If things go as planned, by January 2024, two African countries will be joining the BRICS bloc.
By then, Egypt, a leading economy and Ethiopia, an emerging economy and second most populous African country, will be joining South Africa, another continent’s economic giant, in the bloc.
The question on the lips of many who love Nigeria is why is the African giant not in the bloc when more than 40 countries had shown interest in joining, including 22 countries which had formally requested to join?
But why will Nigeria join the bloc, if one may ask?
The bloc, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has since its formation as BRIC in 2009 and later BRICS in 2010, with the addition of South Africa, proven itself as formidable force against the overbearing and manipulative influence of the West.
Most importantly, the bloc has around 42 percent of the world’s population, almost 30 percent of the world’s territory, around 27 percent of global GDP and around 20 percent of global trade.
Leveraging these feats, South Africa has reaped from the bloc and has given other African countries reasons to rethink their relationship with the West.
With her membership, South Africa’s overall trade with its BRICS partners increased by an average growth of 10 percent over the period 2017-2021, total trade with BRICS reached R830 billion in 2022 from R487 billion in 2017, with BRICS now accounting for 21 percent of South Africa’s global trade in 2022.
As well, over 14 percent of South Africa’s exports are to BRICS countries, with around 30 percent of imports coming from BRICS countries in 2022.
If by being a member of the bloc, a country enjoys all these benefits, then Nigeria, which despite its alignment to the West, has been under huge economic burden, infrastructure deficit and security challenges, should consider membership of the BRICS bloc.
Looking at the issue, some concerned citizens and international relations experts blame the inability of the country to play at certain level in the international scene on its foreign policy thrust.
According to them, Nigeria’s foreign policy seems to be witch-hunting the country in the international scene, as the country seeks the welfare of others at the expense of her interest.
Truly, the country’s foreign policy has been cued to favour her neighbours with its ‘Africa First’ thrust.
As an acclaimed ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria has been selfless and generous in handling African affairs, even when her house is on fire.
According to Wilfred Okwuosa, a History and International Relations lecturer, Nigeria lacks the understanding of the dynamics of international diplomacy due to her Afrocentric policy that makes it difficult to make demands from countries benefiting or have benefited from Nigeria’s benevolence.
“There is no free tea anywhere again. The West understands this and their foreign policy thrust is guided by their interests. The US or Europeans will not offer technical, financial or military aids if there is nothing to gain.
“A good foreign policy should also cover your interests, there should be a return on your goodwill and also provisions for withdrawal or redirecting the policy if your interest is not captured in it,” the university don explained.
He noted that since independence, Nigeria has made Africa the centerpiece of its foreign policy thrust, but goofed in not putting down conditionality that will ensure reciprocity.
“Nigeria sponsored and led peacemaking missions in warring zones across Africa, especially in West Africa with the ECOMOG.
“The country was instrumental to the peace in Angola, the independence of Namibia and end of apartheid in South Africa, yet her people are molested and even killed in xenophobic attacks in some of the countries that benefited from her Afrocentric foreign policy.
“But Nigeria still embraces everyone in her country because of the Afrocentric foreign policy. We need to change it to be more Nigerian citizens focused than outsiders,” Okwuosa concluded.
Considering that by October 1, 2023, Nigeria’s relationship with the West will be 63 years, Aderemi Salako, a Nigerian economist and banker in Sandton, South Africa, said the country should review the relationship, its benefits and losses to see if it is worth continuing.
“For me, Nigeria has little or nothing to show for the 63 years of hobnobbing with the Western powers. I think it is time to realise that nothing good will come out it in the next 63 years because the West is only concerned about their interests in that relationship,” he said.
According to him, the Asian Tigers were able to achieve their huge economic, technological and even political feats because of the nonalignment with the West and that they even went further to challenge the status quo by creating new world economic order with the BRIC bloc before the inclusion of South Africa and most of them rejected the IMF and World Bank loans and are not subjected to their baby-sitting orders.
“Look at the BRICS bloc, they are all doing well despite the campaign against them by the West. Russia is ready for them, China is tougher and more powerful now, India has surprised them with her technological and economic feats, Brazil is the headache of the US and South Africa is leading in Africa.
“Nigeria should join the bloc, but not necessarily cutting its tiers with the West, just rethinking and adjusting it to make room for the necessary change that will impact her economic development and security,” Salako said.
Though joining the bloc will pitch Nigeria against the West, Samuel Onikoyi, a Nigerian academic in Brussels, noted that mentorship is all about interests and benefits and he thinks that the alignment with the West has not helped the country, rather it made Nigeria dependent on their aids and loans.
“I live in Europe and I now understand how they see us here. Many still see Africa as their colonies and still dictate for them because the aids still come from them. Joining new blocs like BRICS will help Nigeria to break away from that cage.
“See what is happening in Niger, Mali and Chad. They are challenging France and are doing so because of BRICS power. They are not members but are somehow backed by the bloc. That cannot happen before, France would have crushed them in a day, but the challenge has been sustained this time,” Onikoyi said.
In line with Onikoyi’s views, there seems to be a general opinion that Nigeria must change her foreign policy thrust from being ‘others first’ to ‘Nigeria first’ if the country wants to play and win in international diplomacy.
That change, many noted, is a prerequisite for her liberation from Western influence and an enabler of her membership in any other global bloc, especially BRICS.
But there have been efforts at rejigging the foreign policy, particularly by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. It would be recalled that on January 16, 2022, the Nigerian government announced that the new foreign policy thrust would be premised on the philosophy of ‘Nigeria First’, a new dimension in the nation’s diplomatic trajectory that gives primacy to the vital national interests of Nigeria and above all, the protection of its citizens and their businesses around the world.
Geoffrey Onyeama, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that the government would pursue a realistic foreign policy that will reflect domestic realities of the country.
Explaining the new policy on a clearer term, Ibrahim Gambari, the ex-president’s chief of staff, said Buhari’s foreign policy mindset “is to first focus on Nigeria, then its immediate neighbours before paying attention to other West African countries, then Africa and the rest of the world”.
Sadly, it came after over seven years in office, with no assurance of sustainability by the next government. Again, many criticised the former president for not showing example and giving Nigeria’s interest priority with the controversial Nigeria-funded rail line being constructed from Nigeria to Niger and the donation of vehicles worth over a billion naira to Niger Republic when the country is not connected by rail and amidst the economic challenges.
Dahiru Majeed, an international relations and security expert, who spoke to BusinessDay at the announcement of the new foreign policy then, was of the opinion that the foreign policy of any nation should be centered around national economic interest as well as national security interest and not any superfluous political solidarity.
“It is very important that Nigeria get its foreign policy right at this point in time especially in a world that has become completely globalised.
“It is only through a realist foreign policy that is well-organised economically that a nation secures fairer share of global resources through multilateral and bilateral engagements with other interested parties,” he said.
If Ethiopia, the host and centre of African Union, is leaving her nonalignment stand to join the BRICS bloc, Nigeria should also jettison what the West will say or do to join any economic bloc that will aid her development, some concerned citizens argued.
However, with the look of things, Nigeria may not think of joining any bloc whose interest clashes with that of the West because of her weak foreign policy, overbearing influence of the Western Powers on her, the huge debt the country owes the West and lack of political will to challenge status quo as South Africa has done with her membership of BRICS and Egypt and Ethiopia are bracing up to do too.