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We can’t dictate to Nigeria on same-sex marriage –British High Commissioner

British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock, has said that Nigerians need not worry over the position of the United Kingdom (UK) on same-sex marriage. This is even as he said that the issue of same-sex marriage was not in any way connected to the now rested 3,000 pounds UK visa bond.
In this interview with Saturday Sun in Abuja, Pocock said: “As for the Prime Minister, as for David Cameron’s view on same-sex marriage, let me make it clear. This is something that he thinks is right within the UK, at least, within the UK law that people of whatever sex, should be free to marry if they so wish.
“This is not something that he thinks is a recipe for the world, first of all. No. Secondly, something he wishes to impose on Nigeria or any other particular country. So, I don’t think Nigerians need to worry that UK is coming to your door and demanding that you do something that you do not wish to do on one hand, and certainly, not connecting something like that with UK visa.”
The British envoy, who spoke to AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, also talked about his one-year sojourn in Nigeria, Britain’s new visa regime in Nigeria, Prisoner Transfer Agreement with Nigeria, among other issues. Excerpts…

How has your stay in Nigeria been?
I have very much enjoyed it. I have been in Nigeria like exactly a year. I arrived in December last year. It has been a completely fascinating time. I have had the chance to visit about eight states, which is not as many as I would like. But this is a big country and it is a busy time. States in the North, states in the South. And I have met many northern governors and political people in the country, but many people from the civil society and many people from the business sector and I have enjoyed doing that. It is giving me a sense of the size, the complexity, the importance of Nigeria, both regionally and in terms of the UK’s interest. And I intend to spend the new year, 2014, visiting many more states and getting a feel for the good of the country as we approach an important centenary festival and secondly, an important election.

Do you like it here?
Yes, I do. Very much. I like living in Abuja.

More than Lagos?
Well, I don’t choose between the two cities. They are quite different places. Abuja has the benefit of planning. It is open, the roads are good. There is a lot of interesting architecture here. But Lagos has a totally different dynamic. It is organic, it is immensely dynamic, it is bustling, with too much traffic sometimes, but it has at its centre, I think, a vibrant modern economy, which is adding value not just to the inhabitants of Lagos, but the whole country indeed, the whole region. It is perhaps by itself, the fifth largest economy in Africa. So, the two cities – one very much a government town, I think, although increasingly with other elements to it and Lagos, so very much a commercial, in some respects, a cultural capital of Nigeria. Both, fascinating places.

Have you visited Adamawa, Yobe and Borno where the Boko Haram are…?
(Cuts in) I have not yet been up to those areas. I have been to Jigawa and Kano. So, I have got the closest I can in some respect.

Are you scared?
I am not scared. I am prudent. I am also finding opportunities to do business with senior people from those states in Abuja. So, it is not as if we’ve lost interest in those places. Far from it! I have had the chance to do business with people from those regions in Abuja. But our travel advice doesn’t permit UK nationals to visit those areas. But I hope to do so in some stage. I do hope to do so in some stage. But I would like to get to Adamawa, for example, next year, Borno, Yobe, perhaps when I can.

Talking about security, what solutions can Britain proffer to the insurgency in northern Nigeria?
Nigeria is a sovereign country and we don’t offer advice to our friends.

How about military assistance?
What we try and do is help where we can and I think we very much agree with the broad approach of the Nigerian government on this, which is why there must be a security element in dealing with the difficulties in the North. There is also going to be a broader strategy essentially political and in economic strategy and they have to work together and the most you can expect from a security approach, is that it buys time and space for other forms of political and economical outreach. So, I think that broad approach is probably the only way and it is the best medium-term approach. But we are here to try and help, using, I have to say, some of our own experience in dealing with terrorism and conflict on our own soil as we did many years ago. That was a very long conflict. It took a lot of coordinating activities at every level: political, military, civilian, judicial, economic, religious; to bring that difficulty to the stage where it now is in Northern Ireland, where the communities are no longer at war and where you have a government that has Catholic and Protestant at its core. So, elements of genuine reconciliation and moving forward, which is what one hopes to see in the North-East.

