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Comment, Opinion

Foreign Policy For Nigeria

Posted: Jan 13, 2016 at 6:08 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Lekan Sote

Because charity must begin from home, Nigeria’s foreign policy must take its bearings from Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which declares that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” It must also incorporate the objectives of Section 19: “Promotion and protection of the national interest; promotion of African integration and support for African unity;” and fulfilment of international obligations, conventions, laws, and a just world economic order.

Nigeria’s foreign policy started out as pro-West in the Cold War era. It was said at that time anyone with a beard couldn’t get a government job because they’d think he was a Marxist! But the Non-Alignment Movement, forged by Ghana’s President Kwame Nkrumah, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal ‘Pandit’ Nehru, and others, moved Nigeria’s foreign policy to the right of centre.

The civil war, and succeeding years under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, brought home the realities of realpolitik, and Nigeria ran with the hares of Warsaw Pact nations, an euphemism for Communist nations, and hunted with the foxes of the Western nations.

For military and economic interests, Gowon consolidated West Africa into the Economic Community of West African States, and conceded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. But his successors, Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, gave decidedly strident, if still relatively conservative, thrust to the country’s foreign policy.

The duo, with promptings from scholars like Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, made Africa the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. They openly supported Angola’s pro-Soviet Popular Movement for Liberation of Angola, led by Agostinho Neto, after Salazar’s Portugal withdrew from the colony without handing power to anyone.

The effort of the West, engineered by American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to rally Africans to support the National Union for Total Independence of Angola, led by America’s stooge and client, Jonas Savimbi, and renegade Holden Roberto of the National Liberation Front of Angola blew up. Nigeria led in calling off America’s bluff.

Nigeria led Africans against apartheid in South Africa, by providing logistics and materiel, leading the publicity blitzkrieg, and providing refuge for South African exiles. One recalls the winsome South African belles and their male compatriots who could not resist a tipple at the buttery of “Baluba Republic” or Mariere Hall of the University of Lagos. Though geographically far from South Africa, Nigeria was regarded as a frontline state.

The Shagari administration, bedevilled by corruption, wrong economic policies, and devoid of a coherent foreign policy, lost the momentum generated by the military. Perhaps, Shagari’s major foreign policy step was to approach the International Monetary Fund for a loan. And he didn’t even conclude the deal. Military President Ibrahim Babangida did – to his chagrin.

Gen. Sani Abacha nearly ruined the domestic economy, and grossly depleted Nigeria’s foreign relations capital culminating in the country’s expulsion from the Commonwealth in 1996 following the death by hanging of environmentalist and poet, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and his Ogoni kinsmen. The succeeding government of civilian President Obasanjo was saddled with damage control. He met with groups of any number of economic powers, and didn’t quite succeed in shoring up Nigeria’s fortunes. Stuck with Babangida’s ECOMOG peacekeeping force, Obasanjo restricted his hardball external politics to West Africa.

Because President Goodluck Jonathan merely played at foreign relations, President Muhammadu Buhari inherited a non-activist foreign policy. He will therefore be restricted to purely economic diplomacy and keeping peace with nations that will help him make Nigeria prosperous.

The constraint that Buhari must deal with is a weak economy, caused by debilitating corruption, a history of wrong choices and implementation of economic policies, drastic fall in the price and demand for Nigeria’s crude oil, and huge infrastructure deficit.

President Buhari must also recognise, and respond, to new scientific and technological developments, like the internet, social media, international television broadcasting, discovery of new fuels like shale oil, and genetic engineering; the gradual loss of influence by governments in favour of transnational corporations; belligerent social activists; and increasing environmental concerns.

China has surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, though the dollar remains the major international exchange currency; America is increasingly losing initiative to the European Union; the Asian Tiger nations are coming on stronger; ideology has lost out to religious fervour; and international terrorism has scaled up.

These tendencies will compel Nigeria to retain democratic values and forge economic policies to guarantee individual expressions and economic freedom. The government must uphold the principles of justice, equity and the rule of law. You don’t need a PR agency out of New York to spew out propaganda; all that is expected of the government is to “do good.”

With the domestic Boko Haram insurgency and the restive Niger Delta creeks, Nigeria cannot afford an expansionist policy. In any case, there are no new territories to capture. Nigeria must simply make the West African sub-region safe for the people and for the economy. It has to be butter over guns.

There is no doubt that President Buhari’s shuttle diplomacy was reciprocated by the recent visit of the International Monetary Fund’s Ms Christine Lagarde, a senior agent of the Western economic establishment. That is not to say that she has come with every good intention for Nigeria; but she must have taken Nigeria’s strong objections to some IMF policies back to base. You noticed she chose a persuasive, rather than a tough stance.

The Nigerian diplomatic corps should scour Nigeria’s political, social, and economic landscape, and project the positive aspects to the world. What goes with this territory is a constructive engagement of Nigeria’s Diaspora.

Nigeria’s 21st Century diplomats must understand global economics, the new technologies, and the new cultural, religious, and social trends. They must be able to competently counsel government, to take advantage of the positives, and de-emphasise the negatives.

The country certainly needs an activist Foreign Minister in the mode of feisty Henry Kissinger, even as the President and his cabinet must always think of the foreign relations aspects of their policies. The Nigerian Export Promotion Council must find out how Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Investments promotes its foreign investments, and attracts Foreign Direct Investment.

The media must weigh in, by ensuring that news and editorials must emphasise the resources and opportunities in Nigeria. The media must harvest information from the academia, and other research institutions, and place it in the public domain. The media must diffuse divisive ethnic and religious tendencies, and encourage the citizens to forge a common front, especially in times of emergency.

Though the Nigerian military will not be expected to take over foreign oil fields in the manner preferred by Kissinger, it can assist economic policymakers and the organised private sector with economic intelligence. To guarantee Nigeria a huge chunk of the market share, the military should also ensure safe passage of oil, gas, and other Nigerian articles of trade to West Africa.

Nigerian men (and women) under arms, should project the image of bright officers and gentlemen, who will not only protect the country’s territorial integrity, but will always rise up to emergencies, like natural disasters, have little difficulty in being courteous to civilians, dispersing traffic jams in urban centres, befriending little kids in communities near military barracks, and generally playing “Sir Gallant” always.

The country’s new foreign policy must emphasise the economy, seek peace with West African neighbours, and enlist the military, the media, and Nigerians in Diaspora, to woo the rest of the world.