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Revitalising contemporary Nigeria foreign policy


President Muhammadu Buhari returns from his private visit to London. Photo: Bayo Omoboriowo/Presidency

The Guardian newspapers’ editorials on Nigerian foreign policy published on the 8th and 9th May 2019 raised fundamental issues that should attract any keen Nigeria foreign policy analyst. The veining of the issues crisscrosses epistemological, ontological, psychological, sociological, cultural, economical, and political boundaries. Perhaps, because of the contemporary utility of the discourse to the democratisation process and the incipiency of the final interlude of Buhari’s presidency, it repays more attention. The conversations in the two editorials are, in my opinion, conceptually and ideationally self-same. However, rather than use broad strokes in my analysis as my categorisation appears, I would individually.

First, the editorial of 8th May, 2019. The editorial entitled ‘restructure Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives now!’ resonates with a tone and tune of urgency, of immediacy of attention and action, of existential crisis and diplomatic angst whose underlining presupposition appears to indicate that if nothing is done, sooner than later, there may be seismic irruption at the foundations of our national life. For perceptive analysts of the federalism debate in Nigeria, the title of the editorial, intertextually and ideologically, gestures to the debate of restructuring Nigeria championed by certain sections of the country and valorized by the PDP in the 2019 presidential elections.

Essentially, however, the editorial threw up two key issues. One, the ontological status of Nigerian foreign policy. The point is better expressed by the question: is there an entity called Nigeria foreign policy? If yes, the question that arises again is, what is the nature of the entity? Could this supposedly existing entity be truly said to be a progeny of its well-known activist and dynamic ancestor of the anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, anti-neocolonialism, and anti-Apartheid fame? What, in short, can be said to be the core of Nigeria’s foreign policy? Even if not monosyllabically posed, the editorial’s answer is unambiguously clear and it bears restating. It says, ‘currently, Nigeria’s foreign policy seems to be in a flux without a core. This has been a cause for concern to well-meaning Nigerians and many watchers of the country’s foreign policy. They have never ceased to recall the heyday of the country’s foreign policy, especially in the de-colonisation process in Africa.’ I will return presently to this point.


Two, the paper bristles at the government’s decision to close down thirty diplomatic missions abroad for economic reasons. It canvasses for ‘fiscal restructuring’ as against closing of diplomatic shops. The point is buttressed thus, ‘to explicate further, resources should be deployed from where they are not needed to fund the diplomatic missions and make our presence felt through adequate diplomatic representation. This is predicated on the role expectation of the country as the authentic leader of the black race.’ In this piece, I am not as much concern with fiscal restructuring as I am with the clincher, ‘the authentic leader of black race.’

Now we turn our analytical gaze to these two issues. First, the question of whether Nigeria has core foreign policy objectives. The answer is, yes. I muse that the Guardian anticipated its readers’ worries and responses about its questioning of the core of Nigerian foreign policy when in its second editorial it outlined her foreign policy objectives as enshrined in Section 19 of the 1999 Constitution. No sovereign state lacks the existence of a body of principles that govern the conduct of her international relations. None, whatsoever. The conveyor belt of these principles are dependent on the quality of such variables as leadership, intellectual prowess, diplomacy, ideology, geography, economy, technology, nationalism, military power, natural resources and so on. Where one nation possess with superfluous abandon majority of these variables the better it is placed in a good stead to pursue its national interests. Therefore, the difference that exits among nations in the pursuit of their foreign policies is a difference of degree not kind.

The seeming lull in contemporary Nigerian foreign policy exertions in all probability is traceable to the poor quality of the fibres of her intellectual content and direction and sense of intellectual activism, diplomatic timidity, poverty of ideological capital, leadership malfeasance, and so on. Needless to say that the other variables are in a state of advanced conceptual decay. What needs to be done, at the risk of sounding essentialistic in prescription, is to inject these variables with the desired dosage of functionalism, to inject fire into its belly.

The point needs to be made again and again that the very nature of the political and ideological climate of contemporary global affairs—and in Africa, especially—is at variance with what was obtainable in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. All the vestiges of colonialism, apartheid, cold war, imperialism have been destroyed, and with this destruction comes the end of the era of intense social and political activism that gave vent to an activist and dynamically oriented foreign policy. Therefore, anyone waiting for the arrival of the train of an activist and dynamic foreign policy in Abuja such as it had been in the days of yore finds himself at the wrong station where his waiting shall be in vain. In pedestrian terms, one waits in vain if one’s expectation seeks President Muhammadu Buhari’s foreign policy to be stamped with the seal of activism and dynamism. The thesis that Nigerian foreign policy is not dynamic found in contemporary literature on Nigerian foreign policy is borne out of the mindset of parallel expectations of Nigerian foreign policy in the 2000s to ape that of the 1970s and 80s. Nothing can be undynamic than these dynamic expectations!

