Theresa May in Africa: How good a deal does she offer Nigeria?

Theresa May

Semi-casual and comfortable in a patterned yellow jacket presumably produced by Emmy Kasbit, a Nigerian designer who recently returned to using Akwete, a traditional fabric made in a weavers’ town in South-Eastern towns in Abia and Delta, Theresa May rounded up a one day visit to Nigeria on Wednesday evening.

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The British Prime Minister’s arrival in Abuja earlier in the day had been somewhat overshadowed by shenanigans involving the declaration of an aspirant, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, for the 2019 presidential race. However, Ms May’s was received at the State House by President Buhari and a number of Ministers with the considerable fanfare accorded to a head of government of her standing. No joint press conferences were held as a full state visit would normally feature but the Prime Minister’s words on Britain’s interest in fostering trade and security were well received by President Muhammadu Buhari. He in turn assured her that his ambitions for a second term would not stand in the way of ensuring next year’s polls are free, fair and transparent.

Arriving to a lock down in Lagos with streets decorated with her posters, Ms May elaborated more on her country’s trade intentions, supposedly in recognition that Lagos is where Nigeria’s business people are. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was rather enthused by what he heard:

“She is ready to complement our efforts by opening up export credit facility and also with development finance to some of the things that we are doing in Lagos,” he said, also noting that technology, infrastructure and also the creative industry were also discussed.

Ms May’s rounds in Africa, ending on Thursday in Kenya, was to assure the continent’s key economies that Britain’s uncertain future away from the European Union would not leave relations (especially trade) weakened. She told her audience in Lagos that they could look forward to Export Credit Finance to the tune of 750 million pounds sterling, plus a development finance package according to the News Agency of Nigeria. At a meeting attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and two Ministers, the UK Minister of State for Africa Harriett Baldwin announced a £70-million programme to create 100,000 jobs in Nigeria. The programme is projected to raise the income of three million people from the poorest parts of Nigeria, an action plan that, theoretically, demonstrates how the UK intends to help Nigeria cease becoming the poverty capital of the world as Ms May had reminded the country’s leaders in a speech before she arrived.

Ms May has made the case for the Nigerian government to be without a choice but to be actively looking forward to doing business with Britain. While the atmosphere in her cabinet is that of rolling uncertainty, the calm-looking Prime Minister was confident in her salesmanship of just how inevitable the UK’s friendship is for Nigeria’s development. As far as can be deduced from responses, Governor Ambode of Lagos state has strongly bought into that view, citing a nostalgia for both nations to rekindle historic ties dating back to 1861 when the state first became a colony of the Empire. Ambode’s Lagos is uniquely positioned in benefitting from any goods that will come from more trade and commerce, hence his active urging for more British investors to bring their capital into the city. Never mind the urgency in patching up roads and potholes in preparation for May’s arrival, Ambode wants all of Britain to do business in Lagos.

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Such enthusiasm should be read in its positive light, even in the presence of doubts that the state and the country at large is becoming better as an environment where it is easy to do business. From devising permanent solutions to the presence of tankers on Lagos streets and the treatment of dwellers of informal settlements, to the teething traffic and waste management problems, Lagos, despite being one of Africa’s largest economies, is no Big Apple. At the Federal level, the inconsistencies of the Nigeria Police and the President’s opinions on an individual’s rights are anything but invitations to do business.

These notwithstanding, the progress of road and rail infrastructure projects will inspire confidence in investors. The successful closure for maintenance and re-opening of the Third Mainland Bridge has a good feel about it that, under good organisation, a city as chaotic as Lagos can work. Hence, federal and state experts on trade should look forward to the details of Ms May’s proposals and enthusiastically lead the rest of Africa on those aspects that will bring the best for the country’s citizen.

Trusting that the UK’s intentions are mutually beneficial, but verifying that its post-Brexit apparatus is stable and strong to deliver.

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