with Bola Akinterinwa, Telephone : 0807-688-2846 AND e-mail: bolyttag@yahoo.com

One major bane of Nigeria’s foreign policy as at today is the ambiguity of the place of the Nigerian in the continuum of national interests. It is about the non-articulation that has come to characterise foreign policy making and implementation, increasing gap in communication between the people and government on  matters of foreign policy direction, and more importantly, rivalry between and among policy makers.

Nigeria’s policy makers have a completely misguided conception of what constitutes a national interest and what it should actually be pursuing as foreign policy objectives. As far back as 2004, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, a very serious minded scholar and diplomatist, drew attention to some relevant challenges with which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was faced.

First, as he put it, ‘a solid and enduring national consensus on foreign policy will continue to elude Nigeria, largely because of the asymmetry between the pursuit of essentially conservative economic and political policies at home and the articulation of radical rhetoric for policies abroad.’

Secondly, he said ‘while the Ministry of External Affairs often fought for and earned primacy in the formulation of foreign policy, it never became the point of political or institutional coordination of all external relations. One major casualty has been the de-linking of foreign of foreign policy (essentially a political activity) from international trade and general economic relations.’

Thirdly, he said ‘the Ministry of External Affairs has become a huge bureaucracy… [T]he ministry’s policy objectives are imprecise: they include the safe-guarding of the security, independence, and territorial integrity of Nigeria; the promotion of African unity and intra-African cooperation; and contributions toward the enhancement of world peace and security. These broad objectives are to be translated into specific national interests and a programme of actions aimed at a constantly changing external environment that is not under our control’ (vide Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, “ Diplomatic Practice and Foreign Policy Theory: My Experience as Foreign Minister and Permanent Representative of Nigeria,” in Bola A. Akinterinwa, ed. Nigeria’s New Foreign Policy Thrust: Essays in Honour of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON (Ibadan: Vantage Publishers, 2004), p.22 et s).

What is significant to note from the foregoing is that the Foreign Ministry wants to be given primacy in the formulation of foreign policy as noted in the second point above,  that foreign policy objectives are imprecise (third point) and that national consensus on foreign policy cannot but be farfetched. He could not have been more correct, if we look at the manifestations of the management of a mere advisory on whether Nigerians can travel to the United States in light of President Donald Trump’s executive orders. In fact, the observations of Professor Gambari directly raise the issue of national interest: why are foreign policy objectives imprecise? Why has it been difficult for the Foreign Ministry to become the institutional coordinator of all external relations? Why should national consensus on foreign policy continue to elude us? In fact, why the discordant policy tunes on travelling or not travelling to the United States? Is it an issue of ego between Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama  and Senior Special Assistant Abike Dabiri-Erewa? Could it be a rivalry between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidency? Whatever is the case, who really can be said to be protecting the national interest? And which national interest are we talking about here?

Section 19 of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitutions delineated five foreign policy objectives of Nigeria: promotion and protection of the national interest; promotion of African integration and unity; promotion of international cooperation for purposes of global peace and security; respect for international law; and promotion of a just world economic order. These five foreign policy objectives have more of international dimensions than domestic. They are more altruistic than nationalistic? It is good here to ask why should the respect for international law be a foreign policy objective to be pursued? Besides, in which of the citizen of Nigeria expressly covered in the five objectives?

Ambassador Martins Uhomoibhi has posited that ‘because a nation’s foreign policy draws its authority and mandate from its domestic priorities, the Federal Government’s vision 20:2020 has prescribed more foreign policy objectives: promotion of better image for Nigeria; promoting better ties with the Great Powers; seeking acquisition and transfer of technology and investments; seeking assistance for Nigeria in her quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, sustaining Nigeria’s position as the foremost black nation state in the world, etc (see Martin I. Uhomoibhi, “An Overview of Nigeria’s Foreign Relations: A Practitioner’s Perspective,” in Emeka Anyaoku, ed., Review of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy: Issues and Perspectives (Lagos: NIIA, 2012), pp. 3-4. Again, the place of the Nigerian is still ill-defined. In the 2020:20, this explains in part why there is a difference in the position of the Foreign Minister and the Special Assistant to the President on Foreign and Diaspora Affairs.

