Back in the swing of things in Abuja after the FCO’s Leadership Conference in London and Easter. The rainy season has started – huge storm in Abuja at the end of the week. The meetings in London were very useful including with the Nigerian community who were predictably mostly interested in visa issues. Also had a good meeting with West African Business Association (WABA) members. International economic crisis is having an impact on Nigeria but there are still important opportunities and our Trade and Investment office are very active.
Good to see that the England and Wales Law Association sent a trade delegation, (for the second year running) last week. The way the legal system is intertwined with that of the UK is symbolic of the close relations in many special areas. My own belief is that one of the best things we can do as British Government is to help Nigeria adopt international standards. In fact the impact crisis on the Nigerian private sector has to some extent encouraged a move towards quality, including in the banking sector. As customers get more choosy so it must be win-win for UK companies to offer highest international standards and corporate governance as part of the package.
Had an inspiring evening last week with Voluntary Service Overseas volunteers, many of them just arrived, together with the local organisations they work with. I was a VSO a long time ago now and got far more out of it than I gave. But I’m very proud of my time in Sudan as a teacher. Jenny, my wife, was a VSO teacher more recently in Northern Nigeria.
It’s great that VSO has now been going for over 50 years and still adapting to be as useful as it can. It brings experienced and qualified professionals to offer skills and experience to the new Nigeria. Their focus is helping the disadvantaged in a variety of ways. The partners are valiant Nigerian groups and individuals working to build up civil society capacity, small business, HIV/AIDS work, work on gender, work with children, the deaf and so on.
I spoke to the lady who runs Lady Mechanic and heard how her organisation gives technical skills (and then hopefully jobs) to women who have often had a difficult background. The only organisation dealing with child abuse in Nigeria was also present, as were others who spoke hopefully about how civil society is growing in confidence, although in an environment dominated by powerful vested interests.
The volunteers deserve every encouragement and support. This is a really valuable contribution from this UK based organisation which is now genuinely international- present that evening were volunteers from UK, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Nepal, Netherlands, Australia, India, Uganda and Kenya. What an impressive organisation.
Accompanied our Borders and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas during a two day visit. Very constructive discussions with Nigerian Ministers. Migration is a central issue for the UK and Nigeria. Both countries want migration to be legitimate and managed, not illegal and clandestine. Return of those who have no legal right to remain in UK is being well handled. And there are good programmes of co-operation, eg sharing training and knowledge with the immigration service and capacity building with the prison service.
Nigeria is one of our biggest visa operations world-wide, with over 180,000 applicants per year. We aim to provide a fair and efficient service. There’s a 45% refusal rate, often because of document fraud. But we’re glad to welcome legitimate visitors.
There are new simplified procedures being phased in under the Australian-style ‘Points Based System’ and the Minister was able to explain the advantages of these reforms for both sides. He also saw one of our out-sourced visa application centres which handles the first stage of applications including ‘biometrics’ (finger printing).
Attended an inspirational event in Ajegunle, one of Lagos’ poorest and most crowded districts. The UK Trade and Investment section and the High Commission have given work experience to youngsters from here. Their performance was exemplary and some have now got jobs. All they needed was the opportunity. Such great kids, such role models for others. All credit also to the private sector companies who have stepped in to support. Ajegunle means “wealth is here”. Nigeria’s wealth is indeed its people. But they need to have the chance to show what they can do.