Fellow Nigerians, I was honored to have been invited to participate at this year’s
BIG TENT FOUNDATION LEADERS’ SUMMIT AND THE RADIX ANNUAL CONFERENCE with the theme and focus on Regeneration, Renewal , Levelling-up – the buzzwords of the moment, which held in London two days ago. Here’s a fully developed version of my submission at the event.
I have the pleasure of joining you all today. I’m thrilled that we have not come here to make the usual diplomatic speeches, exchange pleasantries, back-slap, retire to coffee rooms and off we go back to our various destinations. We are here to tell ourselves the truth and nothing but the truth. Nothing would ever change if we continue to “clap with one hand or hide behind one finger” to use the words of the African legend, Chief Moshood Abiola.
I have chosen to speak on the topic: “Can Britain regenerate and make substantial PROGRESS by continuing to present a carefree attitude to African affairs, especially in Africa’s most populous nation, NIGERIA?
I grew up reading and loving the seminal work of the Guyanese historian, activist and author, WALTER RODNEY’s HOW EUROPE UNDERDEVELOPED AFRICA, published in 1972. Born in 1942, Rodney had attended the University College of the West Indies in 1960, and bagged a first class degree in History in 1963, before proceeding to England where he bagged a PhD in African History in 1966 at the famous School of Oriental and African Studies in London, at the age of 24. He was assassinated on 13th June 1980 in Georgetown, at the age of 38. This author and his book were major influences on many Africans across the world in my childhood days.
In those days, the battle was between capitalism and socialism. The two neo-colonialist super powers of the time, USA and USSR, courted the African nations with a vengeance. Not to develop them, but to denude and despoil them. Not much has changed in terms of purpose, save that they have been joined by the hitherto silent, super power, China, and USSR has become Russia with somewhat diminished influence. However, in another sense, things have changed dramatically today. To the war has now been added the battle between poverty and prosperity; how to eliminate hunger, diseases, famine and wars. And the neo-colonialists are again having their say and way. Since the halcyon days of the Great British Empire which ended in the early 1960’s after most of the colonies became independent, Britain has never been a super power of the same ilk as the others again, but it comes quite close, commanding great respect and attention because of its imperialistic past.
Since my speech is about Britain and its regeneration dream and ambition, it is pertinent to note that this can never be achieved in isolation, not without the active participation of close allies like Nigeria, my dear beloved country of birth before I migrated here, under duress, in July 1995. I was on the run from the dreaded military regime of General Sani Abacha.
I will focus on the common theme of this year’s summit and attempt to make sense of the current problems and drawbacks and what needs to be done to make amends.
Please note that Britain cannot regenerate while some of its biggest allies, especially my country Nigeria, continue to wallow in endemic poverty and backwardness. Most educated and uneducated Nigerians today would readily blame the British for under-developing Nigeria through the amalgamation of 1914 which not only forced different ethnic nationalities together but also made the marriage indissoluble. The intractable tension and prevalent conflicts since then have become the albatross of my country.
Let me cut a long story short. Nigeria is tottering today on the brink of another civil war and imminent collapse if urgent action is not taken by all of us. I know many Western analysts may dismiss this as only remotely possible, but those on ground understand how fragile the unity of Nigeria has become. Some parts of the country are practically under the grip of terrorists and bandits. The British government needs to do much more to persuade the Nigerian Federal Government and its leadership to seek urgent help from experts in counterterrorism and counter insurgency before it is too late. Britain stands to gain so much in a stable Nigeria and so much to lose in a destabilised Nigeria. Imagine hordes of millions of immigrants fleeing Nigeria and seeking asylum in not only neighbouring West African countries, but also in Britain, with which there has always been great affinity and ties. This doomsday scenario is real. No effort on the part of Britain or it’s European Allies would keep them at bay. It would be a tragedy of monumental proportions.
The good news is that Nigerians are some of the brightest and most hardworking humans on earth. Britain currently employs and enjoys our phenomenal workforce. Thousands of Nigerian kids are in British schools and universities because we believe education is the greatest gift we can bequeath to our children. On a personal note, I have had to work assiduously and at breakneck determination to send one of my four boys to Harrow school in London and the other three to Charterhouse Godalming, in Surrey. Such opportunities are dwindling today for many Nigerians because the economy is in shambles, kids are being kidnapped from their schools in some parts of Nigeria. Nigerians value education so much, but it has now become an occupational and health hazard. Britain would do well to encourage good governance in Nigeria from hereon. There are many Nigerians waiting to become heroes in Britain and not martyrs of a freedom struggle in their country. Only by good governance and administration will the former be the Nigerian narrative going forward.
It is also noteworthy to demonstrate and understand how the British banks are shooting themselves in the foot by engaging in policies that are inimical and would never be beneficial to Britain in the long run. Nearly all accounts opened by professional Nigerians and others in England are being shut down on account of scaremongering, seeming racial profiling and institutionalised racism which labels them as Frauds, PEPS and even just plain suspicious. Proper legitimate transactions are queried merely because of your ethnic sounding name or business origin and the AML big stick is wielded against them. Barclays Bank takes the cake in this seeming conspiracy against Nigerians on the pretext of fighting money laundering. It is obvious that the British Banks have blatantly refused to understudy the Nigerian peculiarities. A few examples would reveal some shocking realities. Nigerians hardly operate credit cards. Our debit cards are virtually useless. I cannot go to Harrods or Selfridges and bring out my Nigerian debit card to pay for a two hundred pound item. So we are forced to carry cash.
