Definienda and Challenges of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in 2018

By Bola Akinterinwa

The conduct and management of foreign policy is the most difficult challenge that any chief diplomat, that is, the Head of State and Government can be faced with in the articulation of his country’s foreign policy attitude. This is because every member state of the international community is in competition for the protection of its own national interests, even if it is to the detriment of those of other stakeholders. The protection of such national interests is required to follow a certain mania of policy attitude, such as respect for the principles of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other sovereign states, resolution of disputes peacefully, use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, promotion of good neighbourliness, good governance, protection of fundamental human rights, commitment to maintenance of international peace and security, etc.

In the event of non-compliance with the foregoing principles, the international community also prescribes various measures to deal with it. They include the principles of International Responsibility to Protect (IR2P); economic sanctions; collective response, including joint attacks and other measures of reprisal.

In the specific case of Nigeria, the conduct and management of foreign policy under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in 2017 was compliant with general international practice, especially in terms of respect for international law and particularly, international humanitarian law. However, the definienda, both at the national and international environmental levels are quite inclement. First, at the national level, institutions do not matter in Nigeria. It is the private individuals that do matter. In other words, private individuals are more powerful than institutions. Consequently, foreign policy making and implementation is private interest driven, and therefore, necessarily and largely fraught with political instability and inconsistency.

For instance, corruption is not only institutional and systemic, but was also reported to be deepening. Complaints of corruption and serious misconduct in many agencies of government, especially at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs whose case was brought to the attention of PMB, was covered up by silence over it. The Ike Omar Nwachukwu-led Governing Council was incapable of determining who was right or wrong when three members of staff petitioned the Director General and the Director General provided his own version of the truth in his reply to the petition. The Council could only ‘note’ but could not sanction anyone. Government also simply covered it up. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under Ambassador Bulus Lolo as Permanent Secretary and Acting Minister, as supervisory authority, similarly and consciously covered it up. And yet, the Government claims to be seeking the extermination of corruption and other societal ills. This is a major contradiction that does not help Nigeria’s international image.

The Maina and Magu saga are other cases of corruption on which PMB has been dilly dallying. These cases have seriously tainted whatever good record to which PMB may want to lay claim. Besides, corruption, injustice and unfairness are some of the reasons also being advanced for the threats to the corporate existence of Nigeria, as disturbingly manifested by the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Boko Haram, etc. It is within this frame of considerations that calls for restructuring of Nigeria have also been made. And this is why the definienda of Nigeria’s foreign policy at the domestic level has been inclement and also why there was no clear foreign policy focus in the past one year. At best, foreign policy has been reactive, rather than initiative-oriented and preventive. Even, at the reactive level, Government’s response was generally not prompt.

At the international and environmental level, the threats to global peace and security were more serious in terms of fear and implications than they were at the national level. There was the fear of nuclear war likely to be prompted by the dispute between the United States and North Korea over its alleged illegality of nuclear tests. President Donald Trump is talking about total destruction of North Korea but the defiance of North Korea in light of its continued nuclear tests and development of intercontinental ballistic missiles are sending disturbing signs of a possible nuclear war, the extent of devastating effect of which is best imagined.

In the same vein, a regional war, with possible global implications, is again most likely with President Trump’s declared intention to assist Ukraine in its struggle against Russia. Moscow authorities have simply responded to Donald Trump by amassing troops along the borders of Ukraine. Thus, the environment of foreign policy is belligerent, and, therefore, requires not waiting to react but embarking on a more programmatic strategic calculations in preparation for defence of the national interest in whatever circumstance.

In essence, the domestic foundation of Nigeria’s foreign policy in 2017 was generally weak and characterised by dwindling economic revenues, largely induced by recession, political intrigues, especially at the level of the political parties (All Progressives Congress and People’s Democratic Party), heightened insecurity, with much concerns for kidnapping, Fulani herdsmen’s terror, and agitations for restructuring. As it is generally believed that foreign policy is a reflection of the domestic setting, Nigeria’s foreign policy in 2017 was necessarily weak and reactive. It was largely routine in design and execution: participation in regional and international meetings, responding to public complaints, and reaffirmation of Nigeria’s stand on various international questions.

