Nigeria: Dynamics of Nigerian-British Relations in the Post-Brexit Era – the Challenge of New Anglo-French Rivalry
‘Post-Brexit Era’ is a concept that is subject to different interpretations. First, it can refer to the first referendum, held in 1975, to determine whether or not Britain should continue to sustain its membership of the then European Economic Community (EEC) or should simply withdraw its membership. Since Brexit is about withdrawing from the EEC, or politics of withdrawal, brexiteering era can be argued to have begun in 1975 and we can rightly talk about the first post-referendum withdrawal era.
Secondly, the word Brexit is believed to have been coined from Grexit (withdrawal of Greece from the Eurozone) by Mr. Peter Wilding to mean Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. As noted in May 2012, Peter Wilding warned that ‘unless a clear view is pushed that Britain must lead in Europe at the very least to achieve the completion of the single market. Then the portmanteau for Greek Euro exit might be followed by another sad word, Brexit.’ This is the origin of the coinage. If we are to reckon with the time of birth and first use of the word, post-Brexit era can be rightly argued to begin after May 2012.
Thirdly, and more importantly, post-Brexit era can still refer to the period following the time of second referendum on Brexit on 23rd June 2016, when there was majority voting in favour of withdrawal from the European Union. There were 17,410742 votes, representing 51.89% in favour of Brexit, while 16,141,241 (48.11%) voted in favour of remaining in the Union.
Fourthly and again more specifically, the post-Brexit era can also begin after Britain invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March 2017. Article 50 of the EU Treaty provides that ‘any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.’ And perhaps most importantly, since Britain was unable to meet ‘its own constitutional requirements,’ and room has to be given by the European Union for ‘flextension’, that is, the initial deadline for withdrawal was extended on 28 October, 2019 for a further three months from October 31, 2019 until January 31, 2020, the post-Brexit era could not have begun before January 31, 2020. The extension until January 31, 2020 was considered to avoid a situation of Brexit without a deal with the Union.
With these conceptual clarifications, our choice here is the use of post-Brexit era to refer to the period of ‘flextension’ and thereafter, that is, with effect from February 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 and thereafter. In therefore explaining the likely dynamics of the relationship, it is useful to note that, when the British joined the then European Economic Community (EEC) in January 1973, it was with much difficulty and expectation of either trial or give it a trial. By then, Great Britain refused to go along with the idea of the 25 March 1957 Rome Treaty that gave birth to the EEC. Because of the then British attitude, France, in particular, not only frustrated Britain’s interest in the early 1960s to join the EEC, but also made life difficult for the former colonies of Britain to become associate members of the EEC.
While France ensured the inclusion of Articles 131-136, which provided for the associate membership of the former colonies of France, Nigeria’s interest in becoming an associate member of the EEC was frustrated by General Charles de Gaulle, who also ensured that Britain’s membership was not allowed until he left power. The way President de Gaulle treated Britain angered a good number of the British to the extent that it created both proponents and opponents of Britain’s membership of the EEC.
The division surrounding Britain’s membership was to the extent that a plebiscite had to be organised on June 5,1975, just about two years after adhesion to the Rome Treaty. The plebiscite was to determine whether or not Britain should continue to sustain its membership of the Community. By large margins, not to say by luck, the proponents of membership won with 17,378,581 votes (67.23%) compared to 8,470,073 (32.77%) scored by the proponents of withdrawal. However, the truth remains that hostility against UK membership of the EEC, later European Community (EC) and currently European Union (EU) continued to grow gradually until 2016 when majority of the British felt that enough was really enough and another plebiscite had to be organised on whether or not to withdraw from the EEC.
Again, like it was difficult to join, it has also been more difficult to withdraw. While the opposition to UK membership of the EEC as at the time of joining came essentially from France (all the other five original members of the EEC were in favour), the new opposition as from 2016 essentially came from within the British Parliament. It was a House divided against itself. The division led to the resignation of two British Prime Ministers: Theresa May and David Cameron. The current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson had to take the risk of organising an early election which his party luckily won and which now gives him a new source of strength to brexit and negotiate with the EU leaders with or without a deal. The D-Day for the withdrawal was last Friday, January 31, 2020 at 11 pm GMT.
