by Daniel Edwin Gilbert
Martin Brown is a London-based Brit with a passion for Nigeria. He is very glad to be returning this November, on this occasion leading a multi-sector and high-level UK Trade & Investment Mission to the country. He has worked in the UK Parliament’s House of Commons as a Senior Parliamentary Adviser, focusing on facilitating reciprocal links and trade between the UK and Gulf of Guinea nations, in particular Nigeria.
Conversations and friendships established between Martin Brown and members of African diasporas across the UK, including Dundee, Edinburgh and London, helped better inform and constructively frame Brown’s work. Specifically regarding Nigeria, he organised a series of House of Commons events to highlight issues of insecurity, democracy and anti-corruption in Nigeria over a five-year period starting in 2011. He organised a Parliamentary delegation to the Delta Region in 2014 and was invited back to observe the 2015 Presidential Elections.
One year later he led a Trade Mission to the country (Nigeria Magazine readers may be interested to peruse his speech to the UK Parliamentary Nigeria All Party Political Group on his return to London thereafter), upon which experience this new one builds. In early October 2017 we met to discuss his work, and the forthcoming Investment and Trade Mission.
Martin Brown started by telling me how much he loves Nigeria, and Nigerians, not least:
• Gogomary Oyet, a Senior Executive at Oando Petroleum, pictured below;
• Nigeria’s former Vice President Mike Akhigbe (now sadly deceased); and also his brother…
• Eddie Akhigbe, a former Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) executive.
These people, and many others, provided him with both a window into the soul of Nigeria and a vital toolbox of practical insights into how to effectively, and cleanly, do business in the country.
Martin Brown & Gogomary Oyet, Port Harcourt, 2014
He is now keen to help build the bridges between UK business and the Nigerian nation to help both sides better understand each other, and profitably collaborate to the mutual advantage and prosperity of Nigeria, Nigerians and of UK traders and investors.
In our conversation, Martin Brown explained to me that the perception of risk to reward in Nigeria for many UK businesses is still seen as high, despite huge changes in governance, new anti-corruption measures and military successes against Boko Haram. Brown expanded upon this important point stressing, in his own words, that:
“in my experience risk perception is always lower in companies who know Nigeria from travelling in the country rather than just reading about the country. There have been further changes in 2017, building on the government’s initial drive to reduce corruption and invest in linked infrastructure for example with the huge building program in airports, roads, railways, ports and bridges. There are also several Free Trade Zones in the Niger Delta and Lagos ports.
It was obvious, to me and the delegates of the UK Trade mission (2016), all the new Federal Government of Nigeria minsters we met were experts in their fields- and more importantly they all shared the same vision.
The message was: Nigerian politicians are open to new ideas if they are part of new extensive economic plans for diversification- to achieve a more dynamic economy in Nigeria. They needed multi-sector growth and fast because of the falling price of oil- that has not changed since 2015 and so we have seen more State investment in mining and agriculture.”
Martin Brown stressed to me just how seriously he takes the President’s personal commitments to tackling Nigeria’s most pressing issues, and fuelling its drive to achieve the best possible outcomes possible for all Nigerians:
“From the outset, President Buhari set himself the task of fixing his biggest anti-corruption problem: the reorganization of the NNPC- his solution 30 new companies breaking up the formerly monolithic and opaque national petroleum company. As we know, the former oil minister and some senior executives are being investigated for corruption. He has also has signed an agreement with the UAE to assist with asset recovery in banks and property there. He continues to seek cooperation for anti-money laundering enforcement with the UK and the USA
He has re-organised and invested in the armed forces giving real improvements in security in the northern states and in the Delta region. This is inseparable from anti-corruption measures because of oil theft and trafficking crimes. Critically the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety agency have also been reformed and opportunities for illegal bunkering have been greatly reduced in the creeks.
To be brief we can say that President Buhari has carried on as he started but his age and health have slowed him up recently- but not his ministers. His speech on Nigeria’s birthday, the nation’s 57th Independence Day, sticks closely to his original vision and reinforces the idea of more accountability and transparency at federal, state and local government level.
He listed new extradition treaties, mutual legal assistance for anti-corruption cases, whistle blowing policy, a new anti-graft committee and new laws for the offence of kidnap and ransom. He emphasised the need for rationalisation and modernisation in government offices for example with an integrated payroll and personal information system.
There are additional policies in the pipeline to push ideas about better governance, open government partnership and more judiciary cooperation out to the state ministries.”
In a word of caution to Western-based NGOs and pundits, there is some chastisement to those who continue to give negative business advice that may be well passed its use by date:
“Oil thefts in NNPC and corruption in the military were highlighted by Transparency International (TI), a German-based NGO, as the most damaging to Nigeria in their reports. President Buhari met those problems head on and made significant changes.
However, TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) still lists Nigeria as 136/175 countries, the same position and no change since 2014- is that unfair in 2017? I think the CPI looks very tired now- and culturally insensitive. This index and others are looking, more and more, out of date if not completely inappropriate as a measure of African democracy and development, where Nigeria is the largest economy, largest population and most rapidly changing country in that continent.”
Martin Brown concluded the interview by stressing what a positive opportunity this Trade and Investment Mission represents to business people in both Nigeria itself, and those coming from the UK to visit Africa’s most populous nation. Nigeria Magazine readers can contact him on either +447527449760 or by email at email@example.com