Given that Nigerian foreign policy has a core as exemplified by the constitutional encapsulation of its objectives that serves as the fulcrum of its conceptual radiance, it would be counterfactual and counterintuitive to say Nigerian foreign policy is in a flux. Its pulling in different dimensions as against the hitherto linear ideological flow undoubtedly contradicts old habits of thought. Is all well with Nigerian foreign policy? The answer is no. Elsewhere, I have spoken of conceptual confusion in the framing of Nigerian foreign policy but that in no sense conflates with the notion of flux. The problem, I muse, for the umpteenth time harks back to difficulties of operationalization as against essence. Let us go to take up the other fundamental issue posed by the first editorial, the issue that Nigeria is the authentic leader of the black race.

A better way of starting this analysis can scarcely presuppose the question: how is Nigeria the authentic leader of the black race? In any case, I pose this question rhetorically and its propensity for critical reflection, if comic relief. I breakdown the questions for these effects furthermore. What is the basis of saying Nigeria is the authentic leader of the black race? Leadership? Politics? Economics? Technology? Military? Industrial? What indices precisely? Let’s leave aside these rhetorical questions and move straight to the issue at hand. To say Nigeria is the leader of the black race draws pearl of laughter. Such opinion is—in my view, and, surely many readers would agree with me on this point especially given the nature of the prevailing social and economic climate in the country—the height of psychological masturbation and hungering for honour. The facts of this case are so clear and speak eloquently for itself that it hardly suffices belabouring.

This point brings me to call against the rationalisation of Nigerian foreign missions. Outside the talk of the utilitarian value of diplomatic missions, the chiefest point for canvassing for the retention of the proposed diplomatic missions to be cut is psychological rather than economic consideration. It is to uphold the prestige of Nigeria in the eyes of the international community, no more, no less. As Africa’s big brother, the argument goes, Nigeria need not be seen downsizing her missions abroad even when economic realities so demand. This psychologizing propensity in the analysis of Nigeria foreign policy—and it comes in heavy torrents—needs to be eliminated to give room for empirically objective commentary. Let’s move to the next editorial.

The second editorial carried on the 9th May 2019 was titled: ‘to make Nigeria’s foreign policy significant.’ I have alluded that in conceptual and ideational details, this editorial and the previous one appear similar except that the tone is restrained, sober, and devoid of conceptual extravagances. For instance, rather than restate its earlier point of view that Nigeria is the ‘authentic leader of the black race’ the editorial self-correctly posits that, ‘given the reality that the country is the most populated black nation in the world, it was evidently seen as being tied to the fate of the black race. The inheritors of the scepter of power, going by the rhetoric of the period, were deemed moderates but acted in ways that put the country at the vanguard of the defenders of the black race and its interest.’ The one unremitting ideal the editorial tasks Nigeria not to lose sight of is the ‘the hope of a continental leadership.’ Nothing could be truer.

Generally, the epicenter of this editorial is the claim of the mismanagement of Nigeria foreign policy by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari arising from its very poor understanding of the foreign policy enterprise; its poor understanding and conceptualization of what constitutes Nigeria’s national interests; its poor understanding of the sociology of contemporary global diplomacy; its very poor sense of leadership and, more worrisome, its ethnocentricist vision and mindset emblematized by the penchant for the ethnicisation of diplomatic appointments and postings.

I earlier spoke of the conveyor belt of foreign policy. It is never a destination but a work-in-progress, a process of structuring and restructuring. Our foreign policy pursuit would get it amiss if we indulge in the complacency mode. Given the spiraling intensity of the forces of globalisation, now more than ever before, Nigeria needs to gird her loins and pursue a foreign policy course that conduces to the mobilisation and harnessing of the ingenuity and creative energies of her citizenry for national development. This would go a long way to put pay to melancholic clouds of banditry, kidnapping, poor migration practices, armed robbery, cultism among many other unspeakable vices that currently overhang our national firmament. The focus should be development diplomacy.

As President Muhammadu Buhari prepares to engage the levers of his second term, the Guardian editorial and its itemisation of the ailments that plague the administration’s foreign policy pursuit in the preceding dispensation should be food for thought.

Pine wrote from Makurdi, Benue State


In this article:
APCMuhammadu Buhari‎PDP
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