With this situational background, how is Nigeria’s foreign policy likely to respond to various international questions in 2018? What are the definienda, the foundations, and the likely issues to be involved, especially when compared with what transpired in the first year of PMB? And, perhaps more importantly, what is the likely prospect of the current mania of conduct of Nigeria’s foreign policy?

Likely Issues and Challenges
The issue of Morocco’s application for membership of the ECOWAS has the great potential of generating much controversy in the foreseeable future, especially at the level of the ECOWAS Community Citizens. This is because ECOWAS Authority is now taking decisions before thinking, which is most unfortunate. It is not learning after acquisition of experience but behaving as if there is no other West Africans that can reason and learn from history. People’s grievances appear to be mounting and should be quickly nipped in the bud.

In this regard, Nigerians should be particularly grateful to PMB and Ghanaian leader who queried the rationale for the approval-in-principle given to Morocco’s application for membership on 4 June 2017 in Liberia. At the 52nd Ordinary Session of the Authority held in Abuja on 16 December 2017, PMB submitted that the information given to Member States on the matter was inadequate to enable an objective decision-taking by Nigeria. In fact, PMB queried the alleged study carried out before giving the approval-in-principle, which competent sources say were more about associate membership and observer status.

As a result of the new opposition to the approval-in-principle, the ECOWAS resolved to empanel a new study committee to look at the implications of Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS. The committee is much likely to look at the implications for the ECOWAS as a whole and as a region and not likely to investigate the specific implications for Nigeria. Consequently, Government will need to quickly direct the relevant research institutions, particularly the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, the National Defence College, in collaboration with the private sector stakeholders to engage in a special study of the implications for Nigeria.

The outcome of the study can then be compared with the general report to be submitted by the ECOWAS committee. Nigeria is specifically the target, and therefore, to bear the brunt of Morocco’s quest for membership of the ECOWAS. As Nigeria does not intend to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement for now, because of the need to grow the home industries and prevent the deepening of the challenges of youth unemployment, foreign policy must begin to address some of the likely scenarios, such as possible renewal of rivalry between the Anglophones and Francophones, as the Côte d’Ivoire is reportedly the chief ‘sponsor’ of Morocco’s application for membership. In the event of possible decision of the ECOWAS Authority admitting Morocco, what will Nigeria do?

Another critical issue to be addressed is the expected return of the terrorist jihadists from the war-torn Syria and Iraq to the ECOWAS region, a situation which the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, has described as having the potential of negatively affecting Community citizens, foreigners and anyone residing in the region, including their investments. In the words of the Senegalese leader, ‘il ne fait désormais aucun doute que la menace de l’arrivée, voire la déferlante, de djihadistes sur le continent, dans un proche avenir, est une grave menace pour les Etats, les populations comme pour les étrangers qui y vivent, ainsi que pour leurs intérets et leurs investissements.’
Put differently, there is no longer any disputing of the fact that the arrival of Jihadists in Africa in the near future is a serious threat to states and people residing in Africa. The arrival is inimical to their investments. For Nigeria, in particular, the returning terrorists are not likely to come back and remain idle. They are much likely to join hands with the Boko Haram that has an understanding with the Al Qaida. Foreign policy must therefore address this issue not rhetorically but seeking to strengthen cooperation with the immediate neighbours and making the issuance of visa and entry to Nigeria inaccessible to them.

A third foreign policy challenge is derived from the ECOWAS Vision 2020. In this regard, the situational assessment of ECOWAS Vision 2020 is much likely to be raised as from 2018. The vision was introduced in June 2007 by the ECOWAS Authority with the objective of raising the standard of living of Community citizens.

In this regard, the ECOWAS Authority wants to achieve a regional integration that is driven by the people. This was why the President of the Commission was given the mandate to mobilise all the citizens of the region and for all ECOWAS leaders to be made accountable to the people. As noted in the Vision statement, the ECOWAS Authority wants ‘to create a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region, built on good governance and where people have the capacity to access and harness its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development and environmental preservation.’

