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Re-thinking Nigeria’s foreign policy

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President Muhammadu Buhari


Foreign policy is essentially a nation’s critical fundamentals, which it formulates and articulates as its framework of international engagements and projects it to the arena of the international system through the instrumentality of diplomacy. Foreign policy aggregates core national interests and externalize it to the international system with a view to combine and mix with others in order to preserve the system of interactions with others but more importantly to bring tangible returns that would contribute meaningfully to the growth of national aggregates of power, wealth and influence. The system of international arena creates opportunities at any specific given time in which nations engage to address their specific domestic priorities. Foreign policy is not a linear projection because the arena of international system is characterized by shifts, twists, and turns. Even the old adage that in international relations, there is no permanent friends but permanent interests is a simplistic nonsense.

The reconfiguration of national priorities and re-jigging the instruments to project them, means that the idea of “permanent interest”, is a dubious myth enforced by the lazy routine of conventional wisdom. If nation’s foreign policy is simply a search through the international system for a means to bring maximum returns to her national aggregates, it, therefore, means that diligence in understanding the international system, the shift, twists and turns that characterize it, is the criteria for making a sound foreign policy. A foreign policy fixated on what a nation wants but not on the adequate grasp of the critical trajectories of international system stands the risk of vain self-indulgence without the vital returns that a sound foreign policy must bring.

Nigeria’s foreign policy is complacent, motionless and largely unable to deliver sound returns to the national aggregates. Its traditional orientations is far behind the dynamism of the contemporary international system. It reclines in its comfort arena, barely lifting a finger to the sea-change in contemporary international arena, perhaps hoping and expecting that merely been around is just enough to be reckoned with. However, for a country as large as Nigeria, with significant size and resources, being around is sufficient to be taken notice of, but to be taken serious or seriously reckoned with, is a different matter.  Nigeria’s foreign policy has languished for too long in a routine and reclining in the pedagogy of its comfort terrain, as if the country herself has not developed new needs and should, therefore, be spotting fresh opportunities in the international arena.

The post World war II international order has been unraveling since the late twentieth century and the current first quarter of the 21st century has certainly brought considerable speed to the deconstruction of the post world war II international order. Beyond the travails of the post-world war II order, the specific western liberal international order that heralded the collapse of the ideologically based bipolar world structure quickly entered a phase of systemic terminal crisis.

Whatever was left of it, came down with the rise of the Trump Presidency in America, and other assorted irredentist and Europe’s nationalist backlash against the international liberal order. Of course the tottering of the international liberal order is not the end of history as the international system currently evolves in a more inclusive and consultative framework without overarching and overbearing hegemonic power. Critical institutions are springing up as the vital architecture of the emerging inclusive global order. Old alliances, including the most resilient one, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are experiencing desperate cracks that help it to the museum as its former counterpart, the Warsaw pact treaty.

A prominent member of NATO, Turkey has recently, through the purchase of Russia’s advanced air defence system walk past some of its red lines. While the several signposts of western dominated international liberal order are at various stages of decomposition, why is Nigeria so stuck to it and cannot grasp the opportunities of several new and emerging trends in the international system. Nigeria did not have any sort of input in the construction of the architecture of the post-world war international order and therefore enjoyed only a marginal influence in its operation. With that order in fast transition to history, why is Nigeria unable to spot the emerging trends and join in shaping its architecture and operational mechanism.

It was during the period of former U.S President Barack Obama that Washington “pivoted” to the Asia Pacific, with an understanding that since about 60% of global trade and other economic activities happen in that region, that is certainly the epicenter of international diplomacy. European Union with its key members including Germany, France have since turned their muscular diplomacy to the East. Paradoxically, Nigeria obsessively tags along to the West that has ebulliently pivoted to the East.

However, the issue is not the simple diplomatic pivot of either to the East or the West but to spot the institutional underpinning of the shift in the global balance of power. The emergence of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as a significant part of the international system is underpinned by vital institution building. The New Development Bank (NDB) of the BRICS with nearly a whopping 200 billion capitalization is not something to ignore. If Nigeria cannot access membership of the BRICS, why can’t it establish an outreach mechanism to engage its process and examine what it can contribute to enhancing Nigeria’s national aggregates.

Similarly, the big one that has fundamentally shaken the international financial architecture is the China-led Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank, (AIIB). Britain was the first European country to join; despite Washington’s protestations and since then Germany, Netherland, France, Italy and other several European countries have joined. With more than one hundred members from across the world, including South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and even the tiny Togo, Nigeria’s authorities are yet to spot, that beyond the liquidity offered by the AIIB to finance infrastructure constructions and development priorities, the AIIB represent the making of a new international financial architecture and only those on the table can put their imprint in the new map of global finance. What dynamic and fundamental foreign policy can afford to be aloof in the sea-change of the contemporary shift in the international system.

Reluctantly, Nigeria joined with some other African countries, the China initiated Belt and Road framework of international cooperation last year at the 3rd summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) that held in Beijing. The massive international network of overland, maritime and digital infrastructural connectivity is currently up and running, with dots of global economic corridors, that is assaulting and draining the swamps of poverty; from Pakistan to Afghanistan, Kazakhstan to Tajikistan, Ethiopia to Kenya, Greece to Serbia, Ecuador to Guatemala, Laos to Cambodia, etc.

Nigeria’ foreign policy should robustly and critically examine the opportunities of the Belt and Road Initiative and integrate its parts that has the highest returns to our national priority but to do this, we must understand the totality of its essence, especially its promise to advance the construction of a community of shared future for humanity. The challenge of Nigeria’s foreign policy is not a mere re-interpretation of it but in a holistic re-thinking of it and this is possible only with a complete grasp of the emerging international system. Foreign policy will make a significant contribution in building our national aggregates if it realistically draws from the facts of the existing international situations and not routinely clinging to a tottering order, relevant only for the lessons of history. 
Mr. Onunaiju, is Research director, Centre for China Studies (CCS), Utako, Abuja.


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