In Search of Nigeria’s Voice



“Nkan ti a ba ni gba l’olowo, talika ni a ti nko”. (You had better reject as a poor man what you would find unacceptable as a rich man.) – A Yoruba saying.

Former Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Gadio threw a challenge two days ago at a webinar that should interest Nigerians as they ponder worsening internal problems and the place of their nation in the world.
Gadio said that the debate was virtually settled about the leadership position of Nigeria in Africa. The challenge, according to the tested pan-Africanist, is for Nigeria to rise up to the occasion and give a voice to the condition of Africa and the black world.

Obviously overwhelmed by the problems at home, even some of those whose business is to think and produce knowledge sometimes seem to suggest that bothering about “external issues” is a luxury Nigeria cannot afford at the present.
In contrast to this perspective, the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) is drawing attention to these global developments and thinking about what should be the appropriate response.

In the discussion of the many problems of Nigeria, it is not often realised that independent bodies such as ARCAN constitute veritable reservoirs of ideas for proper policy conception and articulation.
Just imagine the goldmine of ideas embodied in a well -organised platform of technocrats (in the true sense of the word!) who have garnered experiences globally while they served the country professionally.

Unfortunately, the government does not optimise the use of the abundance of moral and intellectual resources from Nigerian think tanks and other organised bodies including even the ones established by laws and publicly funded.
Politicians in power are more comfortable with the opinions of foreign consultants and the ratings of foreign experts.

A statement made by a former American ambassador who served in Nigeria for two years would likely be taken more seriously than a position paper put together by a Nigerian professional body on any issue.
It was indeed a harvest of ideas on Monday as ARCAN staged the debut of its seminar series. The theme explored was this: “The Global Struggle for Racial Equality: Any Lessons for Nigeria’s Domestic and Foreign Policies.”
Now, there is the resurgence of racial injustice against black people around the world.
The resistance to this iniquitous trend is global.

Curiously, however, there is a discomforting silence from Africa on this development.
Nigeria’s voice is notably absent.
Gadio was a panellist at the webinar moderated by Ambassador Joe Keshi, second vice president of ARCAN, who retired as a permanent secretary from the ministry of foreign affairs.

Other eminent members of the panel assembled to interrogate issues were Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, former foreign minister; Professor George Obiozor, former Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States of America and Israel; Professor Akin Oyebode of the faculty of Law, University of Lagos; Associate Professor Bukola Adesina of the University of Ibadan and Mr. Owei Lakemfa, a progressive journalist and labour leader.

There have been protests and other forms of reactions against racial injustice and inequality in different parts of the world since the death of an African American, George Floyd, a victim of police brutality in Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.

Some analysts have attributed the silence from the home of black people, Africa, to the fact that African countries have skeletons in their cupboard in matters of social injustice, according to Keshi. But he quickly added that African countries are not the only ones burdened with internal issues.

As the topic was rigorously dissected, multiple perspectives inexorably emerged. However, a common thread was that Africa should look inward to see why it could not find its voice when a global campaign is raging that “ black lives matter.” Even in declarations against racism, African governments are shy to mention the name of the United States.

Different explanations came up in the webinar. Speaking from Dakar, Senegal, Gadio emphasised the importance of pan-Africanism. At least his pan-Africanist political party in Senegal issued a statement and he spoke in a programme on Radio France International against racism. Gadio agreed with others on the need for Africa to focus on internal development so that its voice could be strengthened in the global arena. He suggested a pan-Africanist approach with Nigeria as the leader.

Others introduced angles to the topic that are also very relevant to the present and the future. Ajumogobia pinpointed “credibility.” According to him, it was because Nigeria had credibility in early 1960s that former Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa addressed the U.S. congress to a great applause. There was hope and confidence in the air about the future at that time. There was also enough credibility for Nigeria to be taken seriously.
Similarly, Nigeria played a frontline role in supporting the liberation struggles in southern Africa because it had the immense credibility to do so, according to the former foreign minister. Ajumogobia recalled that the first foreign minister, Jaja Nwachukwu, was fond of saying that “charity begins at home.”

