ARCAN’s Webinars and Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in the Next 60 Years: The Challenge of the Past

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Geoffrey Onyeama

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

ARCAN means Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria. It was first established and registered as Association of Retired Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARAN) with the Corporate Affairs Commission on August 7, 2003. In response to international diplomatic challenges in an increasing world of globalisation and in light of the need to underscore professionalism, the two branches of the association in Lagos and Abuja were merged and re-registered as ARCAN in October 2017, but the objectives remain the same: welfare of all its members, nation-building and sustaining national peace and security. It is within this cardinal objective that the webinar meetings organised so far by the ARCAN should be understood.

The ARCAN held its first annual lecture on Thursday, 13th September, 2018. The lecture, entitled ‘Democratic Control of Foreign Policy, was delivered by Professor Nuhu Yaqub at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (vide Vie Internationale of September 16, 2018 for the report of the lecture).

ARCAN’s first Webinar, entitled ”the Global Struggle for Racial Equality – Any Lessons for Nigeria’s Domestic and Foreign Policies: An Introductive Overview,” was held on June 22nd, 2020 at 12 noon, Nigerian time. There were six speakers: Odein Ajumogobia, SAN and former Foreign Affairs Minister of Nigeria; Professor George Obiozor, former NIIA Director-General and Former Ambassador of Nigeria to Israel and the United States; Professor Akin Oyebode, former Vice Chancellor of Ekiti State University; Cheikh Gadio, former Foreign Minister of Senegal; Associate Professor Bukola Adesina of the University of Ibadan; and Owei Lakemfa, a seasoned journalist and columnist with the Vanguard news papers.

One major rationale for the seminar was to contribute to the global effort at eradication of racism through public enlightenment. As explicated by the ARCAN, ‘the subjugation of fellow humans and the suppression of their rights to life and freedom, on account of race and skin colour, is considered a huge burden on the global moral conscience and its resuscitation in any form should be abhorred at all costs. Racism should be rejected in all its forms and ramifications, and condemned.’ More important, the ARCAN has it that ‘in spite of the concerted efforts to forge a common global humanity, based on equality of all regardless of race, colour, the ideal has remained elusive. Racism, very sadly, continues to raise its ugly head in various disconcerting forms, with serious consequences for peace and security.’ If racism continues to raise its ugly head, what is responsible for the recidivist character of the saga? Additionally, the ARCAN played host to Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s virtual lecture on ‘Post-COVID-19 Pandemic: New World Order Speculations,’ on Wednesday, 29th July, 2020 at 11.am.

ARCAN’s Mother of All Webinars
In celebration of Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary, the ARCAN organised five Special Webinars, which all put together, can be described as the mother of all Webinars on Nigeria at 60 celebrations nation-wide. The Webinars addressed critical issues in nation-building, in the past and next sixty years. The five intellectual engagements, with the theme, ‘Nigeria at 60, the Journey So Far: Nigeria, Democracy and Development,’ have been quite thought-provoking.

The first of the five anniversary webinars was held on September 22, 2020. Dr. Kingsley Muoghalu, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, gave a lecture on ‘Nationhood, Development and Democracy in Nigeria.’ The second lecture on ’60 Years of Nigeria’s Journey to Democracy: Hopes and Impediments’ was given on 24th September 2020 by Dr. Mathew Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Sokoto. Dr. Vanessa Iwowo, Visiting Fellow at The Firox Lalji Centre for Africa (FLCA), London School of Economics and Political Science and Lecturer at the University of London, spoke on Nigeria at 60: Leadership, Democracy and the Politics of Identity’ on September 28th, 2020. On September 29, 2020, it was the turn of Dr. Usman Bugaje, a political activist, civil society leader, and thinker to reflect on Democracy and Development: the Journey So Far.’

