NIGERIA with 180 million vibrant people, is the largest Black country in the world. Its economy which in 2014 had a $93.01 billion export and $53 billion import is the second largest in Africa. Its cultural reach, especially through its Nollywood film industry, is unmatchable in Africa.
Its intellectual prowess is intimidating; virtually every of the leading universities in the world has a Nigerian on its faculty. It has the highest number of university graduates in the United States. The country itself has 162 approved universities, and its writers from new comers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to old timers like Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka are famous. Vociferous and self-confident, unlike many African countries, Nigeria neither needs the IMF/World Bank nor international donors to balance its budget. It played fundamental roles in the liberation of Africa and has all it takes to lead the continent. But why is this large country not a major player abroad?
This was what a Think-Tank of serving and retired diplomats, intellectuals and civil society activists gathered to analyze in Abuja under the umbrella of the Society for International Relations Awareness, SIRA. The group is chaired by Professor Nuhu Yaqub, former Vice Chancellor, University of Abuja and current Vice Chancellor of Sokoto State University. It analysed what went wrong with the Nigerian foreign policy, how it went wrong and what can be done to rectify the problems.
It concluded that Nigerian foreign policy lacks democratic ingredients. That image is important and lack of dialogue injurious. It argued, for instance, that if the issue of Nigeria as a country is not negotiable, then government should be able to state what the settled issues are.
SIRA said it is unhelpful for government officials to claim not to have read important national documents like the 2014 National Conference Report and wondered on what basis decisions are taken if not on knowledge. It identified incidents like consistent attacks on oil facilities and kidnap of a senior diplomat as facts that would not let the international community take the country serious. The association criticised the lack of identifiable national interest, arguing that if it is the destiny of Nigeria to lead Africa, its interest should be the African interest.
SIRA urged the country to properly articulate its position on the enslaving Economic Partnership Agreement, EPA, so it can properly lead the continent on such matters. The body wondered why the intellectual capacity of the country is not annexed to give its foreign policy a sharp edge.
Given its large number of universities, it felt Nigeria should award scholarships to African youths to study in Nigeria since such youths are the future leaders of their countries. It pointed out that rather than get its priorities right, the country is allowing its youths to be trained by other countries, like China taking in Nigerian youths and teaching them Mandarin and Chinese culture. It pointed out that while Nigeria, the dominant power and economy in West and Central Africa has French-speaking countries as neigbours, it was illogical to post diplomats who cannot read, write or speak French to such countries. It wondered how such diplomats can function and give the required information to their mother country.
SIRA whose meetings are facilitated by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, FES, Foundation in Nigeria, raised the lingering problem of the Foreign Ministry not being allowed to play fundamental roles in foreign policy. It cited the case, some years ago, of Nigeria wanting to sign a bilateral agreement with a visiting European leader without either our ambassador or the Foreign Ministry being aware of its contents. SIRA said the visiting country had simply drafted the agreement and urged the Nigerian leader to append his signature. The body called for the full involvement of diplomats on all foreign relation matters.
It said since Nigeria’s money has for long been criminally stashed abroad, it has to find creative ways of getting it back. It suggested that in order to avoid excuses that such money will be re-looted if released, government should state what projects the retrieved money will be used for.
SIRA observed that while the National Assembly constitutionally has legislative powers on a wide range of issues, including diplomatic, consular and trade representation, customs and aviation, it has not sufficiently exercised these. It argued that the relevant Committees of the Assembly need to be well informed so it can competently execute its oversight functions.
SIRA criticized the dabbling of some state governors in foreign policy to the extent that they enter into agreements with foreign countries and organisations without the input of the Foreign Ministry. It cited cases of state governments signing education agreements abroad without consulting the relevant embassies and being ripped off in the process.
The association frowned at the lack of foreign policy awareness and articulation by leading political parties, and proposed a retreat for them. It frowned at the uncritical role of the mass media, especially its tendency to serve as a repeater station for foreign information written from the perspective of the news originator. It urged the media to put national and African interests into consideration before spreading news emanating from abroad or carried by foreign media.
SIRA said the rule of law is crucial in the rating of countries and that the judiciary can truly be the last hope of the citizen provided the powerful and the rich cannot shop for rulings. It urged government to identify non-state actors like Alhaji Aliko Dangote who has substantial business interests in Africa, Wole Soyinka with worldwide intellectual connections and bodies like the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU and the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC,who have extensive international connections, and involve them in foreign policy. The association also urged government to involve Nigerians in the Diaspora in foreign relations and to defend the rights of Nigerians abroad so that they in turn will willingly defend our national interests. SIRA said given the importance of foreign policy, it has decided to be more proactive and take public positions as its contribution to the development of Nigeria, and enabling the country take its rightful place in global affairs.