In order to transact business and as a result of foreign exchange restrictions by a confused regime, we are compelled to source for foreign currencies from the Black market at exorbitant rates, either in cash or by transfer. This is our predicament as the British banks flag us at the slightest opportunities and, like orphans, we have no government at home to fight for us. Neither the British Banks nor the British Government, which have led Nigeria to this sorry pass by harbouring, shielding, hiding and retaining Nigeria’s wealth stolen by a few corrupt leaders, are inclined to accept the blame. Instead they shift responsibility to innocent, hardworking Nigerians and turn us into the criminals that we are not. The British Banks upon assuming most of us as criminals then proceed to treat us in a most disgraceful and heinous manner. They simply send out forms or ask online questionnaires that can never adequately cover our unique challenges. The next thing you receive is the message that an account you opened over 20 years ago has been closed down. This is racism of the highest order and it cannot foster or engender any form of regeneration, or even cooperation.
So, please, tell me, how can Britain regenerate when the country is deliberately throwing away opportunities and killing Nigerian businesses through these insidious and invidious means. Britain is the ultimate loser, but those who are gaining most are in the Middle East and Asia. The Nigerian love and rave for made in Great Britain goods has long since faded. Other European countries have quietly eased into the space which Britain by its discriminatory policies has long vacated. However these countries and even the United States of America are coming behind the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries and their Asian counterparts, particularly China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan etc.
We all remember how Nigerians used to swarm Oxford Street, Knightsbridge, Bond Street, Mayfair and other popular neighborhoods in the past but all those have dried up. The effect on the British economy can only best be imagined, particularly having regard to the damaging effects of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. How can a nation be holier than the Pope and hope to survive the repercussions of such shortsightedness?
However, I believe there is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Britain should not isolate itself from others. Its institutions and establishments should take a logical, rational and fair approach to the challenges facing African countries and their citizens.
Britain must lead the way in ensuring fair trade to African countries, particularly Nigeria. The cycle of poverty and diseases needs to be broken and eradicated. One way Britain can do this is by ensuring that it encourages its businessmen and women to establish industries in African countries. So that, rather than exporting their raw materials to the industrialised nations for value addition which then gets sent back at outrageous profits, the finished products are themselves produced in those African countries.
I know that some people will venture to say that the enabling environment for such large scale industrialisation does not exist in Africa. Whilst this may be true, the process for regeneration should be all encompassing and predicated on mutual sacrifices. The industrialised nations did not get to where they are in a day, months or a few years. Having reached that level, they must continue to improve and tag each other along, taking themselves on the superhighway of futuristic scientific and technological development and advancement. This they must do amongst themselves by technology transfer. They must entice and induce the brilliant and willing African minds to assist in reaching the lofty heights they have already attained. They should stop providing the Africans with little drops, feeding them in cribs and crabs but never letting them get proficient or independent in any way. I believe that with Brexit, Britain, which has gained a lot from Africa and has a lot to answer for, including the expropriation and theft of valuable Nigerian artefacts, not to to mention lopsided trades, can make reparations of sort by embracing equity and justice in its dealings with Africa.
One way of doing this and hasten the industrialisation process is to assist Africa in its power generation, transmission and distribution programmes. The continent is in darkness literally and figuratively. If light perpetual shines on Africa, a glorious age would beckon for the world. I feel that real darkness engenders darkness of the spirit. On the contrary, light opens up new vistas and an array of opportunities, which will also sharpen the mind and change mindsets. It is imperative that Africa embarks on a wholesale rethink, and full scale rejig of its power infrastructure. Renewable and sustainable energy is the only way to go to achieve this end. Britain and the rest of the developed world would be greatly advised to focus on Africa in this area and assist it to prosper. To do so would mean that when the rest of the developed and semi-developed world think that they have found solutions to the world’s environmental and climatic problems, the behemoth that is Africa will lunge out of the the fecund darkness and plunge the world back to environmental catastrophe. It is easy for Britain and other countries like it to neglect Africa because our carbon footprint is negligible compared to theirs. However, as they reduce their torrid conditions, so it is likely that those in Africa would increase as we struggle to play our own catch up.
In essence, Britain cannot hope to survive alone. It must carry Africa along in its trade, scientific and technological development, if it is to regain its pride of place in the comity of nations.
Furthermore, and equally importantly, Britain must recognise that it cannot supplant the mores and culture of a people with its own morality and laws. No country would seek to do that to Britain or succeed in doing so.
I love and prefer the British system, especially its rule and respect of Law, than any other. The British government should not give up on Africa by shrugging off its shoulders over our seemingly intractable problems. It does so at its peril. Britain should not add to our woes by embarking on policies which will only impoverish us. Instead, it should aid our development with technology transfer which is birthed in a sincerity of purpose. Britain should not drive us into the clutches of new hardened and desperate neo-colonialists because the end result would be calamitous, and bring casualties for Britain. Brexit is an opportunity for Britain to develop its old markets and allies. Sadly, present policies seem to militate against this. There is an urgent need for a change of attitude, otherwise we are heading for mutual economic and social upheaval, woes and destruction.
Britain needs to engage Africa, speedily. We should be partners in progress. No more. No less.