Huffs and Puffs of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Misdirection: ECOWAS, Liberia and Niger’s Braggadocio


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

The expression, ‘huffs and puffs,’ is traceable to the 16th century, when huff meant ‘to emit puffs of breath in anger,’ and puff meant ‘to blow in short gusts.’ Figuratively put, puff means to inflate. By ‘huffs and puffs,’ we are simply talking about an angry attitudinal disposition of an individual or a corporate entity. By seeking to discuss the huffs and puffs of Nigeria’s foreign policy misdirection, we have already implied that there is a misdirection in the conduct and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy and that the misdirection has engendered some huffs and puffs at various levels, including the levels of the policy makers, politico-diplomatic observers and the Nigerian foreign policy elite.

And without any jot of gainsaying, Nigeria’s foreign policy under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has been very rankling because of its lack of focus. The rankling question is whether Nigeria even has any foreign policy on any given international issue beyond being reactive or claiming to have secured international appointments for Nigerians, which, we all know, is regulated and regionally rotated, but only requires lobbying when there are many candidates in the region from which it is the turn to present a candidate. And true enough too, lobbying may be quite tasking, but that cannot be a good foreign policy objective.

When it can be argued that there is indeed a case of foreign policy, especially that of good neighbourliness and altruism, based on either territorial contiguity or political propinquity, it is always difficult to delineate which national interest is at stake and that is being protected by all means. What is more often noticeable is the policy of giving out what Nigeria does not have, showing good neighbourliness that is neither appreciated nor reciprocated. One Latin maxim has it that ‘nemo dat quod non habet,’ meaning that ‘you cannot give what you do not have,’ but this is precisely what Nigeria is doing. Nigeria’s foreign policy actions, more often than not, conflict with this maxim.

PMB is on record to have gone to Liberia to teach Liberians how to maintain peace and security. Nigeria has donated money to Afghanistan and has recently shown largesse to the Republic of Niger. And yet, Nigerian public officials are complaining about job recruitment marginalisation at the ECOWAS parliamentary level, mistreatment and killing of Nigerians in many parts of Europe, but completely ignoring the aspect of lack of foreign policy on such issues. Indeed, policy or politics of braggadocio does not work in international diplomacy, particularly when there is foreign policy misdirection.

Foreign Policy Misdirection

At the inception of Russian special military intervention in Ukraine, which truly qualified to be described as an invasion, Nigeria told Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Besides, Nigeria voted along with many others at the United Nations General Assembly against the Russian invasion. This was a partisan policy stand that was not helpful to the protection of Nigeria’s development interest. There are more strategic interests to be protected at the level of Nigeria’s ties with both Russia and Ukraine. In fact, the strategic interests are more considerable in the bilateral ties with Russia. Most unfortunately, however, when the principle of non-alignment should have been strictly adhered to, it was partisanship and foreign policy misdirection.

And perhaps more disturbingly, Nigeria gives an international impression that she is not only very solvent and very secure at home, but also that its insecurity at home is not really a big deal, and as such, like when General Gowon reportedly told Nigerians that Nigeria’s problem is not money but how to spend it, Nigeria can afford the luxury of frolicking around with financial grants. This erroneous stand is most unfortunate.

Nigeria’s bilateral ties with Afghanistan is such that the donation of one million US dollars to the Jihadist government in Afghanistan is uncalled for because of various other international or multilateral interventions. For example, the United Nations World Food Programme is to deliver aid to 14 million people in Afghanistan this year. The UN Food Programme has been in Afghanistan for 60 years providing assistance and it still needs public help to sustain its ‘operations in communities ravaged by conflict around the world,’ and therefore, it is requesting for people’s support to make a difference in the lives of families, living in a precarious conflict zone today: just $75  is required.

Indeed, there is also the issue of devastating effect of an earthquake in Afghanistan. The UNICEF is rushing needed emergency supplies to vulnerable children and families. The UNICEF is also asking people to make a 100% tax-deductible donation today. Good enough. Our concern here is that Nigeria of today is more than a precarious conflict zone with hundreds of thousands of people displaced internally and externally, and therefore needing more of international help than ever.

