Remembering Thatcher’s Nigeria visit in 1988

By Uduma Kalu & Prince Osuagwu
It is arguable whether the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was regarded as a friend of Africa or not. But obviously her policies towards the continent were viewed with anger and condemnation.

More so, her son, Mark, was jailed for plotting a coup against the government of Equatorial Guinea.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher

No wonder when she visited Lagos, Nigeria on January 7, 1988, she was greeted with protests. Although the protest was peaceful, the trade union leaders burned the British flag

However, the demonstration in Nigeria was mainly against Britain’s support for apartheid in South Africa. Thatcher had come from Kenya after three successful days. Nigeria was the final leg of her African tour but she was to meet a critical crowd including the military government, which was in power at the time and the vocal press.

For the first time Thatcher was forced to admit that Britain would do more to help dislodge Apathied in South Africa.

But the quintessential Thacher was as diplomatic as ever in responses to the allegations and protests.

Hear her: “You gave me a full account of Nigeria’s demanding economic recovery programme, for which I expressed full support. And we also discussed a number of wider African and international problems.

I believe— and I hope you will agree— that we have as a result taken an important step in removing any remaining misunderstandings between Nigeria and Britain, and in putting our relations on a thoroughly sound and friendly footing.

One aspect of our relations which is particularly important to us, and, I believe, to you, is the military one. Our links are substantial and long-standing. You and I devoted some time to discussing them today, and I told you of our offer to provide financial assistance for Nigeria’s military training needs.

“Over the last two years, we have watched with interest and sympathy your efforts to relaunch Nigeria’s economy on a sounder footing.

On South Africa, she said, “Similar patience and persistence will be needed in tackling one of the most fundamental problems facing this continent and the world, a problem which arouses intense feeling in Britain as well as in Nigeria: that of apartheid in South Africa. I know how strongly I would feel if I were discriminated against because of the colour of my skin, and I therefore understand the anger and the frustration felt by others.

“Apartheid is a repulsive and a detestable system; a deep affront to human dignity and basic human rights. In its place we want to see a just society with a non-racial, representative system of government, under which all South Africans enjoy full political rights.

There is no difference between us in wanting to see that achieved. But the idea that the collapse of apartheid can be achieved by a concerted push from outside to destroy the South African economy is, I believe, an illusion. Punitive pressures would make the problems worse and multiply beyond all recognition the hardships already suffered by black South Africans and their children.

Further these pressures would do untold damage to the economies of South Africa’s neighbouring states, and do corresponding harm to the well-being and hopes of their peoples”.

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