Countries all over the world design and implement foreign policies in order to guide their external relations as well as protect, promote and defend their vital national interests. This could be in areas like defense of territorial integrity, the promotion of economic, military, strategic and diplomatic interests and whatever a country might consider as its vital national interest. It is therefore naturally expected that Nigeria’s foreign
policy ought to be fundamentally guided by her national interest which should ordinarily serve to either justify or repudiate the nation’s action or inaction in the international relations.
Since the first republic, Nigeria’s foreign policy had been largely tilted towards Afro centric posture. In an official statement just before independence, on August 20, 1960, Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa at the Federal House of Assembly stated that Nigeria was “adopting clear and practical policies with regard to Africa; it will be our aim to assist any country to find solution to its problem”.
Similarly, one significant event that took place under late General Ironsi’s regime was the June 1966 Ambassadors’ Conference held in Lagos to re-examine the premises and directions of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Among many other things, the conference re-dedicated Nigeria to the total emancipation of all African territories still under colonial tutelage and racial discrimination. This position was further reinforced when General Ironsi stated that “in the whole sphere of external relations, the Government attaches greatest importance to our African policy”.
It is under the above foreign policy directions, among others, that Nigeria ventured in to the complex theatre of international relations. This position could be appreciated when we consider the fact that successive regimes in Nigeria accorded significant attention to Africa as the centre-piece of the Nigerian foreign policy.
However, a cursory look at the various engagements made by Nigeria towards an African agenda in areas such peace keeping missions, decolonization of the continent as well as other bilateral and multilateral aid she rendered in the continent, would to a very large extent show that the omnibus nature of the principle of African centeredness in the Nigerian foreign policy does not appear to be well aligned to the country’s national interests or has not served the national interest in a commensurate measure.
Nigeria has been in the fore front in the establishment and sustaining various continental and regional organizations. For instance, Organization of African Unity (OAU) established on May 25, 1963, was primarily aimed at achieving two important objectives, namely: to ensure the quick decolonization of the remaining colonies in Africa and secondly to facilitate the rapid socio-economic growth and development of the African states. In this respect, Nigeria did a lot in ensuring the implementation of the primary objectives upon which OAU was founded. For instance, in 1975, Nigeria granted the sum of =N= 13.5 million and military assistance to Angola’s MPLA and also enlisted diplomatic support to the Angolan government within the O.A.U.; this had greatly accorded recognition to the Angolan government by many African states who were hitherto unwilling to give such recognition.
In addition to this, Nigeria contributed enormously to several liberation movements in the continent this had therefore greatly contributed towards the political independence of most African countries. For instance, on February 13, 1976, Nigeria donated the sum of two million dollars $2m to South Africa’s ANC and 500,000 dollars to Namibia’s SWAPO. SWAPO was later granted permission to open office in Lagos. At about the same time, the Federal Ministry of Information inaugurated a committee for dissemination of information about the evils of Apartheid.
Fundamentally, the committee was to intimate the government with current news and activities of the racist regime in South Africa and advice the government on the best way to approach her anti Apartheid policies as well as enlighten the public on the situation in South Africa. That is not all, as the federal government nationalizes British assets in Nigeria when the later choose to continue conducting business with South Africa. Consequently, in March 1978, the federal government directed all its ministries and parastatals to stop dealing with Barclays Bank owned by Britain. In the same vain, the British Petroleum company (BP) was also nationalized in July 1979. In addition to all these, Lt. General Obasanjo, in December 1976 launched the Southern African Relief Fund. The money collected was sent to Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Similarly, taking into cognizance fundamental role of economic integration among contiguous states and given the very small nature of many West African states in terms of population and economic output, Nigeria under the leadership of General Yakubu Gowon spearheaded the formation of 16- member regional integration body-ECOWAS-the treaty of which was signed on May28, 1975. It is therefore essential to note that the phenomenal contributions made by Nigeria in the two organizations mentioned above have greatly contributed to the economic prosperity and political independence of many African countries.
Nigeria’s deep involvement in African affairs, a pursuit that had cost the country huge financial and human resources could be seen from other endeavors undertaken by the country in other African states. Let’s take for example Nigeria’s involvement in the ECOMOG. As desirable as it was to bring peace and stability to the West African sub-region, the venture had cost the nation enormous financial recourses and unspecified number of troops who lost their lives. The above scenario was succinctly captured by Ambassador F. George who stated that “The historic contributions of Nigeria to regional peace missions in Liberia and Sierra Leon which cost the country the whooping sum US$ 10 billion, not to mention the gallant men and women of Nigerian Armed Forces who paid the supreme sacrifice in the cause of peace, are hardly acknowledged by the international community.” He further emphasized that this does include the sum of about US$ 90 billion that Nigeria single handedly incurred in the OAU Peace Keeping Force that was deployed to Chad in 1980s.This is in addition to the sum of US$ 800 million Nigeria Trust Fund established under ADB to assist African countries obtain soft loan to execute vital projects. Surprisingly, it is with connivance of some of these African states that Nigeria was denied the presidency of ABD. What a back-stab.
