By Bola A. Akinterinwa
Nigeria is currently playing host to three critical issues in the conduct and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy: unending mistreatment of Nigerians abroad, development of culture of postponement of general elections in Nigeria, and the manu militari that has come to characterise the attitudinal disposition of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) in the governance of Nigeria under a democratic setting.
As regards mistreatment of Nigerians abroad, the Buharian administration may not be solely held responsible for it as Nigerians have, from time to time, been brutalised in different countries of the world before the advent of his administration in 2015. Mention can be made of the xenophobic attacks to which innocent Nigerians had been and are still subjected in South Africa.
Nigerians have been brutalised in and deported from Libya several times. Nigerians have also been deported from Great Britain, Nigeria’s colonial master and from many countries of the European Union many times. In all cases, there is no clear concrete case to which one can refer that had been taken up seriously by the Government of Nigeria to investigate to a logical conclusion. Records have only shown threats non-acceptance of maltreatment, while, in truth, they have always been brutalised without the Government being able to go beyond declaratory protests. Exceptions are made to the time of Chief Ojo Maduekwe and Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru as Foreign Ministers, under who the rules of reciprocity were sometime applied.
What is noteworthy about the mistreatment of Nigerians as at today under the Buhari administration is that the brutality to which Nigerians are being subjected is taking place in Ghana, a Member State of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Perhaps more disturbingly, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is the current Chairman of the regional organisation. Why is this so? Additionally, in the many cases of mistreatment of Nigerians under PMB, Nigeria’s foreign policy has only succeeded in always justifying the policy of the very countries mistreating Nigerians. Nigerians have always been condemned or adjudged guilty. They are promptly advised to behave well in their host countries. Government, unfortunately is myopic to the extent that behaving well has not always prevented animosities vis-a-vis Nigerians on the basis of mere envy, which is the main dynamic of the mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana.
On the issue of election postponements, it is gradually becoming a culture to which the people of Nigeria are also acquiescing. Nigeria’s political history has shown that election dates had been shifted in the past. The most recent under Nigeria’s Fourth Republic are those of 2011, 2015, and 2019. The reasons for the postponement of the three elections were the same: logistics and insecurity. Do Nigerians and their governments ever learn from their past? There is nothing to suggest that lessons are learnt nor is there any pointer to the readiness to seek to learn from the past and the reason cannot be far-fetched: little or no emphasis is placed on the essence of election-holding.
Whereas, regular election is an important element of any democracy. More important, the significance of regular general elections, especially when such elections are seen to have been freely and credibly organised, can always be gleaned from many perspectives. First, all elected public officials and governments are believed to have been given legitimacy or the full mandate of the people to act on their behalf on the basis of rule of law. With the enjoyment of legitimacy, ousting an elected government necessarily becomes very difficult to do, as the standing rule of the African Union leaders is that elected governments cannot be removed by use of force or coup d’état. Military professionals are therefore told in clear terms that there is no room for military politics in a civilian setting.
Second, the world of today is that of democracy and information technology in which the claims of national sovereignty are necessarily now limited by collective or international sovereignty. We are now in a world in which the claim of right to exclusiveness of competence over domestic jurisdiction is being jettisoned. In fact, at the 1991 Franco-African Summit held in La Baule, France, it was made clear that development assistance would only be given out on the condition of democratic governance.
Put differently, dictatorship was made a condition for disqualification for foreign aid. The decision also explains why France and other development partners sought and are still seeking to provide assistance in combating dictatorship in all its ramifications. It is, therefore, not surprising that the Organisation of African Unity, now the African Union, officially declared thereafter that, under no circumstance would any government that came to power by coup d’état, would not be allowed engagement in the activities of the organisation. Thus, military coup and dictatorship is officially outlawed as a means of political governance in Africa.
Third, even when there is use of force within the framework of democratic governance, it is generally accepted in the context of collective security, as well as in the general context of defence of the helpless people. For instance, there is the Principle of International Responsibility to Protect (IR2P). This is a principle initiated by Canada and adopted at the United Nations World Summit in 2005 with the ultimate objective of fighting genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. It is the United Nations Security Council that has the responsibility for the required protection whenever the need for protection is so decided.
