Crime Agency. Additionally, as a matter of policy we would not routinely discuss, confirm or deny the request or receipt of Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties.
How many Nigerian prisoners in the UK had been repatriated to complete their terms in Nigeria?
The UK and Nigeria signed a Prisoner Transfer Agreement in 2014 that allows Nigerians who commit crimes in the UK, and Britons who commit crimes in Nigeria to serve their sentences in their respective countries where they can be properly prepared for release into the community in which they will live following their release. This is a further example of the close relationship between the UK and Nigeria on migration issues. As at September 2015, there were approximately 500 Nigerians across UK prisons, and transfers are made following consent by both countries.
What’s the population of Nigerians in the UK and how will you describe them?
There are something like two million Nigerians or people of Nigerian descent living legally, peacefully and contributing to the UK in many different ways. There are about 250,000 Nigerian nationals with Nigerian passports in the UK contributing to the United Kingdom’s economy, to lots of different sectors. In other words, there are people who have been there for many generations who are British nationals with Nigerian descent. We have five members of parliament who are British nationals but who are of Nigerian descent. Nigerians are wonderful people wherever you find them; they are enterprising, enthusiastic, charming and accommodating. I can’t describe those in the UK in any other terms. Nigerians are very welcome to Britain. They are a huge asset to the UK’s cultural and economic diversity.
What’s the total number of Nigerians studying in the UK?
Currently there are around 19,000 Nigerians studying across the UK and I must add, most of them are doing exceptionally well in their various courses of study. In the first quarter of 2016 the British High Commission will host the 2014/2015 batch of Chevening scholars who have completed their Master’s programme to a reception. You are welcome to come interact with them on their experiences studying in the UK.
What economic and political lessons are there for Nigeria to learn from the UK?
There’s a lot both our nations can learn from each other including in the areas of politics and the economy that you have narrowed it to. On the economic front, I would say Nigeria has great potential to become one of the world’s leading economies if it diversifies its economy so it’s not largely oil-driven. If you look all around Nigeria you see rich resources that would place the economy of the country notches higher if properly harnessed; from agriculture to tourism and its extractive industries, there’s so much Nigeria has on offer. The creative industry here which is growing in leaps and bounds could place Nigeria in great shape on the economic front if developed to its full potential. Politically, Nigeria would fare a lot better if individuals and institutions uphold the rule of law. If people and institutions play by laid-down rules and try not to circumvent the system, everyone would be better off for it. That’s a message that President Buhari has made very clear, and I strongly endorse it.
Declaimer: Opinion expressed in comments are those of the comment writers alone and does not reflect or represent Koko Level’s.