Thursday, 30th November 2023

Playing catch-up at BRICS sidelines

By Alabi Williams
28 August 2023   |   3:11 am
When it was announced that Vice President Kashim Shettima was to attend the 15th Annual Summit of the BRICS in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, many would have wondered in what capacity Nigeria was attending. It’s likely that because of our engagements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in neighbouring Niger, we…

Shettima at BRICS Summit

When it was announced that Vice President Kashim Shettima was to attend the 15th Annual Summit of the BRICS in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week, many would have wondered in what capacity Nigeria was attending. It’s likely that because of our engagements with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in neighbouring Niger, we didn’t pay a lot of attention to the events in South Africa. I understand, we cannot abandon the fire next door to go chasing clout in some faraway country. But it matters as well.

However, the attention of major global players turned southwards, as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa sat to further redefine and relocate the levers of global business and influence peddling. They have been at it since 2009, when they began to meet and chart the course of a parallel world body to compete for a share of global capital, which they claim is dominated by the United States and their western allies.

While the powerful western media tried not to hype the event, nobody could ignore the fact that a substantial number of developed, medium and developing economies were rallying to counter what they allege to be a hegemonic dominance over global resources. The BRICS and others are asking for inclusion and fairness.

Apart from the original BRICS founders, more than 20 other countries had indicated interest to be admitted into the coalition. At the end of the day, six more countries-Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate were added, their membership to be effective by January 2024.

Apart from the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, leaders of other BRICS countries were physically in attendance. Putin is running from an arrest warrant placed on him for war crimes in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but he was represented by the country’s Foreign Affairs minister, Sergei Lavrov. A pre-recorded address by Putin was played. President Xi Jinping of China, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil joined their host, Cyril Ramaphosa in a remarkable three-day summit.

Leaders of other countries as well as regional and global bodies were invited for presentations, including the League of Arab States and Islamic Cooperation, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), the New Development Bank (NDB), the United Nations’ (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, among others were in attendance. There were also the BRICS Plus countries with status of observers, waiting to be admitted.

The BRICS had a combined GDP of over $26.03 trillion as at 2022 and 40 per cent share of world’s population. By the time the six new members are fully integrated, with the oil resources of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran, the body would make an impact in the global economy.

Nigeria’s non-membership of BRICS has become an issue of concern for foreign relations experts and scholars. It is not really clear what the position of the Federal Government is regarding the bloc. What can be said for sure is that the country has recorded significant meltdown in her foreign relations management, within Africa and globally. With six other countries picked ahead of Nigeria to join the bloc, it could be lamented that Africa’s giant has become less competitive in global affairs.

Nigeria is not compelled to join BRICS or any other bloc, but yielding to an observer status seems ridiculing when she could have been among the founding members.

Vice President Shettima attempted to restate the capacity of Africa’s most populous country as well as the largest economy at a sideline business meeting of BRICS. He had earlier inspected Nigeria’s exhibition stands at the BRICS Trade Fair, where he lauded government’s passion for empowering Small and Medium Enterprises. He praised the Nigerian exhibitors for doing well and making the country proud in the host country. But that was not a fitting role for Nigeria.

This country deserves to be first among equals in Africa if she had articulated a foreign policy in that light; if the country had remained consistent with the trajectory, she set at independence, during which she demonstrated the capacity of a regional and continental powerhouse. In those days, when Nigeria was a definable leader in the global South, when she championed non-aligned cooperation among states of medium power and economic capabilities,there wouldn’t even be a BRICS without her.

The Vice President was also at the 2023 Russia-Africa Summit, which held in July in St Petersburg, where 17 African heads of state were in attendance. The maiden summit took place in 2019, in Russia’s renewed effort to court Africa as she disengages from western economies.

Nigeria was not on the front row at the July Summit as well, perhaps because the government of President Tinubu was yet to articulate and unveil a foreign policy. He is yet to do that, apart from assuming chairmanship of the ECOWAS and attending the Fifth Mid-Year Coordinating Meeting of the African Union (AU), where he warned major powers that are flocking around Africa for another round of scramble for raw materials to back off.

Just as we reminded him then, the new colonisers are here already and it is left for policy experts to shape how the continent responds to external aggressors and friends and how individual countries deal with neo-colonialism in the midst of extreme poverty, indebtedness and bad governance.

Even among BRICS, there is no free lunch. Majority of those applying to join have one issue or the other with the powerful North, where they are heavily indebted and are in search of financial freedom. Others have ideological battles with the West over their rogue governance systems, being neither multi-party democracies nor outright fascists.They prefer not to be peer-reviewed. So, Nigeria cannot afford to blindly follow others just to be seen to belong. At the same time, where values of non-alliance, equity and justice are the genuine drivers of a new world order, Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind. There are experts to drive the process when the government decides.

For 15 years, the BRICS have been at work. They want to diffuse the preponderant influence by the U.S. over the institutions of International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, as well as design an alternative to the dollar as currency of international trade and exchange. Since 2015, the New Development Bank (NDB) has been doing for BRICS what the World Bank and IMF were meant to do. With time, it will be clear which is safer.

Even as they are united in common objectives, each country came to the Summit with individual peculiarities, in terms of self-protection and inherent advantages to derive from economies of scale. While Russia and China can do with more trading outposts for their products, thus favouring opening the gates for more members, others are a bit reluctant.

For Russia, the occasion was an opportunity to lash out at enemies she did not want to mention, but it was clear who the adversaries are. Putin claimed BRICS was not out to compete nor act as counterweight to anyone but seeks for a new multipolar world where there is a balance of interests and different developmental models to accommodate individual countries.

He identified countries he referred to as ‘so-called Golden Billion’ who go to great length to preserve a unipolar world, who make rules to benefit their self-serving interests. He lamented severally the sanctions imposed on his country by the West. Sounding much like a defender of poor countries. He queried the debt burden imposed on them, blaming it on colonisers who siphon resources of developing countries.

Putin said: “The emerging new world order is also threatened by the radical neoliberalism certain countries are trying to impose, aiming to destroy traditional values that are important to all of us: the family and respect for national and religious traditions. Certain politicians do not hesitate to justify even neo-Nazism, xenophobia, and various kinds of extremism and condone terrorists to serve their opportunistic purposes.”

That resonated well with African countries, majority of which benefited from Russia during the liberation struggles, particularly in Southern Africa. Russia provided immense support in material resources and training to counter the support the Apartheid regime got from the West. For that, South Africa is eternally grateful and is so beholden to Russia. Yes, we cannot forget.

Let the current leaders in South Africa not forget Nigeria’s frontline role in that struggle and let them not be tempted to trade the place of the world’s most populous black country, despite her current challenges.

The body language of the Indian Prime Minister at the BRICS Business Forum Leaders’ Dialogue was rather boastful, as he narrated great leaps recorded so far by his country. He mentioned that soon, India would attain a $5 trillion economy and become the global growth engine.

It is the world’s fasted growing economy despite global challenges with good performance in ICT. The country has done well in lifting substantial part of her population out of poverty and is doing well in pharmaceuticals, especially during COVID-19. Nigeria has a lot to learn from India in areas of local content development and shrewd protection of local manufacturers.

China is the leader of the team and was more measured in assuring the Summit that their economy is very resilient, despite current challenges. It boasts of a large market and high calibre work force. Xi was more vigorous in the campaign for accelerated expansion of BRICS.

South Africa and Brazil share similar socialist instincts, growth potentials but weak governance systems. Hopefully, a restructured global capital and funding systems will endow the two countries with better competitive advantages.

But Nigeria cannot afford to waste more time. So much is lost already.