While the foregoing four speakers addressed the journey so far from various methodological perspectives, the last lecture by Professor William Alade Fawole of the Department of International Relations of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and a Member of the Nigerian Society of International Affairs, reflected on the future. This is the first main challenge of the Webinar. But what future?
Professor Fawole spoke on ‘Nigeria in International Affairs: Prognosis for the Next Sixty Years,’ on 6th October, 2020. This meant that the ARCAN made efforts to understand, not only what has transpired from 1960 to date, but also the determination to seek an understanding of the likely place of Nigeria from 2020 until 2080. It also meant that the ARCAN is not only seeking self-protection and protection of the national interest, but also building a knowledge-driven association.

In this regard, Professor Fawole raised many issues that generated much interest: feasibility of Nigeria’s permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); non-appreciation of Nigeria’s altruistic roles in the defence of Africa’s interests and black dignity; post-American World Order or the inevitability of a New World Order; how to rejig the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a foreign policy instrument; relevance or irrelevance of Africa as centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy; and the triangular axis of relationship between France and Francophone West Africa, relationship between Nigeria and Francophone West Africa and the place of France in the relationship between the Francophone and Anglophone States within the framework of the ECOWAS.

First, on Nigeria’s permanent membership of the UNSC, Professor Fawole submitted that ‘Nigeria’s aspiration for a permanent seat at the Security Council is unrealizable … because the self-appointed guardians of international order, that is, the Five Permanent Members, are united in their unwillingness to share the power and privileges they have monopolised since the foundation of the United Nations…, and have therefore deliberately stalled the reform agenda recommended by the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change (2005).’

Furthermore, in the eyes of Professor Fawole, the non-feasibility of Nigeria’s aspiration is also explained by ‘the competition that Nigeria is likely to face from fellow African States who might either be interested in the seat or willing to play spoiler at the behest of foreign interests.’ He argued that the Ezulwini Consensus, in addition to Africa’s insistence on veto power for the would-be African permanent members, cannot be helpful to Nigeria’s aspiration.

Without any scintilla of doubt, the argument of non-feasibility of Nigeria’s aspiration is intellectually tenable in light of Articles 108 and 109 of the United Nations Charter, both of which require the consensus of the Five Permanent Members of the UNSC before the Charter can be amended. This is quite different from the geo-political rationales already rightly given by Professor Fawole.

As provided in Article 108 of the Charter, ‘amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two-thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the Permanent Members of the Security Council.’

There are three critical points to be noted in this provision: the words ‘adoption’, ‘ratified’ and ‘including all the permanent members of the Security Council.’ In the same vein, as we shall see hereunder under Article 109 (1), Article 108 talks about ‘amendment,’ while the Charter talks about ‘reviewing’ in Article 109. In law, reviewing, amending, adopting, modifying, etc, do not have the same implications in terms of their meanings. Even the word ‘adopt’ is very ambiguous and of various types in family law: direct adoption, open adoption, equitable adoption, cooperative adoption, adoption by will, adoption by estoppel, black market adoption, closed adoption, international adoption, etc.

The notion of adoption in parliamentary law, which is closed to the intended meaning of the UN Charter, is that of acceptance and consent. Bryan A. Garner, the Editor-in-Chief of the Black’s Law Dictionary, has it that ‘as applied to an assembly’s action with respect to board or committee reports or any of their contents, the expressions ‘adopt’, ‘accept,’ and ‘agree to’ are all equivalent – that is, the text adopted becomes in effect the act or statement of the assembly. It is the least likely to be misunderstood.’ The implication of the use of ‘adopt’ is to underscore the point that whatever is to be adopted must be agreed to by the Permanent- 5 of the UNSC. This is the meaning of ‘including all the permanent members…’

In international law, ‘ratification,’ is also an approval and consent of a signatory to a treaty to be obligated by the treaty. As a process, it is the final stage of expression of consent to abide with the obligations created by a treaty in the spirit of the principle of sanctity of agreements. While ratification process may be the last stage for Monist countries, it is not so for the Dualist countries like Nigeria, which still require domestication for a ratified agreement to become enforceable.

