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High hopes for Merkel's Nigeria visit

August 29, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is well-known and liked in Nigeria, so expectations for her visit on Friday are unsurprisingly high. Observers are hoping for better trade relations — and a boost for women in politics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel und Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari shaking hands on stage in 2016
Image: imago/R. Zoellner

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Friday, nagging issues such as migration and repatriation will not be on the agenda. Instead, Merkel will — hopefully — be welcomed with open arms, as Germany and its chancellor are considered reliable international partners. "She is a woman who cares, and is helping Nigeria to build a democratic government based on the German model," Sara Muhammad, who is learning German at the Goethe-Institut in Lagos told DW.

However, Merkel will only be in Nigeria for one morning. She will first meet with the president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Jean-Claude Brou, to discuss further cooperation between Germany and the community of 15 countries — which for many West Africans is probably even more abstract than the European Union (EU) is for Europeans.

However, Merkel's main focus will be on economic issues and a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Here, Merkel is hailed by many for her competence. "The German government is responsible, they are interested in how things in Africa work," businessman Isaac Amos, who is also a member of the Nigerian German Business Association (NGBA), told DW. He believes that Germany is ready to promote more research between the two states. "It's a win-win situation for both sides, as the Germans could also learn aspects of tropical medicine from us," says Amos.

Read more: Business and migration to shape Merkel's trip to West Africa

Nigeria Hauptstadt Abuja
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Nigeria's capital Abuja on FridayImage: DW/K. Gänsler

Visit hopes to inspire young people

Also on Merkel's schedule during her short time in Nigeria is a meeting with representatives from civil society. Moses Siasia, who founded the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum (NYPF), thinks it will be vital for Merkel to also speak with young Nigerians. "They play an important role," said Siasia, who three years ago decided to enter into politics by running for governor in the state of Bayelsa. In Nigeria, 62 percent of the population is under the age of 25. These kinds of high-level meetings are therefore seen as an important message to young people and young adults and have the potential to inspire them.

Founder of the Nigerian Young Professionals Forum, Moses Siasia, sits at his desk in Abuja, Nigeria
Moses Siasia thinks Merkel has a role to play in inspiring young people in NigeriaImage: DW/K. Gänsler

"I was very excited when I was chosen as a young entrepreneur to attend a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron when he was in Nigeria," says Siasia. "I leaned things from him that I had never heard in my entire life. So when presidents meet with young people, it sends a very powerful signal that is very inspiring and motivating."

Managing director of The Integrity Organization, Soji Apampa, who has been working on anti-corruption measures since 1995, has his own recommendations for Merkel during her time in Nigeria. "My message for Merkel is that it's all about trade," he told DW.  "But I hope are you going to think about trade from the grassroots up, not just the big corporations. Yes, we need business with the big corporations, but that is not enough to make a difference at scale with the kind of population that Nigeria has."

Europe must open up to African products

If a functional relationship is to develop, however, something important has to change. Nigeria must be given the opportunity to produce products for the European market. "Instead of having more migrants coming, have more products coming, more imports from Nigeria," says Apampa. "The way you can help is to soften it by giving the technical assistance for people to meet the EU standards, so what is being exported is acceptable grade." 

Managing director of the Integrity Organization, Soji Apampa, sitting in front of his laptop in his office in Abuja, Nigeria
Managing director of The Integrity Organization, Soji Apampa, believes trade is a major issue between Germany and NigeriaImage: DW/K. Gänsler

Merkel's visit to Nigeria just happens to coincide with another visit from British Prime Minister Theresa May. "It's an interesting coincidence," says Apampa. He believes May's visit is linked somehow to Brexit and setting up deals as soon as possible with the former British colony. "I think if I were Theresa May and I was faced with this possibility of a hard Brexit, I would like to keep my friends closer. Nigeria is not an enemy of the UK. And if I had a lot more influence in Nigeria than, say, my competitors in Europe had, then I had better get in there quickly and do a deal before they come in and do their deal and I find myself left on the sidelines."

Young people in Abuja, Nigeria, protest at a political rally
Many young Nigerians are politically active, especially in Abuja Image: DW/K. Gänsler

The issue of terrorism not forgotten

Aisha Yesufu, one of Nigeria's most prominent activists from the #BringBackOurGirls movement, hopes that Merkel will speak with Buhari not just about economic issues, but also about the Chibok girls. After they were abducted in mid-April 2014, 112 girls are still in the clutches of the extremist group, Boko Haram. The movement still holds vigils every day and protests for their freedom. The issue has also been raised in previous meetings with visiting politicians.

"Basically my expectations when it comes to the Chibok girls is for the chancellor to remember them and speak to our president about it and to make a commitment towards rescuing our girls," Yesufu told DW. "We must understand, these girls are no longer just girls from Chibok, or girls from Nigeria. They are a symbol of children suffering suppression all over the world."

The visits by Merkel and May are also being viewed as a message to the men who dominate Nigerian politics. "Of course I do hope my president understands now, and also from the last time he met the chancellor, that the place of a woman is not in the other room or in the kitchen." Buhrari was reportedly somewhat unhappy during his visit to Germany in 2016 when he was asked if he would allow his wife Aisha to reorganize the government. Even Merkel couldn't resist a smile.

"Women are actually out there doing amazing things," says Yesufu. "So I think [Merkel] will send a signal."