The PMB government has donated to the Humanitarian Trust Fund for Afghanistan the sum of one million US dollars, meaning that she has catered to the needs of 13,333.33 families in one month based on the $75 required calculation of the UN Food Programme. There is goodness in bringing international help to Afghanistan. However, our major concern here is the secrecy of the mania of Nigeria’s donation to Afghanistan. 

As noted by the Nigerian Tribune editorial of April 4, 2022, ‘instructively, Nigerians would not have known of the donation but for the statement by the Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Hussein Brahim Tuha, commending the Nigerian government for its apparent generosity.’ When things of this nature are done secretly, how do researchers keep record? In the same secret manner, Nigeria was made to join the OIC in such a way that Nigeria’s foreign policy analysts believe that the sole objective is in furtherance of Islamic interests in Nigeria.

The editorial gave three other rationales that point to the purposelessness of Nigeria’s foreign policy donation to Afghanistan. ‘First, donations, no matter how small, must be officially appropriated. There is no reason to believe that the donation to the Afghan government underwent due diligence. Second, right now, Nigeria is hardly in a position to donate money to anyone, having relied on massive borrowing for its recurrent and capital expenditures. You cannot give what you do not have. Third, and perhaps most important, the Taliban government in Afghanistan is not just another government, but an ultra-conservative Islamist regime that has stopped women from going to school, continued to treat women like chattel, and repeatedly violated the human rights or ordinary Afghans.’ In fact, as the editorial further puts it, the Taliban is ‘a barbarous regime with which Nigeria should have no relationship and donating money to, it is no different from endorsing its human rights abuses.’  

Apart from the case of Afghanistan, what really is the lesson for the Liberians to learn from Nigeria in terms of how to keep national peace and security? How do we explain the increasing largesse being shown to the Republic of Niger when the same cannot be shown to the people of Nigeria at the domestic level? This is one question many Nigerians have been asking to no avail.

True, Nigeria has done a lot in peace enforcement, restoration of peace, maintenance of orderliness and sustainable democracy in Liberia, and also in neighbouring Sierra Leone, thanks to ECOMOG I and II. Hundreds of Nigerians died in the process. However, why is it now difficult for the type of ECOMOG feat not repeatable in the struggle against Boko Haramists in Nigeria? The PMB administration has claimed technical victory over the Boko Haram by arguing that the Boko Haram has been technically neutralised. If this is so, how do we explain the recidivism that has come to characterise its insurrection? Is it not that the Boko Haramists have tactically withdrawn from the northeast to transform into armed bandits and kidnappers or to join hands with them in the northwest? Whatever is the case, Nigeria has continued to be challenged by renewable threats against national unity, all of which appear to have been taken with kid gloves. What PMB has done and is still doing, is engaging in non-profitable acts of altruism to the detriment of domestic interests.

PMB’s foreign policy attitude towards Niger Republic is quite worrisome because of the public perceptions it generated. PMB donated ten Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs to the government of Niger Republic on 2nd August 2022. The sum of N1,145,000,000 ($2.7m) was reportedly approved on 28 February, 2022, and based on the instructions of the Minister of Finance on 22nd July, 2022, the sum was transferred into the Fidelity Bank account number 4010638472 of the Kaura Motors Nigeria Ltd on Ali Akilu road, Kaduna to supply the 10 SUVs. The gift has generated much animosity and many questions and self-ascribed motivations for the donation have been raised.

The animosity in many twitter comments is largely driven by the consideration that the situation of domestic insolvency should have first been given priority of action before external misadventures. The ASUU strike and the impact of students staying away from classes for too long are frequently raised. Nigeria is said to be unable to service its foreign debts and has resorted to external borrowings to the discomfort of the people, and yet, the government of Nigeria is presenting itself as a solvent nation-state.

As regards the many questions, why the purchase of Toyota vehicles and not the choice of legacy of enduring projects? This question is pertinent because other countries with foreign policy focus engage in more constructive gifts. China is on record to have not simply funded, but actually constructed and digitised a new University of Liberia building in Monrovia. When President Sirleaf-Johnson requested the Washingtonian government to assist in the reconstruction of the university following the end of the civil war in Liberia, Washington responded with difficult conditionality and the Chinese offered to assist without conditionality. 

