Two Years of Buhariplomacy and the Challenge of Change in Continuity

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Diplomacy under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) (Buhariplomacy) in the past two years has been difficult because of the domestic foundations and the hostile external environment which made political governance quite difficult. At the domestic level, national security was threatened by the terror of Boko Haram and herdsmen, self-determination-driven militancy, corruption-driven political chicanery, and economic malaise.

The most critical reason for the difficulty in political governance is the lack of continuity of objectivity of purpose. Every government that comes to power has its own agenda and does not generally seek to sustain existing policies. Every new government assumes that it has better policies and approaches to good governance. Most unfortunately, however, it is when a new government takes over power that it only begins to learn more about the limitations of its presumptions about governance and that they know that ‘what is behind six is more than seven.’

As at today, Nigeria is more divided geo-politically than ever before. The level of patriotism has sharply declined among the people. Activities of underground men are reported virtually everyday. While the Nigerian soldiers are fighting tooth and nail to defend the territorial integrity of the country, foreign policy machinery does very little to defend them when they are wrongly accused of having violated humanitarian laws.

In fact, it is most ridiculous that it is the soldiers, represented by their spokesperson that has to come into the open to explain their own side of the story. Even if diplomacy is said to be normally carried out quietly, it must still be noted that diplomacy becomes meaningless if Nigerian soldiers are wrongly accused in the open and the defence will be allowed to be done secretly.

Perhaps more interestingly, after 18 years of continuous democratic succession, coup making has again been rearing its ugly head. Why coup making at this point in time in Nigeria’s political history? Is it simply an imagination or it is simply fabricated in order to take political advantage of it?
Many observers have ascribed the origin of the coup rumours to the May 16, 2017 caution given by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai to soldiers. He said that some politicians were discussing with some soldiers ‘for undisclosed political reasons’.

This caution gave room for different interpretations, particularly, that of possible coup-making. This interpretation cannot be quickly thrown away in light of the selfishness that has come to characterise politics and professional politicians in Nigeria. They can belong to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the morning, All Progressives Congress (APC) in the afternoon, Alliance for Democracy (AD) in the evening, Progressive Peoples’ Alliance (PPA) at mid-night, etc. No ideology. No scintilla of patriotism and altruism. Consequently, if politicians are seen to be fraternizing with officers of the Nigerian Army, there is no reason why speculations of a possible new coup would not exist.

Perhaps one major dynamic of such speculations cannot but be the perception that some powerful Nigerians do not want the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo to become the substantive President in the event of incapacitation of President Muhammadu Buhari. In the eyes of some people, the ultimate objective of the coup is to possibly nip in the bud such possibility.

The Director of Defence Information, Major General John Enenche reassured ‘the general public that there is nothing like that (coup d’état) and nothing like that will ever be supported and never be encouraged. And if there is a sign of anything like that, there are extant and guarding rules and regulations, procedures which we normally follow.’

As good as the General’s reassurance may be, it not only ignores the story of Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible, but also unnecessarily assumes that any coup d’état at this time in Nigeria will fail. Put differently, the rules, regulations and procedures being referred to by the Director of Defence Information can only be applicable if a coup d’état fails. When a coup d’état succeeds, both the Director and all strategically well-placed officers might be wiped off.
Apart from the most unfortunate case of coup-making, disobedience to court orders has also been a major feature in the first two years of the PMB‘s Administration. Illegal importations of arms into the country are now frequent. The challenge of small arms proliferation is another issue. All these constitute the elements of the domestic foundation of Nigeria’s foreign policy and diplomatic practice.

Thus, at the external level, the perception of Nigeria was not good enough. Nigerians were victims of xenophobic attacks, especially in South Africa. Many times, several Nigerians were deported from foreign countries. The number of Nigerians found guilty of immigration law abroad was on the increase. In fact, Nigeria’s candidate for the position of a Commissioner for Political Affairs and Security at the level of the African Union Commission was shamefully not voted for. Nigeria’s foreign policy lacked strategic focus.

And most importantly, but also disturbingly, foreign policy direction has been so disarticulated to the extent that foreign policy stakeholders speak in conflict terms to the detriment of Nigeria’s international image. In fact, ambassadors-designate, for unknown reasons, are yet to resume duty in their receiving States. One major factor that often explains delay is that of agrément of the receiving States. However, this explanation becomes untenable when agréments for some ambassadors-designate have been given and still, the concerned ambassadors are yet to be posted. Is the argument of economic recession a possible factor? Whatever is the case, buhariplomacy constitutes an impediment to good governance in Nigeria simply because of the various wrong signals being sent abroad, especially in terms of inability to protect Nigerians.

Tomorrow, May 29, 2017 will make it the second and midterm anniversary of the swearing in of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd) as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He was formerly Head of State, thanks to a coup d’état in 1983. As Head of State, he acquired a lot of patriotic experiences which he tried to bring to bear on his administration as President. However, the extent to which the experiences have helped in stabilizing the polity is, at best, another matter for debate.
What can be rightly observed is that, in spite of the foregoing challenges, two years of the Buhari administration have not been totally bad. There is no disputing the fact that the administration’s anti-graft war has considerably impacted on the society. Nigerians now have an idea about who are looting and how public treasury is looted. There is also the weakening of boko haramism, and particularly the return of the Chibok girls.