In essence, the underlying principle is that a government may be selfish to the extent of having to seek the extermination of some of its people, or unable to protect its own people against imminent dangers to the lives of the people. In this regard, the international community considers that it has the legitimate right to intervene in order to protect the unprotected people in distress. The global concerns are necessarily in defence of democracy directly and indirectly. This largely explains why the global community is always much interested in the organisation of any presidential election in any part of the world. The case of Nigeria’s 2019 general elections cannot, therefore, be an exception.
As for PMB’s mania of manu militari in the political governance of Nigeria, this appears to be the most unfortunate of the three critical issues. It is most unfortunate because PMB easily forgets that he is no longer a military Head of State of Nigeria, but an elected President of Nigeria. As a military Head of State, governance can, without serious query, be by promulgation of decrees or by simple application of the military principle of ‘obey the last order’ or ‘obey before complaining.’ Under any normal democratic circumstance, every policy making and action must first and always be guided by the rule of law, even when national security interest is at stake. Most unfortunately, however, PMB has always neutralised his goodwill and alleged patriotism with manu militari-driven decisions and policies.
Without any whiff of doubt, PMB rightly or wrongly believes that he has the right to do and undo in his quest to exterminate corruption. The belief can be right if it is guided by rule of law. The belief should also be commended, but the commendation again should only be condoned to the extent of the extermination is guided by rule of law. The latest in the series of PMB’s mania of manu militari in political governance is his directive to the law enforcement agencies to shoot at sight any person found to be engaged in election malpractice, especially in ballot box snatching. PMB wanted to convince Nigerians about his sincerity of purpose in regard to his readiness to ensure a free, fair, and credible election. This readiness cannot be enough because the directive can also be taken advantage by the same law enforcement agents and politicians to aggress their perceived enemies. The police can shoot an innocent person and then hide under accidental discharge and ballot box snatching. Consequently, most Nigerians have listened to PMB but it is doubtful that most Nigerians believe him. The public confidence enjoyed by PMB in 2015 appears to have sharply declined by at least 50%. This is the bottom line of the fears of the international community and the ongoing general debate on the question as at today. It is also for this consideration that the international community is not only interested in Nigeria’s politics, but also particularly why Nigeria’s 2019 General Elections is generating much foreign policy and international interest.
Mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana
Relationship between Nigeria and Ghana has been difficult in recent times, essentially because of the discriminatory official taxes placed on community traders in Ghana. The deportation of 723 Nigerians from Ghana is an expression of the deterioration in the ties, and the understanding of which must be put in its correct context. Nigerian businessmen are said to have engaged in retail businesses normally reserved for Ghanaians. Any non-Ghanaian seeking engagement in the retail businesses are required to pay some bills or, by the July 11, 2018 order of quit notice, quit their businesses.
The Ghanaian authorities have sealed over 400 Nigerian-owned shops, in the Ashanti region of Ghana, particularly in Kumasi. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President and former Speaker of ECOWAS Parliament intervened to mediate the crisis. He explained that he discussed with the Regional Minister of Ashanti and also a former Deputy at the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Osei-Mensah, who not only assured of the safety of Nigerians in Ghana, but also promised to ‘take up the matter with the authorities to ensure that the shops were reopened immediately.’
The Ghanaian Foreign and Regional Integration Minister, Ayorkor-Botchwey came to Nigeria in September 2018 to explain that the quit notice ‘has nothing to do with our ECOWAS brothers and sisters. It was more to do with other nationals. She admitted that ‘there is a problem that Nigerians and other ECOWAS citizens have been cut up in this issue of traders being given quit notice to exit our markets with their retail trade which is by law of Ghana reserved for Ghanaians.’ If the quit notice has nothing to do with Nigerians, why the deportation of the Nigerians?
It is useful to note here that the Minister’s consideration of Nigerians being cut up in the quit notice as a problem is most unfortunate. It is, because the Minister said the Ghanaian government ‘is doing what it can, sitting with the Ghana Traders Association to ensure that there is that understanding that it has nothing to do with Nigeria and other ECOWAS traders.’ This statement was made in September 2018 during her courtesy visit to her counterpart in Abuja. In spite of these assurances, not less than 723 Nigerians have been deported in the past one year.
