I have always known that “Africa is the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy.” There is no doubt that Nigeria has a noble role to play in global affairs as she is the most populous black nation in the world with a population of about 200 million people. The country, popularly referred to as the “giant of Africa,” would have loved to obey one of the legs of the Great Commandment aptly stated in the Holy Book- “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But unfortunately, challenges emanating from her domestic environment have given rise to controversies on the effectiveness of Nigerian foreign policy in recent times. Indeed a few Nigerians want to know the focus of Nigerian foreign policy in the past four years. Perhaps, an attempt to know the focus will illuminate the minds of Nigerians as to the ends to be achieved. So, if what we have today as our foreign policy is placed side by side with strands of Nigerian foreign policies of the 1970s and early 1980, a lot of doubts will be cleared.
The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) recently organized a one-day conference to assess Nigeria’s foreign policy under the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) within the period 2015 and 2019. It was a gathering of intellectuals, and other dignitaries as well as professionals from the broad spectrum of the society. From various papers presented and perspectives of individual presenter, one could see that their arguments were fired by some level of patriotism depending on different parameters used for assessment. It would be hard for a country undergoing economic and political challenges to have a solid ground to contest the argument that her foreign policy is experiencing a low turn for some years. The reason is not farfetched as to why there are so many challenges facing Nigerian foreign policy. It’s the cumulative effect of poor governance over the years in the country that has given birth to insecurity, economic mismanagement and widespread corruption. These negatives have affected the noble role expected of Nigeria within the international arena.
Let’s consider Nigerian foreign policy within the ECOWAS and AU. Unless one wants to shy away from telling the truth, Nigeria cannot do without ECOWAS. In the same vein, ECOWAS cannot do without Nigeria. Why do I say so? Nigeria is the largest economy within the ECOWAS and the AU. Most ECOWAS and AU states are facing economic and integration challenges. Most times Nigeria had intervened in a couple of intrastate and interstate crises which has defined most of the countries within the West African sub-region and the African continent. So, Nigeria’s hegemony within the continent of Africa is prominent. It’s because Nigeria’s current economic strength and political stability will not support her foreign policy either at the sub-regional or regional level, that is why Nigerians are saying that the country needs political stability to allow for meaningful economic development.
When one considers Nigeria’s foreign policy within the context of Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Nigeria has not done well. Yes, at the time the issue of AfCFTA came up in 2018, it wasn’t in the best interest to sign the treaty. If truly Nigeria is the “giant of Africa,” how long will it take the country to put her house in order to be part of the AfCFTA? Leadership has to be from the front, not from behind. In a way, one can say without fear of any contradiction that the Buhari-led government has not rocked the boat in the international environment. A nation whose economy is very fragile since 2015 till date cannot play an “activist” role in the continent of Africa and beyond.
I was discussing with an associate about the economic diplomacy of the country known as the Nigerian Economic Diplomacy Initiative (NEDI) which was launched in April 2018. He hasn’t heard about NEDI. This is an initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment, the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission and the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. Essentially, “the initiative aims at spurring economic growth and development through facilitation of market access, foreign direct investment, cross border trade and recruitment of skilled Nigerians in diaspora for national development.” Most Nigerians are not aware of this initiative because politics is trumping economic activities of the government since the last quarter of 2018. I see this economic diplomacy initiative as a policy only on paper.
From the security angle, it would be hard to say that the Boko Haram phenomenon is not at cross purposes with Nigerian foreign policy when some countries have been warning their citizens from traveling to certain parts of the country. Truth is, insecurity has indeed impacted negatively on Nigerian foreign policy. Insecurity has driven away many investors and it has partly contributed to raising the cost of doing business in the country.
The fight against corruption is one of the main thrust of PMB’s foreign policy. Although, a prophet does not have an honor at home, the perception of the world about PMB’s regime in fighting corruption is satisfactory. That is why PMB has been honored by the AU and the country tasked with designing a road map on reduction of corruption within the African continent. The Transparency International report on 2017 corruption perception indicated however, that Nigeria ranked 146 out of 180 countries. The organization claims that corruption is getting worse in Nigeria. Only posterity will judge PMB correctly.
For some time, Nigeria has not been very active in the international community. In order to pursue the goal of economic independence, the country must use its foreign policy tool for national development. That is why it’s good for the NIIA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to continuously engage Nigerians by pushing out necessary foreign policy information. This effort if sustained will renew the interest of Nigerians in their country’s foreign policy. Good ideas on Nigerian foreign policy abounds everywhere. They may occasionally come from outside the official channel. So, Nigerians must be carried along on foreign policy issues.