Like other fellow country men and women, struggling to make some meaning of this week’s visit by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla to some African countries, including Nigeria, I’ve been nudged into some deep reflection on the real import of that visit.
It is tragic that the same week when India was celebrating its giant strides with Japan, on the building of a £14.4 billion bullet train, we are being goaded into a formless visit of Prince Charles which holds little for our people. While we are enamoured with dancing our own music to the abyss, Ethiopia which runs one of the best airlines in the world is celebrating the addition of 100th plane to its fleet. South Africa which rules our communications, entertainment and retail outlets is also further deepening their rail networks which began as plans for the hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
From the summary of Prince Charles itinerary both in Abuja and Lagos, I see the whimsical cobbling of some brain wave events just to fill the void. I wish to save my perception of the near demeaning treatment meted to our esteemed traditional rulers for another day. I get the impression that we seem to be really bent on making mincemeat of all our institutions.
Just wondering why our royal fathers had to seat like some school boys getting sop from a janitor. We really have not learnt enough lessons on how to comport ourselves when visitors come calling. What was wrong in making Prince Charles visit some of the traditional rulers in their palaces like he did to the Asantihene in Kumasi, Ghana?
No doubt, many may have been revolted by what has become our rather eclectic foreign policy under the Buhari Administration, which reeks neither of vision, character, form and content. Hardly do you remember the name of our foreign minister, nor any of his epic quotes, pronouncements or actions.
In the converse, many scholars still relish the “activist” foreign policy of the Joe Garba era of the late 70s which saw the country spearheading the anti-apartheid campaign or the three concentric circles espoused by both Professors Ibrahim Gambari and Bolaji Akinyemi, that defined the vision of Nigeria in the international arena in the 80s. This gave birth to ECOWAS and the idea to reach out more to our African neighbours and Africans in Diaspora.
The challenge of the 90s also made many scholars to posit that we can’t promote a foreign policy devoid of an economic vision particularly after spending massively on peace keeping efforts without pursuing an economic goal in Liberia and Sierra Leone. But all now seems to have gone with the wind. We may not fault those who argue that our foreign policy is in recess.
At best one confuses who is the foreign minister between Geoffery Onyeama and Abike Dabiri Erewa, senior special assistant to the President on Diaspora Matters who’s a bit more active when it comes to attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and other places.
For a country enmeshed in a crisis of leadership and development and particularly weaved around its acute infrastructural deficit and challenge, what really was the essence of the hullabaloo about a visit that was more of razzmatazz? With our paucity of resources, I’m wondering why we should engage in such fiddlesticks, hosting Prince Charles, a non head of government who came here on what appears more like a fun trip? At a time when virtually every country in the world is repositioning its foreign policy engagement for maximum benefit of its citizenry, is it not laughable that we are romanticising some colonial relic that has been of little benefit to our people?
Whether the focus of our discourse is on going back to the template of the Lagos Plan of Action (LPA) as designed by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) under Prof Adebayo Adedeji, which conceives of an expressway from Mobassa to Lagos or we strive to reactivate our rolling plans, which long had a provision for a coastal highway from Lagos to Calabar, Britain which is presently confronted with its crisis of primacy with the European Union, may not be where to turn. Our direction should be more to China which is building massive roads and bridges across some of the most difficult terrains at little costs. Britain is also a dying power whose economy is seriously on the wane.
Perhaps I may not have bothered if Prince Charles was on some tourist adventure to the continent. After all, Rwanda is said to be a destination for gorilla visits, garnering $400 million on that alone annually. There are also immense tourist locations in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa worthy of visits. It’s intriguing however that Nigeria’s political elite have made fiddlesticks of the huge tourism potential of the country, preferring to biker over the sharing of oil resources rather than cultivate other goldmine.
Even before the invitation to discuss the “Relevance of the Commonwealth” against the background of Prince Charles visit, with Anthony Kila, professor of Strategy and Development on TVC last Wednesday, I’ve had to persuade myself on the worth of this visit.
Scholars of International Relations are agreed that foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy. Some also posit that both domestic and foreign policies are intertwined in a dialection.
