Nigeria’s Foreign Policy: New Realities In A Changing World

16 Apr 2013

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Guest Columnist By Olugbenga Ashiru

Nigeria’s fundamental principles of foreign policy have been fairly consistent since they were first espoused shortly after independence in October 1960. Yet the specific interests, priorities and emphasis of Nigeria’s foreign policy have continued to change and evolve in the context of the domestic and international environment. The main elements of the changing world and context are the following:

a.       The end of the cold war and the emergence of the United States as a dominant super-power;

b.      The emergence of multiple centres of power, especially at regional levels, including strong regional economic groupings such as the EU and ECOWAS, as nations coalesce around similar issues and interests;

c.       The birth of the AU with new philosophical foundations for inter-state relations and engagements in Africa, including the jettisoning of time-honoured principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states, non-recognition of unconstitutional change of government among other normative principles enshrined in the AU Constitutive Act;

d.      The rise of democratic forces and the demise of dictators in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East;

e.       The importance of economic issues in the conduct of foreign policies, focusing on the benefit and the increasing demands of the populace; and

f.       New challenges such as international terrorism, piracy, oil theft, illegal bunkering, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, transnational crimes, irregular migration, climate change, stalled multilateral trade negotiations, among others.

With the successful conclusion of the decolonisation agenda and the emergence of a post-apartheid geopolitical environment in Africa, it became imperative to review and re-direct the orientation and aims of the country’s foreign policy. The outcome of this exercise led to the clear articulation of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy objectives, as specified in the 1999 Constitution, which is the promotion and protection of the national interest; the promotion of African integration and support for African unity; the promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication; and; the promotion of a just world economic order.

In pursuit of these objectives, the present administration has identified, as main priorities the maintenance of unity, peace and security of Nigeria, particularly in the wake of current security challenges; job and wealth creation for Nigerians; the promotion of trade and investments; promoting the welfare of Nigerians both at home and abroad protecting their interests. The others are improving the profile and image of Nigeria abroad; enhancing Nigeria’s representation and visibility in international organisations; enhancing Nigeria’s leadership role in West Africa in particular and Africa in general; among others.

Since the creation of OAU and its successor AU, Nigeria's place in Africa has been very clear and assured.  While Africa has been the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy from the onset, successive governments have been able to adapt its principles, objectives and priorities to the prevailing circumstances. Owing to the Afro-centric posture of our foreign policy, it was to be expected that the founding fathers of Nigeria would anchor the country’s foreign policy thrust on the decolonisation of the African continent and the promotion of African unity. An important component of this stance was Nigeria’s commitment to the eradication of apartheid in Southern Africa and the deployment of substantial resources in the various theatres of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and South Africa.

Nigeria’s foreign policy will continue to be dictated by the political and economic programme at home. The current Transformation Agenda of government on the domestic front has given the platform to execute good economic and social policies; the foreign policy of Nigeria will be more robust. The nexus between domestic and foreign policies cannot therefore be over-emphasized.  Our primary concern is to institutionalise the ethical, economic, social and environmental dimensions of governance. It is in light of the foregoing considerations, as well as the bright economic prospects of the country that we are encouraged to note the report recently released by Price Waterhouse Coopers, which forecasts that Nigeria will emerge as the 13th top economy in the world by 2050. Indeed, a recent study classified Nigeria, together with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, as members of MINTs, in recognition of our emerging economic prospects and as the new centres of global economic growth.  These assessments are not only reassuring but are also pointers that Nigeria is on the right path to attain the objectives of Vision 20:2020.

Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria and Africa

Nigeria's support for the promotion and consolidation of democracy, good governance and human rights in Africa is not in doubt. In partnership with the AU, Nigeria is making strenuous efforts to lead the process of entrenching democracy in Africa. In furtherance of this hallowed principle, Nigeria has provided material and other forms of support to the democratic electoral processes in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Niger and other countries in Africa.

It was Nigeria’s strong voice to uphold democracy and support the winner of the presidential election, Mr. Alassane Ouattara, that prevented a bloodbath in Cote d’Ivoire.  It was our strong and unwavering support for democracy that made the EU, UN and the US to follow Nigeria’s lead, while the AU had no choice but to come on board and support Nigeria’s position for the winner of the elections. 

In line with the AU and ECOWAS policy of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government, Nigeria condemned the recent undemocratic changes of government in Guinea Bissau and Mali.  The same scenario as in Cote d’ivoire played out in Guinea Bissau. It was President Goodluck Jonathan that negotiated a peaceful resolution of the crisis and prevented the coup leaders in those countries from executing their detained erstwhile presidents and prime ministers. 

When there was a major crisis and civil war in Libya in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprising, the leadership in Africa and the AU were in total disarray, with no clear path to follow.  It was Nigeria’s timely intervention in announcing the recognition of the then Transitional National Council (TNC) in Libya that showed the way for other African countries to follow.  Within a few days of Nigeria’s announcement, majority of member states of the AU, hitherto sitting on the fence, followed Nigeria’s lead.

