Jim Armitage: Businessmen in sanction-hit countries can push for change


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Outlook When you get an approach from a lobby group representing Nigerian business leaders, your suspicion alarms go haywire.

One of the most corrupt nations on earth, with a deeply dubious political leadership and a reputation for being less than kind to journalists is not, one strongly suspects, likely to be blessed with the cleanest of corporate tycoons.

However, Nigeria First’s concerns seem hard to fault. They are worried about the mayhem being caused by Boko Haram in the north. They are concerned the chaos will spread, and they fear the terrorists’ infiltration into the political system. Most of all, they worry for their businesses – that political and social instability will send investors and trading partners fleeing.

Which gets one thinking: despite all the corruption, in countries in chaos businessmen can be among the few powerful actors with a genuine interest in long-term stability. Corruption, terrorism and human rights abuses are trade killers for a country.

So, as The Independent reported yesterday, Nigeria’s businesses are now trying to get their plea for help against Boko Haram and its backers heard by Britain’s leaders, and the UN. We should heed them.

Meanwhile, in London today, chairmen and chief executives from Iran hold the first serious trade conference in the West since the current round of sanctions.

You could say it’s unlucky that it comes as the case of Ghoncheh Ghavami, the British activist jailed for trying to go to a volleyball game, hits the Ten O’Clock News. But perhaps the timing is not so inauspicious. I suspect the business community in Iran is as ashamed at her treatment as we are here and, in the relative safety of the UK, will feel confident enough to say so.

And, when sanctions are lifted, it will be powerful Iranian businesses trading with the West that will press their government most effectively for reform.