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Nigeria’s foreign policy and the world at the exit of PMB: policy myopia versus a new Nigeria

Most politologists and serious scholars of international relations in Nigeria not only admit that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, but also posit that there is very little any government can do to earn much respect internationally and protect its national interest if the domestic base is not strong enough to sustain the international presence of the government and its people in the international arena. True, this observation is quite tenable. However, the unaddressed aspect of the issue is the impact of the situational reality of the international arena on the domestic setting. In other words, to what extent can the international arena be used to ensure effective application of domestic policy? To what extent can the international scene be an impediment to achieving objectives of domestic policy?
Coincidentally and most unfortunately, as shown in the on-going controversy surrounding the 2023 presidential election, foreign policy was never made an issue during the campaigns, and yet, all the main presidential candidates were interested in travelling to London to seek international support for their candidature. They all talk about their preparedness to build a new Nigeria, revamp the economy, put an end to religious and ethnic bigotry, and more importantly, to meaningfully re-unite the peoples of Nigeria. All these considerations hardly reckon with the reality of global insecurity in terms of a new cold war, New World Order in the making, new patterns of alliance and the rising profile of China vis-à-vis her bilateral ties with the United States.
Foreign Policy under President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) has lacked strategic focus. Nigeria’s national interest has been wrongly redefined. In the eyes of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, an international functionary per excellence, securing appointments for Nigerians in some international organisations is a major foreign policy achievement. It is really not a big deal, especially that regional and rotational rules also do apply. How does the appointment translate into an improved status for Nigeria in international relations or strengthen national unity or appreciated at the domestic level?
Without whiff of gainsaying, there is no foreign policy under PMB aimed at projecting national conscientiousness, solidarity and happiness. Governance has been largely predicated on disregard for the Federal Character Principle. Foreign policy has been consciously pro-west without due regard to Nigeria’s policy of non-alignment. This foreign policy myopia is the foundational challenge for the next administration to address.
Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Myopia
Islamisation and Fulanisation agenda has been a critical issue in the governance of Nigeria and little or no attention is paid to its foreign policy implications. At the domestic level, national unity and integrity is constantly threatened. First, Muammar Gaddafi once told Nigerians that there would never be any enduring peace in Nigeria until Nigeria is divided into Muslim North and Christian South. In other words, Nigeria should be partitioned into two along religious lines. And true enough, the Government of Nigeria summoned the Libyan ambassador to Nigeria for clarity of the statement, but nothing came out of the summoning thereafter.
Second, the African Union is sponsoring continental integration in Africa, through regional integration efforts. International borders are to be thrown into the garbage of history. Africa of one passport for Africa, free movement of peoples, rights of establishment in any Member State of the African Union, and the whole of Africa becoming one United States of Africa, etc., are the ultimate objectives of the African Union. From this perspective, bringing various Fulani ethnic stock from both Central, and West African, regions should not be seen as a problem to Africa. It is illogical to be seeking to integrate, and with the same stretch of hand, be adopting policies that militate against the logic of regional or continental integration. While the policy of Fulanisation may not be wrong in design and in itself, the mania of implementation of the policy is what constitutes the worry of many people in Nigeria, especially in light of the perceived don’t care attitude of PMB.
PMB never considers it necessary to make any pronouncement on it. He gave the public impression that there was never anything like Fulanisation agenda, and probably considering that the policy of silence is the best answer to a fool, he made silence his policy stand. It was when the Governor of Bauchi, Mr Bala Mohammed came to the Channels Television for a 30-minute interview and revealed that the Federal Government had been bringing to Nigeria the Fulani from West and Central Africa to occupy the ungoverned spaces in Nigeria that vehement opposition to the policy began. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, told Nigerians publicly that PMB has a Fulanisation agenda.
And true before then, PMB had taken various measures to impose the Foreign Fulani on Nigerians but to no avail. The measures included the introduction of colonial-era grazing route which only had territorial application in the northern part of Nigeria. There was also the Rural Grazing Area (RUGA) policy adopted in July 2019 to address the dispute between local farmers and the invading Fulani herdsmen. It was very controversial and could not be enforced. In light of this, PMB introduced the establishment of Livestock Intervention Programme (LIP), involving establishing eight large herders’ settlement in each of the six-pilot states: Adamawa, Kwara, Niger, Bauchi, Kaduna and Gombe. It was again to no avail. Why the recidivist failure? The invading Fulani herdsmen held and still hold the wrong belief that Nigeria is still a terra nullius, a land without title, a land under the control of the Federal Government and not under the Governor of each constituent part of Nigeria.
