By Femi Aribisala
NIGERIA’s foreign policy is in the doldrums. Our foreign ministry is currently comatose. The truth of the matter is that Nigerian foreign-policy makers do not know what foreign-policy should entail. We claim to be the largest “exporter of peace” in Africa and the fourth largest worldwide.
But what is the point of being a proverbial exporter of peace abroad when there is no peace at home?
At one point, we also fashioned ourselves as exporters of democracy. But how can we be exporters of democracy when we specialise in rigging and annulling elections at home? In any case, how is exporting democracy going to feed our teeming population?
Foreign policy is about using diplomatic means to promote the interests of the Nigerian people. A foreign policy without tangible benefit to the man in the street in Nigeria is a waste of time.
The Buhari government goes everywhere preaching the gospel of anti-corruption. The idea seems to be to convince foreigners that Nigeria is now serious about dealing with corruption, so please come and deal with Nigeria. However, anti-corruption cannot be a foreign policy platform. If Nigeria is corrupt, it is corrupt. If it is not, it is not. You don’t go around saying your country is anti-corruption and expect foreign nations to take you at your word.
As a matter of fact, the more the Nigerian leadership talk of anti-corruption, the more emphasis it places on corruption in Nigeria. Nobody believes Nigeria’s current anti-corruption rhetoric, not even Nigerians. Foreigners don’t have to listen to Nigeria government’s propaganda about anti-corruption. They confront Nigeria’s corruption first thing at Nigerian airports.
Transparency International continues to rate Nigeria low on the anti-corruption index; even worse today than under Goodluck Jonathan. In 2014, Nigeria was ranked 136th most corrupt country out of 178 ranked countries. But today, it is ranked 148th out of 180 countries surveyed. So how does preaching anti-corruption help us under these circumstances. The truth is that there is no transparency in the current government’s anti-corruption posture.
Then there is the nagging issue of security. The government claims it has defeated Boko Haram, but the insurgency has this tendency to rise from the dead. Indeed, victory parades on the defeat of Boko Haram have become particularly dangerous given their tendency to provoke new dare-devil Boko Haram attacks. One thing is certain: Boko Haram might have been degraded, but it is still alive and kicking; creating systematic havoc, especially in Nigeria’s North-east.
Moreover, the Boko Haram insurgency has been eclipsed by another deadlier enemy: that of the Fulani herdsmen. These have gone on the rampage, maiming and killing innocent Nigerians with the government acting as mere onlookers and bystanders. There is yet another development that bodes ill for Nigeria’s foreign relations: the attacks on churches and the killing of Christians in the North. So many churches have been destroyed and Christians killed without recourse in ways and manners that suggest Christian-cleansing.
Inside-out foreign policy
There is need for a paradigm shift in the worldview of the Nigerian leadership. While we certainly have difficulty convincing non-Nigerians that we are not a corrupt country, they don’t need convincing that Nigeria’s greatest asset is its people. Nigerians are everywhere, working creditably in different capacities in different countries. The Nigerian is a bundle of talent that excels in so many different capacities. Countries the world over can attest to this.
The United Nations projects Nigeria’s population to be 389 million by 2050, rivalling that of the United States at 403 million. By the end of the century, the U.N. projects that Nigeria’s population would be between 900 million and one billion, nearing that of China which would by then be the second most populous country in the world after India.
What we need to do, therefore, is to invest in Nigerians and then use our foreign policy to promote the Nigerian. Foreigners already know that Nigerians are energetic, enterprising and resourceful. Let us build on this from inside out, then leverage on it in our foreign policy. This means “boko” cannot be “haram” in Nigeria. Under no circumstances can the reading of books be forbidden. Education must become a priority at all levels with no child left behind as a matter of policy. Nigerians must be learned. Nigerians must be skilled. Nigerians must be industrious.
This means we have to transform our education system; synchronizing education to industry needs. We cannot see job-creation as the government creating artificial jobs. Job-creation must mean producing the manpower to suit the needs. Apprenticeship at companies and industrial plants must be synchronized with vocational training in schools.
This also means our president should not go abroad and tell the world Nigerian youths are lazy and irresponsible. On one trip, he claimed Nigerian youth “sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare and education free”. This is a gross misrepresentation. He should not go to Germany and say Nigerian women are only good for “the kitchen, the living room and the other room.”
When Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain told Queen Elizabeth that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt, President Buhari of Nigeria agreed with him, claiming Cameron must know what he is talking about. This shows Buhari is the wrong man for the job of President. The president is the chief ambassador of any country, but President Buhari has been a very poor ambassador indeed.
Nigeria needs new people at the forefront of our foreign policy. We need Nigerians who believe in Nigeria and in Nigerians. We need Nigerians who are young, forward-looking and open to new ideas as opposed to antediluvian ones. We cannot continue to use men who are yesterday’s men to project a new Nigeria.
We need new and more dynamic ambassadors. We don’t have to look too far afield for some of these. Nollywood is becoming a thriving industry at home and abroad. With a clear-sighted vision and planning, it can become a powerful instrument of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Some of the new darlings of Nollywood can also easily act formally or informally as Nigeria’s new ambassadors.
So also are the new generation of Nigerian musicians currently making waves internationally. And then there are our internationally acclaimed footballers, both young and old. It does not make any sense to buy airtime for Nigeria on CNN and have the likes of Obasanjo as our spokesman when we have these better-known and more highly-regarded Nigerians to tap. The number of Nigerians living abroad is now estimated at over 17 million. That is the population of some countries in the world. The “ethnicity of capital” means these Nigerians cannot only be relied on for increasing levels of remittances back home, but can also become veritable ambassadors of Nigeria abroad.
Nigeria’s population is not only big, it is getting bigger by the day. This means we are going to have a lot more mouths to feed in the medium-term. It means we must do something drastic about the current rampage of herdsmen on our farms. That is a clear pathway to food deficiency.
It also means we can, if we are serious, have a manpower advantage in a world where many Western countries are getting more and more labour-deficient. First World countries must be encouraged to come and set up shop in labour-abundant Nigeria. That is why we need to address decisively the scourge of kidnappings and the rampage of Fulani herdsmen. But sheer numbers are not enough. What we need is skilled economic manpower. Nigerians need to be educated and trained so we can operate in modern factory settings.
What we need to do is to build up the invisible informal Nigerian economy that does not show up in statistical indexes. That is where the people live and make a living. It took Bill Gates to come and tell Nigerian officialdom that, for Nigeria’s attempt at development to be meaningful, it has to focus on the Nigerian people.
The Buhari government prioritises physical capital over human capital. But as Bill Gates was at pains to tell us: “To anchor the economy over the long term, investments in infrastructure and competitiveness must go hand in hand with investments in people. People without roads, ports, and factories can’t flourish. And roads, ports, and factories without skilled workers to build and manage them can’t sustain an economy.”
Most of our small and medium-scale enterprises in Nigeria don’t have access to capital. This hinders their growth. We need to develop an enterprise culture. But this will not happen as long as interest rates remain as high as 27 per cent. High energy costs also make cost of doing business prohibitive in Nigeria. Increasing electricity will create job spirals in the Nigerian economy. It would give a major boost to small businesses, the veritable engine of national economic growth. It would also bring down the cost of doing business in Nigeria and encourage more direct foreign investment.
Nigerians must be given priority in Nigeria. What we have today is a situation where Nigerians have stolen masses of Nigeria’s money, but foreigners are running the Shoprites, DSTVs and MTNs in Nigeria. We must not surrender the lucrative Nigerian market to foreigners. There is a new scramble going on for Africa among the European nations and China. This explains the new interest in Nigeria. It is not surprising that President Macron of France, Theresa May of Britain, and Angela Merkel of Germany all paid us a visit one after the other.
But it is time for Nigeria to also say no to the classical requirements of trade liberalisation that have hitherto been imposed on us. We can no longer afford to be a dumping ground for European goods. We have to build up our own productive capacities, if necessary behind high tariff walls.
That also means we must be determined to transform ECOWAS from a peace-keeping and peace-enforcing organisation to one truly devoted to the promotion of regional economic integration. We must fast-track west African regional integration, primarily by the lowering of tariffs.
Obasanjo brought about a transition from Nigeria’s reliance on foreign aid and debt, to Nigeria’s attraction of direct foreign investment. Astute diplomacy combined debt-repayment with debt write-offs and forgiveness. As a result, 60 per cent of Nigeria’s debt was written off: 40 per cent paid by buy-backs.
However, in only four years, the APC has returned Nigeria to high debtor status and borrowed a whopping N11 trillion. It is absolutely imperative that this be contained. As one commentator says: “What we are doing is borrowing from our future.” This is irresponsible and must not continue.