Lately, the regime of President Obasanjo intended to refocus Nigeria’s foreign policy in order to de-emphasize the overly African bias when he announced to the newly appointed ambassadors in 1999 that “Nigeria’s foreign policy today extend, however, far beyond our concern for the well being of our continent, Africa”. He further pointed that “The debt burden, for instance, is not an exclusively African predicament. Many countries in Asia, the Caribbean and the South America are facing similar problems. It is imperative, therefore, that these regions harmonize their efforts in the search for a fairer deal from the industrialized nations of the west; and this requires of us a more global approach to world affairs than was previously the case”. The above statement spurred great expectations from various foreign policy experts, hoping that Nigeria would now enunciate and articulate more global vision in her foreign policy pursuit. Paradoxically, the nation became more involved in African agenda.
It could therefore be noted that Nigeria’s role and initiative in drawing up the Constitutive Act of African Union (AU), The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Peer Review Mechanism have greatly engrossed the country even more deeply into African Affairs. Also under NEPAD, Nigeria initiated Joint Africa/G8 plan to enhance Africa’s capability to undertake Peace Support Operations.
In addition to the above endeavors, Nigeria’s high profile engagement in the continent continued with several summits and conferences such as the Roll-Back Malaria Summit held in Abuja on 24th August, 2000; which was closely followed by the HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Infectious Diseases Summit also held in Abuja in 2001. While these engagements are worthy undertakings, they however tend to suck Nigeria intimately into the un-ending African problems.
Nigeria’s enviable commitment towards solving African problems could also be seen in various peace and mediation talks she hosted; these include hosting of mediation talks between Sudanese government and Darfurian rebel factions. She also mediated severally between various rebel factions in the Liberian crisis and eventually granted asylum to the former Liberian President Charles Taylor in order to end crisis in that country. Further to this, the restoration to power of the President of Sao Tome and Principe, Mr. Fradique Menezes, after military take over in July 2003 was largely credited to Nigeria under the leadership of President Obasanjo. In a similar vein, Nigeria succeeded in ensuring that due constitutional process was followed in installing democratically elected government in Togo after the death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema in February 2005.
Further to all these peaceful diplomatic engagements which were aimed at solving other African nations problems, Nigeria recently lost about 44 soldiers in a ghastly motor accident along Gombe-Potiskum road. It could be recalled that the soldiers were just back from peace keeping operations in Darfur. What a national tragedy in an attempt to keep peace in a sister African country.
Recent xenophobia violence in South Africa where Nigerians where brutalized tempted one to ask if Nigerians deserves such brutality taking into consideration the fundamental role played by the country in dismantling apartheid. Also, the torture of a Nigerian, Mr. Adumekwe, by the Gabonese security agents who were said to have set his back on fire for 20 minutes is a big slap to Nigeria. This kind of inhuman treatment should have caused serious diplomatic raw between the two countries. Certainly, the Gabonese security may eventually do worst considering the way the case was treated by Nigeria.
Therefore, taking into cognizance the contributions made by Nigeria towards African peace and development, one fundamental question that needs to be raised is that upon all these enviable roles and contributions which Nigeria made in the continent, could the nation afford to continue to pursuing an African agenda at such a monumental cost without visible tangible benefits to the country to the country’s national interest.
It seems that there is apparent disconnect between national interest and Nigeria-African relations. It is apparent that the nation is doing too much in the African continent without corresponding positive out come. This phenomenon had attracted several comments by commentators on Nigeria’s external relations. For instance, a policy and economic affairs analyst, Dr. Obadiah Mailafiya while commenting on the Nigerian foreign policy framework, graphically captures the above scenario when he says that “ the centerpiece of any country’s foreign policy ought to be that country it self if it seriously considers itself a rational actor on the world stage…Every single action shall be adjudged by how much it advances our national power and influence and how much it advances our interests, objectives, and purposes”. Similarly, another international relations expert, Professor Inno Ukaeje, while commenting on Nigerian foreign policy has this to say “Our false generosity abroad and penury at home are proof that we are pretending to be what we not, because in reality we have been overstretching ourselves”. One seem to agree with the above assertions taking into consideration the enormous funds the nation expend in trying to solve various problems in Africa while internally almost all the sectors in the country are yearning for massive injection of funds and above all the standard of living has been grossly low. Although Nigeria is rich in strategic mineral resources through which the nation earned excessive wealth with which it fund several activities towards solving other African problems, the scale of such expenditure greatly hurts our domestic aspirations.
Our attention should be more focused towards achieving our vital national interests such as the socio-economic growth and development so as to improve the standard of living of the populace. In this respect, Africa should no longer be the only reason for the existence of our external relations. We may wish to note that none of the developed nations build their foreign policy on one Pillar/continent; they attached more premiums to their sense of national interest and pride which they anchored towards socio-economic development of their nations and the up-liftmen of their citizens’ standard of living.
Nigeria shouldn’t be an exception in this regard, if it is to play meaningful role the in current global diplomatic scene. We need to pay significant premium in developing diplomatic relations with countries such as China, Singapore, Malaysia, among others. I believe these countries would benefit us more. In addition to this, our foreign policy should be citizen-centered; the government must be ready to defend Nigerians any where in the world; event if they commit crime, they should be prosecuted in the court of law. Lastly, there is an urgent need for the government to convene a foreign policy summit to, among others address issues such as re-defining our national interest, refocusing our foreign policy in such a way that we will minimize loss and increase gains as well as tying it to the socio-economic growth and development of our great country.
HADI Y. AL-HASSAN