True, the deportation of Nigerians raises an important question on the future of regional and continental integration. Can there really be integration in its true sense or à l’Union Européenne? When will Nigeria have a policy of self-protection at home and abroad? Nigeria’s Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, has said: ‘but you heard that Ghana deported some Nigerians. It is the right that every country has, but it is a right we have never exercised but which we are going to exercise now. It is just the law, every foreigner who has legitimate papers to come to Nigeria is welcomed, if you want to work in Nigeria the same regulation that applies in your country that you must get a work permit applies here, go and get a work permit. If you don’t have a work permit here and you are in my site, I will take you out…’ (vide Chijioke Jannah, ‘Buhari’s minister blows hot over deportation of Nigerians from Ghana, reveals FG’s plan on foreigners, Daily Post.ng, February 22, 2019).
As good as the Nigerian Minister’s statement may be, is a Ghanaian in Nigeria or a Nigerian in Ghana a foreigner? If he is, what about the notion of a Community Citizen? What about the rights of establishment to which all Community Citizens are entitled? Can any Community Citizen be guilty of overstay in any Member State? And more interestingly, when will there be a policy of protection for Nigerians legally residing in other countries?
Unending Election Postponements
As noted above, lessons are hardly learnt from past experiences. On April 2, 2011 Professor Attahiru Jega, then INEC Chairman, first recalled that when his Commission started work in July 2010, he promised free fair, and credible elections, but for reasons of late arrival of election materials and insecurity, the elections had to be suspended.
He gave the rationale for the postponement of the election thus: ‘the unanticipated emergency we have experienced with late arrival of result sheets in many parts of the country. The result sheets are central to the elections and their integrity… [T]he Commission has taken the difficult but necessary decision to postpone the National Assembly elections to Monday, April 4, 2011.’ As if this postponement was not enough, the elections were again rescheduled thus: Saturday, April 16, 2011 for the presidential elections, April 26, 2011 for the State House of Assembly and governorship elections.
In the words of Professor Jega, ‘INEC not being a security agency that could by itself guarantee protection for personnel and materials, as well as voters during elections, the Commission cannot lightly wave off the advice by the nation’s security chiefs.’ More important, he said that ‘the Commission is specifically concerned about the security of our ad hoc staff who constitute, at least 600,000 young men and women together with our regular staff, voters, election observers, as well as election materials painstakingly acquired over the last one and half years.’
It is useful to note here that PMB, then opposition presidential candidate kicked against the postponement and argued that President Goodluck Jonathan did postpone the election in order to buy time and rig the election, and not because of the insecurity created by the Boko Haram insurgency. At the end of the postponed election, PMB won the election and could no longer sustain his allegation of intended election rigging.
Nigeria’s 2019 general elections were scheduled to take place on Saturday, 16th February, and Saturday, 23rd February, 2019. The presidential and National Assembly elections were scheduled for February 16 while the gubernatorial, State House of Assembly and FCT and Area Council elections were to be held on February 23rd. However, for various reasons of alleged logistics and security, the elections could not be held on February 16. The new dates of February 23rd and March 9, 2019 were announced for the elections respectively.
It was in the wee hours of February 16, and precisely at 2.44 am that a change of date was announced by the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, in other words, five hours, 16 minutes to the approved time of commencement of the elections. In the words of Professor Yakubu, ‘following a careful review of the implementation of its logistics and operational plan, and the determination to conduct free, fair, and credible elections, the Commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the elections as scheduled is no longer feasible.’ The change of dates, as explained by the INEC boss, is to ‘afford the Commission the opportunity to address identified challenges in order to maintain the quality of our elections.’ More important, the INEC boss also had it that the change of dates ‘was a difficult decision for the Commission to take, but necessary for the successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy.’
Without doubt, the change of dates has not only prompted the need for INEC to reconfigure its card readers to be used for the elections, but has, in terms of public reaction, generated heated national debate and also raised the issue of manu militari approach of President Muhammadu Buhari in the governance of Nigeria.
