Defence and Economic Cooperation Agreements in Nigeria-United Kingdom Bilateral Relations

President Buhari and German Chancellor Merkel at the State House Friday
President Buhari and German Chancellor Merkel at the State House Friday

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The visit of Mrs. Theresa May, the incumbent Prime Minister of Britain, to South Africa (Tuesday, 28th August, 2018), Nigeria (Wednesday, 29th August, 2018) and Kenya (Thursday, 30th August, 2018) was strategic in design, Brexit politics-driven by necessity, and quite a revelation of the increasing importance of Africa as an instrument.

First, the reason for the choice of these three countries, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya, is noteworthy and cannot be farfetched. In the possible thinking of Theresa May, South Africa has the biggest economy, and not Nigeria, in Africa. This cannot but also explain why she opted to go to South Africa first. It is also possible she might want to travel far south first and then make her returning trip closer home to Britain. What is important is that Theresa May wants the United Kingdom companies to play very active roles in South Africa, especially in its US$100 billion investment drive programme.

More important, Britain wants to train the next generation of South African scientists, as well as see South Africa joining the United Nations Security Council in 2019. This type of foreign policy agenda requires the nurturing of a special relationship with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, especially in light of the president’s new land reform which is currently generating much heat in the western world, especially in Washington.

Regarding Kenya, Britain is currently the largest foreign investor in the country. As Britain is preparing to leave the European Union, there is the need to begin to address the challenges to be created as a result of the exit. In preparation for this, Mrs. May wants to show Kenya its commitment to ‘ensuring a smooth transition’ by assuring Kenya that its current privilege of duty-free access to the UK market would be retained after Brexit.

The Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, not only appreciated the visit by asking Mrs May to come back to Kenya rather than going to France and Italy for holidays, and enjoy the weather, especially after Brexit, but also noted some aid initiatives, such as the ‘Leave No Girl Behind programme for which Kenya is seeking further help. The programme is designed to help the more than ‘5000 Kenyan girls who have dropped out of school as a result of early marriage, motherhood or gender-based violence to get back to education.’

One achievement of Mrs. May visit to Kenya includes the signing of an agreement on the framework for the repatriation of ill-gotten funds and assets by Kenyans. Britain is the third international partner, after Switzerland and Jersey Island, in the anti-graft war effort of Kenya.

The visit to Nigeria appears to be more interesting. The visitor and her host signed on Wednesday, 29th August, 2018, two agreements, one on defence and the other on economic cooperation. The visit is an expression of the warmth in Nigeria’s bilateral ties with Britain, even though Britain-Nigeria relationship has always been vertical in nature since 1960. For instance, Nigeria has always been the recipient of British development assistance: disaster relief, military training, educational scholarships for Nigerian students, economic grants, diplomatic support, etc. This means that the relationship is unequal.

The relationship, over the years, has also been characterised by many irritants that were eventually removed on the altar of cooperation: landing rights for some Nigerian-registered aircraft, transfer of Nigerian prisoners from the United Kingdom back home, mistreatment of some Nigerian passengers on British Airways flight, etc. In spite of all these, the visit of Theresa May cannot but raise more questions on the extent of the usefulness of the agreements between the two countries over the years and for the future.

Put differently, what really has been the impact of British defence training for the military in Nigeria? Why has the British government not been able to make their Nigerian trainees have the technological skills required for self-reliance? When is an agreement truly in the national interest? When is the national interest considered under threat? Again, defence and economic cooperation agreements have always been done but the dividends of such agreements have not always been evident. The agreements are always about promises that are, more often than not, not fully kept in implementation, and when they are partially fulfilled, they are not done on pro bono basis.

Issues in Anglo-Nigerian Defence and Economic Agreements

The foundation of British-Nigerian defence and economic agreements is tilted more to the protection of the interest of Britain than that of Nigeria. In 1957, that is, still under colonial rule, a Federal Defence Council, chaired by the Governor General, was set up. The Council, not only decided to accelerate Nigerianisation of the military for the purposes of future independent army, but also reduced the entry qualifications and, ‘in reaction to the long standing British practice of selective ethnic recruitment… decided to base recruitment to the rank and file of the army … on a quota system in which 50% came from the North, 25% from the East and 25% from the West,’ to borrow the words of Dr. Nowa Omoigui in South Carolina (

In this regard, for the purposes of the Cold War, Britain initiated the signing of an Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact, to which Chief Obafemi Awolowo was vehemently opposed, and which would be later abrogated due to general protests, but by fiat according to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. Thus security was an issue and first foundation of bilateral defence and security cooperation in the post-independence era.

The visit of Theresa May constitutes an issue in itself. It coincides with the holding of the 58th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association in Abuja during which what constitutes a security threat and who should determine it, was discussed. In this regard, there were two competing national interest arguments at stake: contempt of court and national security. The problem arising from the two interests is that threat to national security is, more often than not, used as an excuse for not respecting court rulings and judgments, hence the argument of contempt of court.

Put differently, does the protection of human rights take precedence over that of national security? Barrister Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, advanced in the conference the argument of ‘salus populi supremalex’, a maxim that says that the law of the society necessarily takes precedence over the liberty of the individual member of the society, to suggest that national interest should override individual interest.