Consequently, they carry sophisticated weapons, including AK-47 and reportedly in some cases, AK-49 to enforce themselves with apparent impunity. Allowing their cattle to destroy farmlands, while maiming and violating the farmers’ women indecently without PMB coming out vehemently against it is a major dynamic of public belief in the alleged complicity of PMB. People interpreted this as direct support for the herdsmen. In terms of foreign policy implication, Nigeria is sending out signals of national insecurity, discordant tunes of incompetence to govern which cannot be helpful to the attraction of new foreign direct investments. Nigeria’s foreign policy cannot but be very myopic in condoning the projection of herdsmen-farmer conflict in whatever form.
Another critical issue is Nigeria’s attitude to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. The attitude reflected complete disregard for Nigeria’s policy of non-alignment and an unfortunate total disregard to the protection of the national interest: the need to ensure the completion of the Ajaokuta Steel Mill. The international politics of the Ajaokuta Steel Mill, founded in 1979 under the Olusegun Obasanjo military regime, is quite interesting in itself. The West never wanted Nigeria to embark on it, advising that the technology of the former Soviet Union was heavy and preferring Nigeria to accept Western technology. Good as this policy might have been, the West made life very difficult and unacceptable that the Obasanjo regime had to decide sovereignly to accept the Soviet offer.
In 2019, PMB and the Russian leader, Putin, struck an understanding to quickly ensure the completion of the project. Russia pledged prompt additional funding. Following that, Russia decided to embark on a special military intervention in Ukraine, which the NATO and EU countries described as an invasion. Nigeria, in a public declaration by her Foreign Minister, told the Russian government to withdraw its troops from Ukraine. This was a very serious diplomatic gaffe. Indeed, Nigeria also voted at the UN to condemn the alleged Russian invasion, this is still pardonable. The ideal thing to do was to have abstained or not even going to participate in the voting session. Now what will happen to the Ajaokuta steel mill remains a matter of speculation.
Nigeria’s response to mistreatment of Nigerians abroad is most shameful. More so is it in the context of xenophobic attacks particularly in South Africa. As noted above, we cannot be talking about African cooperation, African solidarity, African Renaissance, African integration, African unity or United States of Africa, and at the same time be engaging in acts of discrimination and xenophobia. The most recent case is that of Tunisia, a case that quickly prompted Malians, Guineans, Ivoirians, etc in that country to seek the intervention of their embassy to evacuate them back home. Many of them are students on scholarship. Many of them are legally resident in the country. But they prefer to be checked out quickly because the Tunisian government believes that migrant from Black Africa are corrupting their Arab culture and therefore do not want any black migration into Tunisia.
This development has prompted me to suggest in this column the redefinition of Africa to make black Africa quite distinct. In the face of all these, PMB’s foreign policy is nothing to write home about. The best that the Foreign Minister has always done is to say the matter is being appropriately addressed at the diplomatic level. What the content of the ‘appropriate address’ is all about is unknown. One can imagine the politics surrounding the rejection of the Qatari government rejecting to play host to PMB but immediately accepting to play host to the Egyptian president? Nigeria’s foreign policy miscalculation partly explains this.
How do we also explain the hullaballoo between the Government of Nigeria and foreign airlines on the issue of the blockage of their 743m US dollars as at January 2023 in Nigeria? In a letter written by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, the Minister was reminded that ‘for over a year, Nigeria has been the country with the highest amount of airline-blocked funds in the world… Moreover, as of January 2023, airlines blocked funds in Nigeria have increased to $743,721,092 from $662m in January 2023 and $549m in December 2022. Since the amount increased from $450m in May 2022, to $464m in July the same year, the trapped funds have been linked to some of the challenges in Nigeria’s aviation sector with far-reaching effects.’ This is the current foundation of Nigeria’s foreign policy on the preparative eve of PMB’s departure on May 29, 2023.