More, if not most, importantly, there is the new Executive Order (EOI) issued by the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria. On Wednesday, 24th May, 2017, The EO1 was predicated on five pillars: transparency, default approval, One Government, Entry experience of travellers and visitors, and Ports Operators.

In this regard, Professor Osinbajo considers that ‘any time we create obstacles for doing business, we attack the Nigerian democracy. Or we attack our prosperity as a nation. We also attack the future.’ With this reasoning, all MDAs are required between now and June 8, 2017, to adjust to all the obligations of the EO1 in such a way that there is efficiency in the provision of services, All MDAs are henceforth compelled to respond to all applications and enquiries very promptly or else the applications are considered approved by default after the approved time limit has lapsed. This EO1 has the great potential to assist in the area of implementation of economic development policies.

Beyond the foregoing areas of success, Nigerians have been witnessing a change in continuity of policies and implementation. The quest for good governance is continual but the required change in attitudinal disposition is not there. Nigeria has only been moving in vicious circles and different suggestions have been made.

At the economic level, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has it that ‘no matter how long we pray and fast, our nation won’t grow until some of us decide to do the hard work that will make our nation work… Every generation owes the next generation a debt and it is true when they say the future is in our hands.’ This point is arguable.

Way Out of the Vicious Circle.

Professor Osinbajo’s suggested approach is good only to the extent that the Buhari Administration believes in hard work and honesty of purpose. The Buhari administration does not believe in dint of hard work, honesty of purpose, patriotic commitment to Nigeria because it condones and accepts non-investigated allegations and reports for decision-making. The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) is a good case in point. For instance, why is the Government keeping quiet about allegations levied against the General Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the NIIA? Why the silence of Government when there are also allegations of staff having multiple dates of birth, falsification of results of promotion examinations, removal of queries from personal files, involvement of the Governing Council in professorial assessments, etc. How do we explain the fact that General Ike Nwachukwu-led Council was supporting the staff against the Chief Executive that I was. Why is the Council more interested in money than anything else?

There was a 12-page allegation against me, to which I provided more than a 60-page clarification and explanation. The Ike Nwachukwu Council could only note them but unable to know who was right or wrong. Why did the Supervisory Authority, The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, refuse to act on the recommendations of the Special Panel set up to look into the various acts of indiscipline by staff which the Governing Council encouraged?

Why is Government keeping quiet about the inability of the Bar Beach Police Station to conclude its inquiry on the allegation by Associate Professor Fred Aja Agu that I plotted to get him killed all in an attempt to get promoted through the Council’s intimidation? The owner of the telephone line who allegedly called Associate Professor Agwu on my behalf that he was coming to kill him is yet to be identified more than a year. The allegation that I did not follow due process in the construction of the International Conference Hall at the Institute is another issue. I maintained and still maintain that I followed whatever was called due process. I begged the Council to initiate a probe panel to investigate the whole process to determine the extent to which I had embezzled public funds or engaged in any act of serious misconduct in the management of the international conference centre and face lift of the institute. The Council refused to do so. What General Ike Nwachukwu and his council could do was to write a secret report covering up the truth in the erroneous belief that my survival depends on it and the NIIA.

There is no problem with the writing of any report, classified or not. However, problems arise when a report is consciously predicated on malicious information and the Government to which it is addressed, not only accepts it without investigation, but also takes decisions on it. Commitment to hard work or patriotism cannot thrive in this type of situation. All well-meaning patriots should help Nigeria by appealing to PMB to empanel an independent committee to investigate life and all the various allegations at the NIIA in order to establish the truths for posterity. This will ensure fairness and justice as basis of hard work and good governance. Without fairness and justice, the Acting President’s sermon of hard work cannot but only fall on deaf ears. The bitter truth which we all know is that honesty is sanctioned in Nigeria. Patriotism does not pay in Nigeria. My NIIA experiences have clearly shown.

One way out of Nigeria’s vicious circle is to instil fairness and justice, and culture of truth in the conduct and management of public affairs. Government must deemphasize, if not prevent, the influence of all manners of esprit de corps, ethnic chauvinism, and kleptomaniac leaders who really are the main destroyers of Nigeria on decision-making processes.
Another leeway is to revisit the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.

Many Nigerians believe that the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference would go a long way in addressing Nigeria’s many problems, including insecurity and agitations for self-determination.

For instance, as explained by former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, at the Rivers State Golden Anniversary Lecture last week Wednesday, Professor Ben Nwabueze, who led the visit of The Patriots to Aso Rock in August 2013, raised the urgent need for a Conference to address national challenges but President Jonathan opted for a national conference. In his words: “When you are in govt, when you are making laws or coming up with policies, don’t consider your position because that your position is very temporal. I was quite pleased with the outcome of the conference. There was nothing like voting. Every decision was by consensus. And I believe sincerely that if govt is able to implement most of these recommendations, some of the things that agitate our minds today, some of the social issues we have, including insecurity and otherwise, would be addressed.”

