Prime Minister David Cameron visited Nigeria on Tuesday and pushed a message of trade, aid and democracy before making an early return home to deal with the spiralling phone hacking crisis engulfing the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.
After talks with President Jacob Zuma in South Africa on Monday, Cameron flew into Lagos at the head of a business delegation to call on Africans to use trade, aid, and political reform to make the most of “Africa’s moment.”
He visited a clinic where he met women bringing their babies to be vaccinated against yellow fever, and later gave a speech at the Lagos Business School, Pan African University (PAU), ahead of talks with President Goodluck Jonathan.
Addressing academics and business leaders, Cameron defended Britain’s decision to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid from 2013, and in its efforts to help those suffering from the drought in the Horn of Africa.
At a time of major budget cuts at home, the aid budget is controversial.
But he said aid should be used in a “catalytic way” to boost infrastructure and reduce trade barriers, saying that this, increased trade, and a shift towards greater democracy on the continent could help transform Africa.
“It is now possible to imagine an Africa no longer dependent on aid, and a real source of growth for the whole world,” Cameron and Jonathan said in a joint opinion piece published in a local newspaper.
“And the road to get there lies through freeing up the wealth-creating power of enterprise and trade.”
On a continent where China has made huge strides as a trade partner, Cameron admitted in his speech that British businesses need to “catch up” to avoid missing “one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet.”
Cameron highlighted the progress of democracy in Africa, praising Jonathan on his victory in recent elections, viewed as the fairest in nearly two decades in Africa’s most populous nation despite major flaws.
But he said it is now “time for the whole of Africa to meet the aspirations of people,” and also urged Africans to take responsibility for holding their leaders to account.
“These are the demands the people have made in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. These are the demands that have propelled the Arab Spring.
“And these are the demands, which, supported by a revolution in trade and enterprise, mean Africa can seize its own moment of opportunity.”
He could not escape the scandal at home, however, with one person in the audience asking him a question about the News of the World and media independence.
In his response, Cameron stressed the need for strong, independent news media, but also responsible regulation.
Security was especially tight during Cameron’s visit, with the North having seen almost daily bomb attacks and shootings in recent weeks blamed on Boko Haram.
Lagos, the economic capital of about 18 million people in the South West, has not been hit by such attacks.
Nonetheless, the Victoria Island axis of Lagos stood still as Cameron and Jonathan made their way to the PAU in Ajah.
All vehicular movements on Lagos Island were grounded for hours.
Jonathan and Cameron first met at the old State House on the Marina before proceeding to the PAU.
By 7 a.m., armed police officers and Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) officials had manned strategic places on the routes to the old State House and the PAU.
Workers could not get to their offices on time as traffic was cleared on the Third Mainland Bridge between 8 a.m. and 12.30 p.m.
A journalist going for an assignment said the traffic was “a very bad situation that disturbed so many workers on the island.”
On Ahmadu Bello Way, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, and the Marina, hawkers disappeared in the presence of a large number of policemen.
At the lecture titled, “Entrepreneur and Innovation,” Cameron expressed optimism that Nigeria will soon achieve its potential, citing as encouragement Governor Babatunde Fashola’s good, strong, and accountable administration.
Jonathan, represented at the lecture by Fashola, said Cameron’s visit amid tight schedules proved that the African continent will play a critical role in the future of the planet.
His words: “So much has happened in this decade. Our current reality vividly demonstrates that our prosperity or adversity on one side of the continent is answerable to consequences of prosperity and adversity on the other end of the globe.
“The visit by (Cameron) is a proof of the statutory leadership and very clear understanding of its role in turning these challenges to opportunities and stimulate mutual cooperation between the two countries in the areas of improved trade, infrastructural renewal, power, transportation, improved public health promotion of global security democracy and defence of citizenry rights, to mention but a few.”
Jonathan acknowledged the business development and partnership orientation behind the visit, and saluted the British High Commission which he said has provided support for Nigeria’s international development plans.
“I do hope that the visit would be a symbolic reference point in the escalation of the revival of the relationship with mutual benefit to support both countries and their economy in a way poverty can be effectively tackled.”