As regards the re-configuration of the card readers, Professor Yakubu has it that ‘the Smart Card Readers (SCRs) have been reconfigured to only open for use at 8 am on election day and to automatically shut down by 10pm. This is designed to forestall any illegal use of the SCRs before the appointed time of elections.’ Perhaps more important, ‘all Registration Area Centres (RACs) are to be activated by 9 am on Friday,’ February 22nd.
In the eyes of many Nigerians, there is nothing the INEC boss had not said in the past about the readiness of the INEC for the elections. However, all the assurances have amounted to nought. The government of President Buhari has not been spared of blames and intention to simply rig the elections. In fact, many political observers believed that the environmental conditionings of the elections as at the time of postponement were not quite favourable to the APC-ruling party, hence the need for readjustment of the election dates. The INEC does not subscribe to this reasoning. All these activities help in no small measure help to shape the perception of the Government and people of Nigeria, and particularly in how to treat Nigerians.
In this regard, we submit here, in this column, that the maltreatment of Nigerians abroad is largely a resultant of how Nigerians are treated back home at the domestic level, how this domestic treatment is also perceived and interpreted internationally, and why this situation of mistreatment cannot but continue in the foreseeable future, mainly because the Government of Nigeria does not have any known policy of how to protect Nigerians outside of Nigeria. Foreign policy under PMB is reactive and quite far from reflecting the existing thrusts of foreign policy, especially the quest for Nigerianocentricism. A reactive foreign policy can never anticipate, and therefore, cannot protect. If Nigerians are mistreated abroad and are also subjected to electoral extra-judicial killing, what then is the usefulness of being a Nigerian. There is the need for a self-reappraisal.
PMB’s Manu Militari Mania and Foreign Policy
Apparently in reaction to general public criticisms, President Buhari easily and often forgets that he had already changed his designation from being called General Buhari, Head of Government, to that of an elected President, and therefore, answering President of Nigeria. For instance, in reacting to the deepening public criticisms on the postponement of the February 16, 2019 election, PMB instructed the law enforcement agents to shoot at sight anyone seen to be engaged in ballot box-snatching or in election rigging.
In the words of President Buhari, ‘I have briefed the law enforcement agencies and the military to identify hot-spots and flash-points. They should be prepared to move. They too would have made their own arrangements as possible. And anybody who decides to snatch ballot boxes or lead thugs to disturb it, may be that would be the last unlawful action he would take. I have directed the police and the military to be ruthless. We are not going to be blamed that we want to rig elections. I want Nigerians to be respected, let them vote (for) whoever they want across the parties.’
What is obvious from PMB’s instruction is the rationale for it: he does not want to be ‘blamed’ that he has any intention to rig election. He is trying to tell everyone that he has no intention to rig any election. He is also trying to suggest that whichever ox is gored, he cares less about it. The problem, however, with the position is the manner of how the ox is gored. This is where the attitudinal disposition of manu militari is located. The mere perception of someone trying to snatch or believed to have snatched ballot boxes cannot be enough to be shot at sight. The suspect must first be arrested, properly charged to court and prosecuted on the basis of which he or she can be pronounced either guilty or not. It is after this that PMB can ensure the execution of the court ruling. It should therefore be admitted that PMB only spoke for himself. He does not have absolute constitutional powers as president. He does not even have absolute control over the APC and its members, not to mention over the PDP, the main opposition party? PMB needs to make haste slowly in giving dictatorial decisions.
In the same vein, Mallam Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, must also thread more cautiously in serving as a mouth organ in the dissemination of such instructions. Garba Shehu has it that ‘snatching ballot boxes often entails putting the lives of innocent Nigerians at risk. About ten years ago, evidence was brought before an election tribunal from one of the states in North Central of the gruesome killing of 26 prospective voters by ballot box snatchers. Their modus operandi is well known. They stormed election venues in commando styles, overwhelm the law enforcement agents and seize ballot boxes, leaving a trail of death and injury. Anyone who dares to put the lives of innocent citizens at risk in their desperation to rig elections must be prepared for the possibility of losing their own lives.’ Losing one’s life can only be as a result of court judgment, and ‘because our security agents will certainly not stand by, clap for them and watch them kill and maim,’ as told by Garba Shehu.