The Foreign Minister is essentially dealing with institutions while the Senior Special Assistant is dealing more with the people of Nigeria outside of the country. Even if we admit that Diaspora is also a component of foreign policy, there is no disputing the fact that it is basically a Nigerian affair. In the context of international relations, Diaspora affairs fall squarely under Private International Law. Consequently, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has not exceeded any power limitation.

In this regard, policy makers are most often misguided as to what constitutes Nigeria’s national interest. Even when national interest is considered as the pursuit of political, economic, cultural, military, etc objectives, the epicentral interest around which the sub-interests are pursued is and should always be the citizen, whether it is a citizen by ius sanguinis or ius soli, Nigerian by marriage or by naturalisation, by conferment or by proclamation, etc.

Explained differently, when analysts talk about core and peripheral interests, when people talk about the protection of national integrity or territorial integrity, self-preservation or legitimate self-defence, it is the Nigerian, the citizen of Nigeria, the individual Nigerian that is at the centre. Consequently, the protection of the national environment, the quest for territorial integrity cannot but be because of the citizen and his self-preservation. In other words, self-preservation, national security, economic growth and development are, at best, meaningless without the people.

For instance, in international law, it is admitted that a state is constituted when there is a union of population, territory, and government. Even though the three factors are all important, there is no disputing the fact that population is the most significant. Territory is required because the exercise of authority or power must take place over a well-defined land with international borders. The requirement of a government, and for that matter, an effective government, that will not only be able to enter into international relations but also effective enough to maintain peace and security, as well as ensure respect for all internationally contracted obligations either within the context of the Monist or Dualist Schools of Thought, is an extension of the power of the people. The ultimate objective of the requirement of a government is to ensure respect for good governance internationally contracted obligations for the country.

As regards the other two factors, they are only relevant to the extent that there are not only people to implement agreements and manage territorial questions but also people to engage in political governance. Thus, in discussing the national interest of any country, and particularly in Nigeria, the most important national interest to first protect and secure must be the Nigerian, his person, his well-being and integrity and survival, as well as his commitment to patriotic living of the Nigerian.

To give priority of defence to economic rationalisations to the detriment of the survival of the citizen necessarily raises another fundamental question: if there is physical security, food in abundance, blossoming economy and there are no people to take advantage of them, of what use then are food in abundance and the blossoming economy?

Without doubt, this question also raises the issue of how Nigeria’s foreign policy is managed to the detriment of protection of the Nigerian in terms of respect, dignity and survival, safety and security. Nigeria’s foreign policy, we contend here, does not have any known strategy of protecting Nigerians outside of Nigeria when their survival is under threat and when they have actually been threatened, brutalised, and in some cases killed. The best that Nigeria’s foreign policy has done is to react rhetorically in defence of preservation of economic and other interest without seeking to underscore the primacy of the citizen.

In this regard, should the citizen of Nigeria be first sacrificed in order to maintain cordiality of an existing bilateral relationship? Should it be the contrary, that is, ensure the preservation of the citizen first, before dealing with his economic, political and other interests? It will be useful to examine the South African xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and the unnecessary arrogance of exercise of authority over the interpretation of US President Donald Trump’s executive orders on travel ban.

Xenophobia, US Travel Ban and Foreign Policy Faux Pas

That South Africa has been playing host to xenophobic, and particularly to Africa-phobic, attacks is a truism, to say the least. What cannot be considered truism is the protection of the Nigerian as a victim of the attacks. The Government of Nigeria has always preferred to sacrifice the Nigerian at the altar of diplomatic negotiations and reconciliation without putting any mechanism in place to prevent a future occurrence and without insistence on payment of compensation to the victims or their relations. This is an expression of a major foreign policy faux pas or a wrong step. It is wrong a step because the xenophobic attacks are not only for once. They recur. In fact, the way Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, a diplomatist per excellence, sees the last attacks are quite interesting: ‘This new wave of xenophobic attacks was perhaps the worst in the long history of attacks on African immigrants by Black South Africans. And because of rising tensions, it is not likely to end soon.’ (The Nation of Thursday March 9, 2017, back page).