For Obiozor, at the root of the problem is the tendency for Nigeria “to put forward Lilliputians in a game of giants.”
Oyebode underlined the dialectical link between good governance at home and respectable image abroad in the dictum that “as domestic policy goes, so the foreign policy.” He reminded the forum that Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe spoke about the “manifest destiny” of Nigeria, a point the former Senegalese foreign minister seemed to have now reiterated.
Adesina emphasised that it would be difficult to mobilise the victims of injustice at home for solidarity with the black people who are victims of racial injustice elsewhere.

Lakemfa traced the lack of capacity to mobilise for solidarity against injustice to the disruption in the political economy caused by the structural adjustment programme in the 1980s. Labour, students and progressive intellectuals have lost the capacity to focus on the larger issues of social justice, freedom and the dignity of the human person. He added that the spirit of pan-Africanism, which was alive in the early decades of independence, has been weakened by the upsurge of xenophobia in South Africa and other parts of the continent.

Scores of Nigerians have been killed in South Africa by black xenophobes.
The response from South African leaders have never been decisive in curbing the barbarism. Pan-Africanism cannot flourish in such a killing field. How can the victims of xenophobic attacks be in solidarity with their attackers for whatever purpose? That would be difficult to achieve. It is even more ironic when the country of the victim supported the fight for the freedom of the country of the attacker.

Yet, this was the same continent for which Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was advocating in 1963 one African government. Africa once had leaders with vision.
Mauritania only abolished slavery officially in 1981. Traces of slavery are still being reported in parts of the continent.

Morocco is still blocking the path of the people of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in their quest for statehood.
In the particular case of Nigeria, the facts of crisis of governance and socio-economic and political underdevelopment are too obvious to require here further elaboration. While blacks in America and Europe are confronted with racism, Nigerian politics is riven by ethnic contradictions and manipulations. Not a few perceive ethnic discrimination, prejudice and hatred as local equivalents of racism. Poverty and inequality constitute the lot of a majority of the people. These societal scourges are laced with the social toxins of injustice, lack of respect human dignity and denial of freedom. Insecurity defines people’s daily lives in many parts of the country. Some parts of Nigeria are practically ungovernable territories due to a noxious mixture of the activities of terrorists and bandits. Thousands have been killed. Millions are still displaced.

Yet, Nigeria has the largest concentration of black people in the world. So, something is definitely wrong if Nigeria’s voice is lost in the global campaign against racial injustice against black people.
As the Yoruba epigram above puts it, you don’t have to wait until you are materially endowed to assert your human dignity. Internal problems cannot be a sufficient excuse for this loss of moral direction and lack of a sense of history in the way the 21st Century Nigeria sees the world.

Development is not only in economic terms. There are also moral, cultural and intellectual aspects of development at the intangible level. Nigeria was certainly not developed when it was known globally as a “frontline state” in the anti-colonial struggles in southern Africa . Nigeria was politically and diplomatically considered a “frontline state, ” although this West African country is geographically miles away from southern Africa.

The pull then was the influence of the pan-Africanist ideology which is consistent with the promotion of human solidarity, social justice and human progress. That was when Nigeria was the Mecca for freedom fighters and leaders of the liberation movements. Some of those to whom that Nigeria played host in the 1960s and 1970s later became presidents in their countries.

Looking back at what has been rightly described as the golden age of Nigeria’s foreign policy, it is certainly retrogressive that Nigeria is now silent when the condition of the black man in the diaspora is in focus.
To reverse this trend of silence when Nigeria’s voice should be loud, the country’s foreign policy has to be imbued with a sense of mission and historic purpose.
This, of course, has to be rooted in social justice, people-centred development and popular democracy at home.