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To make Nigeria’s foreign policy significant



As we noted yesterday on this page, the expediency of restructuring Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives today cannot be over-emphasised. But some questions are still germane, in this regard. What is Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust today? What is our national interest? What purpose does our foreign policy serve? The colonial masters who cobbled the diverse people of the West Coast of Africa into today’s Nigeria ostensibly had a motive. According to James Robertson, the last colonial Governor General of Colonial Nigeria who wrote “Sovereign Nigeria” in the African Affairs of 1961, the motive for creating Nigeria was to build a country that would play a significant role in global affairs.

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. It severed diplomatic relations with France over the latter’s testing of the Atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert and also followed a non-aligned position in the charged global environment of ideological contestation between the then Soviet Union and the United States.

Besides, there was indeed an abiding consciousness of an independent country. The clearly articulated anti-colonial goal of freeing the continent from colonial rule demonstrated in the aforementioned struggle against Apartheid South Africa, Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and Mozambique as well as Ian Smith’s gamble in Zimbabwe underscored the country as a veritable black power in the making. In spite of the obvious failing in the international relations of Nigeria, Africans elsewhere easily concede the leadership of the continent to it.


Today, those heroic deeds of the past have faded away and are of no significance due to mis-governance of the country by a warped, self-serving and unpatriotic governing class. Truly, it is difficult to comprehend the country’s foreign policy. It is as though the country had no one and its foreign minister mainly exists to fulfil the virtue of filling up an available cabinet position.

However, we do know that in the prevailing political milieu of cluelessness the extant 1999 Constitution as amended ought to be relevant. Section 19 of the 1999 Constitution fully engrossed the country’s foreign policy objectives thus: “promotion and protection of national interest; promotion of African integration and support of African unity; promotion of international cooperation for consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination in all its manifestation; respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication and promotion of a just world economic order.”

Despite these fine lines of the basic law, the present administration barely knows what to do with the country’s foreign policy. Diplomatic postings are driven by political considerations rather than the interest of the country. Such warped inclination could explain the posting of an octogenarian to represent the country’s interest in Washington, the confluence of global diplomatic activities. Besides, the anticipated pruning of diplomatic missions betrays lack of understanding of the country’s national interest and the purpose, which diplomatic missions should serve.

National interest is a product of domestic conversation influenced by the external environment. It has to do with those things that are beneficial to the country’s wellbeing, namely, socio-economic and political values. As Paul Seabury once noted, national interest refers to some ideal set of purposes which nation seeks to achieve in the conduct of its foreign relations. Of course these are projected in the international system to be bought by other international actors. This is why Adam Watson defines diplomacy as “a means or process, which helps states to realize their set goals.”

While it is possible to talk about the past, today there is no clearly defined national interest and this is due to harrowing and debilitating contradictions of the Nigerian state, which finds vivid expression in ethnocentric policy output of the present administration. The prevailing divisive policies of the present wielders of power have rendered inconsequential the provisions of the constitution al a foreign policy goals. Overtime, we have argued for restructuring of the polity to achieve national cohesion. It is important for the country’s capacity to be able to communicate effectively at home and abroad. Without it, the search for a national interest over which our foreign policy would be woven around will remain a fantasy.

It is to be noted that in the past, the protection of our national interest was always the permanent focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy while strategies for its attainment varied according the regime in power. It is not sufficient to have ends in foreign relations but the means to achieve them are equally important.

It is pertinent to note that today Nigeria is not a good brand. Therefore, the country needs to rethink its foreign policy, deploy professional diplomats and experts to achieve its national interest in the international arena. That interest must be re-articulated through a fresh national conversation. Through prioritisation, the means to realise our foreign policy goals would avail much. In the main, the hope of a continental leadership must not be buried on the altar of ineptitude. This is what the authorities in Abuja should bear in mind at this and all time.


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