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What is Nigeria’s foreign policy?

By Tabia Princewill

Macron, May, Merkel: three heads of powerful Western states visited Nigeria in rapid succession and one marvels at the fact that no real summary of what Nigeria benefits from these diplomatic dialogues seems to exist. If it does, it’s neither extensively discussed nor debated. In other climes, foreign policy can either bring down a government or propel it to electoral victory: the consequences of the Iraq war, its perception as a failure by most Americans in part enabled Barack Obama’s victory.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) is watched by Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari as he signs the ‘gold book’ at The Presidential State House in Abuja on July 3, 2018.
French President Emmanuel Macron has arrived in Abuja for a meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari, in his latest attempt to forge closer ties with English-speaking Africa. / AFP PHOTO /

As for Theresa May, her supporters in the United Kingdom include many pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant and anti-European Union, EU, voters.One wonders, in fact, why the Buhari administration, isn’t trumpeting Nigeria’s gains from the perhaps unprecedented visit of not one but three world leaders. In fact, given the United Kingdom’s precarious economic future due to Brexit, one would imagine that Nigeria would have a strong position from which its leaders could better bargain and receive substantial value and advantages in any trade or business dealings.

After all, Nigerian consumers are second only to Asians and Arabs when it comes to property ownership and consumption of British products. The UK needs Nigeria, dare I say, just as much as Nigeria needs the UK. Yet, Nigerians in the United Kingdom, for all the money spent holidaying, sending children to school or simply buying British goods do not receive any particular advantages to recognise the strength of our consumption power which the UK will count on now that it is severing ties with the EU.

It is unfortunate therefore that the Commonwealth, led by Nigeria and India for example, isn’t negotiating some form of preferential treatment for member states to acknowledge the positive economic contributions of our diaspora on one hand, and just how much Nigeria’s retail economy is favourable to British made products and businesses. Nigerian students alone are one of the pillars of the British secondary and university system: the British educational system rests on the fees paid by foreign students. If one were to do a survey of British boarding schools or universities, one would find less and less English pupils and more Nigerians, Arabs, Indians and Asians overall.

In fact, these students’ knowledge, talent and potential almost entirely benefits the UK rather than their home countries. Although this latter fact is not of the UK’s doing (after all if Nigerians had better confidence in their educational system more Nigerians would pursue studies at home and later return to their countries) it indicates our foreign policy needs work.

It is time to ask ourselves what is Nigeria’s foreign policy? The “promotion and protection of Nigeria’s national interests” is too vague an answer. The question really is how are we using our foreign policy to pursue self-determination? In simple terms, what have Merkel, Macron or May offered Nigeria which is truly beneficial to us in the long term and how is what they are offering different from any of the other self-serving deals which their predecessors have asked us to sign? If you were to conduct an opinion poll of Nigerian university students’ perception of Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary (the equivalent of our own interior minister), you would find she was very unpopular with African students because she clamped down on foreign students work permits, etc.

Does the Nigerian government (after all many officials have children and wards in schools in the UK) realise Mrs. May’s publicised objective was once to make it more and more difficult for foreigners to obtain student visas or even to install a quota system? In fact, with a sufficient push from the “hard Brexiteers” this could once again become a reality. The Independent newspaper estimated that the UK would lose 26 billion pounds by refusing visas to 130, 000 students and would also lose jobs that depend on these students’ spending.

This is a hot-button issue in the UK which Mrs. May battled last year. The Nigerian government should seize the opportunity to make certain demands based on Nigerians’ contribution to the UK economy. Mrs. May is staking her political future on getting the immigration figures down to satisfy the hardline conservatives and pro-Brexiteers: this will have important consequences for the Nigerian diaspora, students and travellers to the United Kingdom. What is the Nigerian government’s position?

If Brexiteers stopped to really think about it, they would find it ironic that their economic fortunes will be even more dependent on the spending power of the people they seek to evict from their country, such as people of African and Commonwealth origins of which Nigeria is one. Nigerians on the other hand should be worried there doesn’t seem to be a real conversation about the interests of its citizens when they are abroad, despite all the economic gains they bring to their host countries which the increase in xenophobia, racism, populist and nationalist politics or policies attempts to erase.

In search of our foreign policy, like in the glory days when Nigeria represented the view points of the Black world and the non-aligned on the world stage, we must decide what our focus is: what do we want our global reputation to be built on, what are we selling to the world? Our true strength, even if it might sound cliché, is our people and our diversity.

On a final note, Nigerians must take into consideration the fact that the access to British credit and financial services, legal facilities, etc. which the British Minister for Trade Policy advertised during Mrs. May’s visit, will benefit mostly those who are already connected and entrenched within the Nigerian system of monopoly and private businesses with government ties and backing.

It isn’t up to the UK to help us democratise our system to enable the best and the brightest to shine. But it is indeed up to us to make sure the best represent us at all times, in all spheres and that we empower them to fight for the best deal for us at home and abroad.

#NotTooYoungToRun

But still too naïve to understand the game. This movement was incensed by the hijacking of their event which the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, used to declare his presidential ambition, thus giving himself the appearance of an endorsement by young Nigerians.

A number of young people still seem to be thinking within the mental framework of the old order which they ironically condemn. So many discuss or use “state of origin”, “zoning”, etc., as if these artificial, administrative divisions were natural rather than man-made words which have inflicted so much damage to the ideals of meritocracy and unity, dividing Nigerians on ethno-religious lines.

Young Nigerians have embraced the “turn by turn” mentality which has brought Nigeria to its knees. There is nothing revolutionary about the young candidates on the horizon as they invite, as in the case of Bukola Saraki, controversial (to say the least) representatives of the old order to be keynote speakers at events which should exist free from the tutelage of those who could hardly be said to represent a break from the past.

Nigerian Bar Association

During a discussion, “Institutionalising the War Against Corruption” at the NBA’s annual conference, Ibrahim Magu, the acting Chairman of the EFCC remarked, “lawyers have been involved in money laundering; when they were asked to register with the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering, SVUML, for regulation, they went to court. The NBA said it could regulate itself.

But how far has it gone in regulating itself? I think the NBA Disciplinary Committee should be up and doing. I get embarrassed when NBA descends heavily on lawyers who are not considered to be significant, but they turn a blind eye to what big-time counsels are doing. I think they have to do their work without looking at faces, no matter whose ox is gored”. The same big time lawyers and judges keep getting accused of aiding corruption and more importantly, what are Nigerians ready to do about it?

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.

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