Nigeria has since Independence been playing a significant leadership role in the West African Sub-region and indeed the African continent. Africa has remained the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy since independence in 1960.
With a population of about 150 million people, almost one quarter of the African continent and being endowed with immense physical and human resources, Nigeria is destined to play leadership roles in the affairs of the continent. This is exactly what the country has been doing for decades, notwithstanding the financial, political, social and diplomatic challenges.
Successive Nigerian governments have consistently accorded special attention to the plight and conditions of her brothers and sisters in Africa, which has made the basic principles of Nigeria’s foreign policy “Afro-centric” and that of its brother’s keeper.
In Nigeria’s Afro-centric foreign policy, the West African Sub-region remains the first line of implementation. Given the vast size, natural, economic and human resources, large market drive, Nigeria perceives itself as having an historic mission to exercise hegemonic influence in the West African Sub-region and indeed, the black world. Her economic strength and the high level of human resources at her disposal have allowed her a measure of autonomy in the pursuit of Africa’s genuine interests in global politics. This can be seen in her role in the Organization for African Unity, which later metamorphosised into the African Union (AU), other sub regional groupings such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Chad Basin Commission and Commonwealth of Nations.
The role that Nigeria has played in various international organizations over the years has been proactive, especially in the AU. Nigeria has vigorously articulated and consistently defended African concerns and interests as a member of various international organizations. She has used this platform to champion the interests of Africa in the true spirit of Pan- Africanism. That is why in recognition of her struggles and contribution to the elimination of colonialism, apartheid and racism she was categorized as a “Frontline State”.
In line with her leading role in the AU and ECOWAS, Nigeria has been supportive of these organizations in the area of conflict resolution. The framework for this has been provided in Article III of the Charter which commits the AU to peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation or arbitration. Nigeria’s participation in peace keeping efforts is a manifestation of its concern and regard for the need to give priority and clear expression to the value of the bond which forms part of history of all Africans, particularly those who inhabit the West Coast of the continent. Nigeria had the largest contingent in the ECOMOG peace keeping force, committing huge human and financial resources to the activities of the force.
Nigeria continuously plays crucial mediatory roles in crisis situations among African countries and the rest of the international community. Her contributions towards peace and stability in Africa are unparalleled. Specifically, she has participated in peace keeping operations in the Chad, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Cote d’ Ivoire, Somalia and Darfur in Sudan, to mention a few.
Among the immediate challenges facing Nigeria as a leading country in the African continent, is resolving the many conflicts raging on the continent. Nigeria and indeed the entire West African region have devoted considerable human, material, political and diplomatic resources to the resolution of the crises in the sub-region, starting far back with Liberia and then to Chad, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola and more recently the Darfur crisis, to mention a few.
Within the West African Sub region, successive administrations in Nigeria have ensured the promotion of cooperation with other African nations in all fields of human endeavour through economic exchanges and regional integration of members. This has been achieved through deployment of more Technical Aide Corps (TAC) volunteers whose services have been in high demand by other countries to assist in the areas of their manpower needs. In specific terms, there have been considerable integration through sharing Nigeria’s know-how and expertise with other African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries; Promotion of integrated infrastructure in the West African sub-region; Establishment of the ECOWAS free trade area; Promotion of sub regional (ECOWAS) Economic integration; Establishment of the Ministry of Cooperation and Integration (which was later subsumed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs); Establishment of the Second West African Monetary Zone; Complete eradication of all rigid border formalities; Adoption of a common ECOWAS Passport; Establishment of ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (TLS); Establishment of the ECOWAS Court of Justice; and Promotion of sub regional peace and security initiatives.
The leadership role of Nigeria in the 21st century can be discerned through the need for Nigeria to overcome its domestic problems without necessarily over stretching itself to attain African unity. The resources needed to back up her policies towards the continent and beyond should not be in short supply as this may bring with it complex problems at the political and social levels. Therefore, she must continuously commit herself towards ensuring peace and stability in the continent, most importantly in the West African Sub region.
With a successful political transition and democratization, and turning 50 on October 1st 2010, a new era has opened up for Nigeria towards improving its foreign relations with other countries of the developing world. It is expected that she will not only assume a very prominent position on African affairs, but will also serve as the fulcrum, together with South Africa, upon which the economic and political integration of Africa will be built, in the near future. It is also expected that, amongst other things, the new thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy should be more inward looking to enable the country project power externally from a position of strength and not weakness, arising from the resolve of all outstanding issues within the polity. On the basis of this, the country would do well to utilise and improve on its position as a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations. This would be a catalyst in her aspiration and desire to be a strong member in the comity of Nations.
Ibidapo Okunnu writes from Abuja