Britain’s intention to withdraw has been made manifest on January 31. It is now history. However, the withdrawal cannot be made complete until the end of 2020 because of the need to still iron out some critical issues, especially concerning the modalities of relationship between Britain and the EU as a body corporate and as Member States of the EU. Our major concern here is not the post-Brexit ties between the EU and Britain but the ties between Britain and Nigeria in the post-Brexit era. In other words, what are the likely dynamics of the relationship? Will it be better a relationship with Britain out of the EU? More interestingly, what are the likely scenarios of the relationship?
Currently, Nigeria’s foreign relations are guided by varying factors and according to countries and issues involved. Grosso modo, all Nigeria’s bilateral relations, even the plurilateral ones, are often described as warm. The warmth, however, needs to be put in context. No matter how warm Nigeria’s relationship with France may be, for instance, it is always largely driven by caution and suspicion, simply because of the factor of Nigeria’s ties of geo-political contiguity with the Francophone neighbours and geo-political ties of propinquity with France.
Nigeria’s ties with the United States are largely influenced by the many American-trained public officials, still serving and retired in Nigeria. The relationship is more vertical than horizontal in manifestations. Relationship with China is driven by the belief in ‘Give China a Trial’ or ‘a trial may convince you.’ Many people believe that the traditional partners of Nigeria are generally exploiters. It is believed that since Nigeria acceded to national sovereignty in 1960 and development assistance has always been given to Nigeria, the observation is that, the more the development assistance, the lesser the development, or the poorer the people, and the more corrupt the polity becomes. Hence the belief is that, even if the Chinese are to become a new generation of colonisers, they still appear to have a better attitudinal disposition with their foreign policy of win-win, generally proposed to Africa.
As regards ties with Britain, the dynamics are more complex. They range from colonial, to neo-colonial factors, particularly the Commonwealth values, which are more or less of mutual deceit or hide and seek game. There is no manifestation of concrete wealth that is common to the Members of the Commonwealth, beyond the claims of shared values of democracy and conditionality-driven development assistance.
Apart from the many agreements already signed by the two countries, there are also the influence of civil society organisations and business groups, such as Nigeria-British Chamber of Commerce, British Council, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (UK Branch) and Chevening scholarship recipients.
The attitudinal disposition of the Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, is also an important dynamic. He is favourably disposed to the Western world as an elected president. Records have shown that the United States largely funded his election campaigns. The rapprochement between the UK and the US is quite warm. It can therefore be expected that both Britain and the US are likely to continue to influence Nigeria under President Buhari.
In more concrete terms, trade is an important segment of Nigeria-British relations. Cooperation in the area of defence and security, cultural and scientific, economic and political, are equally significant. All these considerations are most likely to remain part of the determinants of Anglo-Nigerian relations in the Post-Brexit era. Other major determinants of the relationship are derivable from the type of deal that will be achieved by Britain in the eleven-month transition period, beginning from February 1, 2020.
But whatever is the deal, some critical issues have to be addressed. Trade remains number one, and particularly the issue of backstop and special customs arrangement. The European Union wants a withdrawal deal with the British in which there would be no border posts or barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the post-Brexit era. This was part of the negotiations with Theresa May as Prime Minister. Boris Johnson who succeeded her rejected the factor of backstop and came up with the suggestion of a new customs arrangement for Northern Ireland.
Immigration is a second issue. It is essentially about labour mobility, which, in the eyes of many British, has become an irritant. It is believed that the level of immigration inflow is too high and that the cost of labour from central and eastern Europe is quite cheaper, thus undermining employment opportunities and pay for British workers. Brexit, as a policy strategy, is partly aimed at addressing this problem.
There are still other issues of an intra-European character which include access to fishing waters, licensing and regulation of medicines, electricity and gas supplies, data sharing and security, aviation standard and security, law enforcement, and more importantly, the rights of EU citizens in the United kingdom and British citizens in the EU Member States. In this regard, for instance, all British companies currently operating in EU countries are required to register within the framework of the EORI (Economic Operators Registration and Identification Number), without which they may not be able to operate in the post-Brexit era.
