By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Foreign policy making is essentially the business of government. It is public-institution-driven in Nigeria as it is also done in the developed world and elsewhere. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, being the most relevant institution in any foreign policy making process, is necessarily the middleman between foreign countries and national public institutions at the municipal level. It is from this perspective that formulation of policy decisions begin before the level of ultimate policy making.

The procedure of foreign policy making varies from one country to the other. But, grosso modo, it is necessarily and largely first predicated on consultative investigation. In this regard, there are always research input and considerations of geo-political background. The viewpoints of stakeholders who are likely to be first and directly affected are also sought. This is why any Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to be at the epicentre of the making of foreign policy for purposes of coordination of positions in many countries.

In Nigeria, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as many public officials often wrongly call it, cannot, stricto sensu, be said to be at the epicentre. Many empirical experiences have not lent good credence to the Foreign Ministry being the pivot.

Even when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is considered to be at the epicentre, the resultant foreign policy has always been, at best, controversial. Nigeria’s policy attitude towards Morocco’s quest for membership of the ECOWAS is a case in point. Government adopted a policy in support of Morocco’s membership, emphasizing the warmth in Nigeria’s bilateral ties with Morocco. However, the foreign policy elite in Nigeria was vehemently opposed to it, rejecting the myopic interpretation and view of the national interest by insisting on the need to consider the long-term implications for Nigeria’s economic growth, development, and survival beyond the ECOWAS region. As a result, representation of the Government and people of Nigeria at the ECOWAS summit reviewing Morocco’s application was at the lowest level. This was a case of Government not doing what is right at the right time or doing what is wrong at the right time and vice versa, and that is wide consultations.

Put differently, the truth of the matter is simply the gap in communication between Government and the foreign policy elite in the making of policy in Nigeria. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the pivotal institution in the making of foreign policy, hardly remembers that there is an Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) which is an indisputable collective depository of knowledge on Nigeria’s diplomatic activities over the years, particularly in the making of policy.

The Ministry does not bother about research centres on international relations that can provide alternative futures to policy making. Presidential speeches are often put to the public as if they are personal. In fact, information on foreign policy is not only very dry and not educating, but always directed at the international community as if the domestic setting is not relevant.

This situation partly explains why many government departments and ministries have the opportunity to seek engagement directly in international relations without going through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has to be so because virtually all the Federal Ministries in Nigeria are also involved in one way or the other in foreign policy. Many are the times public officials of some ministries will arrive at a foreign capital and the Nigerian embassy there would only know about the meeting which the official visitor from Nigeria has come to attend on arrival. Probably again, this has to be so because there is no aspect of human endeavour that does not have its international dimensions. But this does not mean that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not be informed in order to guide the visitor. It is generally when such visitors run into some difficulties or they are asking for reception assistance at the airport that people often recognise the importance of the Foreign Ministry and its poorly funded diplomatic missions.

For instance, the Federal Ministry of Education is involved through its engagement with the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation) headquartered in No. 7, Place Fontenoy, in Paris. The Federal Ministry of Health is involved through the World Health Organisation (WHO). The Federal Ministry of Agriculture relates with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation). The Federal Ministry of Trade similarly relates with the World Trade Organisation, etc. Even at the non-governmental levels, professionals and associations do relate with their international counterparts. This is what is generally referred to as involvement in international life.

In all these cases, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is supposed to be the coordinator. But more disturbingly, this is hardly the case. Other government ministries and agencies often bypass the Foreign Ministry, and thereby creating loopholes at the level of contributions to international meetings and gaining nothing from such meetings. Perhaps most disturbingly, foreign policy making is necessarily made difficult through non-harmonisation of purpose and non-proper-articulation of the national interest involved.

The unfortunate implication is that one government official is making a pronouncement along one direction, while another official takes a parallel direction simply doing the contrary. This is not ideal. To avoid this type of situation might have been considered well in advance in the postulations of Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. While Professor Gambari advocated foreign policy geo-political concentricism on the basis of prioritisation, and Ambassador Adeniji agreed but wanted the national interest at stake to be first articulated before its pursuit in whichever concentric circle being considered, Professor Akinyemi provides an instrumental framework for both the articulation and implementation of the policy. This is what he has called Concert of Medium Powers. In other words, a country can still impact considerably on the world without necessarily having the basic required attributes of a great power in international relations.

