Recently, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Gill Atkinson, on a visit to the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt Hon Ahmed Wase, challenged Nigeria to come forward and take advantage of the ongoing Brexit process in Britain. She said, “The Brexit is an opportunity for Nigeria. If I were Nigerian businessmen and artists I would take advantage of this opportunity for Nigeria.”
Although Ms Atkinson did not elaborate on how Nigeria stands to benefit from Brexit, such is the wide coverage of the issue around the world, that Nigerians, along with the rest of the world, cannot ignore it even if they choose to. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who just took over from Theresa May, has promised to implement Brexit by October 31, whether a deal is struck with the European Union or not. And as the date approaches, the world watches with bated breath, how the conundrum eventually pans out.
So, what really is Brexit? Who are the players? What are the driving issues? How is it playing out, and what will the result look like? Most importantly, how will it affect Nigeria and what opportunities does it present to Nigeria in its overarching quest for development?
“Brexit’’ is a short working slogan for Britain’s quest to leave the European Union, to which it has been a member since 1973 during the Conservative government of Prime Minister Edward Heath. Since its entry, Britain’s stay in the EU has been highly acrimonious owing to sharp differences on just about everything, ranging from agriculture, immigration, financial and monetary to governance policies.
Things came to a head in 2016 when a nationwide referendum was conducted in Britain during the administration of Prime Minister David Cameron to determine whether the country should finally leave the EU or remain. The main contentious issue that provided the thrust for the referendum vote was immigration – Britons railed about the influx of immigrants, mainly from eastern Europe, who were taking advantage of the EU protocols on free movement of nationals from member countries to settle and work in Britain.
The then Prime Minister David Cameron facing a revolt from his Conservative Party colleagues, led by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, decided to call a referendum in which those in favour of leaving the EU triumphed by 52per cent against those who wanted Britain to remain at 48per cent. Faced with what amounted to a vote of no confidence on him, David Cameron, who voted to remain in the EU, resigned and was succeeded by Theresa May, then Home Secretary (Interior Minister).
Since the referendum vote, Britain has been in the throes of uncertainty about what Brexit portends for its future. Theresa May, who is remainer, found the task of negotiating Brexit with the EU daunting.
As the negotiations went on, it became clear that in addition to immigration, other no less important factors like the Irish border, Scotland, and indeed, the future of the United Kingdom were at stake, which May could not successfully resolve. This proved her undoing.
Boris Johnson has made no bones about taking Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, and he is prepared to risk all to carry it out. Why is he so bent on taking this course of action, which by all accounts, is fraught with uncertainties to Britain and the world?
An African proverb has it that when one sees a man dancing vigorously by the roadside, he must be responding to some drumming in the bush.
In his defiance of the EU and other voices of reason against his concept of Brexit, Johnson has the unmistakeable backing of the United States of America. With the two Anglo-Saxon nations in collaboration, Brexit has now been transformed from the original matter of Britain exiting the EU to a strategic effort, aimed at reconstructing the global economic and political landscape by the two countries.
The impetus for this is the weakening position of America, vis-à-vis the emergence of new global power blocs. The Americans are coming to the awareness that the Bretton Woods global economic and political architecture, which they hoisted on the world after the Second World War, is stressed out and facing serious challenges of relevance.
Britain’s role in this is to instigate a fundamental crisis of relevance in the EU, which both the Americans and British regard as a hostile economic and political bloc under Franco-German control. The fact that both France and Germany have become increasingly independently assertive on global political, economic and strategic issues riles the Americans and British.
In this global Anglo-Saxon strategic pincer movement, while the British are tasked on bringing the EU house down through Brexit, the Americans on their part are tackling the Russians and Chinese and whoever else emerges in the global horizon deemed hostile to the world view of the two.
If a new global strategic architecture is in the works, Nigeria ought to take note and see how it could profit from the opportunities they bring. The reasons are legion.
In terms of population, Nigeria is projected to be the third largest country in the world after China and India by 2050. What plans do we have to cope with this development? What this presupposes is that we need to urgently and fundamentally change and adapt to the emerging trends in global economic thinking.
We have some positives in abundant human and material resources. We are also ahead in Africa in terms of diversity, which underscores our exceptionalism on the continent. We are thus better placed than any country to play the role of economic, political and cultural hub of the continent. We should leverage on this.
But we cannot take up this role effectively on the basis of our current economic status, which is based mainly on service-oriented and light consumer industries.
We need to transform to a heavy industry-based economy in the coming years, both to satisfy the needs of our economy and to project our economic power throughout the continent.
It is instructive to note that on the spur of Brexit, Britain is being promised a generous trade deal by the United States. We should, in the same vein, commit Britain to some far-reaching economic and commercial deal, which will boost our economic interests.
As the global economic players jockey for economic and political space in the world, they will need markets, raw materials and strategic partners. Africa, on account of its riches in all of these, is a prime target. Indeed, if there is time for Nigeria to cash in on this, it is now that the global powers are yet to concretise their involvement in Africa. Nigeria can, and should aim to be a key player in this as it unfolds.
At the moment, there is a new under-the-radar scramble for Africa pitting new comers like the Chinese, Russians, Turks, against old and familiar faces like the French, British and Americans.
As the crown jewel on the African continent, Nigeria should, in keying into these developments, keep an open mind dealing with all comers on a something-for- something basis. We should develop an overarching industrial economic blueprint that would form the basis of mutually beneficial economic relations with these powers.
One of the spurs of Brexit is a fall back option on the Commonwealth of countries by Britain. In this regard, Britain has targeted Nigeria with its vast market and raw materials. In recognising this, the British High Commissioner Paul Awkright early this year stated that Britain had listed the Naira as one of the acceptable currencies for trade with Britain. If we add this to the remark by his deputy, Ms Atkinson on the need for Nigeria to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Brexit, this sounds positive. Britain must be aware that in Nigeria’s informal sector, there is more Naira in circulation and holdings than in the formal sector.
By agreeing to this arrangement wholeheartedly, we allow Britain to tap directly into the earnings and productivity of millions of hardworking and resilient Nigerians through a signorage of the pound over the Naira. But then, to prevent this from being more to the overwhelming advantage of Britain, we should aim to clothe this seemingly generous offer by Britain with our own economic, political, social and cultural needs.
First of all, as a huge chunk of Nigeria’s trading and commercial assets are domiciled in Britain and denominated in the British pound, Nigeria needs to be assured that Brexit should not result in the loss of these assets, but also that their value should be intact.
Secondly, Britain should also support Nigeria’s industrialisation drive, setting up industrial concerns in partnership with Nigerian industrialists.
Britain should not see Nigeria merely as a dump site for its products and services; it should lock itself into a long term partnership for our quest for industrial development.
Thirdly, Britain should guarantee the safety and wellbeing of the about 300,000 Nigerians resident in Britain, against the incipient racism and xenophobia with the advent of Brexit. This is especially important as the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not have kind words to say about Africans and black people. He is on record as having called Africans ‘’Pickaninies with water melon smiles.’’
Fourthly, as part of the opportunities thrown up by Brexit, the current educational relations with Britain should be reviewed. No week passes without one educational fair or another advertising British schools. The education market in Nigeria has been a huge boon to Britain, with Nigerians spending hundreds of millions of pounds as school and sundry fees annually in British educational institutions across the board. If you take in the amount of funds expended to pay for visas and entrance examinations, this adds up to the numbers exponentially.
Over the years, British educational institutions have studiously declined to establish such schools in Nigeria as they have done elsewhere in Africa.
Gadu can be reached at: Ilgad2009@gmail.com
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