Some people will remember when General Gowon left Nigeria with half the Central Bank of Nigeria, so it is said, and moved to London. We know that today, even now in this great city of ours, there are some people who have taken from the Nigerian people and hidden their ill-gotten gains here
Tom Tugendhat MP
(Tonbridge and Malling) (Con)
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Gray. It is a pleasure to follow my friend, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor), who speaks quite rightly with passion about one of the world’s great countries, which is sadly being wracked by violence against young people.
There may be some debate about this, but I argue that the greatest book in the English language is “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, the great Nigerian writer. The beauty of that book is the way it explains the challenge to changing generations of living together, and the way it speaks about values falling away and community being eroded by outside pressure.
What we are seeing in Nigeria today is part of that story. It is a tragedy that we are all watching and witnessing. As we see things falling apart, the pressure this time is not foreign colonialism, but corruption, violence and attempts at control. I totally agree with my friend, the hon. Member for Edmonton, that we need to call out the corruption and use the powers we have in this country to stop those who are profiting from the wealth of that great nation, and hiding it here.
Some people will remember when General Gowon left Nigeria with half the Central Bank of Nigeria, so it is said, and moved to London. We know that today, even now in this great city of ours, there are some people who have taken from the Nigerian people and hidden their ill-gotten gains here. Sadly, we know that our banks have been used for those profits and for that illegal transfer of assets. That means that the UK is in an almost unique position in being able to do something to exert pressure on those who have robbed the Nigerian people.
This puts a particular onus on my hon. Friend the Minister, and I know she knows it. Using Magnitsky sanctions today is not just about protecting Nigeria, although it is. It is not just about respecting Nigerian young people who have been robbed and murdered by the SARS units. It is about protecting the United Kingdom, because what happens in Nigeria matters fundamentally to us here.
This country is the third country of the Commonwealth and has 200 million people. It will be the great economic powerhouse of Africa and one of the great economic powerhouses of the world. Its wealth is not just in the oil of the Rivers state, but in the imagination and creativity of its people, as witnessed every day in Nollywood and, perhaps more my style, at the great University of Jos. It is a country that gives so much to the world already, despite the fact that it is ill governed, brutalised and robbed. Imagine what it could give if the Plateau state was not a scene of conflict and anti-SARS movements, but instead was the global centre of learning that it really and truly could be, and indeed was up until the 1960s.
This is an opportunity for the UK to do something real, not just in the interests of Nigerians, although it would be, and not just in the interests of Africans, although it would be that, too, but fundamentally in the interests of the British people. This is a moment when the petitioners have got it absolutely right. They are not just arguing for the rights of young Nigerians who are claiming their own rights, but for the rights of democrats, free people, and honourable people everywhere. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleague, the Secretary of State, will listen, look at the sanctions regime and choose carefully where they apply.