What is most disturbing is the fact that every government coming to power in Nigeria comes up with one foreign policy thrust: Ibrahim Babangida came up with economic diplomacy but it has been thrown into the dustbin of diplomatic history. Hopefully, it will be re-launched on April 5, 2018. Ojo Maduekwe’s citizen diplomacy is not being talked about at all, and yet, it is currently the most relevant and needed policy. Government does not appear to know how to take advantage of it. Instead of seeking to improve on it, the Buhari administration is talking about economic diplomacy, a concept that was first used in the 16th century and then referred to as ‘development diplomacy’ and ‘diplomacy of development’ (vide our article, “External Response to Nigeria’s Economic Diplomacy,” Nigerian Journal of International Studies, Volume 15, Nos. 1 and 2, pp.112-135 (Lagos: NSIA, 1991) and the NIIA’s special issue of the Nigerian Journal of International Affairs) on economic diplomacy (Lagos: NIIA, 1991).

The main foreign policy challenge here is the fact that Government is always preaching the gospel of good governance, on the one hand, but also acting contrarily, on the other. True, as good governance sermons can project Nigeria in good light internationally but so does acting contrarily to the sermons also taint Nigeria’s international image. It makes Nigeria non-credible, and by so doing, frightening away credible potential international investors. This is one of the major reasons explaining the vicious circles in which development policies are implemented in Nigeria. A good illustration of this observation is the proposed inauguration of another economic diplomacy reportedly scheduled to take place on April 5, 2018. What does this really mean? Is it really a new policy different from the one posited by Major-General Ike Nwachukwu in the 1990s, when he was Minister of External Affairs? If it is a new policy, what will be the basis of its inauguration or re-inauguration? Will there be a re-conceptualisation? If so, what will be the conceptual ingredients?

Before embarrassing the general public again, will it not be advisable for Government to engage in prior hard thinking? And more important, to what extent will the economic diplomacy as a new policy a resultant of general public input? What is the input of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic and Studies, for instance? What is the position of the private sector on the making of the policy? The foreign policy image of Nigeria under Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama is nothing to write home about. Only the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows where it is heading to. All other Nigerians do not know and cannot know. Something must be fundamentally wrong with the workings and information-dissemination system of the Foreign Ministry.

The foregoing questions and observations are germane because the main reason given by President Muhammadu Buhari for not going to Kigali, Rwanda to take part in the signing ceremony of the CFTA is the need for consultations with the private sector stakeholders back home. Indeed, the case of the CFTA is another good illustration of how policies are made without preliminary investigations on the dynamics and implications. Nigeria did not participate in the signing of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement done in Kigali, Rwanda on Wednesday, 21st March, 2018 by other African Union leaders, but took active part in the making of the agreement since 2012 for reasons of domestic challenges.

Why did Nigeria not participate in the signing ceremony at the last minute, especially that Nigeria is on record to strongly believe in integration as an important instrument of economic development in Africa. For instance, the pursuit of economic diplomacy as a technique of economic development in Nigeria and Nigeria’s interest in the CFTA are best explained by the fact that Nigeria, under the Ibrahim Babangida regime, sees ‘regional economic integration as a necessary complementary strategy to national economic development policies,’ to borrow the words of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, CFR in 1985 (vide George A. Obiozor et al, Nigeria and the ECOWAS Since 1985: Towards a Dynamic Regional Integration (Enugu: NIIA/Fourth Dimension, 1991).

In fact, the establishment of the ECOWAS on May 28, 1975 was largely informed by the considerations that big population could not but be a major source of mobilisation of considerable internal resources for industrialisation, attraction of foreign direct investments, as well as development of regional cooperation. In the same vein, the consideration of Africa’s big population and objective of removing all barriers to intra-African trade and development of cooperation prompted the discussions on CFTA in 2012.

