By Owei lakemfa
WHEN leading academics, serving and retired diplomats, journalists, labour leaders and civil society activists gather to discuss Nigeria or the world we live in, sparks are bound to fly. That was the scene at the Conference Hall, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tafawa Balewa House, Abuja when Professor Victor Adebola Olubunmi Adetula, Head of Research, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden on October 31, delivered a lecture. Debates sprouted on issues like whether same sex couple who marry in Europe will be liable in Nigeria; equality of countries; whether Foreign Policy can reside outside the Foreign Ministry or whether Morocco, a North African country can be admitted into the West African Regional Community, ECOWAS.
The lecture, organised by the Society for International Relations Awareness, SIRA, titled Nigeria in a Changing World: Challenges and Options, kicked off with Professor Nuhu Yaqub, the SIRA Chairman drawing attention to various conflicts including Myanmar and Palestine and challenges like drought and floods, poverty and hunger and argued that: “These issues demand not only attention, but also solution.” He said SIRA, with the support of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, FES, its partner in putting the lecture together, would sensitise the public to contribute to the making of the country’s Foreign Policy.
Ambassador Thaddeus Dan Hart, the Lecture Chair who represented the Minister of State, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hajiya Khadija Abba Ibrahim, argued that: “The constructs of our Foreign Policy need to be re-examined and adapted to a world buffeted by contradictions…Even countries that we used to look up to are behaving in such a manner that we are beginning to ask ourselves if we had taken the right path.”
The lecturer, Adetula, reeled out various global changes since the Cold War ended. They include the wave of Western democracy sweeping through the world; dominance of market forces and liberalisation of global trade; contemporary globalisation and transnationalism; growing interdependence among states; emergence of non-state actors within the international relations system; Brexit and its consequences; and the emergence of new global economic powers, notably the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). He also mentioned the rise of nationalism and the renewal of separatist inclination among minorities worldwide like the English-speaking Cameroonians in Africa, the Rohingya in Southeast Asia, the Kurds in the Arab World and the Catalans in Europe. Adetula also mentioned in Nigeria, the militants in the oil-rich Niger-Delta, pro-Biafra groups in the South-East, and the Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East.
He said there is rising global inequality except in a few emerging economies like China and India, where millions of people have been lifted out of absolute poverty. Quoting Credit Suisse, he said since 2015, the richest one per cent has owned more wealth than the rest of the world. The Professor also said inequality among states has persisted and there is an imbalance in power distribution in the international system. He added: “The domination of the structures and institutions of the global economy by rich countries is a striking feature of ‘the changing world.’
He also listed increased human trafficking, cross-border robbery and other cross-border crimes, in addition to mineral resource-driven conflicts and mass protests such as the Arab Spring, the 2012 anti-fuel price increase in Nigeria and the Occupy Wall Street protests all of which he argued are against neo-liberal policies. He argued that there is “a sense in which Morocco’s desire of ECOWAS is linked to its geopolitical interests, security imperatives and ‘new’ policy towards the rest of Africa.”
Professor of Law, University of Ibadan, UI, Adeniyi Olatunbosun in response to a comment by Adetula, argued that municipal law cannot invalidate international law: “An homosexual marriage in a country where it is legal, remains legal even if the couple comes to Nigeria.” Olatunbosun in making an argument for the admission of Morocco into ECOWAS said that strict adherence to geographical divide is waning and that Nigeria should not look “within the confines of ECOWAS alone, but take over Africa.”
Professor Amadu Sesay of the Kwara State University responded: “If ECOWAS is to expand, it is not by bringing in very dysfunctional countries…Morocco is going to be a very dysfunctional Trojan horse seeking to bring in its ally, Tunisia as an observer in ECOWAS. Nigeria should not allow anybody to nullify what it has built over the years. We should maintain ECOWAS as a cohesive body and the most successful Regional body in Africa. To admit Morocco is, to quote Fela ‘Na craze world be that”
Comrade Isa Aremu of the Nigeria Labour Congress ,NLC, argued for an inclusive Foreign Policy rather than make it just a state affair. He noted with regret that Nigerian elite have become village champions rather than global players and faulted the argument that foreign laws such as on gay marriage can supersede Nigerian laws. He said there is such a thing as sovereignty. Adetula added that Swedish law supersedes international laws.
Professor Bolade Eyinla said there cannot be much policy coherence when the Foreign Affairs Ministry has had four Permanent Secretaries within six years. He talked about : “The new normal, when abnormality is being taken as normal”. For him, it is time for Nigeria to re-appraise its soft power approach which has become obsolete. Eyinla dismissed the notion of equality of states saying that Cape Verde with a 500,000 population cannot claim same equality of votes with Nigeria which has over 183 million people.
Dr. Wilson Ijide of UI argued that in order to meet global challenges, what is needed is good governance. “It is lack of good governance that makes people to migrate in droves or go and queue at an embassy by 4 am.”
Professor Alade Fawole of the Obafemi Awolowo University said Nigeria cannot face global challenges without the Foreign Ministry playing a pivotal role. He argued that Nigeria cannot find its feet with officials and bodies like the Presidential Advisory Council which are outside the Ministry diluting Foreign Policy. Ambassador Femi George, former ambassador to Portugal, and later, Canada said sidelining the Foreign Ministry is a hangover of Military dictatorship when the regimes set up small groups to advise them. “The Ministry is sometimes overruled and after the damage has been done, Government comes back to the original advice of the Ministry.”
Professor Aiguosatile Otoghile of the University of Benin argued that “All nations are equal, but some are more equal” while Professor Warisu Ali of Jos University called for an institutional framework to regulate how foreign countries can run business in the country. The debates ended on the agreement that good governance is the way, not just for Nigeria, but also for the rest of the world.