• Friday, December 01, 2023
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Nigeria’s next foreign minister faces uphill task

Nigeria’s next foreign minister would have an enormous task of reordering the country’s shambolic foreign policy and putting Africa’s most populous nation on the world stage once again. Eight years of the Buhari administration not only saw a massive economic decline and unprecedented poverty but also an insidious weakening of Nigeria’s foreign presence.

Once the “giant of Africa”, Nigeria has been embarrassingly missing from the global stage leaving South Africa, Nigeria’s unrelenting rival to take up the role the country once had as the leader of the continent.

In January, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed to use his chairmanship of the BRICS group of leading emerging economies to focus on advancing African interests. The bloc — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — is seen as an alternative to dominant Western economies.

“We want to use this opportunity to advance the interests of our continent, and we will therefore through the BRICS summit be having an outreach process or moment, where we will invite other African countries to come and be part of the BRICS because we do want BRICS in whatever BRICS does to focus on helping to develop our continent,” Ramaphosa said.

“Our continent was pillaged and ravaged and exploited by other continents and we therefore want to build solidarity in BRICS to advance the interests, of course initially of our own country, but also of the continent as a whole,” he added.

Nigeria’s political elite, says Charles Onunaiju, director of the Centre for China Studies in Nigeria “have made the country look big for nothing as their narcissistic political brinkmanship and chicanery continue to chisel away the key fundamentals and essentials of a democratic and socially-inclusive political order, robbing the country the international prestige it rightfully deserves”.

Former president Buhari showed extremely little interest in the politics of international relations. He was more interested in Nigeria’s idealistic relationship with his paternal home, Niger Republic; a relationship that paid little to nothing in political and economic dividends for the country.

The country faces dire foreign policy challenges that would require a minister with strong diplomatic skills and force of character to manage.

He was one of the first public figures to condemn the coup in Niger which he described as “utterly naïve, despicable, and unacceptable”.

The coup in Niger is presenting Nigeria the opportunity to reject the lethargy of the Buhari administration, and once again assert its presence on the global stage.

President Bola Tinubu’s initial brash response to the coup left most Nigerians including the country’s diplomatic corps perplexed. Tinubu who currently holds the rotating presidency of the West African bloc, ECOWAS, threatened military action against the junta in Niger if they did not step down and reinstate the deposed president. He also imposed sanctions on Niger and cut off electricity supply to the country.

Meanwhile, the coup leaders have since vowed they will not bow to pressure to reinstate ousted president Bazoum. They denounced the sanctions as “illegal” and “inhumane” and urged their countrymen to get ready to defend their nation.

Since then, the Nigerian leader has been more dovish in his statements.

“In reaffirming our relentless commitment to democracy, human rights, and the well-being of the people of Niger, it is crucial that we prioritise diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of our approach.

“We must engage all parties involved, including the coup leaders, in earnest discussions to convince them to relinquish power and reinstate President Bazoum,” Tinubu told regional leaders in Abuja last week.

The president would need a foreign minister to help him see through the negotiation process. Nigeria has been without a political head for the country’s foreign ministry since Tinubu assumed office in late May.

He has been inexpressively sluggish in forming a cabinet. When he finally announced his ministerial team, it was widely dismissed as uninspiring in quality and cumbersome in numbers. Yet the country faces dire foreign policy challenges that would require a minister with strong diplomatic skills and force of character to manage.

Read also: Over 12 Niger soldiers killed in attack near Mali border

The country’s foreign policy has over the years been naively centred on Africa rather than a global-centric foreign policy that seeks to harness international action behind Nigeria. In addition, the new minister would have to deal with poor funding for the country’s diplomatic missions and obligations. Nigerian foreign missions have been a terrible embarrassment to the country abroad as paltry budgetary allocations are affecting their effectiveness in responding to the expansive structure of diplomatic services.

Section 19 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) contains the foreign policy objectives of Nigeria. According to the Section, Nigeria’s foreign policy objectives shall be the promotion and protection of the national interest; promotion of African integration and support for African unity; promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; 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.

Even though the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coordinates the activities of the Ministry, the making of Nigeria’s foreign policy has hardly been dominated by the ministry over the years. Nigeria’s presidents have always determined foreign policy. The foreign minister carries out the President’s foreign policies through the foreign ministry and the foreign service of the country.

Sheriff Folarin of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Covenant University noted that “from independence to date, foreign policymaking has been the exclusive preserve of the Head of State or President as the case may be, and their thin political group. The chief executive personalises and personifies power politics in Nigeria in a zero-sum game with the winner taking all-and this extends to the foreign policy domain. In fact, foreign policy is seen to be understood only by the government, and the hierarchy of power favours the chief executive to call all the shots. To be fair, universally the President is the primus in external diplomacy of a state

The foreign minister’s role in foreign policy increases or decreases depending on the stature and character of the president of the time. President Olusegun Obasanjo because of his international stature and force of character practically served as his own foreign minister.

Over the years, especially since the return to democracy in 1999, other institutions of state including the Office of the national security advisor (ONSA), the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Ministry of Finance, the NNPC, etc have become serious foreign policy players, sometimes overshadowing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The potential foreign minister in Tinubu’s cabinet is Yusuf Maitama Tuggar. He is the only nominee with any notable diplomatic experience. He is currently Nigeria’s Ambassador to Germany, a position he has held since 2017 when he was appointed to that post by the immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari.

As Ambassador, Tuggar played a key role during the 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He also facilitated the state visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Nigeria in August 2018.

Tuggar was a member of the House of Representatives from 2007 to 2011 representing Gamawa federal constituency, and unsuccessfully ran twice for governor in Bauchi State. In the House, he served as the Chairman of the Committee on Public Procurement, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and deputy chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions. He sponsored a bill on the inhumane transport of livestock on the floor of the House.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the United States International University, San Diego. He also attended the University of Bath and the University of Cambridge from where he respectively gained an M.A. in International Security and MST International Relations.