Additionally, and more interestingly too, it was because of the need to enhance continental integration that African leaders reviewed the consideration of Africa by the United Nations as a region and redefined the African continent as one comprising five regions: West, North, Central, East, and Southern, Africa. Articles 1(d) and 1(e) of the Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community so refer. Let us, at this juncture, investigate what possibly informed the delay in Nigeria’s acceptance to sign the CFTA.

Understanding the CFTA and its Politics

In January 2012, the 18th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State adopted a decision to establish a CFTA by 2017 and also endorsed the Action Plan on Boosting Intra-Africa Trade (BIAT) on the basis of seven complementary clusters: trade policy, trade facilitation, productive capacity, trade-related infrastructure, trade finance, trade information, and factor of market integration.

The CFTA is coming on the heels of the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action and the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community (AEC). The 1980 Plan and the June 3rd, 1991 Treaty were aimed at the industrialisation of the whole of Africa. Import-substitution as a method for rapid industrialisation had not been all that successful before then. As a result, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa has it that, ‘African countries have embraced regional integration as an important component of their development strategies primarily driven by the economic rational of overcoming the constraint of small and fractioned economies working in isolation.’ Thus, the origins of the CFTA may not be restricted to 2012, even though the 1991Abuja Treaty preceding it might have not specifically mentioned it, but its objectives are quite consistent with those of the EAC Treaty.

The objectives of the CFTA can be described as subsets of the ultimate aims and objectives of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. They should also be considered as part of the objectives of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community and those of the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action.

As declared in 2012, four main objectives were identified as the objectives of the CFTA: creation of a continental market for goods and services as basis for the establishment of a Continental Customs Union and the African Customs Union; expansion of intra-African trade, especially that, by 2012, trade between and among African trade was not more than 5% of total volume of trade. And besides, Africa’s trade was and still is oriented towards Europe and America; expediting continental integration processes, as well as addressing the challenges of multiple and overlapping memberships; and enhancing competitiveness at the industry and enterprise level.

Under normal circumstance, the CFTA, with 54 members, and with a combined population of more than 1 billion people and with a combined GDP of over US$ 3 trillion, cannot but be an important project. However, what is more important about the CFTA is that the two most important economies, that of Nigeria and South Africa, are yet to be made part and parcel of the CFTA. Both countries are yet to sign. In fact, ten countries are yet to sign the CFTA agreement.

As explained by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, ‘we will not agree to anything that will undermine local manufacturers and entrepreneurs, or that may lead to Nigeria becoming a dumping ground for finished goods.’ We cannot agree more with President Buhari on this matter. The agreement is, however, limited by the timing of Government’s refusal to sign: why refuse to sign at the last minute before general accession by all the Member States? Why is it now that Nigeria is discovering that the CFTA could undermine the interests of the manufacturers and entrepreneurs in Nigeria? Why is it that Nigeria’s negotiators could not deal with the fears of the private sector stakeholders, that is, those economic agents that are most likely to be affected before going to negotiate?

What is clear based on the complaints to the Government of the Federation, beginning with the meeting held on last Thursday, 15th March, 2018 with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is that the private sector stakeholders had not been carried along in the various negotiations on the CFTA. Explained differently, one major reason for the constant gap in communication is always the intra-governmental political intrigues surrounding estacode (travel allowance for international trips which are dollarised). People who should normally travel and cover official meetings are hardly allowed to travel. Those who will not even be allowed entry into halls of meeting but who would be smuggled in, to warm the benches, will simply flood the place. This is not ideal and helpful.

At the end of it, official reports will not be readily forthcoming. International meetings requiring professional experts will not find accommodation. This is precisely why it has been difficult to reconcile policy declaration with its implementation. This is also why Government does not often have a true picture of what transpires internationally. If reports are also duly sent by Nigeria’s diplomatic missions, how are they received, interpreted and made available to the President? Professional advice, based on expertise, versus political advice, based on re-election strategy can be detrimental to the protection of the national interest. There is the need to make a choice.

Without doubt, Nigeria cannot afford the luxury of a foreign policy action conflicting with a declaratory policy informing it. Conflicts exist because of the non-coordination at the level of the various levels of the stakeholders. This is particularly so when the general public is allowed to make deductive conclusions from Government’s uncoordinated actions. It is fundamentally wrong to preach what Government does not intend to do.