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Reshaping Nigeria’s foreign policy

By ‘Femi D. Ojumu
11 May 2022   |   3:54 am
In the main, progressive nations have these overarching strategic foreign policy objectives: the security, protection and welfare of their citizens within and outside their national borders, plus, economic prosperity.

(Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

In the main, progressive nations have these overarching strategic foreign policy objectives: the security, protection and welfare of their citizens within and outside their national borders, plus, economic prosperity. Linked strategic objectives appertain to trade and cooperation with other nations on a bilateral or multilateral win: win basis. This piece examines the dynamics of Nigeria’s foreign policy, its adaptability to global and regional geopolitics, domestic challenges and proffers policy recommendations on enhancing the country’s standing in the comity of nations.

Proceeding from first principles, foreign policy implicates how a country projects its clout, influence, leverage, “soft” or “hard” power on the global stage, in a manner which meets its singular national interest/s or indeed, the collective national interest/s of allied states. Superficially, foreign policy is grounded in international law and treaty obligations. In practice, however, foreign policy is grounded in the ideological leanings of nation states and national interests. The latter may be widely or narrowly interpreted by an administration.

And whilst foreign policy, like everything else in life, is not static, nevertheless, there are some constants therein which bear explication. Take the United States of America for example. U.S. foreign policy has, for generations, been grounded in the ideological imperatives of – advancing democracy, freedom, liberty, free market economic models, the rule of law and, crucially, defending American national interests within and outside its borders. The Monroe Doctrine (named after U.S. President James Monroe following his speech to the U.S. Congress in 1823) illustrates the latter point.

Simply, the doctrine opposed European colonisation in the Western hemisphere and has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy through the 19th, 20th and the 21st Century. The doctrine has been used to justify U.S. intervention in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. And, as recently as March 3, 2019, John Bolton, U.S. National Security Advisor, cited the doctrine in articulating President Donald Trump’s foreign policy in Latin America viz “We’re not afraid to use the word Monroe Doctrine…It’s been the objective of American presidents going back to President Ronald Reagan to have a completely democratic hemisphere.”

Likewise, Pax Britannica formed a cornerstone of British foreign policy for much of the 19th and early 20th century – where the Royal Navy exercised de facto jurisdiction over most of the world’s maritime routes and, by extension, access to expansive global markets. Today, Britain’s foreign policy is broadly aimed at securing its “sovereignty gains” post-Brexit and geared towards defence, economic growth and prosperity. Implicit therein is trade and cooperation with friendly nations.

But what is Nigeria’s foreign policy? Upon independence in 1960, Nigeria’s Prime Minister (1960-1966), Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, declared “Africa is the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.” That policy stance has been the recurrent theme of successive Nigerian administrations.

Statutory codification of this policy can be gleaned from section 19 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which provides that the foreign policy objectives shall be: “(a) promotion and protection of the national interest”; (b) promotion of African integration and support for African unity; (c) promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all manifestations; (d) respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication; (e) promotion of a just world economic order.”

However, what does the statement “Africa is the centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” actually mean and how as it adapted to emerging socio-economic and political challenges? Is it fit for purpose? Does the country possess the economic, transformative visionary leadership and military capacity to project its weight beyond its borders? Can it accomplish same within its borders? Is foreign policy conflated with extant constitutional provisions?

The notion of Africa as the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy was predicated on the sovereignty and equality of all African states, eradication of colonialism, proactively supporting human rights, respect for the principle of non-interference and promoting friendships and mutual cooperation among independent African states.

That concept may well have been fit for-purpose in post-independence Africa, however, Nigeria faces new challenges on the domestic and international fronts, which call for fresh thinking, dynamism, foresight and innovative strategies to deal with same. What, for instance, was Nigeria’s foreign policy before, and in the wake of, the 2010/2011 Arab Spring which witnessed the deposition of the Tunisian, Libyan, Egyptian and Yemeni regimes of Zine el Ben Ali, Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Ali Abdul Saleh respectively?
One school of thought posits that had there been a more robust and dynamic robust Nigerian foreign policy at the time, the resulting weapons proliferation, in the hands of extremist groups, and their advancement, could have been significantly impeded. Had that been the case, arguably the terrorist charge prevalent in Nigeria today might have been seriously curtailed.