It was also argued in the same vein that individual interest cannot in any way be protected in an environment of disorderliness and insecurity, thus still admitting that collective security cannot but be given first priority in order to secure individual’s operational freedom. By implication therefore, and particularly relying on Section 45 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the understanding of the rivalry between the need to protect human rights, on the one hand, and the need to ensure national security, on the other, has to be put in context.

As provided in Section 45(1) of the Constitution, nothing in Sections 37 (right to private and family life), 38 (right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion), 39 (right to freedom of expression and the press), 40 (right to peaceful assembly and association) and 41 (right to freedom of movement) of the Constitution shall invalidate any law that is ‘reasonably justifiable’ in a democratic society a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons.’

Two points are noteworthy in this constitutional provision: invalidity of law and reasonableness and justifiability of law. In this regard, sections 37-41 of the Constitution can take precedence over the provisions of section 45 if the law is not reasonable and justifiable. The other point is that, what also explains the reasonableness and justifiability of the law is the linkage to defence, public safety, order, morality and health. Consequently, in understanding any defence and economic cooperation between Nigeria and Great Britain, it is the extent to which such an agreement can truly promote the national security interest, as well as address Nigeria’s economic challenges.

Without any shadow of doubt, many are the defence and economic cooperation agreements done by Nigeria and Great Britain since the time of independence in 1960. To what extent have been the impact of the many defence cooperation agreements, and particularly the economic cooperation agreements? There is no defence agreement that does not include training of Nigerian soldiers and other relevant paramilitary agencies. When will the trainees graduate from their school of training? Answers to these questions may be far-fetched because, the more development aid is given to African leaders for the purposes of economic emancipation of their people, the more they also become dependent.

It is our contention here that emphasis on foreign aid should first be de-emphasised to allow the people of Nigeria, in particular, and all African people, in general, to see more clearly about the need for self-reliance as basis of good governance, and not simply transparency, public accountability and fairness. These alleged attributes of good governance cannot be rightly said to be the main problems of Nigeria. Preaching the gospel of good governance on the basis of transparency, justice, fairness and accountability, but without asking why is there no public accountability, etc, cannot impact positively. The main reason is that those giving assistance also aid and abet bad governance in the recipient countries. Development assistance is in itself a resultant of politics and advancement of the protection of the national interest. In this regard, what has been the impact of the various defence and economic agreements between Nigeria and Britain?

Evaluating Theresa May’s Visit

The visit has a strategic character and therefore of significance to the three countries visited. From the perspective of global politics, the visit falls under the new ‘Scramble for Africa’ in which the old conception of colonisation is being replaced by a soft power approach. Under the old scrambling, Africa was simply partitioned by a stroke of the pen on paper without necessarily knowing where the boundary of communities begins and ends. But under the new scrambling for Africa, all the boundaries and the people are well known.

As a result, every power, both middle or great, wants to dialogue with the whole of Africa on the basis of one country versus the 54-Member States of the African Union. And true enough, the new colonisation is largely driven by globalisation, especially by technology. This is what all the countries seeking special relationship with Africa want Africa to believe. France is leading the world in the game of ‘one country versus the whole of Africa,’ even though the French started with Francophone Africa. In fact, it was France under President Valérie Giscard d’Estaing that first suggested the idea of a tripartite cooperation: European Community by then, Africa, and America. There are also India and Africa, China and Africa, United States and Africa, Japan and Africa, Morocco even tried to emulate the big powers. Africa has been and still remains the woman every man wants to marry because of resources, even though Nigeria’s foreign policy stand on this, as formulated by Dr. Okoi Arikpo, Minister of External Affairs under General Yakubu Gowon, is that Africa must not be allowed to be simply used as a source of raw materials for the development of Europe

Second, the visit is significant from the perspective of Brexit agenda. Britain wants to withdraw its membership of the European Union. Britain was not among the original members of the European Economic Community (EEC) that signed the Rome Treaty Establishing the EEC on March 25, 1957. She only acceded to the EEC Treaty in 1973, Most unfortunately, even though Charles de Gaulle made strenuous efforts to frustrate Britain’s membership, as he also did to prevent Nigeria’s associate membership of the EEC, the British are the very first to seek withdrawal from the European Union, and for that matter, very early.

Put differently, after about 45 years of membership, Britain is withdrawing, and by so doing, losing the traditional allies in Europe. Britain therefore needs to seek new friends and partners by necessity. Coming to Africa, and particularly to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, is meant to fill the vacuum to be created by Brexit. In this regard, the politics of Brexit meant that Britain will need to compete with the European Union in terms of market share. This partly explains the choice of countries visited, which, apparently, are the countries that are most geo-politically relevant to Britain.

For Kenya, the visit is quite significant from the perspective that no British Prime Minister had visited Kenya since Mrs. Margaret Thatcher’s visit in 1988. Besides, it appears that British women are more sympathetic to Kenya if we appreciate the fact that Kenya has to wait for more than thirty years before another British Prime Minister would deem it fit to visit Kenya.