Strategic Partnerships and Economic Diplomacy

In a bid to encourage and promote the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country, Nigeria has signed bilateral agreements with several countries in the areas of trade, technological cooperation, ICT, education, culture/tourism, etc.   The Bi-National Commission with the US, Germany, Canada and South Africa continue to deepen the gains which the current administration has made in trade and investment, energy, security, agriculture, good governance, health and education sectors.

Our relations with other emerging markets and huge economies such as China have also been robust. Apart from the involvement of China in the development of infrastructure and construction, the country has granted a soft loan of $500 million for the construction of a light rail in and around Abuja. A 50-bed capacity hospital, donated by China is currently under construction in Abuja. Thus, according to UN World Investment report for 2012, the FDI inflows into Nigeria reached about $8.9 billion, far higher than in previous years.

A prominent component of the country’s economic diplomacy is the involvement of the organised private sector.

Nigeria’s Contributions to the Maintenance of International Peace and Security

Since its membership of the UN, Nigeria has consistently made significant contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security. Beginning with the UN peacekeeping operation in the Congo in 1960, immediately upon the attainment of its independence, Nigeria has and continues to serve meritoriously in UN peacekeeping operations around the world, as well as providing several commanders for a good number of UN and regional peacekeeping operations.  At the last count, Nigeria had over 6,020 troops serving in various UN peacekeeping operations.

Nigeria’s International Image

Nigeria has continued to receive official delegations and visitors from all countries seeking to engage with us, to invest in Nigeria’s economy.  As a testimony to Nigeria’s strategic importance in the comity of nations, President Jonathan has undertaken several trips to many countries abroad, where he was received very warmly by his hosts and the resident Nigerian community in those countries. One of the major challenges facing Nigeria’s foreign policy is the plight of Nigerians abroad. As at now, there are about 9,945 Nigerians in various prisons all over the world. The highest number of Nigerian inmates is in the UK with a total of 752 Nigerians, while the lowest of one (1) inmate is recorded in a few places such as Cuba, Burundi, New Zealand and Uganda.  Most of them are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific with many of them on death row. Given these alarming numbers and the imperative need to find creative solutions to the plight of these Nigerians, while re-examining our strategies for attracting FDI, we convened regional seminars of Nigerian Heads of Missions in six centres. At the end of theseminar, the heads of mission made far-reaching recommendations, including the need to raise awareness in Nigeria on the dangers and perils of irregular migration as well as involvement in transnational crimes, especially drug trafficking.       

Nigeria and New Global Challenges

It is also remarkable that with the emergence of new global challenges, Nigeria has been in the forefront of addressing such issues as international terrorism, climate change, irregular migration, human and drug trafficking and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. Some of these complex issues that constitute security challenges have invariably posed serious threats to peace and security in Africa, particularly in our sub-region.  Terrorism is an international phenomenon, gravely threatening national, regional and international peace and stability. The armed forces are also tackling the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and

 Welfare of Nigerians and Relations with the Diaspora

The ministry remains committed to protecting the interests of Nigerians by constructively engaging the diplomatic and consular missions in Nigeria, especially on visa matters. As we demonstrated in our swift and effective response to the deportation of Nigerians from South Africa over the issue of yellow fever cards and our various demarches to the diplomatic community in Nigeria over the issuance of visas to Nigerians, we have made it clear that Nigeria would not tolerate the maltreatment of its citizens at home and abroad. The ministry also collaborated with other MDAs to evacuate Nigerians trapped in conflict zones in various parts of the world (Libya, Syria). In Gabon where some Nigerians were to be ejected from the two Islands they had occupied for years by the host government, the ministry proactively engaged and successfully collaborated with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), to evacuate them back home. We have also successfully resolved the dispute over trading activities by Nigerians living in Ghana.

New Themes and Challenges

In planning for continued effective implementation of Nigeria foreign policy, we have identified the following themes and challenges that will continue to face our foreign policy in the immediate and long term. These include the need to sustaining the unity, territorial integrity, peace and stability of Nigeria; engaging international partners and friends to tackling the menace of security and other domestic challenges, including transnational crimes and proliferation of small arms and light weapons; terrorism and piracy, the preservation of Nigeria’s leadership role and visibility in Africa; promoting regional peace and security, including the consolidation of democracy and good governance in Africa; maintaining a positive image of Nigeria abroad; the challenge of funding; and ensuring constructive engagements with major actors in the international scene such as the EU, the G8, WTO, World Bank/IMF, the UN and its specialised agencies. Other challenges include the promotion of South-South Cooperation with emphasis on financing for development and technology, including enhanced relations with China, India, Brazil, especially the African-South American Cooperative Forum (ASACOF) etc; climate change and energy security.

Ambassador Ashiru, Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented this paper at a luncheon organised by the Association of Retired Ambassadors of Nigeria

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