By Bola A. Akinterinwa
The Africa Centre for Strategic Studies (ACSS) held its second edition of its Webinar Series on Thursday, 24th September, 2020 from 11am to 1pm Nigerian time. The theme was ‘The Impact of International Relations and Diplomacy in Promoting National Security and Development.’ It was moderated by Richard Ali, lawyer, writer and Programme Manager of the Association of Nigerian Authors Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism. The Webinar was quite important and very thought-provoking for various reasons.
First, the Webinar was organised against the background of the 2018 Brookings Institute’s recognition of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. In the eyes of the ACSS, ‘in spite of the obvious potential to transform into one of twenty strongest economies in the world as projected in her 20-2020 vision, Nigeria’s human development indices remain very weak.’ How should these weak indices be addressed or enhanced? This is one major rationale for the webinar.
Second, it was organised as a solution-finding to the deepening situation of insecurity in the country: quests for self-determination, Boko Haramism, ISWAP, banditry, transnational organised crimes, kidnapping, farmers-herdsmen conflict, etc. As explained by the ACSS, ‘the various strategies deployed so far to resolve this hydra-headed problem have not yet yielded sustainable results.’ If this is so, what should be done what is the alternative approach to the myriad of problems? The Webinar has one of its raison d’être in the quest for solutions.
Third is the nexus between the subject to be discussed and the speaker. It was made clear that the speakers were not only speaking on the basis of their professional expertise, but mostly from their experiential knowledge. For instance, the first speaker, Rear Admiral (rtd) Jimi Osinowo, served for 38 years in the Armed Forces of Nigeria before he retired. He was part of the United Nations Peace-keeping Mission to the former Yugoslavia. Apart from that, he was not only involved in the development of the African Union Integrated Maritime Strategy and Implementation of the ECOWAS Integrated Maritime Strategy, but was also Flag Officer Commanding Naval Training Command and has been decorated by the Armed Forces of Nigeria, the United Nations and the United States President. Thus, he was eminently qualified to speak on regional security and insecurity.
In the same vein, the second speaker was Zainab Ali Kotoko, a French translator, interpreter and Foreign Service Officer for more than two decades, who has served as Personal Assistant to the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Special Assistant to the First Lady, as well as served as Director of Protocol to the President of Nigeria. She is currently the Executive Secretary of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), which is part of the African Union Peace and Security architecture. Her paper was on ‘The Impact of Communication Revolution and Public Opinion on International Relations and Diplomacy.’
Fourth, and perhaps more importantly, the Webinar wants the use of international relations to address domestic problems and this is quite interesting.
Diplomacy as Means of Solution
The conventional belief is that a country cannot operate efficiently, impact on international relations if the domestic setting is not constructively put in order. From the perspective of the ACSS, nothing prevents the use of the international environment to impact on the national environment, especially in terms of ensuring national security. The ACSS explains this point thus: ‘given the centrality of security in International Relations and Diplomacy, on one hand, and the impact of security on development on another, this Webinar … focus(es) on interrogating Nigeria’s management of her regional, continental and international influence to restore security in the country, as well as mobilize resources towards economic and social development.’
Put differently, to what extent has the conduct and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy and relations impacted on the restoration of security and socio-economic development? Has Government made good efforts to mobilise resources towards ensuring national security and socio-economic development? Can the Government of Nigeria truly take advantage of international relations, translate it into an instrument of national security and development? Whatever is the case, the ultimate objective of the Webinar is not only to highlight and sharpen the understanding of international relations and diplomacy, as a tool of possible development, but also to use it as an instrument for enhancing national security and development.
Consequently, this objective of the Webinar necessarily raises Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s theory of Foreign Policy Concentric Circles and Ambassador Olu Adeniji’s own theory of Constructive and Beneficial Concentricism. Professor Gambari argued that Nigeria’s foreign policy should be executed on the basis of prioritised concentric circles. In this regard, Nigeria and the immediate neighbours, because Nigeria’s interests are considered intertwined with those of the contiguous neighbours, should constitute the innermost circle. It is the first and most important circle. The West African region is second, while the rest of Africa is third, and the global community or the whole world is the fourth in terms of priority.
Ambassador Olu Adeniji agrees with this classification of foreign policy operational areas but opined that what is more important is not the classification in itself, but the articulation of the national interest at stake in each concentric circle and that has to be pursued. Consequently, Ambassador Adeniji argued that the pursuit of foreign policy must be constructive in design and beneficial in outcome to all Nigerians. Has this been so? If it has not, why has it not been so? Let us espy the situation at the level of the challenges to national security and development.
