By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
As the clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria heats up, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, has said that the United Kingdom is in support of a united, peace and prosperous Nigeria.
Arkwright, who spoke in an interview on Thursday, said that it was too late for Nigerians to continue to blame the underdevelopment of Nigeria on the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, pointing out that a lot had taken place since the country attained independence in 1960.
Arkwright said, “1914 is a rather long time ago and it’s a bit too convenient to blame the British for anything that happened over a hundred years ago. Nigeria has been independent since 1960, Nigeria is a proud and rightly independent sovereign country, so whatever happened in the past is not worth raking over, or blaming one side or another.
“There are different sides obviously to what you talked about in 1914. But I would say the UK recognises a unified Nigeria. There is a federal government, there is a constitution; it’s important that all elements of society work toward strengthening the constitution and strengthening the unity of Nigeria.
“So I do know that there have been constitutional debates. I do know that there are various proposals for restructuring of Nigeria. I think that’s a healthy debate. It is a political debate and it is one that should continue. The British government does not take a particular position on that other than to say we are strongly supportive of a united Nigeria.
The High Commissioner lauded the Nigerian Government for opening direct talks with Niger Delta communities with a view to ending the lingering political crisis in the region and paving the way for oil production.
According to him, there could be no military solution to the Niger Delta crisis even though he condemned the continued sabotaging of oil facilities be armed groups the region and called for an end to such criminality.
On the bombing of an IDP camp by the Nigerian Air Force early this week, the envoy said that it must have been borne out of a tragic error since the force is working to repel the Boko Haram insurgents from the people.
He said, “I’m absolutely certain that it was not deliberate. What is important here is in the short term, doing the best for those who have been injured, the families of those who have been bereaved, and I know that the federal government and the state government and indeed international NGOs are working very hard to help the wounded to make sure they get proper medical treatment, and to take the necessary actions there.
“That’s in the short term. I think what is also necessary is a thorough investigation by the Nigerian Air force or the Nigerian military to determine exactly what happened because clearly it was a mistake. Mistakes can recur but what is really important is that the right actions are taken to avoid such mistakes happening again. And until that investigation happens, I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate on what happened or whether people had imagery or whether they knew that these were Boko Haram terrorists or civilians.
“Let’s not forget the reason why the Air force are up there is because of the actions of the Boko Haram terrorists and I strongly condemn the Boko Haram terrorists and what they are doing up there. They have disrupted, even destroyed a whole society and that is completely unacceptable. So obviously the UK is strongly supporting the federal government in its efforts to push back and eventually indeed defeat Boko Haram.
The High Commissioner disclosed that UK supported the humanitarian effort in the North East to the tune of £80 million in 2016 and was still committed to doing more to assist in the area.
The Department for International Development from the UK is very actively engaged in the northeast. This is partly through humanitarian assistance. Last year 2016 we gave around £80 million for that effort. Back in September there was an announcement by our minister that we were giving an additional £50 to the Lake Chad region, including obviously the northeast of Nigeria. But you are right; this is a very serious crisis.
There was a UN appeal just before the end of the year for $1 billion. The UK has done more than many to provide the UN with the necessary funding and we continue to look at what more we can do.
But this is an international global effort involving the federal government, the state government and all the various state institutions, and it’s important that we get this right. First of all by ensuring that hunger and poverty are ameliorated in the North east. Obviously the security situation needs to be resolved for good, and make sure that it’s not all about food. It’s about health, it’s about education.
And some of those longer term development questions are also areas in which our Department for International Development is engaged. The UK is very present and very prominent in the north east and will continue to be so.