• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

What exactly is Nigeria’s foreign policy?

What exactly is Nigeria’s foreign policy?

Shortly before the commencement of NATO airstrikes on Libyan military installations during the 2011 Libyan uprising, something happened at a session of the UN Security Council. This event was absolutely key to what was about to unfold, but it has mysteriously been forgotten by history, as the narrative around the genesis of Libya’s civil war now revolves exclusively around Colonel Muammar Ghadaffi on one side, and the NATO coalition on the other side.

This false framing has allowed what is perhaps one of the most catastrophic foreign policy decisions ever made to avoid political scrutiny in the country of the person who made it.

Following Ghadaffi’s deployment of fighter jets and heavy arms against civilian protesters with the goal of murderously crushing all dissent against his 42-year misrule, the UN Security Council held a vote on the subject of whether or not to authorise NATO airstrikes against the Libyan military. A few countries like China, Russia and Germany abstained from the vote. Most others voted in favour of the airstrikes. In this camp were South Africa and Nigeria. And this is where a bigger problem began from a Nigerian point of view.

to posthumously deodorise one of the most abominable, despicable tyrants to have ever walked the face of this planet. Violent and barbaric as it was, Colonel Ghaddafi deserved his fate a thousand times over

How is foreign policy determined?

For the avoidance of doubt, the purpose of this article is not to claim that Libya was better off under Ghaddafi than it currently is, or to posthumously deodorise one of the most abominable, despicable tyrants to have ever walked the face of this planet. Violent and barbaric as it was, Colonel Ghaddafi deserved his fate a thousand times over.

Over his 42 years at the helm of Libya, he had systematically murdered tens of thousands of Libyans, attacked sovereign countries, funded global terrorism, embezzled vast amounts of the Libyan people’s patrominy, and – most horrifying – indulged his monstrous personal habit of kidnapping any schoolgirls that took his fancy, and turning them into his lifelong sex slaves who would never see their parents again.

Gaddafi was a monster – let us be very clear about that. He was no “Pan Africanist” or “African Hero.” He was a borderline insane character who ran an entire country like it was his personal roasted plantain street stand, and funded atrocities of war criminals like Charles Taylor of Liberia. All of that however, was completely beside the point when Nigeria had to make the decision of picking a side during the UNSC vote in 2011.

The reason? Because a country’s foreign policy is determined first and foremost by its interests, and not merely by what can objectively be said to be “right” and “wrong.” A state is an extremely complex unit of human civilisation, and the interests of a state are not always aligned with what is “good” or “bad” in an ideal, abstract setting.

In the case of Nigeria in 2011, the decision to vote for or against bombing Libya should have had this as the foremost concern informing it – Libya is quite literally 2 borders away from Nigeria. Nigeria in fact shares 2 borders with countries that directly border Libya (Niger and Chad). What this meant was that potential destabilisation of the Libyan state on a level previously unseen would have direct and adverse consequences for Nigeria’s internal security.

Certainly neither Niger nor Chad were strong enough states to adequately stem any flow of weapons or fighters from a Libyan mega conflict before they would get to Nigeria and cause havoc – which incidentally, is exactly what happened.

Read also: Here are things Nigeria may be losing from Russia, Ukraine conflict

A proper SWOT analysis of the situation by the relevant individuals at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and within the Goodluck Jonathan presidency would have revealed that while it was “good” in an objective sense for Ghaddafi to be removed as quickly as possible, so as to avoid the impending spectre of his military carrying out a genocidal assault on Benghazi, it was categorically NOT in Nigeria’s interest for such an intervention to come from a visibly external source without a plan for how to pacify a post-Ghaddafi Libya.

The analysis would have revealed that merely removing Ghaddafi would not be the end of the problem, but rather just the middle of it. Most importantly, the flow of Ghaddafi’s vast arms stockpiles and newly unemployed trained fighters across the Sahel would be terrible news for a Nigeria that was only starting to understand the meaning of the word “terrorism.”

It’s time to refresh Nigeria’s diplomatic thinking

I once asked a US diplomat why it seems as if the Russian Kremlin has not let go of its Cold War mindset, and still dreams of someday leading a united USSR once again. “Don’t they understand that the world has changed and that nobody wants to go back to 1981?” I probed. His answer was that while individuals are quite flexible and amenable to change and evolution, institutions are emphatically not so. If the same individuals staff the same institutions which are run using the same written and unwritten codes as 40 years ago, he said, the institutions will almost certainly be the exact same as they were 40 years ago, external change notwithstanding.

While that reply has significance to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the bigger point here is that Nigeria’s diplomatic institutions are still operating under the same rules and parameters – and are still staffed by the same bureaucrats – as they were during the Cold War. As I mentioned last week on Twitter, there is no modern reason for example, for Nigerian government scholarship programs to still send bright young Nigerians students to Ex-Yugoslavia and Ex-USSR countries to study. This policy is directly traceable to Nigeria’s Cold War non-alignment policy, which was only non-alignment in name, but was very much pro-USSR and pro-Marxist.

The fact that such programs still exist in 2022 – a time when these countries have very little research excellence or innovation to offer in comparison to countries like India, China, Indonesia, Mexico and Malaysia – is a direct holdout from Cold War politics from the decades preceding my birth.

There is no need for young black men and women from the world’s largest black country to be fed into an Eastern European racism meat grinder, when these Eastern European states do not even offer the diplomatic or economic leverage they once did. Once again, this is not an emotional reaction to the disgraceful scenes of despicable, bottom-tier racist behaviour we have all seen from Ukraine over the past week. It is simply a calculation that Nigeria has nothing to gain from suffering such indignities from countries that have a much smaller potential future than Nigeria.

Or as it is otherwise called – national interest.