As noted above, Rear Admiral Osinowo provided an ‘Assessment of the Impact of Regional and Continental Engagements on National Security and Development which served as a prolegomena to the other two papers by Madam Zainab Ali Kotoko and Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa. Rear Admiral Osinowo underscored the security and development challenges within the context of Nigeria’s role in the ECOWAS region, African Union, and African Development Bank. He raised a number of issues and also identified a number of challenges to be addressed.
For instance, he not only gave an overview of Nigeria’s security and development interests, but also discussed some critical issues relating to the frailty of corporate governance, democratic governance and funding of security and development. Under the frailty of corporate governance, he raised the issue of the need for continuity of programmes and policies. Without doubt, governments come in and go away but there is always the problem of communication gap between the outgoing and the incoming government. New government is hardly inspired by what had been done by its immediate past predecessor. In this regard, he also raised the questions of limited profiling capacity and poor institutional memory. And true, why would there be any institutional memory when there is no culture of record keeping and ensuring changes in continuity? There can be changes of government but there must be sustainability of policies.
Rear Admiral (rtd) Osinowo noted under democratic governance the issue of growth versus sustenance by reminding that in 1920, Nigeria’s population was only 17 million, about 206 million in 2020, and expectedly, 444 million by 2050. It is useful to ask here the extent to which President Muhammadu Buhari’s (PMB) Agenda 2025 will be looking at this demographic challenge.
And perhaps more interestingly, Rear Admiral Osinowo noted under his analysis of the cost of security and development that the ratio of security personnel to the population was 1.1 to 1000; that the military industrial complex was poor; and that the cost of maritime security was $10 pbl, thus raising the question of sustainability and the need for urgent strategic push.
In looking forward to betters days to come, he advocates a think tank mechanism, and review of the Diaspora policy and implementation. As he put it, ‘Nigeria’s impact in the regional and continental arena exists and disappears with relative quality of economic, demographic and military capabilities.” And more significantly, he has it that ‘in a futuristic sense, Nigeria’s foreign engagements and perception would be steered largely by activities of the informal Diaspora, spurred by economic emigration across the region and the continent.’ Nigeria therefore ‘needs to match internal interrogatory capacity with foreign posture.’ This point underscores the importance of the international environment in the quest to objectively address domestic questions. Zainab Kotoko gave further impetus to this submission by looking at the impact of the Communication Revolution.
According to her, the Communication Revolution has changed international relations in the area of media of information, especially in light of the limitless platforms offered by the internet. Madam Kotoko noted a shift in the conduct of International Relations at two levels. As she put it, ‘it has led to the generation of new types of diplomacy, namely, public, people and virtual diplomacy. These have subsequently led to shift of emphasis from power politics to image politics. This effect can be summed up in John Kennedy’s words, when he said a videotape is more potent than ten thousand words.’
A second shift in the conduct of International Relations is that Communication Revolution ‘has led to the elevation of the individual’s voice in the public space, thereby making it increasingly possible for citizens to engage in a field that has since time immemorial been a preserve of foreign policy experts. In this regard, citizens’ opinions have become major constraints in the conduct of International Relations and Diplomacy.”
Kotoko explicated in many ways how the communication revolution has impacted on Nigeria: the beaming to the world of the 2008 and 2019 xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa, media reports of mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana and in China, as well as a video on stranded Nigerians in Dubai that went viral.
In the strong belief that ‘in today’s world with advanced information technology, the general public is unquestionably better informed on matters concerning both domestic and foreign affairs, shaping their opinions in the process,’ Kotoko affirms in conclusion that evolution of ICT cannot but continue ‘to influence how humans interact and also how States conduct their affairs. As such, our thoughts, ideas and mind set will also be affected. Consequently, Government’s strategic planners must pay attention to communication revolution and public opinion.
But how do we situate such a strategic planning in the context of the post-COVID-19
World Order? This now brings us to the third paper on ‘Nigeria’s Role in Shaping the Emerging Post-COVID-19 World Order’ by Professor Bola Akinterinwa.
Shaping the Post-COVID World Order
Professor Akinterinwa observed that there is uncertainty about when the COVID era, including the COVID that began in 2002, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Corona Virus (SARS-CoV) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), will come to an end, as they are yet to be completely done away with. In fact, COVID-19 is still subject of intensive research and no one is currently in the position to know when there will be cure for it, in spite of the efforts to quickly develop vaccines. The implication is that the discussion of Nigeria’s role in any post-COVID era or World Order can only be done on the basis of a specific starting period, conjectural methodology, and on the basis of predictable routine events.