Ambassador Fafowora argued that African immigrants constitute only four per cent of the total work force in South Africa and that the ‘investigative commission by the South African government into the economic activities of black immigrants in South Africa reported that they contribute a lot more to the South African economy than they draw in terms of provision of social service.’ If this is so and if, as further submitted by the ambassador, ‘throughout the long struggle against racism and the apartheid system in South Africa, the black South Africans inflicted more fatalities on themselves than they did on the whites,’ what strategy has Government considered to prevent future attacks on Nigerians in South Africa? If the black South Africans can kill themselves more than they did to the whites, why should anyone expect that they cannot do the same to the same extent to other black people? The truth is that no one wants to apply the rule of reciprocity. Ambassador Fafowora argued against a tit-for-tat reaction even when he also submits that future xenophobic attacks cannot be quickly ruled out.

While the xenophobic dust is yet to settle down, South Africa deported 97 Nigerians, two of whom were females, on Monday, February 27, 2017. Some of the deportees, who arrived in a chartered aircraft number GBB710 from Johannesburg, in Lagos, reportedly have committed various offences ranging from drug peddling, immigration offences to criminal charges. Most Nigerians condemn the commission of offences and crimes whether at home or abroad. Any Nigerian who misbehaves anywhere should be allowed to face the music in his or her host country. Consequently, there is no problem with the deportation of Nigerians. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be in full picture of the handling of the offences and must ensure that there is no denial of justice, that there is fairness, and that the name of the whole people of Nigeria is not allowed to be tainted through the single act of an individual.

Most unfortunately, it is the Government of Nigeria that often allows international disregard for the people of Nigeria. When people are deported, their offences ought to be made known to the general public in order to make them serve as a future deterrent. Nigerians may not even be guilty of the alleged offences, meaning that there should be a further enquiry into the offences to determine whether or not there should be a protest against mistreatment of the Nigerian.

On the specific issue of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians, the reactions are not coordinated, but it is thanks to the prompt reactive intervention of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign and Diaspora Affairs that Nigerians are first enlightened and that South Africans also began to feel the impact of the grievances of Nigerians. Mrs. Dabiri-Erewa made it clear, when there were reports that fresh attacks were expected on Wednesday following the first renewed attacks, that South Africa should expect Nigeria’s reactions. Her statement was perfectly in order.

However, the thinking of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs might be that it is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to make such a statement. Consequently, the making of the statement by a Senior Special Assistant appears to be a source of rankling in the Foreign Ministry. In this regard: is a Special Adviser or a Senior Special Assistant to Mr. President a member of Government? If they are not, who really are members of the executive arm of Government? Is it only the Ministers?

At the level of the parliamentary arm of government,  the Senate resolved to protest against the attacks. Some senators suggested severance of diplomatic relations but was turned down. In lieu,  a protest visit to the South African parliament was suggested on Tuesday, 28 February, 2017. In the words of the Senate President, ‘this attack has become one too many. We must put a stop to these attacks. We must take the bull by the horn. That is why we have resolved to meet with the South African Parliament. We must be seen to be defending the dignity of Nigerians abroad.’

Perhaps more interestingly, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, gave one major reason why there shouldn’t have been any good rationale for xenophobic attacks and extra-judicial killing of any Nigerian: ‘there was a time Nigerians did not need a visa to travel to the United Kingdom. They started issuing visas to Nigerians when we imposed sanctions on UK, following the apartheid regime in South Africa. Till this day, we still need visas to go to the UK. This happened because of what we did for South Africa’ (Daily Sun, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, p.6).

