Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under PMB’s Second Term: a Prolegomena to National Security Threats

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President Muhammadu Buhari,

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

On August 21, 2019 President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) allotted portfolios to his appointed 44 ministers. Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama was reappointed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a reflection of an old wine in a new bottle and a pointer to the continuity of old style of foreign policy tactic, which has always technically and indirectly justified the mistreatment of Nigerians by asking them to respect the laws of their host countries. This style of tactic is common to international functionaries and not to true diplomatists, hence, the Foreign Minister may not be much blamed.

The problem is simply that Nigeria’s foreign policy in the period from 2015 until August 21, 2019 lacked strategic focus. It was efficiently very reactive and never programmatic. At best, it was responding to routine matters. For a country of great people and professionals, inclusive of the same Foreign Minister, there is the need to evolve a foreign policy grand strategy for Nigeria, a foreign policy that should inspire the whole of Africa. Such a policy should not be couched in the manner of ‘America First’, or ‘Making America Great Again, or as it is currently put by President Donald Trump in one of his campaigns, ‘Keep America Great.’ That of Nigeria should be evolved along the lines of ‘Nigeria as Pride of Africa,’ ‘leader of the black race,’ ‘Nigeria should be second to none’. In this regard, all foreign policy strategic calculations should be largely informed by scenarios-building. It should be more anticipatory than always reacting to international events.

It is in light of this perspective that the re-appointed Foreign Minister, and his new Minister of State, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, a diplomatic careerist, should begin to evolve a foreign policy that is quite befitting of Nigeria. In fact, the global threats to Nigeria’s foreign policy and particularly, to Nigeria’s national security, are enormous, and yet, Government behaves as if there is nothing or no threats.

The Domestic Aspect with Global Implication

First, Ambassador Zubairu Dada, from Niger State, as noted earlier, was appointed the Minister of State in the Foreign Ministry. The problem, however, is that the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), is against his appointment, arguing that the ambassador is not only a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but also vigorously campaigned against PMB during the last presidential election campaigns. According to the APC, aggrieved members may deflect to other parties in protest. This complaint was made before the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers. But they all have been sworn in as members of the cabinet but the underlying grievances are yet to be swept under the carpet.

In terms of foreign policy making, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs are not from the same political party. The former is an APC stalwart while the latter is of the PDP. Will there be conflict of interest? In other words, will the Minister of State be more of PDP or APC? As all the ministers are appointed on the basis of their ethnic and regional origin, will they be loyal the more to the Nigerian State or to their ethnic primordial interests? In the eyes of foreigners, it cannot but be a situation of a house divided against itself, and therefore, foreign policy attitude towards Nigeria cannot but have the potential of being that of divide and rule.

Whatever is the case, Nigeria’s many problems are internationally perceived to be a resultant of ethnic and regional chauvinism, and particularly of institutional corruption. Policy makers will need to go beyond parochial interests.

Secondly, PMB re-appointed himself the Minister of Petroleum Resources, representing Katsina State. Even though PMB would not be the first Nigerian leader to be president and also a minister simultaneously, the disturbing aspect of it is always the choice of being a minister of petroleum resources and not a minister of housing or sports and culture. Why petroleum resources and not another ministry?

One obvious reason is the fact of petroleum being the major foreign exchange earner for the country. It is the ministry where easy money can be made by anyone. Any serious president cannot but be interested therefore in seeking the control of such a ministry. As a military man, General Muhammadu Buhari was once a Minister of Petroleum Resources. Again, as President of Nigeria, he has also been Minister of Petroleum Resources since 2015. In which way does the responsibility of the office of the President not in conflict with that of the office of the Minister? In which way is PMB not the judge and solicitor in any petroleum question? Being the president, he is necessarily the number one citizen and he is at the crescendo. Also occupying the office of the Minister of Petroleum Resources unnecessarily lowers his status ranking. It is very belittling in whichever way it is looked at. There is no need for any mainmise by a president over what is frequently referred to as a juicy ministry.

The point being made here is that the position of General Muhammadu Buhari as President and Chief Commander, and at the same time a Minister constitutes a special structure and level of authority of its own that has implications for foreign policy but which is hardly taken seriously in practice. For instance, who determines resolution of disagreements between the president and the Minister of State?

Perhaps more disturbingly, PMB has asked all assigned ministers to report to his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, for those seeking rendez-vous with Mr. President and through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, for matters dealing with the Federal Executive Council. In the words of PMB, on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 at the end of the 2-day retreat organised for the new ministers, ‘in terms of coordinating communication, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channelled through the Chief of Staff, while all Federal Executive Council matters be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in order to speed up the process of decision-making.

