, Abuja, Nigeria, Aug 29 – Britain’s Theresa May held talks with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday on the second leg of her maiden Africa tour aimed at drumming up post-Brexit trade deals outside the European Union.
Buhari said Brexit offers an opportunity to strengthen historic ties with London which ruled Nigeria as a colony to 1960.
“We are nervously watching the development about Brexit because we know that the relationship had been on for a long time,” he told May.
“I assure you that I am prepared to strengthen the relationship between our two countries.”
Both leaders oversaw the signing of agreements on a security partnership and an economic development forum after meeting in the capital Abuja.
“This clearly highlights the two priority areas in our relationship at the moment,” Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama told reporters.
He said a defence and security pact was to help tackle Nigeria’s challenges such as military training, policing and human rights.
The economic forum sought “to leverage areas where we have, as countries, competitive advantages: the financial centre that London is and the investment opportunities in our country, to build that up with the private sector as well as at the government level,” Onyeama said.
“This is in the context of the UK’s Brexit, coming out of the European Union. They feel freer now to engage with countries on a bilateral level and build up trade relations with those countries.
“For us this also fits into our economic recovery and growth plan … and so this partnership will be a framework that will achieve very much in our economic recovery and growth plan,” the minister said.
– ‘Greatest rights abuse of our times’ –
Buhari welcomed British support to strengthen democratic institutions.
“I assure you that I’m all out for free, fair and credible elections,” the president told May ahead of a vote due next year.
She kicked off her three-nation visit in Cape Town on Tuesday pledging to prioritise investment in Africa — although it was her diffident dance moves rather than diplomacy that captured the headlines.
The three-day tour, which will also take her to Kenya, is part of a campaign to promote Britain’s global ambitions.
With just seven months until Britain formally leaves the EU, May is under pressure to forge post-Brexit trade deals.
British officials are eyeing a doubling of bilateral trade with Nigeria by 2030 from the £4.2 billion ($5.42 billion, 4.64 billion euros) in 2017.
China is currently Nigeria’s biggest trading partner with Abuja importing some $7 billion in goods from Beijing.
After Abuja, May headed to Lagos, the economic capital, for talks on efforts to stem the migrant flow to Europe and meet victims of modern slavery.
“Modern slavery is one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time and the UK is a world leader in making it an international mission to end this heinous crime,” she said in a Commonwealth statement.
“Today we are stepping up our partnership with Nigerian authorities to find traffickers and bring them to justice,” May added.
A 10.5 million pound ($13.5 million) aid package would target human and drug traffickers and help repatriate 1,700 Nigerian slavery victims.
As Africa’s most populous nation, Nigeria is one of the main migrant departure for Europe, with 37,500 nationals reaching the Italian coast in 2016 and 18,000 in 2017, according to International Organisation for Migration (IOM) figures.
In December, the IOM said 36,000 Nigerians were stranded in Libya and Niger. Nigeria’s immigration agency estimates 10,000 of its citizens died trying to cross the Sahara or the Mediterranean between January and May 2017.