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Simmonds: The international community must ensure Nigeria is a success

In a speech to the 'Nigeria - Heart of Africa' conference, Shadow International Development Minister, Mark Simmonds, said:

"I am delighted to have been invited to address this conference today, particularly as only ten days ago I was in Nigeria discussing with Government, Opposition, business leaders, civil society and NGOs the economic, political and social challenges that Nigeria faces.

Whilst there are problems in Nigeria, as elsewhere in Africa, I was deeply impressed by the people I met and their enthusiasm and optimism for the future of their country. Nigeria is becoming a significant international player, assisting in worldwide peacekeeping operations, playing an important role in the African Union, NEPAD, the African Peer Review Process and with aspirations to serve on the UN Security Council.

Britain would like to see a strong, stable and prosperous Nigeria. With international support I believe that Nigeria can have sustainable economic growth and a pluralistic democracy with minimal corruption, and play a central role in West African stability and in the international community.

Under David Cameron, the Conservative Party in the UK have put international development and the alleviation of world poverty at the top of the political agenda. Conservatives believe that helping poor people to escape from poverty is the most compelling moral challenge the world faces, and so we have pledged to reach the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of GDP on overseas aid by 2013.

We also support the Millennium Development Goals and urge the international community to do more to meet these ambitious targets. Personally, I am deeply concerned that sub-Saharan Africa is off track to meet most of these targets, and indeed, maybe going backwards in some areas. At current rates of progress the target of universal primary education will met not by 2015, but by 2130, 115 years late; the halving of poverty, not by 2015 but by 2150, 135 years late; and the elimination of avoidable infant deaths, not by 2015 but by 2165, 150 years late.

The Conservative Party shares the aspirations of the Government as set out at the G8 meeting. We want the commitments made in Gleneagles to be implemented, but recognise the key to success is in the delivery. Over a year on, much work remains to be done if we are to achieve these ambitious but essential goals.

We also support the Government in the HIPC initiative, which has the potential to relieve the burden of debt on many nations, and we hope that progress will be made extending the scheme beyond those 18 that have currently met the criteria. We remain supportive of the Paris Club deal to reduce the burden of debt on Nigeria, and we must ensure that money saved is used for poverty alleviation. I was pleased to learn that significant progress is being made in the provision of health and education services, partially as a result of the extra money available for investment in public services in Nigeria, including supporting the re-training of 145,000 teachers and the recruitment of 40,000 new teachers.

Aid and debt relief are important, but as a World Bank report stated "Current trade restrictions are the biggest impediment to economic advancement and poverty reduction in the developing world." I am deeply concerned that the WTO negotiations seem to have stalled; the recent election result in the United States will not help, and it looks increasingly unlikely that agreement will be reached. This deadlock is resulting in a proliferation of smaller regional and bilateral deals, which we must ensure are not detrimental to developing nations which often lack the resources and expertise to negotiate beneficial and fair deals. That is why at the last General Election the Conservative Party proposed an 'Advocacy Fund' which would provide developing nations with funding and resources to negotiate on more equal terms with developed nations.

I recently met with a number of Trade Ministers from ACP countries, including Minister Umar from Nigeria, to discuss Economic Partnership Agreements. The Conservative Party broadly support the objectives of EPAs which could, if implemented as outlined in the Commission for Africa, result in gains to sub-Saharan Africa alone of up to $1.2 billion. However we are aware of criticisms that they are not development focussed enough, and that they could force developing countries to open their markets, exposing producers and farmers to unfair competition. The EU and ACP countries must work to ensure that EPAs create a fair trading system, in which all partners can have confidence and within which ACP countries can retain their individual developmental and economic priorities. Within the agreements there must also be targeted aid aimed at building trade capacity and infrastructure, such as reliable energy sources, well maintained transport networks and increasing technical expertise. I am concerned that in Nigeria in particular, EPAs could have detrimental effects on domestic industry, by making it vulnerable to competition from multinationals, who do not suffer from the same supply-side constraints as Nigeria.

Beyond this, ACP countries should do more to liberalise trade amongst themselves. Greater South-South trade could bring real benefits in terms of increased growth and poverty reduction. Currently, just 10% of African trade is with other African nations, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa impose an average tariff of 34% on agricultural products from other African nations, and 21% on other products. The Conservative Party recently proposed a Pan-African Trading Area, in which goods could be traded freely. This could have a large impact on poverty; the World Bank has estimated that African countries would gain as much from liberalising their own agriculture as from European liberalisation.

