By VICTORIA OJEME
In this interview with European Union Delegate, Ambassador Denis Macrae, he shares his experience on the security challenges in Nigeria and the relations between Europe and Africa. He also talks about the raging Euro crisis. Excerpt:
What was the outcome of EU Nigeria migration meeting?
One of the things we stress is not just about restricting movement into Europe. It‘s looking at migration from both sides – inward and outwards and also the contribution that migration can make to development and we mention the project which is now in place that European Union is funding to develop various aspects of our corporation with Nigeria on the migration issue.
Basically, we are interested in encouraging and facilitating legal migration from both sides. To facilitate migration for students, business people and tourists from both sides who want to travel. There is a work-in-progress to making it even better. So, this is one of the things that we were discussing. There was also a mention of frontex, the European Union’s border agency and has also recently signed an agreement with Nigeria that they will work together on this issue.
There are challenges as you are aware with things like trafficking, drug smuggling and illegal migration. There are issues relating to instability and terrorism that I touched upon earlier when we talked about migration and development. This is what that meeting was all about.
In the past 4 years what has been the level of involvement of the EU in the socioeconomic development in Nigeria?
That brings me to the first question you have asked here. What I would say is that despite the economic and financial issues that EU has had to deal with, the programme of cooperation with Nigeria has not been effected and the reason for this has to do with the fact that we have post EU agreement fund which is an agreement that was entered into with the other countries including Nigeria.
It involves medium and long-term programmes of support. It’s not something that is turned on and off like a tap. EU development fund is a guaranteed source of funding for cooperation activities, as I have said, the things we are particularly concerned with here are about good governance in all its manifestations and this includes support for fight against corruption, it includes support for the justice sector, it includes things like addressing problems of organised crime; all those things that have to do with political governance as well as economic governance.
We have peace and stability, which is the prerequisite for development of any country. And then we have a very important aspect of governance which is institution building for improved service delivery and poverty alleviation. Good governance is not about people only, it’s is about having the right institutional frame work. In fact in this area of institution building, we have paid attention to the water sanitation sector.
How has the UN House bombing in August, 2011 affected your perception and concerns for security in Nigerians?
The first thing to note is that it was a suicide bomb attack. I am not sure about the police head quarters bomb attack but it was actually a suicide bombing and that takes us to a different level and even a higher level when we witness the attack on the UN building. Until that time, one might have seen it as a local phenomenal. If one goes back a year or two as we know when we talked about BOKO HARAM we talked about Boko Haram in the context of Maiduguri and to go from that to the bombing of the UN headquarters is quit a jump.
Obviously the security apparatus of the country is being tested to it limits about what is happening but you know the world as a whole is vulnerable to terrorist activities. If a group of people for what ever reason embark on a course of terrorism, even in most advanced societies, it’s not an easy thing to deal with. I happen to listen to BBC recently where it was reported that they actually arrested four people and they were found guilty of having plotted terrorist attack on certain places in central London; like the Stock Exchange, Big Ben, and this wheel that you see.
Obviously that was a success to the security services who had been tracing these people and some how got intelligence and following their vehicles and were actually arrested before they could carry out any of these terrible deeds. That was a very good thing and if you may recall several years ago bombs going off in the underground buses, killing a lot of people.
I think we can only as an European Union give our full support as we are doing and certainly recognising the challenges that this country is now facing. It’s a very difficult thing to deal with for any country. It’s not an easy thing to talk about. However, because as you realise the future of this present situation we don’t really understand as outsiders what these people are actually trying to achieve.
You have Sharia law in the Northern part of the country already. Why are we facing some kind of group who are claiming to be acting on behalf of Muslims? Which Muslims are they talking about? It’s quite obvious that the majority of the casualties in Kano are Muslims. I think it’s a shameful disgrace that this kind of thing is happening in Nigeria.
Nigerians are known to be the best for peace keeping in Africa. Do you think they are lacking on the issue of security?