Speaking generlly, the cardinal purpose of Theresa May’s visit is not simply to trade, but particularly to prevent the use of EU-Africa understanding to the detriment of British interests, notably in Anglophone Africa. Nigeria, for instance, is yet to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union for reasons of fear that the Nigerian soil will become a dumping ground for unwanted goods. Britain cannot but want to take advantage of the vacuum to be created to also become a new asset for Africa. In fact, even in the three countries visited, the influence of China is as strong as that of Britain. Better understanding with Nigeria may permanently prevent Nigeria from signing the Economic Partnership Agreement.

What should be noted here is that neither of the three countries visited can be said to have any individual or collective strategy to respond to the British initiatives or to enable taking advantage of the visit for purposes of self-reliance and self-protection. For instance, part of the objectives of the visit cannot but include how to control illegal immigration from Africa to Britain. Britain says it wants to be the biggest of the G-7 foreign investors in Africa by 2022. It also pledges the sum of £4 billion in support of African economies. Most unfortunately, however, Africa does not have any game plan beyond singing songs in praise of aid donors and taking but not being able to give back.

And most unfortunately too, domestic opposition to increase overseas aid in Britain is deepening. For instance, the value of overseas aid in 2017 was put at $18 billion and this was considered to be on the high side. Besides, Theresa May wants to also maintain the 0.7 per cent of the GDP for development assistance. In fact, the apparent foreign policy strategy of Theresa May is to achieve a sort of Global-Reach Britain after Brexit by strengthening intra-Commonwealth ties. How should Nigeria respond to this strategy?

Apart from the rationales for the visit, the achievements of the visit are more in the area of her observations about Africa, and especially in the countries visited than any effort to secure the commitment of the visited countries to the British agenda. Her observations were very thought-provoking and noteworthy. In Nigeria, two agreements were done, one on security and the other on trade. When the rationales for the agreements are compared to her observations, the natural question that come to mind is how the agreements can help to address the observations.

As observed by Mrs. May at the level of Nigeria, ‘much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy. Yet 87 million Nigerians live on less than $1.90 a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.’ The simple other way of explaining this observation is that there is economic growth but no economic development in Nigeria.

At the level of Africa, Mrs. May has it that ‘Africa is home to majority of the world’s fragile states and a quarter of the world’s displaced people.’ More important, she noted that ‘between now and 2035, African nations will have to create 18 million new jobs every yer just to keep pace with the rapidly growing population. That’s almost 50,000 new jobs every single day, simply to maintain employment at its current level.’ And perhaps most thought-provokingly, Theresa May, while admitting that investment and growth cannot be attracted if there is no security and political stability, said that ‘by 2030, 80 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will live in fragile states. Even in countries considered relatively stable and prosperous, pockets of fragility persist.’

Additionally, if ‘the UK is already providing support for African governments that are meeting this challenge head-on,’ and if ‘Nigerian troops on the frontline against Boko Haram have received specialist training from Britain,’ how do we explain the limitation of Nigeria’s success in the anti-Boko Haram war to only technical defeat? Why is the Boko Haram waxing stronger and stronger on daily basis, in spite of the specialised training not only given by the British but also by other development partners of Nigeria? The British cannot but know the answer for obvious reasons: don’t care attitude, especially of the Government. Why is this so?

In an article entitled ‘Gordon Brown and the School of Terrorism in Nigeria, which I published in this column in December 2008, I drew public attention to Gordon Brown’s address to the United Nations General Assembly’s Plenary Meeting on Culture and Peace, held on Thursday, 13th November 2008 in the New York. In the said address, Gordon Brown, then the Prime Minister of Britain, told the world that there was a training school in Abuja where terrorism and extremist group is poisoning the children’s minds and attracting them to a life of terrorism.

As Gordon Brown put it then, he ‘visited a run-down and dilapidated school where children either were sitting on the floor without a desk or were sitting three to the desk that had been built for one.’ The parents of the children told Gordon Brown that ‘a few miles away, a far better school offered free education. But the great facilities and teachers came at a high price because they were funded by an extremist group poisoning the children’s and attracting them to a life of terrorism’ In light of this information, what did the Government of Nigeria do? Was there any follow up? What did the British government do to ensure that the Government of Nigeria nip the terrorist training in the bud? (vide my Vie Internationale Contemporaine, 2007-2012: Reflections on Nigeria in a Pluriverse World of Decline and Incline, Volume 1, on Nigeria and the Challenge of Nation-building, Ibadan: BIP, 2013, pp. 371-378).

From the foregoing, there is no disputing the fact that the British government and people have shown much concern about societal problems in Nigeria. If terrorism has become recidivist, who should be held responsible? Can it be argued that the Government of Nigeria did not know about the existence of the school of terrorism? If not, what about after Gordon Brown drew international attention to it?

The point being made with this case raised by Gordon Brown is simply that it cannot be sufficient to do agreements, to give financial assistance and to make predictions for the future on the basis of statistical and conjectural analyses. What will be sufficient is how to ensure sustainable commitment to the implementation of agreements voluntarily signed.