In Article 109 (1), ‘a General Conference of the Members of the United Nations for the purpose of reviewing the present Charter may be held at a date and place to be fixed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the General Assembly and by vote of any seven members of the Security Council. Each Member of the United Nations shall have one vote in the conference. In paragraph 2 of the same Article, ‘any alteration of the present Charter recommended by a two-thirds vote of the conference shall take effect when ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two-thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the Permanent Members of the Security Council.’

Even in Article 109 (3), ‘if such a conference has not been held before the tenth annual session of the General Assembly following the coming into force of the present Charter, the proposal to call such a conference shall be placed on the agenda of that session of the General Assembly, and the conference shall be held if so decided by a majority vote of any seven members of the Security Council.’

The relevance of the following explication is that adoption is often the first leg of consent giving in the continuum of treaty obligation, coming before ratification. The problem with Articles 108 and 109 is that the provisions empower the P-5 to be or not to be obligated to accept any attempt to review, amend, alter, modify, etc, the UN Charter. Again, while an amendment or alteration can apply to a part of an agreement, to modify necessarily involves a substantial part of the agreement. Consequently, the problem for the P-5 in accepting democratic reform of the United Nations begins with the uncertainty over whether a review or amendment will be little or substantial. The P-5 are not interested in any substantial amendment to the UN Charter. If we consider Professor Fawole’s reasons for the non-feasibility of Nigeria’s aspiration along with the statutory requirements for amendment of the Charter, Professor Fawole cannot but be correct.

However, we believe that the ratio decidendi for what is considered for failure of Africa to make progress is not, stricto sensu, the Ezulwini Consensus. While there can be no disputing the fact that the African Union was divided against itself at home, the big powers have a completely different agenda. This point will now be discussed within the context of other issues raised and in the context of the next sixty years.

Nigeria in the Next Sixty Years
There is no reason why Nigeria should not be a Permanent Member of the UNSC in the next sixty years. In other words, Nigeria’s aspiration is quite feasible now and in the foreseeable future contrary to many scholarly predictions, including the viewpoint of Professor Fawole and Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the veteran diplomatist and international functionary. First, even though the African leaders initially wanted five seats for Africa, in such a way that each region would have a seat, the big powers have considered that the number would be unwieldy and were more favourable to only two for Africa. This was before the question of permanent membership with veto or without veto was raised.

In this regard, the United States specifically wanted the Arab world to be considered and given a seat on the UNSC. The United States also wanted a seat for Japan, especially in light of her substantial financial contributions towards UN Peace Support Operations. The same is also true for Germany. The problem at the level of the Arab world is that it does not qualify as a region of the world. Representation on the UNSC is first defined by the factor of regionalisation. Another criterion is the extent of contributions to international peacekeeping missions. There is also the criterion of financial weighted principle, that is, how much is contributed to the maintenance of international peace and security.

Without doubt, the strategic calculation of the United States in balancing the non-eligibility of the Arab world and consideration of seats for the African region was to argue that Egypt is not only part and parcel of the Arab world, but also an important African country. By implication, one of the two seats earmarked for Africa is to be given to Egypt while the other seat is to be contested for by Nigeria and South Africa. This was one rationale for the hostile attacks on Nigeria’s handling of the issue by Egypt.

When President Olusegun Obasanjo was Chairman of the African Union and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji chaired the AU Council of Ministers, a Committee of Ten, that is, two representatives from each region of Africa, was set up to discuss the matter of permanent representation of Africa on the UNSC. Nigeria considered that the issue of veto was not only very controversial but also very problematic, and therefore, suggested that efforts should first be made to become a permanent member and then take advantage of such first membership to fight within the UNSC for the right of veto as a second step. Egypt, where public criticism of the President is prohibited, not only maliciously misrepresented the truth, launched campaigns of calumny against Nigeria. Egypt did so, thanks to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, by using the instrumentality of an international press conference.