Some critics have it that PMB’s directive unnecessarily empowers the Chief of Staff, who is not elected. As Yinka Odumakin, the spokesperson of the Southern and Middle Belt Leadership, has it that PMB ‘wants to reign as President. As a man that is reigning, he cannot be disturbed by matters of State, like ministers coming to disturb him and bringing files to him. So he has delegated that responsibility to the de facto prime minister, the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari.’ True, Odumakin has a point but it is equally true that PMB is aging, and therefore cannot but have weakening bones. It is a good thing to have a policy strategy that will enable him have respite and still get matters of state going on. As such, there is no way such a policy will not raise the status of whoever is the Chief of Staff. The truth is that someone must have the responsibility of book appointments for Mr. President.

In any case, the Chief of Staff is not the issue but how he will be related to the urgency that has always come with having to meet with Mr. President on foreign policy, that is, heads of diplomatic missions, who at times make courtesy visit to the President without going through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How will this be well coordinated? The ambassadors of the big powers have the attitude of sidetracking the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is not consistent with normal diplomatic practice. This should not be in the next four years.

Thirdly, Nigeria’s foreign policy in the area of self-determination, especially as it applies to the separatist movements in the country, is nothing to write home about. This brings us to the issue of increasing attacks on government officials abroad. The cases of Ike Ekweremadu former Deputy Senate President in Germany and Geoffrey Onyeama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in Austria should be major sources of national security concern.

As regards the case of Senator Ekweremadu, he was attacked in Nuremberg, Germany in August 2019 during his keynote address-giving at the Second Igbo New Yam Festival. He was duly invited to so do but he was eventually prevented from doing so by the IPOB militants. The attack was generally condemned. For instance, the leader of the Igbo socio-cultural group, President-General Chief John Nwodo, said ‘the assault on Ekweremadu by Igbos in Germany, described as IPOB, is disappointing, grotesque and dangerous for Igbo solidarity.’

Perhaps more disturbingly, Chief Nwodo says ‘this violent, rude, impertinent, divisive and discourteous style of IPOB or IPOB-instigated miscreants is damaging to our cause. It strengthens the case of those who describe them as terrorists and weaken our case against infringement of our fundamental human rights.’ In other words, Chief Nwodo cannot see any reason as to why there should have been any attack on Ekweremadu who ‘negotiated the sureties and securities for Nnamdi Kanu’s release on bail. He does not deserve this pickecting and disgrace to Igbo race.’

What is very clear in this statement is that there is disagreement over what the IPOB stands for and what the Ohanaeze, as an Igbo socio-cultural group believes in. In other words, should there be a sovereign state of Biafra or not? Perhaps more disturbingly, the IPOB elements made it clear in Nuremberg that it has agents in at least 100 countries of the world and that it would continue to launch attacks against public officials or Igbo leaders believed to be against the objective of Biafra. The attacks, the IPOB said, should be expected in any country such leaders and targeted politicians may be visiting.

Apart from the quest for a sovereign state of Biafra, the anger of the IPOB is that Igbo people are being killed by the Fulani, that their women are also being raped and that room should not be given for the celebration of any new yam festival. Although the German Polizei was brought in to quell the tension, the intervention could not be enough to stop the agitation for an autonomous State of Biafra. This is a major threat that PMB must give due attention. What is noteworthy is that the attack by the IPOB took place in the Embassy of Nigeria. The flag of the IPOB, which was outlawed as a terrorist organisation on September 18, 2017, under the Terrorism (Prevention) Act of 2013, was displayed in replacement of that of Nigeria. If the IPOB members are terrorists in Nigeria, are they so considered in many countries of Europe?

They operate as individual persons and not as an organisation. They claim to be Biafrans and not as holders of Nigerian passport. They either hold refugee status, or hold the nationality of their host countries, or still the status of the citizen of the world. This situation makes it difficult to really nip in the bud their activities. This is another major threat to Nigeria’s national security interest.

Fourthly, there is the dilemma of Nigeria-South African relations. It is the unnecessary xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. Very ridiculously, the Government of Nigeria has been giving various reasons of its commitment to protect Nigerians living legally in South Africa, and yet, after every expression of commitment, new killings are reported. From ordinary bilateral cooperation programme, we have not only moved to strategic cooperation level, but also to that of bi-national commission. Nigerians are being told by the Foreign Minister that the matter will now be held at the highest level of the authorities of both countries.

The question here is simple: if the Government of South Africa has not been able to successfully contain violent crimes back home why should it be expected that the case of Nigerians will be different and given priority? The Government of Nigeria has been told in the past that the African National Congress has the national wing and the international wing. The international wing members are those that the Government and people of Nigeria were accustomed to. Most unfortunately, most of them are no longer in government and have died. Those still alive are not in government. In fact, many of them see Nigerians in their country as having come to take their job opportunities. They see Nigerians simply as criminals.