And perhaps more importantly, there is the problem of institutional corruption and illegitimacy of the 2023 presidential election. The returning of Senator Ahmed Tinubu as President- elect of Nigeria is at best illegitimate because the generality of the election processes was fraught with reported controversies and fraudulent practices: no voting or no presence of INEC officials in many polling units, and yet, there were election results; election results were reportedly dated February 20, 2023 while the election proper took place on February 25, 2023 in Ekiti State; voting box snatching and destruction of ballot boxes and voting cards, violent thuggery, INEC’s disregard for its own guidelines, as well as for constitutional provisions on election matters; misplacement of election result of one polling unit for another; violent campaign saga, etc.
The foreign policy implication of this is that there were international election monitors who witnessed the electoral thuggery and ballot snatching. They admitted that the election processes were below acceptable international standard, an acknowledgement of which the main opposition leaders has been prompted to reject the election results and to request for outright cancellation of the entire election results. In this regard, how does the president-elect deal with the aftermath of a controversial election result if sworn in? To what extent will the President-elect be respected internationally? And to what extent can he enjoy international legitimacy and recognition? It is against the background of these questions that current international developments for the incoming government should be explained and understood.
New Nigeria and New International Reality
First is the issue of the application of the principle of reciprocity in Nigeria’s foreign policy, especially in the ECOWAS region. Nigerians are always mistreated in many countries of Africa, and yet, Africa is considered as the cornerstone of Nigeria’s foreign Policy. Should the principle be applicable under the next administration? When South African Airways mistreated their Nigerian passengers and when there was destruction of property of Nigerian businesses in many parts of South Africa, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, not only reciprocated, Nigerians also reciprocated vandalising South African investments in Nigeria and the misunderstanding was quickly nipped in the bud.
In this regard, reciprocity is not simply the problem, but the extent to which one can be preaching regional and continental integration, on the one hand, and at the same time be condoning xenophobic attacks. Governments often condemn xenophobic attacks, but never to the extent of being able to act constructively to prevent recurrence. In the making of a new Nigeria, what is the position of national, sub-regional, regional, and continental integration in Nigeria’s foreign policy?
Related to this is the question of ECOWAS protocols on free movement of people and their right of establishment in any Member State of the ECOWAS. The protocols are under full implementation. However, it has also carried challenges of insecurity, transnational crimes and terrorism, as well as other threats to regional stability. How should the right of free movement and right of establishment be reconciled with the insecurities created? This is another main challenge for the new government of the new Nigeria in the making.
Another main challenge is how to quickly reconcile the misunderstanding with Russia so as to be able to secure a new agreement on the completion of the Ajakuota Steel Mill? The completion of the steel project is a desideratum. The problem is that Nigeria has already taken side with the EU-US-NATO anti-Russia sanctions. How can Nigeria be supporting anti-Russian measures and still expect Russia to be sympathetic to Nigerian concerns about Ajaokuta? The new Nigerian government must prevent being the friend of one and the enemy of the other.
There is also the question of a new cold war in the making and the western opposition or concerns to the rising profile of China. As observed by Professor Jean-Baptiste Duroselle, ‘Tout Empire Périra, meaning ‘every empire shall perish,’ American hegemony cannot but have a time limit and therefore pave the way for another successor. The Chinese have been cautiously and gradually preparing to step into the shoes of the Americans but the Americans have not shown any preparedness to relinquish its global leadership role. In fact, Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, has it in his edition of 23rd March 2023 that Mr Xi Jinping, who wants to reshape the post-1945 World order… believes in the inexorable decline of the American-led World, with its professed concern for rules and human rights. He aims to twist it into a more transactional system of deals between great power, do not underestimate the perils of this vision or its appeal around the world.’ This statement speaks volumes.
And true enough the Chinese have continued to strengthen their presence in the traditional zones of influence of the EU and the US, especially in Africa. The Chinese are investing the more and are even buying and acquiring land in Africa for settlement. What Westerners refuse to concede, the Chinese have no qualms in giving them. The situational reality as at today is that Africans are increasingly cultivating Chinese culture to the detriment of Euro-American interests. In fact, the problem got to the extent that the United States of Donald Trump not only came up with new foreign policies of ‘America First,’ and ‘Making America Great Again,’ the United States of Joe Biden has also publicly announced the intention of the Washingtonian government to sanction any country that votes against US policy on Russia-Ukraine war.