The EORI is an European Union identification number that must be possessed by businesses and people seeking to trade with the European Union. Trading requires the application of tariffs as distinct from VAT. The number is to be inserted on customs declarations of the businesses concerned. At least, 72,000 businesses are on record to have applied for EORI numbers.
Above all issues is the question of British indebtedness to the EU. The debt has been estimated at over £30 billion pound sterling. Negotiations on the modalities of payment cannot but be a matter of priority in the next eleven months. For instance, in 2018 alone, Britain’s gross contribution to the EU was put at £20 billion but ‘this amount was never actually transferred to the EU.’ Besides, the EU Commission has made it clear that any trade agreement between the EU and Britain cannot be linked to payment of financial settlements.
Whereas Mr. Dominic Raab, noted in September 2018, when he was still Brexit Secretary, that Britain would not pay the financial settlement to the EU in a no-deal scenario. This means that payment is subject to reaching a deal. Whatever deal Britain is likely to reach with the EU cannot but also have implications for Nigeria-Britain relations in the post-Brexit era. In the same vein, Boris Johnson told the House of Commons on 25 July, 2019 that, in the event of no deal, the British ‘would of course have available the £39 billion in the withdrawal agreement to help deal with any consequences.’ Although the amount payable has been reduced to £33 billion, this is the amount Britain has negotiated to pay under Prime Minister Theresa May as ‘divorce bill’ (unofficially) and financial settlements (in official terms).
In this regard, how is the relationship between Britain and Nigeria likely to be affected? With the emerging misunderstanding between the Francophone Member States of the ECOWAS, on the one hand, and the Anglophone countries, on the other, can we begin to imagine an eventual withdrawal of membership from the ECOWAS? After ‘Mauritexit’
(Mauritania’s withdrawal from the ECOWAS), can we rule out Nigexit (Nigeria’s withdrawal), Libexit (Liberia’s withdrawal), Siexit (Sierra Leones withdrawal), or Ghanexit (Ghana’s withdrawal)? We ask these questions in light of the fact that both the 1975 ECOWAS Treaty and the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community were largely inspired in their contents by the EEC Rome Treaty.
One common dynamic of bilateral ties in international relations is exchange of visits, which can take the form of state, official, officious and unofficial, as well as working visit. The importance of visit is determined by the level or status of the visiting official, type of visit, as well as the frequency of the visit. In the post-Brexit era, state visit is not likely to be frequent, while official and working visits at the cabinet level are likely to be frequent. Frequency of visit is a mark of friendliness and warmth in a relationship.
Interference is another factor that may not be ruled out in the foreseeable future, especially in terms of general elections in which international observers will have to be invited in order to give credibility to such elections. Nigeria of today has become another terra cognita for modern slavery. Kidnappings, human trafficking, armed banditry, insecurity in short, is now the hallmark of political governance under President Muhammadu Buhari. This is in spite of the fact that his declared policy of national development was predicated on a tripod of corruption fighting, economic revamping and neutralisation of insecurity. These issues, particularly electioneering and protection of human rights, cannot but compel international interferences.
There is the likelihood of a re-emergence of Franco-British rivalry in West Africa, in general, and in Nigeria, in particular. Even though France is only a political member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), having opted out of the military integration of the organisation in 1966 and turning the NATO headquarters in Paris into University of Paris-Dauphine, France, has generally been the lead country protecting western interests in Africa. In fact, the West gave France a free hand to do and undo on behalf of the West. This has also been so within the framework of the European Union.
The expected problem now is that, with Brexit, the extent to which Britain will have sympathy for EU interests in Nigeria is likely to decline. Anglophone West Africa has the potential to receive sustained help from the British, which can be to the detriment of the Francophone and Lusophone, as well as to the Arabophone countries. In fact, one recent manifestation of Anglophone-francophone rivalry was shown in January 2020 within the context of the ECOWAS.
The Authority of the ECOWAS has agreed on the principle that their single currency within the framework of the ECOWAS Monetary Union will be called ‘Eco’. However, the Francophone countries have announced the renaming of their current currency, the CFA (Communauté Financière Africaine) franc, ‘Eco.’ France has quickly agreed to the announcement. But why is this so? Are the French behind it? Whatever is the case, Nigeria has kicked against the announcement. What implications the emerging disagreement will have on the future of the ECOWAS remains a mute question. Will the CEAO, the Francophone version of the ECOWAS that comprised exclusively French-speaking countries, be revived?
