Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Nigeria in search of foreign capital

By Ben Mensah

External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, is on tour to explore the possibility of negotiating, on a bilateral basis, new lines of credit to Nigeria in the aftermath of the rejection of the IMF loan.
During the great debate over whether or not Nigeria should take the IMF loan, one of the points that emerged was that there were enough rich Nigerians who could raise as much foreign capital to lend to their federal government in the event of the IMF loan being rejected.

It is not known whether President Babangida was also impressed by such arguments in his decision to reject the IMF loan; whether he was or not, President Babangida has given the signal to his rich countrymen that this is the time for them to honour their promises.

The President's message can be deduced from the current tour of some of Nigeria's debtor countries by the External Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi to explore the possibility of negotiating, on a bilateral basis, new lines of credit to Nigeria in the aftermath of the rejection of the IMF loan.

Professor Akinyemi's first stop on his tour was Britain, where after three days of discussions with British officials, he was bold enough to announce to a press con- ference that his official visit to Britain had been successful, based on the following achievements:

He did not only meet his British counterpart, sir Geoffrey Howe, and other British ministers, including the Trade and Industries Secretary Mr Leon Brittan, but also the Prime Minister herself, Margaret Thatcher, for wide-ranging talks.

Professor Akinyemi was very impressed by the positive attitude of his hosts at the various discussions which produced an encouraging framework for the restoration of full diplomatic and economic relations between Nigeria and Britain.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, for instance, pledged Britain's willingness to begin negotiations with Nigeria on a new line of credit to Nigeria. In the context of Nigeria's refusal to take the IMF loan, Professor Akinyemi found the promise of negotiations for a new line of credit from Britain an encouraging development which must surely influence other creditor nations to resume investing in the Nigerian economy. He promised to initiate the negotiations as soon as he gets back to Lagos.

At his press conference at the Nigerian High Commission in London Professor Akinyemi was in a buoyant mood when he told journalists that the rejection of the £1.7 billion IMF loan had not prevented the pledge of a new credit line from Britain to Nigeria.

Both the British Prime Minister and her Foreign Secretary were reported by Professor Akinyemi to have given their approval for President Babangida's budgetary economic package which has cut petroleum subsidies and pledged to introduce a realistic exchange rate for the naira. The British Foreign Secretary in particular was said to have commented that President Babangida's proposals to service his country's foreign debts with 30 per cent of the foreign exchange budget was courageous and was "helpful as a foundation on which to build."

Professor Akinyemi's visit to Britain reciprocated an earlier one to Lagos by the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, last September. The question that needs to be asked is, why is it necessary for Nigeria and Britain to enjoy cordial relations?

Professor Akinyemi's press conference afforded some British journalists the opportunity to raise the issue of two British engineers, Mr Angus Patterson and Mr Kenneth Clark, who were jailed for fourteen years on two charges con-nected with the theft of an aircraft. Their jailing came at a time when relations between the two countries were less than friendly and Britain had protested at the severity of the sentence. Akinyemi tried to explain that the Nigerian judges were not influenced by political considerations but he was not on very firm ground when he alluded to the presiding judge's anger at the behaviour of a British television crew in the court, culminating in their expulsion from the courtroom. It did not help his argument that the engineers were jailed purely on the merits of the facts of the case.

The press conference also afforded a Nigerian journalist to ask his Minister whether the issue of Nigeria's political exiles in Britain was no longer an obstacle to the restoration of diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries. This journalist described the politicians as men who had looted the economy of Nigeria and wondered whether the new regime was going to allow them to stay with their loot?

Professor Akinyemi replied that these are issues that need to be discussed in Lagos. Besides, one particular case was awaiting an appeal decision and until that time he did not want to raise it as a pre- condition for the restoration of cordial relations between his country and Britain.

While I found Professor Akinyemi's reply very appropriate and notwithstand- ing the fact that politicians and for that matter any Nigerians who have stolen public money deserve to be punished, I could not help but feel dismay at the spectacle of African journalists joining the chorus of denigrating our politicians whenever they are overthrown by soldiers when no charges have been properly proved.

The Babangida regime represents the advent of hope for Nigeria and as the President grants pardon to journalists, shows respect for human rights and public opinion and also calls for reconciliation, let Nigerian journalists, whether at home or abroad, take a cue from President Babangida's example and help him to re- build a peaceful and prosperous nation.

Professor Akinyemi's visit reciprocated an earlier one to Lagos by the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, last September. The question that needs to be asked is why is it necessary for Nigeria and Britain to enjoy cordial relations?

To answer this, one must also ask why should the two countries not have cordial relations, especially when just under two years ago the relations blossomed to the Professor benefit of the economies of the two countries.

Apart from the special historical relations between the two countries, based on Britain being the former colonial masters who have left their English language as an everlasting legacy to Nigerians, in economic terms Britain remains the biggest trading partner and foreign investor with investments totalling not less than £2 billion out of the country's total foreign debts of over £5 billion. This of course includes the £100 million owed to Johnson Matthey Bankers which Nigeria is refusing to repay until all fraud investigations are complete.

On the other side of the coin, Nigeria offers an important market for British goods. In his meeting with the British/Nigeria Chamber of Commerce, Professor Akinyemi noted that even in 1984 when his country's present economic difficulties were apparent to everyone, British capital, British exports were double in value in relation to Nigerian exports to Britain.

Professor Akinyemi concluded, are we to believe that because of the temporary difficulties that the Nigerian economy is experiencing at the moment, British companies would wish to forego the Nigerian market on which the jobs of several British citizens depend?

The obvious conclusion from all these statistics is that while Nigeria needs Britain also needs Nigeria's enormous markets for her ex- ports. And there are even more benefits to be reaped from the successful visit to the United Kingdom of Professor Akinyemi.

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