British PM pushes trade in Nigeria, but scandal looms

LAGOS, July 19, 2011 (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron visited Nigeria on Tuesday, pushing a message of trade and democracy before making an early return home to deal with the spiralling phone hacking crisis.

After talks with President Jacob Zuma in South Africa on Monday, Cameron flew in to Lagos at the head of a business delegation to call on Africans to use trade, aid and political reform to make the most of "Africa's moment".

AFP - British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) speaks on July 18, 2011 with Bishop Desmond Tutu at Liliesleaf Farm, an apartheid-era hideout for Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters in Johannesburg

The prime minister has cut short his day-visit to Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, to return home and deal with the phone hacking crisis, which has spiralled since he left London on Sunday afternoon with the resignations of two top policemen.

Despite the turmoil dominating the headlines at home, Cameron will continue his schedule as planned Tuesday morning, with a speech to university students, a trip to a vaccination clinic and talks with President Goodluck Jonathan.

In his speech, he will defend Britain's decision to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid from 2013, and in particular its efforts to help those suffering from the drought in the Horn of Africa.

But he will argue that the fast-growing economies in Africa, coupled with an increasing shift towards democratic governments, presents a huge opportunity for the continent to stop relying on handouts.

"This can be Africa's moment. Africa is transforming in a way no one thought possible 20 years ago... and suddenly a whole new future seems within reach," he will tell students at the Pan African University in Lagos.

On a continent where China has overtaken traditional partners as the leading investor and trade partner, Cameron said British businesses must act to avoid missing "one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet".

And he will appeal to the students, saying: "Today there are unprecedented opportunities to trade and grow, raise living standards and lift billions from poverty. So I urge you: seize these opportunities, grab them, shape them."

Cameron highlighted the progress of democracy in Africa, praising Jonathan on his victory in recent elections, viewed as the fairest in nearly two decades in Africa's most populous nation, though there were still major flaws.

But he said that it was now "time for the whole of Africa to meet the aspirations of people", and urged Africans to take action to ensure they have a bigger say in how their countries are run.

"These are the demands the people have made in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. These are the demands that have propelled the Arab Spring," he will say.

"And these are the demands, which supported by a revolution in trade and enterprise mean Africa can seize its own moment of opportunity."

Security will be especially tight during Cameron's visit to Nigeria, with the country's north having seen almost daily bomb attacks and shootings in recent weeks blamed on an Islamist sect.

Lagos, the economic capital of some 15 million people located in Nigeria's southwest, has not been hit by such attacks.

Cameron will now arrive back in Britain late Tuesday, rather than early on Wednesday as planned, to prepare for a statement to the House of Commons on the phone hacking crisis, and to answer questions about his own role in the affair.

He is under increasing pressure over his decision to hire Andy Coulson, a former editor at the scandal-hit News of the World, which closed last weekend, as his media chief until January.

Coulson was arrested earlier this month over alleged hacking and police corruption, although he denies any wrongdoing.

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