There is also the issue of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union which is still a divisive factor. Francophone support for Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS is another divisive question. In all these cases, the division between the Anglophone and Francophone Member States of the ECOWAS, which is on the increase, cannot but also impact on Franco-British ties in such a way that the protection of neo-colonial interests will become preferential.
Again, situations of force majeure cannot be ruled out. They include the deepening situation of insecurity which Britain is not likely to allow to break up Nigeria. Three factors always point to a possible disintegration of Nigeria. The first is the Boko Haram insurgency, leaders of which do not believe in the corporate existence of Nigeria as it is. They want the transformation of Nigeria into an Islamic State. A second situation is the sustained secessionist struggle as epitomised by MASSOB and IPOB. The Igbo ethnic stock wants autonomous existence. A third, and, of course, a more critical issue, is the Operation Àmòtékùn, a self-defence mechanism against the aggression of Fulani herdsmen, put in place by the six South Western governors. The Fulani herdsmen are reported to have 1,123 cells in the whole of South West forests. This situation has encouraged the Yoruba South West to resolve to embark on self-defence, rather than waiting for the Federal Government for security protection. This situation cannot but invite foreign interference, not to say foreign intervention in the post-Brexit era.
Africa-UK investment summit was held in London on Monday, January 20, 2020 with the ultimate objective of making the United Kingdom the first partner of choice for trade and investment. In this regard, Africa is strongly believed to be the continent of the future in terms of economic opportunities. For instance, by 2050, it is expected that over two billion people will live in Africa and one in four global consumers will be African. The British will want to harness the potentials of the continent and create new, lasting partnerships that will deliver more investments, jobs and growth.
Even though British stock of investments in Africa attained £39 billion in 2018 and Britain did make investments supporting over 370,000 jobs across Africa, the impact investment that Britain is much interested in cannot but target Nigeria, being Africa’s biggest market. In other words, advancement of economic interest will remain a major dynamic of the relationship in the post-Brexit era.
And more expectedly the ambitious new Innovation Partnerships with African countries (29 August 2018) is likely to also impact the more. The British government has it that the Innovation Partnerships are a unique opportunity for UK entrepreneurs to work alongside and collaborate with African entrepreneurs at the cutting-edge of technology… [T]he tech sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa. The continent’s start-ups raised 50% more venture capital in 2017 than in 2016, and the majority of this is being invested in South Africa (£130 million), Kenya (£114 million) and Nigeria (£89 million).’ This cannot be ignored in Nigeria’s foreign policy and strategic calculations.
The population of Nigerian-born residents in the United Kingdom has the potential to remain unchanged, but with the possibility of little increase over time. This will be mainly because of the new immigration policy that will be expected to be more hostile to fresh immigrants. According to the UK 2011 census, there were 191,183 Nigerian-born residents in England and Wales, but the figure was estimated to have reached 196,000 in 2016. There were also 9,458 Nigerian-born residents in Scotland and 543 Nigerian-born residents in Northern Ireland. In terms of likely inflow or repatriation of funds from them to Nigeria, there may not be any significant increase, as living conditions gradually become tougher.
In essence, Nigeria’s relationship with the United Kingdom has the potential to be largely driven by economic and security considerations. At the economic level, three factors are noteworthy: the Diaspora Nigerians in the UK in light of the current activities of the Nigeria Diaspora Commission, Innovation Partnerships with Africa, and trade development. At the level of security, cooperation cannot but require UK assistance to Nigeria, in light of the increasing threats to national unity, largely prompted by Government’s inability to meaningfully address the Boko Haram insurgency, the malaise of the Fulani herdsmen’s recidivist attacks on farmers, and the increasing attacks on and brutal killing of Christians to no avail in Nigeria, all of which can precipitate a second civil war. In fact, the future of the relationship cannot but trigger crisis and conflict of interest when the environment of the relationship becomes unnecessarily insecure. In other words, crisis and cooperation cannot but remain another important dynamic of the relationship in the post-Brexit era and one major element of the crisis cannot but also be a resurgent rivalry between France and Britain in Nigeria.