By Owei Lakemfa
I worry about Nigeria’s foreign policy because there is none. The American foreign policy under President Donald Trump is visible to all: America First. You may condemn it as nationalist, myopic in the face of globalisation and a regression given that country’s leadership role in the capitalist economy. The point remains that it is a clear and visible policy.
Even where Trump is his own foreign minister as President Muhammadu Buhari is, the American foreign ministry runs. In contrast, the Nigeria foreign ministry is paralyzed. Given this fogginess, our diplomats rely on directives and instructions from the headquarters while the headquarters reads the body language of the President. Our diplomats should not second guess the President; they should have a defined foreign policy within which they can take initiatives. On the international scene, we should not be like chaff blown around by the wind. On matters affecting humanity, we should not just sit and listen to lobbyists from other countries; we should have basic principles and objectives on which we should also lobby other countries.
It will be uncharitable to say that the foreign policy of Nigeria, the most populous Black country on earth and the Giant of Africa, is rudderless, it will be more accurate to say it is on autopilot.
The only star in the Nigerian firmament our diplomats can follow is Section 20 of the Constitution. It states that our foreign policy objectives shall be the promotion and protection of the national interest, the total liberation of Africa and support of African unity; universal peace, respect for international law and treaty, and the promotion of a just world economic order.
Given our unserious nature on the international scene even our ‘neigbours’ in Ghana treat Nigerians like dirt. Their prisons are full of Nigerians and our traders have been harassed almost daily since 2012. In June, a Nigerian academic, Professor Austin Nwagbara of the University of Education, UEW, Ghana, made remarks at a closed door meeting of Nigerians and our embassy. He was sacked for being critical the way Nigerians are being treated in that country. On these issues, there has been no strong response from Nigeria and matters simply get worse.
The situation in Ghana is far better compared to South Africa where Nigerians are randomly killed, especially by the police. In a number of countries in Asia, Nigerians are singled out for harassment.
We made ourselves the laughing stock at the African Union elections in 2017 when we brought a neophyte, Ms. Fatima Kyari Mohammed, to contest as head of the Peace and Security Commission. It is the most powerful commission in the continental body; a professional heavyweight class in which we presented an amateur catch weight.
The Buhari administration can claim that it put in place the Nigerian Economic Diplomacy Initiative, NEDI. With all due respect, that is not a foreign policy; at best, it would be a paragraph written into such a policy. Even the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Tope Elias-Fatile summarised it as follows: “NEDI business matches Nigerian businesses with business opportunities around the world, while NEDI Professional serves as a one-stop shop for recruiting and engaging Nigerian professionals in the diaspora for national development.” How can any serious person claim this is Nigeria’s foreign policy?
The administration can also claim that it has put the Nigeria Diaspora Commission in place. While that commission, headed by a proactive Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa was instrumental to the release of two Nigerians in Saudi Arabia facing the death penalty after a drug setup, it cannot be a substitute for a functional foreign affairs ministry. The commission’s establishment emanated from the issue of how we can annex the average $33 billion annual flow from Nigerians in the diaspora. This led in 2000 to the creation of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization, NIDO, with the aim of bringing Nigerians in the diaspora together and identifying those willing to offer their skills to assist the country’s development. The Nigeria National Volunteer Service which was domiciled in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was established to coordinate this effort. It is these process that culminated in the establishment of the Diaspora Commission. So at best, the commission is an agency with specific mandate which does not translate to a foreign policy or a substitution of the Foreign Ministry.
In contrast to the present state, Nigeria used to have a coherent foreign policy even if at the onset of independence it was said to be subservient to Britain, the old colonial master. The Immediate post- independence foreign policy was dedicated to the liberation of the continent, the fight against Apartheid and a Non-Aligned world. Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa emphasized Africa was the central focus: “We belong to Africa and Africa must claim first attention in our external affairs.”
The Murtala-Obasanjo regime’s foreign policy had Africa as its centre piece; a fiercely independent Pan-Africanist agenda for the total liberation of Africa from colonialism.
The Babangida regime, despite is eclectic nature and unreliability, had an imaginative ‘Concert of Medium Powers’ foreign policy credited to its Foreign Affairs Minister, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. Under this, in 1987, sixteen countries, picked on the basis of their perceived power in various regions of the world, came together to try to steer the world away from the two super powers.
That Nigeria could bring together in Lagos, such countries as Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Argentina, Austria, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Algeria, Malaysia, Venezuela, Senegal and Sweden, was a major foreign policy achievement. It portrayed the country as a power which nobody should toy with. It was also that regime that introduced the Technical Aid Corps as an instrument of foreign policy. To earth the country’s foreign policy, it convened an all-stakeholders conference in Kuru, Jos. No government since then has convened such a conference where major sections of the society could buy into the foreign policy.
The Obasanjo administration evolved its Citizens Diplomacy foreign policy which his immediate predecessors sought to continue.
To evolve a viable foreign policy under the Buhari administration is not rocket science. Its actions immediately it came to power in 2015, showed a marked commitment to regional security and an integrated collective response to terrorism, small arms flow and environmental challenges occasioned by the drying up of the Lake Chad. It has also displayed serious concern for unrestrained migration, especially to Libya and Europe. We can integrate these with our other concerns such as international crimes, drug and human trafficking, to develop a comprehensive foreign policy and a framework to execute it. We also need a proactive and decisive Foreign Minister and a financially-oiled Foreign Ministry that is allowed to take initiatives.