In rethinking the fundamental parameters of our foreign policy, it is my considered opinion that we should put more emphasis on the instruments of soft power. These can go a long way towards building the kind of goodwill that will make us a more attractive and more influential player on the regional and international arena. The Chinese are well on the path to creating a civilisational renaissance that is bound to shake the very foundations of the actually existing balance of world power. While quietly assembling a formidable arsenal of military weaponry, Chinese geopolitical strategy puts emphasis on the instruments of soft power as the most effective weapon of world conquest. Thus they have quietly provided financial aid to an ailing Europe while indulging the Americans their habits of wasteful consumption. In Africa they are expanding the frontiers of trade and investment that guarantee them untrammelled access to our strategic industrial raw materials.
I would identify the arts, sports, media and religion as potential instruments of soft power that we could deploy to positive advantage in the years ahead. In the arts, for example, we have some of the best and most influential writers in the developing world. Chinua Achebe, the grand old man of African letters, must be treated as a national treasure. Wole Soyinka is Wole Soyinka. Government can use these gentlemen as goodwill ambassadors from time to time. They can be sponsored on speaking tours across the world to promote our culture and literary tradition. Poets such as Odia Ofeimun and J. P. Clark Bekederemo could be sponsored to read their poetry in places where we would like to project our soft power. Our painters could also do their exhibitions in some of our embassies across the world to showcase the best of our contemporary art.
It is a truism that Nigerian films and music have virtually conquered the world. I was astonished to find Nigerian films and music in places as wide apart as Suriname, Vanuatu, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and South Africa. Uche Jombo, Regina Askia, Rita Dominic and Ramsey Nouah have become household names throughout Africa, the Caribbean and far-flung islands of the seas. So are musical stars such as Tu-Face Idibia and P-Square. Our government has grossly under-estimated the power of Nollywood and has invested very little or nothing in it. With a modest investment in our film and music sector, the benefits we could derive as a nation would be incalculable.
Sports are another potentially important source of soft power. The recent triumph of our national football team in the African Cup of Nations is something we can build upon. We ought to have known by now that the one thing that brings all Nigerians together, regardless of ethnicity, region or, indeed, religion, is football. Any wise statesman would want to use football as an instrument not only for nation-building but also for projection of national power and influence. For decades Brazil has defined itself as a great footballing nation. Football has given Brazil an influence that far surpasses its material resources and capabilities. Some would say it has in fact reinforced the country’s drive for accelerated social and economic transformation as we’ve known it today.
Finally, religion could also be used as a source of soft power influence. It can, of course, be a force for good as well as evil. Our elites have tended to use it as a divisive weapon to unleash mayhem, murder and all sorts of atrocities. This is not the only use to which religion can be put. Scholars of the realist tradition have learned to separate religion as a belief system from religion as a sociological phenomenon. The use of religion as a positive instrument of statecraft is a tradition that goes back to Machiavelli and the wise Caliphs of medieval Islam. As a sociological phenomenon, religion could indeed serve as a tool for positive social mobilisation. It is up to us to exploit its potential for good to our national advantage while discouraging its usage for evil purposes.
In the north, for example, we could refurbish the tombs of Sheikh Usman Dan Fodio and his son Sultan Bello as places of pilgrimage for Muslim faithful throughout the world. Barring a few minority salafists, the majority of Nigerian Muslims are Sunnis, for whom reverence for holy sites is not anathema. Bishop Oyedepo arguably has the world’s largest church in Canaanland, Ota. Thousands of believers from abroad troop to Canaanland every December/January. Although T. B. Joshua and the Synagogue Church of All Nations are yet to win acceptability with the majority of the Pentecostal Movement in Nigeria, his influence is unmistakably global. Heads of state and monarchs from Africa have been visiting him in private. Our tenants in Aso Villa could use the opportunity to invite the visitors to taste the wonders of our cassava bread. For Catholic faithful, Nigeria is the homeland of the Venerable Father Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi, a monk that is on the road to being canonised as a saint. We can tap into all these sources to build goodwill and positive influence about Nigeria as a nation and people.
Nigeria’s travails are so deep because its spiritual star is an extraordinary one. William Shakespeare declared that some people are born great, some achieve greatness, while others have greatness “thrust upon them”. I believe Nigeria was born great, but its path to greatness was truncated by ignorant men – charlatans who took it upon themselves to systematically bring our great nation to its knees. We were meant to be a light unto the nations, a lamp upon a hill, not this fourth-world miasma of chaos, venality and crime. But, make no mistake about it: Nigeria will rise again; she will reclaim her world-historic vocation under God.
Mailafia is a former deputy governor of the CBN and chief of staff of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States in Brussels, Belgium.
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