IT appears time has come for Nigeria to make a shift in the focus of her foreign policy. President Muhammadu Buhari should convene a special conference of our serving and retired diplomats, statesmen and women, academics and intellectuals to brainstorm and fashion out a new direction for a foreign policy which will conduce to our contemporary and future needs.
The concept of Africa as centerpiece of our foreign policy has outlived its usefulness. It was adopted at independence because of the pan-Africanist vision of our founding fathers such as Dr. Herbert Macauley, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mazi Mbonu Ojike and others.
The Black Race was seen as one people that should assert a common destiny by gravitating towards Africa as the ultimate homeland for all. The entire continent signed on to this vision. Nigeria took it particularly personal after achieving her own independence, and together with her citizens, launched an ambitious project to ensure freedom for all African countries that continued to languish in colonialism and Apartheid.
This was especially for Southern and Central African countries like the Republic of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, war-torn Angola and others. We spent billions of Naira and mounted countless diplomatic efforts – sometimes standing up to the superpowers at our own risk – until all African countries gained independence.
In West Africa, we played a leading role in establishment of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS),in Lagos on May 25, 1975. We spent billions of dollars in efforts to end civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone through the ECOWAS Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, a military effort exclusively commanded by Nigerian generals. Nigeria, historically, has been the largest contributor of peacekeepers to the United Nations, the African Union and ECOWAS.
Nigerian leaders and people have always believed in the notion that we are “the Giant of Africa”. We have wholeheartedly acted out this conviction in all our diplomatic words and deeds. Nigeria has one of the largest (if not the largest) number of embassies and high commissions among African countries. Apart from our pan-Africanist posture, the aim of having these missions was to serve Nigeria’s interests and meet the needs of our highly mobile citizenry while abroad.
We have to ask ourselves: is there any reasonable justification for Nigeria to continue to maintain the Afrocentric posture after almost sixty years of massive investments that yielded little more than vain prestige? Even that prestige is rapidly getting attenuated, judging by the utter disdain with which Nigerian citizens and interests in other African countries are being treated.
Is it not time to rejig or realign this posture to something more functional and beneficial to our national interests?