Olajide Aluko, foremost Nigeria’s professor of International Relations for instance argues that foreign policy is conducted in an amoral sense. I doubt whether we’ve ever had such a sleepy foreign policy devoid of vision, character, form and content since independence like we have now. Even the Balewa era that was regarded as a bit spineless on foreign policy was forceful against the expulsion of then racist South Africa over the Sharpeville Massacre.
Although scholars like Cyril Obi, Akin Osuntokun and Ayo Akinbobola are discordant on the actual date of the establishment of the Commonwealth which comprise Britain and its former colonial territories, the organisation can be said to have been in some flux between the Balfour Declaration of 1896 and the Statute of West Minster of 1931.
There has also been some transformation of the Commonwealth with the admission of non former British colonial territories like Mozambique, Cameroun and territories affiliated to Australia and New Zealand.
I do concur with Bolaji Akinyemi who argues that the significance of the 2 billion population Commonwealth group should not be conceived strictly in a monetary sense but in terms of collaboration. For instance, we have a big English bloc which is a third of the world for which we can do business. But we need to take our cudgels and cultivate countries like India, China, Japan, Russia and others who are ready to create a leap for our people in the 21st century rather than seek to make a fetish of our colonial identity.
Apart from ensuring some close association with India on IT development, our focus should be to constantly engage with those who can assist us out of the country’s power crises to re-engineer our productive sector, build massive roads and bullet trains to ease the transverse of our vast territories.
I’m particularly excited by developments in India where her creaking, colonial-era railway system is preparing to take a giant leap forward as the Indian prime minister breaks ground on the country’s first bullet train project.
Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for the high-speed line on Thursday during a visit by his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to the western state of Gujarat.
“This is the new India and the flight of its dreams is endless,” Modi said at the ceremony. “The bullet train project will bring speed and employment. It is human-friendly and eco-friendly.”
The project also has a concrete timeline. The high-speed line, which the government aims to launch by the 75th anniversary of Indian independence on August 15th, 2022, will run from Ahmedabad, the Gujarat capital, to the financial hub of Mumbai.
Indian officials say the train will have a maximum speed of 217mph (350km/h), more than twice the speed of the country’s current fastest train, which runs from the capital, Delhi, to Agra at a comparably sluggish maximum of 100mph.
The Shinkansen model train will cut the 316-mile journey from Ahmedabad to Mumbai from eight hours to around three.
More than four-fifths of the project’s $19bn (£14.4bn) cost will be funded by a 0.1% interest-rate loan from Japan as part of a deepening economic relationship that both countries hope will act as a bulwark against Chinese influence in Asia. “Japan has shown that its a true friend of India,” Modi said on Thursday.
The fast rail is also significant for the Modi government, which made the bullet train a key part of the modernisation agenda on which it campaigned at the 2014 elections. It also claims the project will create about 36,000 jobs.
India is reportedly considering another six potential high-speed rail corridors, including one connecting Mumbai and Delhi. But the former chairman of India’s railway board Vivek Sahai said that the financial investment required to build such fast rail meant it was unlikely to phase out traditional trains any time soon.
“India runs more than 10,000 trains each day, which carry the equivalent of the population of Australia – you can’t just discontinue them,” Sahai said.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is not investing in bullet trains because we are being mindful of the movement of cows, according to Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi. The proposed Lagos- Calabar rail line appears to have become forlorn as the government now hardly says anything about it anymore. The rail lines linking its major ports in Apapa are in decrepit state and there are no immediate plans to rehabilitate them.
Unlike Kenya which built a rail line from Nairobi to Mombassa to ease the movement of goods, we are virtually content with running our economy with trucks which have not only rendered our roads in near shreds but have created gridlock and blocked access to the ports. Is it not equally tragic that while others are building bullet trains to further ease movements across far flung cities, we are being told that in the 21st Century, that the speed of our trains should be a function of the movement of cows?
While India’s cottage industry is fired largely by Diaspora inflows, what really is our concrete plan to engender a segment of our economy with Diaspora inflows to Africa which was $72 billion in 2017, according to the World Bank with Nigeria leading the pack. The country is also part of the leading five countries globally on Diaspora inflows.
––Iyare, an International Relations Analyst is also a Communications & Development Consultant. He can be reached on email@example.com.