You introduced a new visa regime recently. Has it taken off?
Yes, it is up and running. Let me put it in context for you: this is a global approach. It is not something we do just in Nigeria. UK Department of Visa people in London, have taken a view that this needs to be a uniform approach globally. So, everywhere in the world, where technology exists, send their applications online and payment is online. And it is important that people understand that this is not something aimed specifically at Nigerians, but it is actually intended to promote efficiency and improve process.

Why payment in dollar and not in naira, or even pounds?
Let me explain it the best I can. We use a system, an online payment system that recognizes particular currencies and doesn’t recognize others. For global purposes, the currency most recognized for online payment is the US dollar. The naira is not recognized. But what happens when money is taken from someone’s account in Nigeria, is that it is taken in naira and it is registered as dollars on our system. So, people are not actually, I think, paying in dollars. They are paying naira. What I am saying is that the money is registered in dollars, but it is paid in naira from peoples’ existing naira account. They do not need to open US dollar account. They do not need a domiciled US dollar account. So, the registration as a dollar payment is essentially one of convenience; one of accounting convenience. It is not dollars being taken from peoples’ account. It is naira. They do not pay in dollars. They pay in naira and the system converts it to dollars for accounting purposes.

People saw it as a form of racism when they heard that they would be paying in dollars and not even in pounds or naira…
No. They are paying effectively in naira.

Let’s take a look at the Prisoner Transfer Agreement. Recently, we heard that Nigerian prisoners in Britain would be brought back to Nigeria. Some Nigerians believed that since they were tried, convicted and jailed by British courts, Britain should bear much of the responsibility here in Nigeria. What’s the position?
The Prisoner Transfer Agreement is an agreement between our two countries, which is important to both our countries whereby Nigerian prisoners can serve outstanding sentences here. We see that as a good thing for a number of reasons. One, Nigerian prisoners can serve sentences closer to their own families and this is actually of benefit to them. Secondly, it begins to reduce the concern in the UK, about the high number of foreign prisoners in British prisons for which the British taxpayer is effectively paying. So, when you say the responsibility for this, well, it is not really the UK’s responsibility if people from other countries come to our country, commit crimes and then imprisoned. If there is the possibility that people can be repatriated to serve their sentences with the agreement of both governments, then, I think it is a good thing to do and that is what is happening. So, we  are grateful that the Nigerian government, over a period of some years of negotiation, has now reached the point where we have an agreement that is mutually beneficial should there be any British prisoners in Nigeria that the Nigerian government would wish to repatriate to the UK. That can also happen under the scheme. So, it is not a one-way thing.

So, both countries have ironed out the grey areas?
Not grey areas. No. We would have an agreement, a Prisoner Transfer Agreement, which would set out the terms and conditions under which people can be sent back to serve sentences in their respective countries. Both governments have to go into that and we hope to sign it very soon. It is a major achievement. But I don’t think there are grey areas. It is a mutual benefit here.

Britain promised Nigeria one million pounds to upgrade Nigerian prisons…
(Cuts in) We did.

Do you have record of Britons in Nigerian prisons?
I think at the moment, we might have one.

Only one?
Yes.

In the whole country?
I think so. We tend not to commit crimes in Nigeria.

The issue of 3,000 visa bond is not something to be forgotten in a hurry. The question out there is, why did the UK retreat?
It was never a policy.

But you were in the process of actualizing it…
As I tried to say to the Nigerian media many times, this wasn’t a policy. A policy is something which is articulated, agreed and about to be implemented.

They tested it?
They never tested it. This was an idea, it was an option that was being looked at and two points to make here about it. The first thing was that it was never going to apply to anything, but a very small slice of any population to which it was applied. It was not a 3,000 pounds visa fee or charge, which many people thought it was. It was never that. And secondly, of the 125,000 Nigerian visas granted, for example, if a couple of hundreds were affected, it could have been a lot. So, it was never the much that people thought it was. First point. Second point: it was never tested or reached the point of actually becoming an implementable policy. It was only ever an idea for discussion and a lot of people within the UK, it is political and it is bureaucratic strata. So, after a vigorous internal debate, it was decided this simply wouldn’t fly. So, that is where we are. This was not aimed at Nigeria specifically. It never gone beyond discussion stage and with the resistance from a lot of people who didn’t think it was a good idea, it was scrapped. So, that is where we are.