But what are the recommendations the implementation of which is expected to solve Nigeria’s problems? For the purposes of ‘a stronger, more united, peaceful and politically stable Nigeria,’ the Conference was asked to ‘articulate and synthesize our peoples’ thoughts, views and recommendations.”

In this regard, the Conference, comprising 492 delegates, adopted many resolutions for possible constitutional amendment. They include, at the political level, empowering States to create Local Governments and delisting Local Governments from the First Schedule of the Constitution; Abolition of State Independent Electoral Commission; devolution of powers; limitation of appointment of Federal Ministers to a maximum of 19; membership of the National Assembly to be henceforth on part-time basis; rotational Presidency and vacancy in the office of the President; Rotation of the office of the State Governor, as well as the office of the Local Government Chairman and declaration of vacancy in their offices; creation of 18 States and additional Federal Commissions and Councils; cancellation of grants to political parties; provision for independent candidates to contest elections; and ban of funds from associations to parties and card dates.

Another suggested leeway is the return to a parliamentary system of government. It is considered that the current presidential system is too expensive. As explained by Dr. Orji Uzo Kalu, former Governor of Abia State, ‘when we had 12 States, our recurrent expenditure was 30%. When the States were increased to 21, our recurrent expenditure increased to 50%. When we had 36 States, the recurrent went up to 70%. So how can you develop?’ In this regard, Dr. Kalu supports the proponents of restructuring if there is to be progress.

At the legal and legislative levels, the Conference recommended the Bill of Rights and their justiciability; separation of the office of the Minister of Justice from that of the Attorney-General; removal of the immunity clause from the Constitution; introduction of Question Time in the National Assembly; establishment of Anti-corruption Court; timelines for presentation of budget estimate and signing of budget; establishment of State Courts of Appeal; and establishment of Constitutional Court.

At the economic and security levels, the Conference recommended State Revenue Sharing Formula and creation of State Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commissions; Provision for States interested in it. In this regard, Federal Police Officers of the rank of Deputy Superintendent and below are to serve in their States of origin; setting up of Excess Crude Account, Sovereign Wealth Fund and Mineral Resources Development Fund. At the level of social welfare, the Conference recommended that retired public servants should be free to medical services.

Two points are noteworthy about the report. First, all the recommendations and particularly the decisions, were made on the basis of consensus. However, the North is said to be opposed to the implementation of the report. In explaining why the North rejected the report, former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University and Chairman of Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi, said the delegates to the 2014 Conference were not true representatives of the people, that is, they were not elected as it was the case with previous Conferences: 1986/87 Constitutional Conference organised by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida; 1994/1995 Abacha Conference; and the political reform conference organised by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Professor Abdullahi participated in all the previous Conferences but refused to attend the 2014 Goodluck Jonathan’s Conference as he put it, simply because of the alleged non-representative character of the delegates. (The Nation, Friday, May 26, p. 43)

The truth about all the Conferences is that they have all been set aside. No readiness to deal with them. In fact, PMB said he had not even bothered to open and read the report. The problem with the Nigerian elite is their inability to appreciate the people’s interest as distinct from technicalities. Must a Nigerian citizen be elected before he can qualify to speak on behalf of his people? Can there not be a self-imposed leader who can decide to do what is correct and, by so doing, the people decide to support him? When people are elected on the basis of fraudulent elections, are they true representatives? Are the recommendations helpful to national unity and development? If yes, what should be the place of non-representative character of the delegate? What about the consensus principle that informed all decision-taking?

The Challenge: Change in Continuity

PMB inherited, without doubt, a major foreign policy burden: tainted international image. Nigeria’s international image largely suffered from her inability to contain boko haramism and under-funding of her diplomatic missions abroad. There were also the incarceration of several Nigerians who were found guilty of immigration offences, unending reports of kidnapping, armed robberies, as well as cases of corruption and embezzlement of public funds.
With these challenges, PMB considered the need to reduce the size of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions abroad. This option was already considered by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Rather than close down missions, former Foreign Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, came up with the idea of Smart Missions which essentially is about reducing the number of staff rather than outright closure of missions.

On Thursday, May 25, Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, was reported to have announced the imminent closure of five of Nigeria’s missions but subject to PMB’s approval. As reported, Mr. Onyeama said, “We do not want to indicate the embassies that will be closed yet because we are in the process of submitting the proposals, the cost analysis and also the political analysis we did to the President (The Nation, May 26, 2017, p.44). It is commendable that the Minister acknowledges the expensive nature of closure of missions. But there is the likely unfriendly nature of the countries to be affected.

If Nigeria is to be well reckoned with in international relations, if Nigeria is aspiring to be great and be a great power, there is the need to learn how to make changes within continuity. Ultimate objective must be constant. Changes in implementation strategies can always be redefined. Consequently, the next two years should reflect a foreign policy re-articulation in light of the changing patterns of international politics.