By Olawale Olaleye
President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s description of Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” was statesmanlike and a proof of the growing bilateral ties between the two countries, a member of the British Parliament, Chi Onwurah has said.
Cameron had recently described Nigeria and Afghanistan as two countries that were “fantastically corrupt” during a private chat with the Queen of England, ahead of a summit on corruption, in which the leaders of the two countries participated.
Reactions that followed, especially by Nigerians were not particularly pleasant but President Buhari took the statement with equanimity and said rather than ask for apology from anybody, he wanted the money and assets stolen abroad to be returned to the country.
Onwurah, who spoke Thursday at the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Nigeria, held in the Richmond Room of the Portcullis House, by the House of Parliament, said although she had resolved not to comment on the issue, she would briefly address it since it was raised during the interaction on economic diversification of Nigeria.
“I think the President’s response was statesmanlike,” she said, noting that President Buhari refused to bow to pressure to react otherwise and that his disposition further confirmed the fact that the relationship between both countries was not in any way affected. She said Buhari was not only mature about it; he was also focused on why he was in the United Kingdom.
However, on his part, the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who had met with some British parliamentarians and investors on the order of the president, who was believed to have scheduled the meeting during his visit to London some days back, said the comment by Cameron was part of the challenge of brand Nigeria because of the hugely inherent perception about the country.
Fayemi, who was also joined at the meeting by the Chief of Staff to the Katsina State Governor, Alhaji Bello Mandiyah, who was also in London for investment drive said, “It is the challenge of perception about Nigeria and more often than not, you would be confronted by such distracting challenge in the rebranding of Nigeria.”
The former Ekiti State governor, who described the present state of the country “as a difficult period” for the government and the people said government was still trying to put its feet down and that it was an enormous responsibility for the present crop of people serving in the Buhari government.
While discussing the imperatives of diversifying the Nigerian economy to contain the prevailing challenges as well as plan for the future, Fayemi said the commitment of the Buhari administration was not ephemeral, even though successive administrations too spoke about diversification and did nothing about it.
The minister therefore delved into what the Buhari government had been doing differently about diversification, especially to make mining attractive. He said to understand the turf, it was important to classify mining as science and one driven essentially by information.
Government, he noted, had begun to reassess and revalidate mining licences, for instance, which he claimed now had a regime of six categories with strict enforcement.
Aside the many incentives he said the administration had lined up for prospective investors including tax holiday and waivers, Fayemi said government had begun to deal with challenges relating to perception as well as the predictability of the economy, adding that the focus was basically an increasing confidence for domestic market as well as expanding it.
Listing the key success factors and implementation plan, Fayemi identified seven key dimensions to rebuilding Nigeria’s mining sectors. First, he said there must be clear minerals and steel focus. “We need to ensure that our industrial and energy minerals strategy prioritises domestic utilisation of our assets, including getting our steel sector to provide a solid backbone for the manufacturing and industrial economy.
Second, he identified institutions and governance, saying “We are rebuilding the organisational and functional capabilities of the supervising Ministry, and ensure the regulatory framework is enforced. That means for example that we revive and use the Mining Police to protect mine sites and our reserves.
“Stakeholder Engagement: We need to improve the engagement of states with the minerals and mining sector, particularly around financial participation, revenue sharing, and recognising the oversight of the federal government. We also will work hard to ensure that all parties recognise their social responsibilities, so we avoid issues similar to the oil sector.
“Industry participants: We are working to attract a diverse portfolio of participants from artisanal miners to junior explorers to mining majors into the industry. Our goal is to build a sector that is competitive and supportive of our overall job creation aspirations for Nigerians.
“Geosciences data and information: Improving our collection and dissemination of geosciences data is also a critical enabler of success. Nigeria needs to know what it has and in what grades and quantities in order to plan more effectively.
“Access to Finance: We have commenced a systematic effort to build knowledge and confidence among Nigerian financial institutions to support mining projects. In addition, we are establishing the Nigerian Solid Minerals Investment Fund, structured as a private sector oriented investment outfit to provide financing to private sector-led projects in the mining sector.
“Enabling environment: Finally, we must also create the appropriate environment to support enterprise. That will require building technical and managerial skills, and capabilities locally to ensure the steady supply of talent required by the sector in the future, as well as investing in infrastructure, gender equity, and improved access to finance.”