Some felt it was connected with Britain’s bully over same-sex marriage…
(Cuts in) Say that again! It was connected with what?

Same-sex marriage. You know David Cameron’s position on that. Nigerians were not happy about it. So, some felt it was connected to it.
Paulinus, I enjoy conspiracy theory in Nigeria, but this one is, I will crack a joke. Visa bond was connected to nothing except an idea that visa bond might be a deterrent to some kinds of people who would overstay their UK visa. It was linked to nothing else.
As for the Prime Minister, as for David Cameron’s view on same-sex marriage, let me make it clear. This is something that he thinks is right within the UK, at least, within the UK law that people of whatever sex, should be free to marry if they so wish.
This is not something that he thinks is a recipe for the world, first of all. No. Secondly, something he wishes to impose on Nigeria or any other particular country. So, I don’t think Nigerians need to worry that UK is coming to your door and demanding that you do something that you do not wish to do on one hand, and certainly, not connecting something like that with UK visa.

Well, the feeling here is Some Britain is dictating to us on marriage orientation. The issue has been: why would you choose for others how to marry when they don’t choose for you?
I just made clear that there was no intention of any kind to dictate to anybody about anything, marriage or otherwise. This is a very serious misapprehension and I am glad you asked the question because it gives me the chance to say that nothing like this ever existed in the mind of God or anyone else’s. This is a serious misapprehension.

What is your position on gay marriage?
I don’t know if that is relevant to anything.

I mean your personal position as an individual…
It is of no interest to anyone. I am here and the reason you are interviewing me is that I am the British High Commissioner. What my opinion is on gay marriage is of no interest.

What is Britain doing to foster relationship with Nigeria?
I would say we are doing three broad things. The first is that we are working to improve our trade relationship, our economic relationship at every level, goods and services, the hydrocarbon industry, value added, particularly the financial side and lots of other connections. That is a mutual benefit to both our countries and we are very interested to continue to do that.
The second thing is broadly on stability in security. Nigeria is huge importance to us, it is huge importance to West Africa and to the continent as a stable democracy. We would like to see a situation if we can help where we can to keep Nigeria’s effort to resolve the conflict in the North East, to keep them successful and on track; then we would do so within the limit of our resources and our powers. And we are not alone in doing that. Many other Western and African friends of Nigeria are trying to do the same.
The third area is broadly speaking, in the development area. There are perhaps, a hundred million poor people in this country and our development arm, the Department for International Development (DFID), not only putting development money into Nigeria, but more importantly, they are helping to bring ideas, ways of looking, not just tackling the core elements of poverty, but how you improve entrepreneurship on the one hand, bring people that are marginalized, that are not part of the formal economy into that economy by opening bank accounts or making himself eligible for credit and for capital for loans on one hand, and on the other hand, helping as I said, with looking at the drivers of conflict in this country so that a most stable background for economic development and social peace is possible.

What is the volume of trade between our two countries?
We are getting very close to our target of eight billion pounds.

In favour of Nigeria?
I think it is more in Nigeria’s favour, looking at the figures.

It is always in our favour…
Well, not necessary always but we want to get to eight billion in bilateral trade volume this year. We are well on the way and I think at the moment, the balance of trade is in Nigeria’s favour. But that is fine. What we are looking at in the UK, while still very focused on visible exports and on areas of huge importance like the hydrocarbon industry, we are also looking increasingly into the servicing sector like financial education, legal and health service import where the UK has a particular credentials comparative advantage. And because Nigeria’s system, particularly on the financial side, is a very bit closely aligned with our own. We can genuinely add value to the benefit by the way of both sides of the equation, both countries.

Source: The Sun.

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