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Perspectives on president Buhari’s foreign policy



The Nigerian situation since the assumption of power in 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari has gone through twists and turns which has been unsettling. As foreign policy is a function basically of domestic policy, President Buhari’s foreign policy is not devoid of domestic thinking and course of action.

In the past, Nigeria’s foreign policy was “Afrocentric”, making “Africa the centre-piece of the country’s foreign policy”. This raised the image of Nigerian government and people highly in the International community, particularly its focus on decolonization of the whole of Africa and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Since then, Nigeria’s dominance in the African region may not be as visible as it used to be, but its sub- regional overwhelming presence in West Africa under President Buhari is indisputable. We shall examine here the international dimension of his three-point agenda of dealing with insecurity and the search for international joint efforts to combat it, fighting corruption and the quest for the return of Nigeria’s looted assets, and efforts to revive the economy with the support of trading partners.

The influence of Nigeria in the sub-region has been leveraged upon by President Buhari in his intervention in the Gambia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea Bissau political crises, which brought relative peace, and political stability in those countries. President Buhari’s bold steps that prevented Morocco from being admitted as the 17th member state of ECOWAS must be acknowledged. After all, Morocco does not geographically fall within the West African sub-region of Africa, but belongs to the Magreb and Arab North African sub-region.

Buhari’s stand on the recent virtual Extraordinary Summit of ECOWAS on a structural reform of the organization where he called for a drastic reduction in the member of ECOWAS commissioners from 15 to five should be applauded. He stated that each EU member state should pay for its commissioner; after all, Nigeria bears the financial brunt of ECOWAS in which it contributes more than 50% of the organization’s revenue.

The land border closure, for over eight months, between Nigeria and ECOWAS countries adversely affected all countries concerned including Nigeria. This is a typical example of how domestic policy has direct and indirect effects on foreign policy as the closure prevented the flow of persons, goods and services into Nigeria, including input requirements of commerce and industry, leading to hyperinflation of goods and services in the country. Though the aim of the policy was to stop the smuggling of small arms and ammunition and foreign rice into the country so as to reduce insecurity and encourage domestic rice production respectively, smuggling still continued due to the porous nature of the country’s borders.

The loss to the country of the border closure was greater than the expected benefits as it exacerbated the recession in the country. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lockdown, as well as the fall in the price of oil were additional factors.

Bilateral relations between Nigeria and its neighbours, particularly Ghana and Benin Republic, suffered a setback under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch due to the border closure; it was a grudge that Ghana held against Nigeria. The border was opened early January 2021; it will no doubt facilitate the needed rapprochement as well as smoothen relations between Nigeria and the ECOWAS member states.

Border opening should also stop the accusation that Nigeria was breaching the ECOWAS, WTO and the Africa Continental Trade Organization protocols regarding the free movement of peoples, goods and services in the sub-region.  Needless to say, Nigeria should therefore abide by its international treaty obligations.

In pursuit of a foreign policy based on good neighbourliness and security for all, President Buhari started his official international trips by first visiting Niger and Chad, later Cameroun, Guinea, and Benin Republic to re-invigorate the brotherly relations, and particularly to solicit their support in the war against international terrorism a part of which is the Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern part of Nigeria.

The trips led to the creation of the Multinational Joint Task Force consisting mainly of troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroun aimed at defeating Boko Haram terrorists and bringing peace and development to the Lake Chad Area. Unfortunately the war rages on, as there appears to be no effective synergy among the troops from member states of the Multinational Joint Task Force. This is exemplified by the Chadian attack, led by the Chadian President, on Boko Haram last year without the collective collaboration from Nigeria, Niger and Cameroun troops.

Though the Chadians had a huge success as regards chasing Boko Haram out of their territory into Nigeria, perhaps if coordination had existed within the Multinational Joint Task Force, the troops from other states would have joined the Chadian towards total liberation of the Lake Chad Basin where Boko Haram have their headquarters in the theatre of war. Also, if President Buhari had been on the same page with the Chadian President, the Nigerian troops would have been put on notice and on state of preparedness to compliment the efforts of the Chadian. No doubt, when institutions are created for the mutual benefits of countries concerned, such institutions should be supported effectively by member states. With the recent change of leadership in the armed forces of Nigeria, let us hope that the new service chiefs will learn from past experience and engage themselves with other troops from participant states of the Multinational Joint Task Force in a coordinated effort to put an end to Boko Haram and other security threats.

President Buhari has significantly succeeded in his search for international cooperation against terrorism by persuading former President Donald Trump of the United States of America to sell Tucano aircrafts to Nigeria to pursue the war against Boko Haram contrary to President Obama’s refusal to sell them to Nigeria for reasons best known to him.  When the Tucano aircrafts arrive, they will surely enhance the performance of the Nigerian troops. However, using the aircrafts without appropriate coordination with the ground troops, as currently being reported, would continue to limit military success.

The United States recently elected a new president in the person of Joe Biden. It can only be hoped that the new administration will have a more favourable foreign policy towards Nigeria.  However, against the backdrop of firstly, Nigeria’s experience with former President Donald Trump who imposed visa restrictions on Nigerians, gave the country a tough time in the re-election process of Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, and stalled the process of electing a WTO Director-General job that Nigeria’s Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was best positioned to win, and Trump’s derogatory remarks on Africans, and secondly, former President Obama’s negative attitude towards Nigeria (Obama’s Vice-President is now at the helm of affairs in America), Nigeria should can only afford to be cautiously optimistic. But of course, personalities do make a difference. Indeed, it is gratifying to note that the Biden administration withdrew the U.S. opposition to the candidacy of Okonjo-Iweala for the WTO job. That this happens in his time is one feather in Buhari’s cap.

A lot of support is needed from the U.S. to surmount the myriad challenges facing Nigeria as contained in President Buhari’s three-point programme on corruption, insecurity, and the economy. Besides the yet to be delivered the Tucano planes, the U.S. is also training some of our military personnel.  But, under the relevant bilateral agreement, Nigeria should be assigned more strategic advisers who have had war experience, particularly in the Gulf war, to impart their knowledge and experience in counter-terrorism.

With regard to the dwindling economy, the support of the United States could be sought in the following areas where it has a comparative advantage and competiveness over Nigeria, and which would attract the attention of President Joe Biden and USA entrepreneurs:

Continued on Opinion page tomorrow.

Lewu, PhD, former Nigerian Ambassador to Brazil.

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