The message was specifically adopted in reaction to Africa’s abstention or vote against the EU-NATO position on the conflict. The US simply wants the whole of Africa to be aligned with the NATO countries in their condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In light of the strategic partnership being developed bilaterally by Nigeria and China, and considering the existing strategic cooperation between the US and Nigeria, how should the issue of priority be addressed by the new Nigerian government? Can Nigeria afford again the luxury of being the friend of one and the enemy of the other?
Related to this question of Sino-American rivalry for global leadership is China’s quick movement to mediate the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is a truism to say that Saudi Arabia is a strong ally of the United States in the Middle East and that Iran is also an arch opponent of US foreign policy, especially in the context of denuclearisation. Iran’s claim not to have nuclear development for belligerency purposes was corroborated by the signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which was done on 14 July 2015 by the UNSC Permanent Members and the European Union (P5+1).
Before the nuclear deal was done, Iran had a uranium stockpile that could create between 8 and 10 nuclear bombs. The Iran Nuclear Deal reduced the uranium stockpile by 98%, thereby enabling Iran to only keep the uranium enrichment level to 3.67%, which can never be enough to make a nuclear bomb. The United States, like in the similar case of Saddam Hussein, refused to believe in the Iranian claims and the testimonies of the other P5+1 signatory. So Iran cannot but remain fundamentally unfriendly to the United States.
In this regard too, there is the problem of Israel. Saudi Arabia has been a major instrument of US policy in the protection of Israeli interests. Now that Saudi Arabia has come closer to Iran, it is expected that the tension in Yemen can be reduced, but the additional problem remains the declining influence of the US to the Chinese in the region. Is the strategic relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia on the wane? How does Nigeria begin to re-strategise in preparation for the implications of the Irano-Saudi Arabian rapprochement? There is an impending Sino-US conflict of interest in the region. What is the implication of Saudi Arabian new entente with Iran for Nigeria? Will Nigeria support the United States or the Chinese?
More important, the US-led Western world is supporting the declaration of Vladimir Putin as a wanted international criminal. The International Criminal Court has declared President Putin of Russia wanted, meaning that he should be arrested by any of the signatories to the Rome Statutes. First, neither Russia nor the United States is a signatory to the Rome Statute. Secondly, the signatories to the Rome Statute necessarily have the national responsibility to protect every visiting President to their countries. None of them can induce President Putin into error, inviting him only to arrest him. The consequences will surely be great. What will be the foreign policy stand of the new Nigerian government in this regard?
Perhaps more interestingly, the mother of all the challenges is the issue of foreign policy concentricism. Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, the incumbent Chief of Staff to PMB came up with the doctrine of foreign policy concentricism according to which foreign policy should be operationalized based on prioritised four concentric circles. The innermost circle is Nigeria and the immediate neigbours. The immediate neigbours were included in Nigeria because, in the eyes of Professor Gambari, Nigeria’s national security is necessarily intertwined with that of the neighbours. West Africa is the second while the rest of Africa is the third and the whole world is the fourth circle of priority.
Another Foreign Minister, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON, reconceptualised Professor Gambari’s concentricism and called it beneficial and constructive foreign policy concentricism. While Foreign Minister Gambari underscored prioritisation of foreign policy areas, Ambassador Adeniji emphasized the objectives to be pursued within each concentric circle. Ambassador Adeniji wants the operational approach to be constructive in design and the outcome of every foreign policy initiative to be beneficial to all Nigerians. For the new Government of Nigeria, this is a major challenge. Indeed, every Embassy of Nigeria has a Mission Charter which should not be confused with how Nigeria should always respond to the foreign policy calculations of its host country. In fact, the determination of the attitudinal disposition of foreign countries towards Nigeria should be a priori be the first responsibility of the New Government. Grosso modo, there is not much to write home about eight years of Nigeria’s foreign policy under PMB. No foreign policy legacy. PMB’s foreign policy has been largely reactive and hardly programmatic. It lacks strategic focus. Although there may be no qualms in recognising the new government because of the existing international recognition of Nigeria’s sovereignty, the making of a new Nigeria cannot be informed by the current archaic and myopic approach to foreign policy which should be thrown into the diplomatic dustbin of history.

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