He also noted that a government that is not respected at home for good governance cannot be duly respected abroad. A non-respected country is also not likely to be listened to internationally, and therefore, not likely to be able to play any meaningful role in shaping international political governance and any World Order for the purposes of national security and development. In this regard, he argued that Nigeria’s domestic setting must first be free of political chicanery, agitation for self-determination and other existing centrifugal factors.
He identified many issues to be firstly addressed and removed at the domestic level:
fear of Fulanisation as a dynamic of national insecurity, fear of Islamisation and Herdsmen as a dynamic of national insecurity, and fear of Herdsmen as instrument of Fulanisation. The perception of President Buhari by many Nigerians as no more a President of Nigeria but as the President of the Fulanis, or his perception that he bothers less about public opinions and suggestions that he should sack his Service Chiefs, as well as the perception of nepotism in him, must also be first removed to facilitate Nigeria’s role in shaping the COVID-19 World Order..
At the regional and continental levels, there is animosity vis-à-vis Nigerians in Ghana and in South Africa. As regards Ghana, the expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana dates back to 1931 when a law was enacted to that effect. Few months after the independence of Ghana on March 6, 1957, some Nigerians were also expelled. In both cases, the expulsions were on the basis of complaints by Ghanaians. In this case, there is the need to evolve a Diplomacy of Mutual, Official Apology for the mutual expulsion of their citizens in 1969 and 1983 respectively.
Regarding South Africa, the animosity vis-à-vis Nigerians in South Africa is most unfortunate in light of the fact that it was Nigeria that spearheaded the anti-Apartheid struggle in Africa and worldwide. There is no way any reasonable African can rightly justify xenophobic attack on Nigerians in South Africa in light of Nigeria’s status of Frontline State in the war against apartheid. Consequently, there is the need to organise a special week-long, international conference on Nigeria-South African Relations, from 1960 to 2020, with the ultimate objective of placing on record Nigeria’s active support in all ramifications during the Anti-Apartheid Struggle. The South African xenophobic attacks on Nigerians is mainly because Nigeria’s role in the anti-Apartheid struggle was little known by the younger generation of South Africans.
Additionally, he suggested the need to introduce Community Citizenship Diplomacy which can involve the ACSS, the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN), West African Guild of Editors, Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL), the Nigerian Society of International Affairs, Nigerian Academy of Social Science, etc, as pilot schemes. In fact, Nigeria should also promote more of people-to-people integration to the detriment of government-to-government integration. And more importantly, peace abroad is security at home. Hence, Nigeria should seek to contain insecurity abroad in the region before its spread to Nigeria. This was one defence doctrine that informed Nigeria’s intervention in both Liberia and Sierra Leone.
At the Global Level, efforts at role playing should first be concretised. He made six suggestions in this regard. First is the establishment of an African Medical Village in Nigeria for purposes of (COVID-19) and beyond. In the way Saudi Arabia and Israel play host to Muslim and Christian pilgrimages, Nigeria should construct a world-standard, first of its kind, medical research centre, with specialisations in critical tropical diseases, and to where leading medical scholars, particularly Africans in Diaspora, can be invited to spend their sabbatical year, carry out research and add value to existing knowledge. Traditional medicine, from the experiences of all African countries should be coodinated and given priority attention. This cannot but pave a good leeway for a positive role playing and shaping of whichever world order that will eventually emerge;
Second, there is the need for an Alternative Observatory Station (COVID-19). As black Africans have been discovered to have a more resistant immune system, a recognition that has prompted the WHO to want to make Nigeria play host to an observatory for genome research and seroprevalence test, Nigerian scientists and medical professionals must be involved in all ramifications of whatever research and test that is scheduled to take place. Besides, Government should consider establishing a standard observatory station that will serve as a reference centre in Nigeria.
Third is the need to adopt Citizen Diplomacy as a Complement of Official Diplomacy (Politico-economic). Diplomacy is either considered as an art or as a discipline of study. As an art, it is a technique of relationship and negotiation, generally considered as the preserve of Government. But there are also many ways of bringing people together in addition to official diplomacy, all of which have been grouped under multi-track diplomacy. Official diplomacy is considered as Track One Diplomacy. Unofficial diplomacy, involving professional conflict resolution processes, is Track Two Diplomacy. Citizen exchanges (lecturers, professionals, etc), public opinions and communication programmes, international research, education and training efforts; activism; and contacts and exchanges between religious leaders and followers are other channels of conducting diplomacy.