More important, the ECOWAS Authority not only envisioned by 2020 a ‘sustained collective effort to eliminate social discrimination and exclusion,’ as well as ‘a unified region that is integrated into the continental and global economy space’ but also ‘a secure and socially cohesive West Africa devoid of conflicts whose leaders and people place a high premium on peace and collective regional security, effective operation of an ECOWAS regional defence and security system that will effectively combat illegal arms and drugs.’

However, the level of public sensitisation and mobilisation in Nigeria cannot be said to be high. Naturally and expectedly, Nigeria ought to be providing leadership, and, of course, leadership by example. Public sensitisation on all the issues ought to be a model for other peoples in the ECOWAS region, but it is still far from the expected. Foreign policy calculations should therefore begin to address well in advance the challenges in the new year.

The ECOWAS 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is also noteworthy. It is inspired by ECOWAS Vision 2020, as well as by the AU Agenda 2063 both of which are aimed at regional integration and development. In all these development instruments, it is important for Nigeria to have a well-planned agenda for possible application in the event of need. Nigeria should always avoid being caught unawares as a regional influential.

And most importantly, there are some bilateral ties which require special monitoring. For instance, there are the challenges posed by Nigeria’s relationships with the United States, Morocco, and Libya. Nigeria’s relations with the United States are quite warm, even to the extent that the administration of President Donald Trump has now offered to sell military aircraft to Nigeria to assist in the war against the Boko Haram. However, President Trump has promised to sanction, by way of withdrawing development aid, any country that votes against the United Nations resolution sanctioning Jerusalem as the political capital of Israel. Without doubt, Nigeria voted against it. Will Nigeria be sanctioned by the United States or not?

Nigeria’s ties with Morocco are similarly quite warm but it is in Nigeria that the opposition to Morocco’s application for membership of the ECOWAS has been most active in the region. How will Morocco react to this situation in the foreseeable future, especially in terms of consular relations?

Nigeria’s relations with Libya have generally been fraught with various irritants, ranging from the call of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi for the division of Nigeria into Muslim North and Christian South to the enslavement of Nigerians in that country. This means that there is a special need to monitor ties with Libya in order to avoid further brutalisation of Nigerians.

In fact, as Nigerians are not only the victims of enslavement in Libya, the fact of the enslavement is already generating much condemnation in other parts of Africa and at the level of the international community, Nigeria must have a proactive policy attitude, rather than a reactive one. This requirement cannot but also be a desideratum in dealing with the migration of Nigerians to Europe through illegal routes.

There will be an urgent need for general public enlightenment on the implications of international travels without appropriate valid passports and visas, and particularly travelling through illegal routes to Europe, only to end up in the high seas of the Mediterranean without reaching the ultimate destination. It was Henry Peter brougham, the First Baron Brougham and Vaux, who once posited that ‘education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.’ With education, people can learn and appreciate. People perish for lack of knowledge as the Holy Bible has it.

Consequently, in the New Year, Nigeria needs a foreign policy attitude that will serve as a beacon of light for the whole people of Africa. Nigeria needs a new foreign policy of grandeur that will be more proactive than reactive, a foreign policy that will be a foundation for a new style of self-projection as a regional influential, and, indeed, a new foreign policy that enables Nigeria as a Black Power in the making. And, perhaps more interestingly, the people of Nigeria need a well-articulated foreign policy focus on the basis of constructive and beneficial concentricism as defined by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON and Professor Ibrahim Gambari.

Government alone may not assume the exclusive responsibility for addressing the challenges posed. The whole people of Nigeria should be interested in the determination of Nigeria’s foreign policy attitude. In doing this, they should take active interest in engaging in citizen diplomacy as propounded by Chief Ojo Maduekwe, MFR, and translated into action at the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS) in Yaba, Lagos. On this note, I wish to avail myself of this opportunity to thank all readers of Vie Internationale in 2017 and not only to renew the assurances of my greater commitment to the column, but to also welcome new readers in the new year. Please, have a blessed and fruitful New Year, 2018.

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