Brexit lessons for Nige­ria

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

In a his­toric vote held re­cently, the Bri­tish peo­ple de­cided to exit the Euro­pean Union (EU) in what is known around the world as Brexit. The de­ci­sion has al­ready re­sulted in po­lit­i­cal chaos and long term economic un­cer­tainty for the Bri­tish. The pound and the euro both fell sharply against the US dol­lar; Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion and Labour Party’s leader also lost a vote of con­fi­dence among his party’s MPs.

For us in Nige­ria, the Abuja Cham­ber of Com­merce said Brexit will im­pact the Nige­rian econ­omy neg­a­tively. They ex­pect that bi­lat­eral trade be­tween Nige­ria and UK, pro­jected to reach 20 bil­lion pounds by 2020, may be dis­rupted as trade agree­ments con­tracted un­der the EU um­brella may have to be rene­go­ti­ated. Fur­ther­more, the UK is Nige­ria’s largest source of for­eign in­vest­ment and a shrink­ing Bri­tish econ­omy could cause a drop in in­vest­ment, trade and re­mit­tances from Nige­ri­ans in Di­as­pora who sent home over 20 bil­lion dol­lars in 2015. Also, DFID pro­grams which have been a burn­ing po­lit­i­cal is­sue in the UK could be af­fected.

Soon after the vote, there was a spike in Google search about EU. It means that many vot­ers did into re­ally un­der­stand the is­sues in­volved and are now re­gret­ting their de­ci­sion. The Bri­tish have al­ready in­vented a name for those who voted for Brexit and 24 hours after, came out onto the streets to protest the results. They are now called “Re­grex­iters.” Rea­sons other than Europe de­cided this vote. While the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment fully un­der­stood the im­pli­ca­tions of a Brexit vote, it ap­pears that most vot­ers didn’t. For the Bri­tish, for the first time since World War Two, a gen­er­a­tion has grown up that is eco­nom­i­cally worse off than their par­ents. The gap be­tween rich and poor folks con­tin­ues to widen and as the mis­ery grows, scape-goat­ism be­comes in­evitable. EU mem­ber­ship and its open bor­ders be­came the fall guys for Bri­tain’s economic mis­for­tunes.

There is a les­son here for all democ­ra­cies, in­clud­ing Nige­ria. Anal­y­sis of the Bri­tish vote showed that younger peo­ple voted to re­main in EU while older peo­ple voted to leave. In both Europe and USA, economic prob­lems have brought a resur­gence of na­tion­al­ism, ex­clu­sion and iso­la­tion­ism. Workers feel be­trayed be­cause im­mi­grants who are ready to work for much lower wages are tak­ing over their jobs. There are par­al­lels with Nige­ria where so­cial an­a­lysts have pre­dicted that many of the IDPs in the coun­try will not re­turn “home” when­ever the time comes.

The Bri­tish were later day en­trants to EU. They voted in 1974 to join the then Euro­pean Economic Com­mu­nity, also known as the Com­mon Mar­ket. After 42 years they have voted to leave even though the rest of Europe is a fam­ily that is stay­ing to­gether. Although the re­main­ing coun­tries do not wish to pun­ish the Bri­tish, the fact is that if the vote has no con­se­quences then oth­ers can also vote to leave. For Nige­ria, which spear­headed the for­ma­tion of ECOWAS 40 years ago mod­elled after the EEC-EU, we do not want any coun­try here to get the same ideas as the Bri­tish.

A ques­tion be­ing asked is what kind of trade deal can Bri­tain ex­pect from Europe after Brexit? Full ac­cess is not pos­si­ble as UK has for­feited the ben­e­fits it ob­tained from EU. If these re­sult in more economic prob­lems for Bri­tain, it could ag­gra­vate other un­healthy so­cial and po­lit­i­cal trends, such as drift to ul­tra-na­tion­al­ism and fas­cism. This is a dan­ger that Africans shiver to think of, what with the in­creas­ing for­tunes of ex­treme right wing po­lit­i­cal parties in many parts of Europe. The rise of sep­a­ratist, ex­treme na­tion­al­ist and other un­savoury move­ments in Europe is a dan­ger to Africans in Europe and could also en­cour­age the rise of un­savoury po­lit­i­cal move­ments here at home. We must be vig­i­lant.

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