Economic Diplomacy : A paradigm shift In Nigeria’s foreign policy

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By Victoria Ojeme

Nigerian foreign policy over the years has remained largely lacklustre, particularly in the years post dating its intervention to restore peace and stability in Liberia and Sierra Leone, a move which was almost eclipsed by internal strife.

Many decades back, the nation’s foreign policy thrust was unmistakably afro-centric, becoming the backbone of armed struggle to finally rid the continent of the remnants of the vestiges of colonialism and apartheid.

Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa, among other African nations, were beneficiaries of Nigeria’s diplomatic benevolence.  But Nigeria has no meaningful economic presence in these countries to compensate for her sacrifices.

Then came the Sierra Leone and Liberian civil wars, where Nigeria sacrificed enormous amount of human and material resources, with the latter running into billions of naira to rescue the countries from the grip of rebel insurgents with near-total disintegration, which brought about untold human suffering and catastrophic economic ruins.

While the world looked on in horror and did nothing besides well-worn diplomatic platitudes, only Nigeria went beyond words, deploying battalions to help these countries in distress.

Today, with the countries now on firm footing in political and economic terms, many countries are once again at the door of Sierra Leone and Liberia reaping from the gains of Nigeria’s sweat, while little had been done to turn the nation’s sacrifices in the countries into economic gains.

In fact, opposition presidential candidate in Liberia, Professor Hey Mason, told Sunday Vanguard in an interview that there was great need to thank Nigeria.

He said: “Thank you to the Nigerian people and the Nigerian government because of the support they’ve always given Liberia, and especially because there is no other nation that has done so much or spilled more blood to ensure that there is peace and stability in Liberia than Nigeria.  Nigeria is the only country that has devoted the most resources.  That is why we urge the Nigerian people and the Nigerian government to continue to look into the activities in Liberia.

“It is our sincere hope and belief that the Nigerian government would begin to participate in the dividends of peace that this nation has helped to restore in our country, Liberia.

“Unfortunately, the present government has not looked to Nigeria in terms of opening its doors to the country. But the few Nigerian businesses that have been set up in Liberia had been through our own efforts, companies such as UBA Bank, GT Bank, Emzor Pharmaceuticals and Mutual Benefits Assurance, an insurance company.  But on the whole, when the present government is looking for business it thinks of Europe and United States of America.  But our government would look to Nigeria so that the industry and expertise that abound in this country can also be replicated in Liberia and we would strengthen the relationship.”

Therefore, for the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, through the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, things appear set to change with the new emphasies on economic diplomacy.

In explaining this paradigm shift, Ambassador Ashiru stated in his maiden meeting with the diplomatic corps in Nigeria that, “While upholding the democratic imperative and our leadership role on the continent, we would strive to redefine our foreign policy, and strengthen our diplomacy to support the domestic programmes of government.

“This would entail deploying our foreign relations instruments to propel our economic and industrial programmes, as clearly outlined by Mr. President. This would be done in order to sustain growth and economic development through the support for the real sector of the economy, for our mutual benefit. All these are aimed at employment generation, food security, as well as regional peace and security, all geared toward poverty alleviation.”

Unlike in times past, where the organised private sector, OPS, was completely shut out of Nigeria’s diplomatic moves, Ashiru stated that one of the major pillars of this new foreign policy focus is the inclusion of OPS in future diplomatic engagements  within and outside the country.

He said: “We will redress existing imbalances and forge a strong partnership with OPS to assist economic growth. Consequently, members of OPS would frequently constitute part of any bilateral discussions between our governments and other foreign delegations, so that Nigeria can benefit from visits to and from other countries.”

Emphasizing the new shift of using Nigeria’s diplomatic platform to drive growth and national development, the minister, therefore, stressed that henceforth, Nigerian missions abroad would form the new vanguard and foot-soldiers of this economic diplomacy.

Ashiru said: “Our envoys would be directed to drive this new focus of our foreign policy by spending more time and effort on the attraction of foreign investment to Nigeria. Simply put, our ambassadors would be the foot-soldiers in this new approach for the purpose of achieving our Vision 20:2020 and bringing economic benefits to Nigeria.”

Again, during the opening of a three-day seminar to review the nation’s foreign policy, Ashiru did not mince words in stressing the new thinking in government that is the use of the nation’s foreign policy initiatives to induce economic growth and overall national development at home.

The minister said henceforth, Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust must translate into putting food on the table of ordinary Nigerians at home, stressing, “Nigerians must benefit directly from our foreign policy. It is in consideration of this that Nigeria’s foreign policy is being repositioned to support the domestic programmes and priorities of government, improve the living standards of Nigerians, including the creation of jobs and reduction of poverty.

“Furthermore, the new direction will aim at addressing the nation’s socio-political, economic and security challenges in the power/energy sector, food security, infrastructural development, peace and security of lives and property,” he added.

Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth and Chair of the Foreign Relations Sub-committee of the Presidential Advisory Council, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, did not agree less with the new thinking, when he spoke at the opening of the seminar.

The former Commonwealth scribe insisted that the new economic realities have made it imperative for Nigeria to henceforth anchor her new foreign policy on, “economic development at home. As already signaled by our Foreign Minister, most of our representation abroad must now be justified on the grounds of economic usefulness. In other  words, our diplomacy must follow trade and sources of foreign direct investment.”

Unlike previous diplomatic engagements, where the majority of Nigerians could not justifiably see anything tangible and beneficial to the man on the street, the current focus is expected to be felt in several ways, including more FDIs, transfer of technologies, taking the nation’s under-utilized industrial capacities to neighbouring countries, thereby creating a pool of expatriate Nigerian workers, as well as opening new frontier of business opportunities for big and small businesses within and outside the African continent.”

How Ashiru and his team translate this laudable initiative into concrete and tangible benefits remains to be seen.

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