International, regional and domestic trade will not increase unless there is macro-economic stability, and a climate for investment. Steps must also be taken to assist the development and improve the efficiency of the ports and customs department, which is a particular problem in Nigeria. Additionally, evidence suggests that property ownership is an engine of wealth creation and capital investment and donors have a role in assisting in the establishment of a stable system of property ownership, which requires enforcement through an impartial legal system and strong rule of law. I acknowledge the progress that has been made in Lagos and Enugu states in developing a more efficient land registration system.

The Nigerian economy is over-reliant on oil, and despite some sectoral success there is limited economic stimulation in other areas. This so called "Dutch Disease" could have negative long-term consequences for economic growth and stability, and further steps must be taken to diversify the country's economic base. This will require significant investment in building transport networks, irrigation, communications capabilities and electrifying rural areas. Such infrastructure development will enable regional trade, expeditious delivery of medical supplies, and assist the country in graduating from over reliance on one sector to a strong and diverse economy producing a wide range of value-added products.

I recognise that considerable progress is being made in Nigeria in tackling the challenges the country faces; including reducing the HIV infection rate from 5% to 4.4%, increased girls' enrolment in education by between 10% and 15%, and identified savings of £850m in the 2007 budget which can be used for infrastructure development. I commend the work that is being done by the international aid community in Nigeria; and have experience of many impressive projects.

Strategies such as DfID's NEEDS (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy) and SEEDS (State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategies) projects could, if fully implemented, have a important role to play in assisting Nigeria in developing into an accountable democracy with a strong economy. Similarly, programmes such as the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which aims to provide a comprehensive audit of payments and receipts of oil revenues, are important in developing trust in the Government's activities and Nigeria must be commended for volunteering to pilot new EITI disclosure and validation methodologies.

Providing aid is important, but donors and aid agencies also have a role to play in establishing a strong and pluralistic civil society, a free media, and an independent judiciary so that the people of Nigeria have the ability to hold their government to account and ensure resources are used effectively and for the purposes for which they were intended. Donors must also ensure that the balance between targeting money where it is most needed, and targeting it towards the least corrupt sectors and regions is carefully considered, so that aid reaches the very poorest in society whilst encouraging and rewarding anti-corruption strategies and transparency.

The international community has a vital role, but ultimately there can only be sustained poverty alleviation when a strong relationship develops between the people and their Government. The Government must establish a reputation as an effective and accountable provider of services, at both national and regional level. There are particularly serious problems in the Niger Delta region which need urgently addressing to re-establish the rule of law.

Sustainable economic growth is the best way to alleviate poverty, and the Government of Nigeria has a role in providing an economic climate in which the businesses and the private sector can flourish; with macro-economic stability, a strong and independent financial sector, low regulation, access to credit, secure property rights, an impartial legal system and fair competition. They must also ensure that they do not follow short-sighted economic policies such as controlling interest rates below the rate of inflation, keeping the exchange rate artificially low, granting subsidised credits for favoured supporters and perpetuating corruption.

Donors must consider incentivising reform by linking development assistance to service delivery, and rewarding well performing institutions with increased aid, technical assistance and debt relief. This would encourage improvement and strengthen the public's trust in their officials and elected representatives.

Whilst it is easy to discuss economic solutions to alleviating poverty, without good governance and the minimalisation of corruption significant progress in reducing poverty will not be made.

We must acknowledge that corruption is corrosive; and whilst it remains less expensive to bribe a government official to obtain a concession than it is to pay the full market price limited progress will be made. I commend the work of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and the improvements in federal public expenditure management.

Earlier in the month I was fortunate enough to meet Mr Ribadu, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and I pay tribute to the work that the EFCC has done tackling corruption in challenging circumstances. But for the EFCC to continue its vital work it requires maximum support; both domestically and internationally. The international community has a role to play in assisting the EFCC, by funding a training school, by assisting in investigations and by ensuring that it is fully resourced and independent from the Nigerian Government, and allowed to continue its work free from intimidation. The EFCC, ICPC and strong political leadership are important first steps, but there must also be domestic legislation, public procurement and fiscal transparency initiated by the Nigerian Government if it is really serious about tackling corruption.

It is also essential that the elections in Nigeria next May take place on schedule, are perceived to be free and fair; not just by the international community, but also by the Nigerian people themselves, and that there is a smooth transition of power.

On my visit I was deeply impressed by Nigeria, the Nigerians and the Nigerian people's dynamism, energy and entrepreneurial flair. However significant constraints to sustainable poverty reduction remain; including mismanagement of public revenue, weak accountability and poor non-oil growth. The international community must ensure Nigeria is a success, not only for the 140m Nigerians, 70m of whom live in poverty, but for the long-term stability, security and economic growth and wellbeing of the whole of Africa. Nigeria is the key to West Africa, and the Nigerian people will find the UK Conservative Party supportive of their ambitions and goals."

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