As I have said I think any country, faced with a group of people who are prepared to kill indiscriminately, has a problem. My own country had these problems to deal with and in some situations it’s been very successful, in others, less so. There are a lot of people walking around today affected by terrorism in the UK and in other parts of Europe. I wouldn’t say that because it has happened in Nigeria it means that the security forces have not been trying to solve the matter.
It’s a very difficult thing to deal with. If you asked me, if they got all the security resources they need, I would say that it’s unlikely that they have all the resources that they possibly need because as you know Nigeria generally speaking needs more resources.
Migrants have become the vulnerable groups of racial hate and attacks in Europe as a result of the poor performance of the economies. What do you think should be the way out of this scourge, which has the same impact and effect as the philosophy of those who reject western culture and values?
I saw the most horrible things on television linked with the Steven Lawrence affair. Steven Lawrence was a student of architecture. He was black. 18 years of age. He was a bright young man and he had an ambition to become an architect. He was stabbed by a group of racists at a bus stop in London and his killers were acquitted by the police. They do not have necessary evidence and his mother campaigned for over 17 years to bring this people back to trial having been acquitted.
There was even a change in the law because previously the law did not allow you to bring someone back to court for an offense it had already been acquitted of. And with modern police methods and so on, they were able to watch the behaviors of these persons to actually know what these white persons were doing. Eventually they were brought back to court recently and two of them have already been sentenced to 30years in prison for the murder of Steve Lawrence who had been buried in Jamaica where his people originated from.
The important thing is to recognize what has been happening. The metropolitan police has been reformed. It was considered actually in the police force some racism and some attitudes. There was a new team that was put in place to look into this issue to get to the bottom of it and a lot of support for Steve Lawrence and his family not just from black people but predominantly white people to make a difference in their European country.
Why should the European countries and US be pushing for obnoxious socio-cultural policies and tying it to their development assistance programmes to developing economies at the time when there is a rising wave of anger against Western Liberalism?
Are you referring to same sex marriages? We are a free liberal and open society with full respect for rule of law and human rights. We in Europe would consider that what ever consenting adults wish to do between themselves as a private affair and not something that you and I should be popping our noises into. It doesn’t mean we are all homosexuals. Far from it! As you know we feel it’s correct to respect people’s right to privacy so far it isn’t harming others. I personally don’t see what business it is of mine if you wanted to marry a woman.
It’s an individual decision. Another aspect for this as far as Nigeria is concerned is that Nigeria has signed up for certain international treaties. When we look at legislation in this field it could be in conflict with issues with human rights. It’s a subject we recognise that there is a different view with Europe and some African people.
What is the cause of the Euro zone crisis and how contagious is the problem?
The problem in the financial sphere was global initially. It wasn’t only Europe but what emerged subsequently was the accumulation of debt at the national level which was not manageable – in some instances if one does the figures. You asked me if this is endemic or contagious, and I did say it’s not necessarily so.
It‘s certainly not endemic that it should be a problem. It implies both. I don’t think that is the correct way of looking at things. I want to mention something else in this respect. The way countries and economies are seen is very much a matter of how credible they are and how confident people are. You can build confidence and you can loose confidence and I think its something actually Nigeria has experienced most recently in connection with the fuel subsidy issue.
These people who are very bold in the demonstration which took place and also trying to engage with the public and government; they interface between these two. First of all we did agree that the fuel subsidy was not sustainable. Something would have to be done because the cost of the fuel subsidy was simply becoming enormous – $8billion and N1.7trillion. It’s too much of a nation’s resources.
They acknowledged that this is something that couldn’t continue indefinitely. And it has to do also with confidence in government. If you want to be a reforming administration as the Jonathan Administration that has a transformation agenda, then it is important to carry the people along with you. In some respect these has been a telling experience for Nigeria as a whole. I think today there is a greater recognition on all sides of the importance of the issue.
I think one of the positives in it is an underlining message of the importance of good governance in all its forms and the need for transparency and obviously the need to stamp out any from of corruption or wrong doings in the administration of public affairs nation’s resources and when I look at it in regard to Europe and the issues that Europe is having to deal with. Trust built on credibility and transparency. I think that’s the meeting point of those people in civil society who want to see this country move forward and those in government who’s job it is to make it move forward.