Likewise, significant domestic challenges evidenced in part by rising economic hardship, unemployment, food insecurity, infrastructural deficits, power outages, sub-optimal productivity, significant national debt (N38.6 trillion as of December 2021), and terrorism; often conspire to frustrate well-intentioned foreign policy aspirations. Afterall, for Nigeria to project any serious measure of international clout, its domestic affairs ought, reasonably, to be consistently well managed on all key criteria – visionary leadership, law and order, security, economic management, national development, food security etc.

Notwithstanding those challenges, Nigeria’s foreign policy has, over the years, accomplished remarkable successes. The country was instrumental in the establishment of the Multi-National Joint Action Task Force (MNJATF), comprising troops from Republic of Benin, Cameroun, Chad, Niger Republic and Nigeria in 1994 with the objective of ending Boko Haram terrorism. Its mandate was expanded in 2015 to increase numbers, birthing a new Concept of Operations modus operandi and a relocation of the headquarters from Baga (Borno State) to N’djamena (Chad). The Force is still actively engaged in the battle against determined terrorists.

Hitherto, Nigeria was instrumental in the creation of the Economic Community of West African States’ Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) multinational force in 1990 to intervene, and help end the fratricidal Liberian civil war (1989-96). Under the auspices of the United Nations’ and the African Union’s Peace Keep Missions, Nigerian troops have also performed creditably in United Nations Peace Keep Missions in Congo, Mali, Somalia, Sudan et al.

Contextually, the projection of the country’s soft power in foreign policy terms, has witnessed Nigeria’s formidable intellectual representation at the International Court of Justice with Justice Dadi Onyema, Professor Taslim Olawale Elias and Prince Bola Ajibola. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is not only Nigerian, she is the first female and first African Director-General of the World Trade Organisation; Akinwumi Adesina is the President of the African Development Bank; Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo’s the Secretary General of the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Nigeria, alongside Algeria, Egypt, Senegal and South Africa was instrumental in establishing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It aims to promote Africa’s growth and socio-economic development by advancing citizen inclusion, increased cooperation and integration amongst African states. The logic for its establishment was sound in that strategic focus had to be redirected from conflict resolution and peace keeping across the continent to economic development and sustainability. NEPAD was thus adopted in 2001 by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) 37th Summit and ratified by the African Union (the OAU’s successor) in 2002.

A key NEPAD output has been the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security. During the Second Ordinary Session of the African Union in July 2003, in Maputo (Mozambique), African leaders endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa.” The declaration contained the seminal principle of budgetary allocation of at least 10 per cent to agriculture and rural development policy implementation subject to periodic reviews.

These are laudable achievements and should be celebrated. Nevertheless, the question is how best, in the 21st century, can the combination of Nigeria’s human capital, thought leadership, demography, vast natural resources and competitive maritime advantage be coherently harnessed to formulate a robust foreign policy?

In summing up, the concept – Advance Nigeria – is therefore posited as a foreign policy canon to shape the direction of international affairs for this and succeeding generations.

Advance Nigeria’s sine qua non would be: i.) safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity; ii.) building domestic resilience and robust economic foundations; (iii.) developing early warning systems on threats to the country’s and citizens’ interests and the flexibility to act decisively within the rule of law; (iv.) sustainable and mutually beneficial military and strategic alliances with targeted global super powers; (v.) transparently embed the rule of law as a modus operandi across governments and private institutions; (vi.) articulate the country’s unique selling proposition (e.g. artificial intelligence and data analytics, manufacturing, healthcare etc.); (vii.) securing a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with all the rights and responsibilities appertaining to existing member states; (viii.) respecting international law and treaty obligations; (ix.) critically assessing the relative benefits and disadvantages against the country’s national interests, before acceding to future treaties and international compacts and (x) coherently distinguishing the nation’s foreign policy and the nuances thereof, from the overarching provisions contained in section 19 of the 1999 Constitution.

Ojumu is Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, firm of legal practitioners in Lagos, Nigeria.