…Cancels weekly FEC
…As Nigeria, Britain sign pact on security, economic devt
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA- PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday assured the British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, that he was committed to conducting a free, fair and credible election in 2019.
This is as the Nigeria and British governments have signed agreements on Defence and Security and Economic Development to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Meantime the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting that normally takes place every Wednesday did not hold and there was no official explanation from government whether it was to receive the British Prime Minister.
In a bilateral meeting with the visiting Prime Minister which held behind closed-doors at the New Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja, President Buhari welcomed UK’s support at strengthening democratic institutions in the country.
The President in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina said, ‘‘I assure you that I’m all out for free, fair and credible elections. I’m very pleased that my party is doing very well. The High Commissioner will brief you more. The recent successes in polls in Katsina, Bauchi, and Kogi have boosted our morale greatly.
‘‘Nigeria has accepted multiparty democracy and that is putting politicians on their toes, forcing them to work harder.”
President Buhari applauded the support by the British government to the country in the fight against corruption, noting that the success of the fight was very important to ordinary people in the country.
He said, “We had great opportunities and resources between 1999 and 2014, due to high oil prices. But when we came in 2015, oil prices plunged to as low as 37 dollars per barrel.
‘‘What we have been doing since 2015 is to focus on infrastructure development, despite low earnings. Work is ongoing in roads, rail, power, and many others.”
While welcoming his guest, President Buhari appreciated the support Nigeria was receiving form the UK in the fight against terrorism
He said: “Madam Theresa I welcome you most sincerely to Nigeria and I am very grateful to the British government under your leadership for the help you are giving us in the area of security. The training team that goes to our institutions in Kaduna and the operations in the North-East mainly, we thank you very much for that.
“I also thank you very much for the improvement in trade relationship between us since you assumed office.”
On Brexit, President Buhari noted that it provides an opportunity to strengthen the historic ties between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.
According to him, ‘‘We are nervously watching the development about Brexit because we know that the relationship had been on for a long time. I assure you that I am prepared to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.”
Earlier, in remarks before the bilateral meeting, the Nigerian leader underscored the need for UK support on reviving of Lake Chad, which is a means of livelihood for millions of people.
The President told the visiting Prime Minister that Europe and China were already conducting an in-depth study on recharging the Lake through inter-basin transfer from the Central African Republic.
In her remarks, Prime Minister May, who welcomed the assurance by the Nigerian government on credible elections in 2019, said she was pleased to be in Abuja to continue the ‘‘excellent discussions’’ she started with President Buhari in London in April, this year, particularly on security, trade, asset recovery and the fight against corruption.
She said, ‘‘Security and defence cooperation are very important steps to address Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa.”
On asset recovery, the Prime Minister told President Buhari: ‘‘we do not want to hold anything that belongs to Nigeria people, but we follow the judicial process, which can be slow.’’
The Prime Minister appealed to President Buhari to use his position as ECOWAS Chair to keep the issue of human trafficking on the front burner in the sub-region.
She said the exit of the UK form the European Union, has given the country the opportunity to seek more economic ties with Nigeria.
She pledged that the United Kingdom will assist Nigeria in the fight against terrorism as well as human trafficking.
“Thank you very much for the warm welcome. I’m delighted to be here in Abuja and to continue the very good discussions we had when you were in London in April. As you say we already have very good cooperation between the UK and Nigeria which include education, defence, security and trade relations.
“We are ready to cooperate together on global and regional issues; to strengthen that cooperation and partnership, I have with me a business delegation, as we look to enhance our ties in future and explore more trading opportunities.
“We will also be looking to work together to step up efforts against security threats from Boko Haram, human trafficking and the likes. And of course also cooperate to fight corruption and lifting people out of poverty. I am pleased that I am going to visit Lagos as well because as far as our partnership is working, we are doing well in Nigeria. We look forward to enhancing this relationship in future.”
President Buhari and Prime Minister May witnessed the signing of two agreements: Security and Defence Partnership and Economic Development Forum Agreement.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said that the two countries signed bilateral agreements that highlighted the two priority areas in their relationship.
The Minister also noted with delight that Nigeria will benefit immensely from the UK’s BREXIT, as coming out from the European Union has given Britain the free hand to engage with other countries on bilateral levels in building up trade relations.
He said, “There were two agreements that were signed today (Sunday). The first one was Defence and Security Partnership between the two countries. It was signed by the respective national security advisers and the second one was on Economic Development Forum that has been set up.
“This clearly highlights the two priority areas in our relationship at the moment.
“Under the Defence and Security Pact, it is a comprehensive agreement that covers all aspects of security challenges. So apart from the military training there is also the support for policing, civil policing, human rights aspect of security and the close cooperation that the two countries will have, the training that will be provided by the UK to our security forces.
“On the economic development forum, this is a forum that really aims at co-prosperity. The prosperity of our two countries are sloping to leverage in areas where we have as countries comparative advantages, the financial center that London is and the investment opportunities in our country and ready to build that up with the private sector as well as the government level.
“So everything will be comprehensive and involve different stakeholders and this is in the context of UK’s BREXIT. Coming out of the European union, they feel freer now to engage with countries on bilateral level and build up trade relations with those countries.
“For us, this also fit into our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan where Mr. President has put forward a roadmap that is really transforming this country. So this partnership is a framework that is very key to our Economic Growth and Development Plan.”
On the human rights, the Minister said, “We have taken a number of steps in the area of human rights. Mr. President has set up a committee that looks into the various allegations made against our military and the process is ongoing
“We are very keen to have as a government a mechanism within the security apparatus of this country that ensures that the correct procedures and methods are implored by the military and so of course in a corporation with us in the area of security, the United Kingdom and other countries also expect that we will maintain the highest human rights standard.”
The British Prime Minister arrived the Presidential Villa exactly 1pm as scheduled and left the precint at 1:50pm with display by the Presidential Brigade Guard.
There was no joint press briefing as is always the case when Presidents of foreign countries come on official visit.