Last week, precisely June 23, the United Kingdom voted to leave the most powerful economic and political bloc: the European Union. The union, which could be seen as an offshoot of European Economic Community, was formed in 1993 after the Maastricht Treaty. Presently, it has a membership strength of 28 countries drawn from Europe.
After many years of what I may term as a marriage that was never consummated, Britons took to the polls last Thursday in a heated and polarized referendum to determine if the conditions that existed that made them vote to be members of EU 23 years ago were still there or not. Britain’s membership of the EU, as I said, was never consummated in that Britain, though a member, stuck to its currency the Pound Sterling and refused to use the Euro which is the Union’s common currency.
The referendum which was like every other election, was divisive and aggressive with tough campaigns on both sides. While the Prime Minister David Cameron led the Remain supporters, Boris Johnson led the Leave side, those that said Britain should leave, popularly known as the Brexit.
After heated campaigns that even led to the shooting of Jo Cox, a Member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, and a Remain supporter, Britain officially withdrew from the membership of EU last Thursday after the referendum result tallied at 51.9 percent for the Brexit and 48.1 for Remain.
While the proponents for Britain to remain in the European Union cite economic and political considerations as the reasons for their agitation, the Brexit supporters hinged their argument on porous immigration law and the migrant crisis in Europe. Many Britons felt that migrants who number over three million in Britain were taking over their jobs and making them less British through acculturation or dilution of their uniqueness. They feared that with the imminent admission of Turkey, a predominantly Islamic state which has been fingered for funding terrorism worldwide, Britain was not safe anymore. They cited, among other things, a wide gap in cultural values between them and other members of EU, the social service system migrants take advantage of, widespread dissatisfaction with the way the country was going and the dwindling fortunes of an average Briton and so on.
The defeat of the Remain supporters which was led by Cameron means a loss of confidence in the ruling party. And this means that the Prime Minister should resign. Already, Cameron has served a notice to that effect, which he said he would effect in the fall. His likely replacement will be the euro-sceptic Boris Johnson, a libertarian member of the Conservative Party and former Mayor of London.
However, we are not discussing foreign affairs here. But for the fact that the world has become one big family, intricately entwined and interwoven where events unfolding thousands of miles away from us reverberate across the oceans and impact us in one form or the other, we cannot afford to be insular or provincial in the British debacle.
What does Britain’s exit from European Union mean to us in Nigeria? What does it portend? Can it lead to the breakup of the EU, which is a major aid donor to Nigeria? Does the conditions that led to Britain’s exit exist in Nigeria? If it does, can it carry in its wing a seed that will lead to a similar development in Nigeria?
These are the issues that have troubled me since the naysayers had their way in the British referendum. The exit of Britain means much to us, more so when it was a major player in the union. On the positive side, the exit has led to a decrease in the value of pound sterling which is good for Forex transactions for Nigerians. Naira has gained traction against the pound, though I see this to be a temporary shockwave. International businessmen and travellers to Britain will gain by this, imports from UK will be cheaper but Forex inflow from Britain into the economy will suffer, albeit just for a time.
However, I must say that the exit of UK does not bode well for us. I foresee the imminent decrease in aid from the European Union into the country. Our export to EU will likely contract since UK which is our major trading partner in Europe is no longer in the union.
But above all, with the impending exit of David Cameron, the apostle of “Fantastically Corrupt”, no one is sure how President Buhari’s effort to repatriate Nigeria’s illicit money holed up in London, the world’s financial capital, will play out. Cameron had, in order to shame us, told Buhari that Nigeria and Afghanistan were the most fantastically corrupt nations on earth.
Although government is a continuum, we cannot say for certain that the incoming British Prime Minister will play ball and pursue the repatriation that made the president not to demand for apology from Cameron. This will impact us negatively and put a hold on some projects in the country.
However, while Britain’s exit will certainly not lead to a breakup of the union, at least in the foreseeable future, it has laid a nursery bed from which discontent among member countries may sprout. Germany which is the major financier and strongest economy in the region is already feeling it is sacrificing much at the expense of its people to keep the fire in the union aglow. France is uncomfortable with the sea of migrants wanting to enter its borders from member states. Anti-immigration canvassers in Netherlands like Geert Wilders last week called for a referendum on Netherlands’ membership of the EU, saying “We want to be in charge of our own country, our own money, our own borders and our own immigration policy.” And Sweden which has the highest standard of living on earth wouldn’t want to sacrifice that by opening its borders to migrants that may likely constitute a problem. But above all these, what does the exit of UK from EU tell us in Nigeria? First, it tells us that any country, no matter how it may be cast in iron, can still break up when the conditions are no longer favourable to the people. The conditions that exist in Britain that made the majority to vote against remaining in the union are very much with us, which, God forbid, may cause a seismic shift in our political configuration.
The possibility of a section of the country waking up one morning to call for a breakup of our federation is high. The Igbos tried it in. There are pent-up feelings everywhere. There is much hunger in the land. Cost of living has gone beyond the reach of even the middle income group. Everywhere you go, you see squalour, and you see discontent. I travelled to my village the other day and heard how a woman, a widow was cooking soup in the night outside her pavement. When the soup was almost ready, she went into her room to bring salt, but before she could come out, her pot of soup that was steaming on fire had been stolen by someone who had garri but no soup!
Part of the reasons for Britain’s exit was because of the dwindling fortunes of Britons. Besides, the cultures of other EU member countries were incompatible with theirs. Many of these factors and more exist in Nigeria. Industries are closing down and people are losing their jobs because of power problems. Today, there is serious suspicion among Christians and Moslems, exacerbated by the Boko Haram insurgency. The Fulani herdsmen who have constituted themselves into another terror group are marauding and killing at will while the authorities look the other way. The Grazing Reserve Bill that is being packaged by the Senate is like a tinderbox with the potentials of exploding without notice. If it is implemented, it will be the last straw that will break the camel’s back.
And at the economic front, some geopolitical zones in the country are feeling cheated that the resources from their land have been taken away from them to develop other regions. This is what is responsible for the mushrooming of militant groups in the Niger Delta like Niger Delta Avengers (MEND) and so on. It is this feeling of relative deprivation that is fuelling the Niger Delta agitation which has led to militant attacks on oil facilities. And the handling of the situation by the federal government is everything but salutary, it is high-handed which tantamount to killing a fly with a sledge hammer. However, it was surprising when last week the President who still thinks as a military Head of State discountenanced his belligerent posture to plead with the militants in the name of God to lay down their arms.
And at the Eastern front, the Igbos are feeling cheated and marginalised. There is hardly any federal presence in Igboland. No federal road apart from the Abakaliki-Enugu road is in good state. Onitsha-Enugu, Enugu-Port Harcourt roads are death-traps. This is why Igbos are angry in the federation. No member of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) or (MASSOB) or Biafra Movement (BM) is happy that their leader Kanu was granted bail by the court but is still languishing in the dungeon. They all are agitating for Biafra Exit, or Biaexit for short.
The Buhari-led administration should explore means to douse all these unnecessary tensions and agitations. A hungry man is an angry man. When there is no food on the table of the masses which the APC government offered to give in abundance, people are wont to indulge in illegalities in order to survive. We don’t want Brexit, neither do we need Biaexit. We need a country where we can feel safe, feed well and pursue our interests without being enslaved. The time to act to save our country from disintegration is now.