Besides, China funded Zimbabwe’s parliamentary building in Mt. Hampden in Harare as well as built the new Secretariat of the African Union at a cost of $30m with an additional provision of $10m for maintenance in the first ten years.

Besides, was the sum approved by PMB for the purchase of the vehicles duly appropriated? Which Nigeria’s national interest is being protected with the gift of cars? Why is the cost of each vehicle so prohibitive? Is it true that the Zamfara State government donated five Toyota Hilux to the Government of Niger in March 2022 for special security border patrol or because of other untold motivations? These motivations are hereafter explicated against the huffs and puffs of many public officials with the ultimate objective of revisiting the need for Nigeria to become an internationally recognised regional power in international politics as advocated by Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi.

Foreign Policy Huffs and Puffs 

The reasons given for PMB’s donation of the 10 SUVs point to a very bleak future in terms of national unity and particularly inter-ethnic relationships. First, many people believe that PMB’s generosity towards Niger Republic is because his biological father is a Nigérien and only his mother is Nigerian. Since he is unable to achieve his Fulanisation agenda, he is preparing to resettle in Niger Republic after his tenure in office. Many people referred to PMB’s interview with the AriseTV during which he justified the construction of a railroad to Niger Republic based on his having relatives in Niger Republic.

For many others, PMB’s act has nothing to do with diplomatic goodwill or altruism. They say that the gift of cars is simply nepotistic and given to pave way for the inflow of illegal voters from Niger for the purposes of the 2023 general elections. In fact, PMB’s government is simply seen to be dishonest by claiming to be insolvent while it is frolicking around with financial donations. The government has also been accused of taking ransom money to develop Niger Republic, of inability to assist one DSP, Musa Muhammad Adamu, from the 4.5 PMF who sustained bullet wounds while engaging bandits while @PoliceNG Welfare Scheme does not have money to assist him. Complaints about bags of rice of the COVID-19 palliative with the Nigerian Coat of Arms being sold in a shop and suya (roasted beef) being wrapped with INEC’s letter-headed paper and with the names of Nigériens on it.

And perhaps most disturbingly, many twitters posit that the PMB Nigerians knew before 2017 had died and that is why the post-2017 PMB we know of today is anti-Nigeria and anti-ASUU. This is why Government can spend billions of naira to rehabilitate and reintegrate the boko haramists that surrendered. And this is why Nigeria’s four refineries with a refining capacity of 450,000 barrels per day are abandoned to rot why Nigeria would sign an MoU of $2bn to transport crude oil via pipelines to refine in Niger Republic that has only a refining capacity of 20,000 barrels per day. The twitter put the bitterness thus: ‘you have the resources to run pipelines from Niger Delta to supply crude oil to Niger Republic, but you lack the resources to maintain the existing refineries.’ It is against this situational background that we will now address the huffs and puffs of government officials.

But what really can be the meaning or impact of any huff and puff in light of PMB’s admission at Jaji, Kaduna State, that ruling Nigeria in the past twelve years is tough? If the UK government says the 2023 election may not be held in Nigeria due to heavy tension,’ of what use is any act of braggadocio?  And if Adamu Garba of the Youth Progressive Party believes that ‘Boko Haram and Fulani Bandits are Northern Nigerian Freedom Fighters,’ and perhaps more disturbingly, if PMB ‘was not aware of the terrorist plan to kidnap him,’ until El-Rufai told him, why huffs and puffs? Can the foregoing be a good basis to engage in huffs and puffs?

There are three main dynamics of huffs and puffs in Nigeria’s foreign policy: recidivist insecurity, recruitment marginalisation of Nigerians in the ECOWAS, and mistreatment of Nigerians overseas. At the level of unending and deepening insecurity, the National Security Adviser, Major General Mohammed Babagana Monguno, was reportedly quoted as admitting that he knows that Nigerians are weary and tired and ‘are beginning to gravitate to other places for self-help. There will be a change in momentum’ in the fight against crimes. 