Just in June 2019, Mrs. Uju Ndubuisi Chukwu, Deputy Director General of the Chartered Insurance Institute of Nigeria (CIIN) was brutally killed in her hotel room at Emperor Palace Hotel in Johannesburg. She died of ‘unnatural cause consistent with strangulation’ based on autopsy reports. As if this was not enough, the case of Mr. Tayo Faniran in late July 2019 was added to the unwarranted attacks on Nigerians. The video of the ruthlessness of the South African police meted out to Mr. Faniran shows the height of human wickedness vis-a-vis Mr. Faniran. But still good enough, the wickedness did not lead to his death like many others.

Again, in spite of the assurances by the Government of Nigeria, claiming to be on top of the situation, on Tuesday, August 20, 2019 another Nigerian, 46-year old Obinna Stanley Ayanele, was murdered in South Africa. As explained by the President of the Nigerian Union of South Africa (NUSA), Mr. Adetola Olubajo, Mr. Ayanele was accosted by some criminals at his shop in Krugersdorp, Johannesburg, in the evening of August 20. In the process, he was murdered in cold blood.’ Perhaps most wickedly, ‘he was brutally stabbed severally and they smashed his head with a hammer thereby leaving him in pool of his blood to bleed to death.’

No matter the criminal offence Ndubuisi Chukwu might have committed, he did not merit that type of killing. He cannot just be whisked away from his shop for whatever offence and be killed without giving room for his self-defence. This is a case of failure of foreign policy. Many of these cases occurred in the past four years under Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama. His reappointment as Foreign Minister must follow a new foreign policy direction. Nigeria’s relationship must be largely guided by the rule of reciprocity in all ramifications. Indeed, enough is enough.

Fifthly, there is the related challenge of the attitudinal disposition of Nigerians living abroad. Again, just last week, Thursday, August 22, 2019 a United States Court charged not less than 78 Nigerians for massive money laundering. They were accused of ‘planning to launder the funds through a Los Angeles-based money laundering network.

Put differently, why are Nigerians always killed in many countries of the world? Again, why is it that indigenes of an ethnic community, the Ndi Igbo, are always the target of people being killed? Are they consciously be set aside for killing? Is it about their behaviour? If it is so, what prevents a special enlightenment programme for Nigerians, and especially the Ibo people who are always the main target of attack? Foreign policy without a well-articulated agenda for protection of Nigerians is essentially good for nothing and a lost policy. Consequently, Nigeria requires a special foreign policy that will be very protective of Nigerians by force of desideratum.

Sixthly, the natural disaster, and perhaps the issue of global warming or climate change presents more dangerous security threats to Nigeria’s national security interest. According to Scott Snowden in his “Greenland’s Massive Ice Melt Wasn’t Supposed to Happen Until 2070,” the world ‘received yet another stark reminder of what’s yet to come, as temperatures at the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet rose above freezing and melt for the first time since 2012 and perhaps only the third time in the last 700 years. The glaciers-covered island lost 12.5 billion tons of ice in one day.’ In this regard, it is argued that the ice covering Greenland is about the same size as Alaska State and contains enough ice to raise sea level across the globe by more than 20 feet.

The fear as at today is that the ice in Antarctica is ten times that of Greenland. What will be the implication for the whole world in the event of global warming? For instance, from July 30 to August 3 about 55 billion tons melted and ran off from Greenland, that is, more than twice the average of past decades and 90% of its surface felt temperatures about

As noted by Josh Willis, an oceanographer with the NASA, ‘there is enough ice in Greenland to raise the sea levels by 7.5 meters, that’s about 25 feet, an enormous volume of ice, and that would be devastating to coastlines all around the planet. We should be retreating already from the coastline if we are looking at many meters lost in the next century or two.’

Learning from this, what is the situation with Nigeria’s coastlines? To what extent is Nigeria’s foreign policy making informed by academic research? Most unfortunately, the General Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos so bastardised the renowned government research institution, to the extent that it is now a shadow of itself. The Council not only destroyed discipline, by consciously dealing with professorial assessors and thereby creating Council enabled Professors rather than NIIA professors. What did Geoffrey Onyeama do as supervisory authority of the institute? Why did the then SGF keep quiet? True, the reappointment of Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama is nothing more than a new wine in an old bottle, simply meaning a continuity within change, and within a vicious circle. Consequently, the second term of PMB does not appear to have any good foundation for containing threats to national security and protection of Nigerians the world over. There is the urgent need for a special brainstorming session on grand foreign policy strategy for Nigeria, the formulation of which the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) should play prominent roles.