And true enough, I wrote in this column to present the exact truth about President Obasanjo’s very honest commitment to the AU agenda as agreed to, rather than to any Nigerian agenda. Nigeria’s ambassador to Egypt by then, H.E. Mr. Ghali, was summoned by the Home Ministry in Cairo to inquire about what informed my article. A diplomatic row was generated and the dust is yet to settle, as the agenda to have a seat for Egypt is still much alive and still has little or nothing to do with the disagreement over having a right to veto or not. In fact, it was Gaddafi’s Libya that kick-started the argument that if permanent seats would be given to Africa, the right of veto must also be conceded. This was the background to the Ezulwini Consensus.

In terms of implications for Nigeria’s aspiration and feasibility, Nigeria’s diplomatic engagement should be oriented towards preventing the taking away of any seat meant for Africa and given to the Arab world. Put differently, by virtue of the fact that Nigeria is the world headquarters of the Black people of the world, any seats for Africa should be for black Africa and the whole black people of the world, in the same way the Arab people are being given special sympathy. Apart from Nigeria’s contribution to UN peace support activities and also making financial contributions, though lesser than other competitors, Nigeria is the only and most eligible country to defend African and Black interest in the world, and therefore should naturally be given a seat on merit. This is very commonsensical, and more so for having Africa as the centrepiece of her foreign policy.

On the issue of non-appreciation of Nigeria’s altruistic roles in the defence of Africa’s interests and black dignity, some observers have noted that foreign policy is not about giving and taking, or that Nigeria’s interests are still being served, even if Nigeria’s altruistic support to many countries is not being appreciated. These observers are missing the point: if a country is assisted by Nigeria without conditionality, but the same assisted country openly adopts a hostile policy towards Nigeria, the rule of reciprocal treatment should be considered in response. There must be meaning to the notion of a ‘big brother,’ good neighbourly policies must also beget good neighbourliness.

Third, regarding the issue of post-American World Order or the inevitability of a New World Order, the new World Order is already emerging and some of its dynamics are Sino-American rivalry, post-COVID-19 politics, response to climate change and technology sophistication. The Challenge for Nigeria is first how to respond to the AU Agenda 2063, and how to also prepare for her own centenary as a sovereign nation-state. Responding to the challenges of the emerging new world order cannot but be a resultant of political stability and economic vibrancy at the domestic level. In this regard, we do agree with Professor Fawole that there is the need to rejig the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a foreign policy instrument. There is not only the need for a Foreign Service Commission, there is also the need to have a Foreign Affairs Council to lead and promote citizen diplomacy.

Fourth, as regards the relevance or irrelevance of Africa as centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy, our position is that there is neither any beauty or goodness in Africa as centrepiece or in globalocentricism as once suggested by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, if it is not predicated on Nigerianocentricism to begin with. This is where Professor Agboola Gambari’s foreign policy concentricism is quite apt
Fifth, and perhaps most thought-provokingly, is the triangular axis of relationship between France and Francophone West Africa, between Nigeria and Francophone West Africa and the place of France in the relationship between the Francophone and Anglophone States within the ECOWAS framework.

One specific question on whether it would be possible to detach the Francophone States from towing the French line, opinion was sharply divided. My view, contrarily to the popular view that there is no permanent friend or enemy but permanent interests, is that the idea of detachment should be ruled out simply because there can be permanent friends and permanent enemies on the basis of permanent interest. For instance, France’s policy in Francophone Africa, particularly in West and Central Africa is to prevent Nigeria from influencing them against French interest in Africa and Nigeria’s policy on France is the same. As all the neighbours of Nigeria are Francophone and having solid ties with France, whose presence is very strong in the sub-region, Nigeria and France cannot but for now and in the foreseeable future relate on the basis of mutual suspicions. The permanency of the interest of both countries is mutual suspicion, and therefore, their permanent interest. Consequently, for as long as France continues to considerably sustain the public service and the economy of many countries, consideration of any detachment will, at best, remain a dream. Nigeria therefore needs a re-strategy.