More important, General Monguno also reportedly noted that ‘we are in a very difficult situation’ and that ‘Mr President understands people’s concerns about the growing insecurity’ but I (Monguno) can assure you that there is no straight cut and dried method of dealing with this thing unless all of us embrace each other.’ Without any scintilla of doubt, embracing one another cannot but be a desideratum in collectively neutralising any form of terror. However, any collective approach is meaningful if the people believe in the approach. Many Nigerians strongly believe that PMB is insincere about his anti-Boko Haram struggle. The common belief now is that PMB has an Islamic and Fulanisation agenda, rather than any true agenda to confront insecurity.

In fact, it is on the basis of this insecurity that attempts were made to commence an impeachment process against the president. At a closed Senate session a fortnight ago, the opposition Senators introduced a motion giving PMB six weeks within which to address the problem of insecurity or face an impeachment process. In the words of Senator Phillip Aduda, ‘nowhere is safe in Nigeria, even Abuja. Urgent steps need to be taken… We have given the President six weeks to resolve the issue or we impeach him.’ The motion was blocked by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan. The blocking angered the opposition Senators who staged a walk out of the session in reaction.

On recruitment marginalisation of Nigerians at the ECOWAS, the Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS lodged a complaint and a request to suspend the recruitment exercise by the 2022 First Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament. The suspension order was not   complied with until Nigeria threatened to withdraw from the organisation. As said by the Leader of the Nigerian delegation to the ECOWAS Parliament and the First Deputy Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Honourable Ahmed Idris Wase, ‘if you are in a system and you are not getting the right results where you are investing your money, it pays best to walk out of the Union.’ More important, he asked, ‘in a situation where we are having an infrastructural deficit and witnessing security challenges, why should we continue to invest our money where it will not benefit our country?’ In his view, ‘yes, we will pull out if we don’t get the desired result from this’ (see, Maravi Post Reporter and

Apparently as a result of the threat, Sidie Tunis, Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, ordered all recruitment exercises to the ECOWAS to be suspended. He set up a panel to investigate the alleged nepotistic malpractices. The panel has one week to come out with its findings (vide Chris Ewokor, “ECOWAS halts recruitment after withdrawal threats by Nigeria,” BBC News, Abuja, 8th August, 2022;

Finally, on maltreatment of Nigerians, they have from time to time been victims of unwarranted xenophobic attacks. The mistreatment now also has a recidivist character. The most recent is the beating to death in the full glare of Italian observers of Alika Ogorchukwa in the affluent Italian town of Civitanova Marche. And most unfortunately, the Government of Nigeria has always protested, but to no avail. This is because Nigeria does not have any foreign policy of protection of Nigerians. Many a time the foreign policy elite have called for reciprocity. Sometimes, the rule of reciprocity prevailed. But more often than not, it has been the protection of foreign interests to the detriment of those of Nigeria. To what extent can huffing and puffing resolve the problems of environmental conditionings of foreign policy?

The basic rules of international relations – regional cooperation, sovereign equality, peaceful coexistence, reciprocity, legitimate self-defence, etc. – do not allow for huffing and puffing unless one has the extraordinary means of backing them up. There is no need for huffing or puffing in relating with the Niger Republic because it is the most cordial of all the contiguous neighbours: no territorial dispute between them. In fact, the foundation for special collaboration was laid in 1970. The Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation (NNJCC) was set up following a bilateral summit held in November 1970 in Nigeria and another in Niger, in March 1971. It is within this framework that both countries signed an agreement for the implementation of development strategies at the end of the 40th session of the Council of Ministers held in Abuja in December 2020. The rail project, which also falls within this developmental strategy, is capable of generating 30 million tons of trade annually, according to Ambassador Rabiu Akawu, the Secretary General to the NNJCC. And true again, Nigeria funded the construction of Seme border-Cotonou road. However, the unanswered question is why the protection of foreign interests always takes priority over Nigeria’s national interest. This is the basis of the mounting anti-PMB’s sentiments today. Before huffing and puffing, the public perceptions of an Islamic and Fulanisation agenda and PMB’s nepotistic policies must first of all be reconciled. 

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