In this regard, Citizen Diplomacy, as propounded by Chief Ojo aduekwe, cannot but go a very long way in facilitating a role-playing by Nigeria in the post-COVID 19 World Order. Citizen Diplomacy can be an objective, a technique of relationship, a policy consequence, a constitutional requirement, an international life, means of re-branding Nigeria, and more importantly, a means of attaining higher objectives.
Fourth is the need to revisit Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s Concert of Medium Powers for influence politics (politico-economic). Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi came up in 1987, when he was Foreign Minister, with the idea of a Concert of Medium Powers, comprising 16 (sixteen) countries (Nigeria the convener and the host, Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Senegal, Sweden, Switzerland, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia).
The ultimate objective was to use the medium to consolidate Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa, as well as use it to open the international door for Nigeria, as a regional power, to be constructively more involved in the conduct and management of international affairs. The Concert held some meetings and had to change its name to Lagos Forum for fears of being seen as seeking to directly challenge the major powers, rather than as an instrument of soft power to seek relevance and prevent being discriminated against. There is the need to revisit the idea of the Lagos Forum.
Fifth is the need for an Immediate and Rapid Rollout of Reliable Deployment of Broadband Services as Instrument of Role Playing (Communication revolution and security).
One major lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is the necessity to begin to manage life and business activities online, thus compelling giving greater importance and attention to ICT. Put differently, the Nigerian digital economy policy is aimed at accelerating economic growth and promoting social inclusion.
This policy is envisioned to offer Nigeria the opportunity to grow and diversify its economy from the overdependence on oil and gas. According to the NCC report, it was envisioned in the digital economy policy that the ‘rapid rollout of broadband services will address various socio-economic challenges faced by the country, including the need to grow its economy, create jobs, rapidly expand the tax base, and improve digital literacy and educational standards.
This will also address identity management and security challenges through the effective use of technology, increase financial inclusion and deliver a broad range of services to its people to improve the quality of life and work towards attainment of Social Development Goals set by the UN for 2030.’ However, the situational reality is that internet connectivity is still largely unreliable in Nigeria.
Therefore, in the eyes of Dr. Tunde Emmanuel of the Lead City University, Ibadan, for Nigeria to toll the path of economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 world order, there is the urgent need for immediate and rapid rollout of broadband services for efficient telemedicine (e-health), e-learning, e-governance, e-commerce, etc, at affordable rates.
And sixth, there is the need for revision of Global Internet Governance Policy to suit the Post-COVID-19 Dispensation (Communication revolution and Security). A working definition of Internet governance, according to paragraph 34 of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Tunis Agenda 2005, was given as ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.’ Internet governance is perhaps the most contentious issue of the emerging information society and COVID-19era.
This has majorly led to internet censorship. In order to restrict access to, or prevent the publication of certain types of information on the Internet, governments around the world, Nigeria inclusive, are employing a variety of technical and legal tools to block websites and platforms and to remove online content, as well as enactment of laws to censor the social media under different guises.
However, in the post-COVID-19 World Order, there is the need to alsopromote the use of social media network and services by enacting laws and formulating policies that promote the utilisation of internet for national development, rather than sponsoring bills that are anti-social media.
In concluding, Professor Akinterinwa noted that the way politics is played in Nigeria does not allow for international respect, and therefore makes any role playing in defence of Africa quite difficult. A candidate presented to the public as a thief in 2016 became an angel in 2020 and contested in a gubernatorial election. A public servant suspended and found guilty is given a letter of appreciation by the Federal Government for his services. These developments necessarily subject Nigeria’s Foreign Service Officers to ridicule when called upon to defend their country. Boko haramism and other threats to national unity and economic setbacks cannot also be helpful to any role playing.
More importantly, institutional corruption, violations of human rights, disrespect for the rule of law are not helpful to any role playing. When all these issues are sorted out, Nigeria will be eligible and able to provide leadership by example in Africa. Besides, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s Consultation Doctrine and idea of Concert of Medium Powers, coupled with the application of the principle of reciprocity, should be revisited as they constitute instruments of acquisition of national greatness and respect. And as noted by the ACSS Vice President, Mrs. Florence Iheme, in her vote of thanks, there is the need to look at how current global developments will impact on Nigeria.