At the end of the day, the senatorial visit to the South African parliament was cancelled to avoid, allegedly, duplication of efforts since the House had already decided to send a delegation to South Africa. The Senate did not consult with the House on the matter before taking its own decision. If we take a closer look at the reason given by Ikwe Ekweremadu, the reason for the non-visit is rivalry, and, in fact, a pointer, that there is no genuine intention to travel in order to protest or protect. In the words of Ekweremadu, ‘the house insists on going to South Africa independently. We thought we could lead a single and harmonised delegation of the National Assembly to avoid the embarrassment of multiple delegations. The Senate, therefore, decided to pull out to allow the House delegation to proceed’ (Dailysun, Thursday, March 9, 2017, p.6).

Additionally, there were quarrels on the size of the delegation, especially in light of the payment of estacode of $5,000 per person for the trip. Reportedly, the Senate wanted to send five delegates, the House wanted 10 (but Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila who was to lead the House delegation said the number was only 6), while the Foreign Ministry was to send 12, meaning that 27 or 23 people were to travel simply to go and protest against xenophobic attacks (The Punch, March 9, 2017, p.7).

The point being made here is that, in the political governance of Nigeria, anyone who attempts to be patriotic and defend Nigeria and Nigerians are always run down under the pretext of protocolar rules, due diligence or due process that, at best, are questionable in design, politicised and corruption-inducing in implementation, and anti-Nigeria in outcome. This is precisely what has happened at the level of the controversy surrounding the travel ban on Nigerians travelling to the United States.

Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa was reported to have told intending Nigerian visitors to the United States to exercise caution by waiting until US policy is made clear to avoid unnecessary further embarrassment at the point of entry in the US. This advice came on the heels of the reported repatriation of some Nigerians with valid multiple entry visa into the United States. According to the Senior Special Assistant, ‘at least, four Nigerians with valid visas were denied entry to the US within the last two weeks and sent back to the country on the next available flights… In such cases reported to the office, the affected persons were sent back immediately and their visas were cancelled.’

The reaction of Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama is to suggest that there is nothing like denial of entry into the US simply because Nigeria’s name is not on the travel ban list. This is an untenable argument. Mr. Onyeama is directly saying that the Senior Special Assistant is a liar and cannot be relied upon. Secondly, he gives the impression that he is aware of all engagements of Nigeria’s missions abroad in terms of protection of Nigerians. If the Special Assistant is telling lies, are the Nigerian victims who presented themselves to the US immigration and repatriated also telling lies? (Please see one of the press reports on two deported Nigerians who were locked in a cell for four days on arrival at the Lagos airport, The Punch, Thursday, March 9, 2017).

The Foreign Minister will need to learn more about the sensitivities of Nigerians, as possession of a valid visa is a privilege and not a right, and therefore, any holder of a valid visa is still subject to the whims and caprices of the immigration officer that will interview him or her at the US point of entry. Nigeria does not have a visa exemption agreement with the United States. In fact, many educational institutions have advised their foreign students to exercise patience until the implications of the travel ban are clear. What is trending as at today is that many arriving passengers are subject to investigation of social media chats in their telephone handsets to check if there are contacts with terrorists. On different flimsy excuses, they are sent back. Instead of trying to run another agent of government down, efforts should be made to coordinate foreign policy with other agencies and the Presidency. This does not take away the mandate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

And without doubt, for the same purposes of coordination, the Foreign Ministry should cannot but continue to be the mouthpiece for foreign policy. However, this does not mean that other stakeholders cannot have an opinion and also express it, especially when it is of interest to the general public. The Foreign Minister hardly talks. The public does not even know his foreign policy direction. Consequently, the Senior Special Assistant should not be undermined or condemned in her attempt to do what is right even if the Foreign Ministry has the main mandate for foreign policy. To do so is to continue sustaining the unnecessary faux pas that have not been helpful and that have prompted the people’s hostility towards the Federal Government.