• Monday, June 17, 2024
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Rethinking Nigeria’s foreign policy

Rethinking Nigeria’s foreign policy

As a relatively new nation in the 1960s, Nigeria’s foreign policy elite viewed foreign policy in largely emblematic terms. Such indeed was the euphoria that for a very long time the nation’s diplomacy was characterised by historical dynamics and sheer visibility.

However, our innocence was shattered by the experience of the civil war. It dawned on managers of the Nigerian state that in a sense, geography is destiny. This could well explain why, in the aftermath of the war, the country was in the vanguard of the attempt to create The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Apparently, the harsh lessons of the war sunk home that Nigeria could not afford to be casual with its neighbours.

This particular instance of selective engagement with the world comes in handy in these times. At the moment, the nation is faced with some novel challenges, which include insecurity, corruption, and an economic downturn that has essentially been spawned by the global oil crisis. The interesting thing to note is that in their different ways, each of these problems has different foreign policy implications. On this note, it is possible to contend that a selective and targeted engagement in our foreign policy calculations can be used to tackle these problems, which appear to be purely domestic.

In the area of insecurity, for instance, when push came to shove, Washington declined to sell the necessary arms which would have been used to contain the ongoing insurgency in Nigeria’s north-east. To those who are not versed in the nuances of foreign policy and diplomacy, this was something of a stab in the back by Washington. This may well be so. But sophisticated observers of US-Nigeria relations will readily point out that there is indeed a measure of consistency in Washington’s seemingly novel stance. This is because, all along and despite the chloroformed mentality of our foreign policy elite, Nigeria has never really occupied a prime place in Washington’s foreign policy calculations. Such a pride of place is occupied by social formations like Europe and Israel.

Closely related to much of the foregoing is that Washington’s decision has also, perhaps unwittingly, exposed a major lacuna in Nigeria’s foreign policy. As a regional and continental power, something is seriously amiss when, in 2015, Nigeria still lacks a self-sustaining capacity in the area of armaments. The implication is that the country has remained static since the civil war, when the importation of arms was the main feature of that experience. Evidently, we need to do something about this. We need to cast around for new allies in the international system who can catalyse our efforts in the establishment of a defence industry that can be used to service our foreign policy.

Read also: Experts urge Nigeria to strengthen domestic institutions to influence foreign policy

As regards corruption, one feature which hallmarks this unsavoury phenomenon is that a large portion of the proceeds (loot) is usually sequestered in foreign countries. Some of these countries are deemed to be our traditional and historical friends. Yet, when we seek to repatriate such questionable funds, we usually meet with all sorts of obstacles that are least expected from friends. It is important that Abuja takes stock of such behaviour with a view to re-evaluating our relationship with such ‘capital importing’ countries.

Of course, we are not unmindful of the simplistic dimension of our contention here. After all, the fears of those countries could well revolve around the fact that the money returned could be looted again. Therefore, the issue here is not just selective engagement in foreign policy; rather, it is also one of critical self-examination.

As regards the economic downturn, again there is the need to redefine the way we relate to the rest of the world. Given the causes of the tremors in the economy, it is evident that we need to re-calibrate our relationships with certain forces in the international system.  Till date, for instance, flared gas continues to dominate our landscape. This is good money that is being frittered away. And, in any case, the gas can easily be harnessed for our industrialisation and the power sector. The up-shot of this is that the oil companies which continue to flare this gas are not really our best friends. And if one takes on board the fact that there is an organic linkage between these companies and their parent-governments, then it is important for our foreign policy managers to take novel steps to safeguard Nigeria’s interests.

Meanwhile, it is also interesting to note that since the discovery of oil in 1956 till date, the Nigerian oil industry has remained static. This is because we are yet to put in place viable refineries and petrochemicals that would have served as the backbone of our industrialisation. Again, some of our traditional friends are culpable here. On this note, it is time to look elsewhere and see which countries, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, can help us out.

At the risk of sounding too particularistic, in view of the fact that we still lack the ability to add value to our primary products like crude oil, cocoa, groundnuts, palm oil and rubber, Malaysia is one country we should creatively and constructively engage. Kuala Lumpur has been able to master this game of value addition, a phenomenon that has virtually propelled it into the ranks of the developed nations.

Taken together, therefore, it is evident that in view of the numerous problems facing this country, it is possible to essentially contain such problems through a hard-headed pursuit of our national interests in the domain of foreign policy. And in embarking on this selective engagement, we will not be doing anything new. Rather, we would have succeeded in imbibing one of the immutable axioms of international relations which states that “there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests”.