‘Nigeria First’ as new foreign policy thrust in a changing world

On Thursday, January 16, the Federal Government announced that the new foreign policy thrust of government will 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.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made this known while briefing the diplomatic corps in Abuja even as he unveiled a list of nine priority areas in the second term of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. He noted that the key areas include; building of a virile economy, enlarging agricultural output, energy sufficiency, expansion of transport and infrastructure, amongst others as the new focus of the administration.

“This second mandate, we have nine priority areas the government has identified. And these are to guide our policy direction over the next four years.

“One is building a thriving and sustainable economy; enlarging agricultural output for food security and export; attain energy sufficiency and power and petroleum products; expand transport and other infrastructure development; expand business growth, entrepreneurship and industrialisation; expand access to quality education, affordable healthcare and productivity of Nigerians; enhance social inclusion, reduce poverty, build systems to fight corruption; improve governance and create social cohesion and improve security for all,” Onyeama said.

Onyeama stated further that the government will pursue a realistic foreign policy that will reflect domestic realities of the country.

“So, you can also call it a ‘Nigeria First Policy.’ But that will not be very original because I think somebody else might want to claim a copyright on using first for a country having interest or promotion of foreign policy. But basically, it is going to be a ‘Nigeria First Foreign Policy,’” Onyeama added.

The dynamics of international diplomacy had perhaps compelled Nigeria to have a strategic rethinking and reorganisation of its foreign policy objectives after a thorough scrutiny of its engagements with the outside world since the nation gained independence in 1960.

At independence, Nigeria made Africa the centerpiece of its foreign policy thrust. This Afrocentric policy gave Nigeria a lot of leverage in the continent and raised her profile following the enormous contributions the nation made to strengthen African unity and solidarity and to free other African countries from the shackles of Western colonialism. Nigeria won the prestigious title of a ‘frontline state’ because of its absolute loyalty to the African cause. Its investment in resources and men to restore the dignity of Africans were profound.

Nigeria made perhaps the largest contribution to the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. In Angola Nigeria was instrumental to the efforts to bring peace to the nation.  Nigeria’s contribution to the independence of Namibia remains unrivalled till this today such that when Namibia became independent in 1990, Nigeria was the song on the lips of every Namibian.

Apartheid South Africa had Nigeria as one of the most formidable and vicious opponents of that shameful regime that tried to entrench the dehumanisation of people based on colour. Nigeria is said to have invested nearly 60 billion dollars to free South Africa from the bondage of white supremacists and sustained this fight until genuine democracy was installed in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became the first black man to lead South Africa after majority rule started in that country.

Nigeria was instrumental to the ideas which crystallised into the birth and formation of the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU) formed in 1963. This platform pushed for Africa’s economic development, unity and the protection of Africa’s interest. This later transformed into the current African Union (AU) during a summit in Durban South Africa in 2002.

The history of peace keeping operations around the world will not be complete without mentioning the huge role Nigeria played to bring peace and stability to troubled spots around the world. Nigerian troops were sent to the Congo Democratic Republic in the 1960s to help quell the crisis that hit the country after it gained independence. Nigerian troops were in former Burma, later called Myanmar where they distinguished themselves and became the repository on how to manage crisis and restore peace to war-torn nation’s without necessarily taken sides. There are many more of Nigeria’s involvement in peace keeping operations around the world and too numerous to mention.

In the West African sub-region Nigeria bestrides the diplomatic landscape like a Colossus with a matchless zeal that has drawn a greater part of her resources to give peace and unity to the region. Nigeria’s former Head of stated Yakubu Gowon, was among the founding fathers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) founded in 1975 to chat economic development and regional integration. Today ECOWAS is one of the world’s very viable regional blocs and this is largely attributed to Nigeria’s contributions.

In the early 1990s when crises broke out in Liberia and Sierra Leone, Nigeria under the then military Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida, mobilised the ECOWAS Monitoring Group called the ECOMOG and managed the crises in these countries and today both countries’ are peaceful and democratic. Nigeria gave its blood, money and energy to save these two countries’ from total anarchy.

However, despite the unrivalled contributions Nigeria has made to bring peace and stability to the world, Nigeria perhaps did not attach conditions to the investment it made.  Nigeria may also not have received commensurate returns to its immense contributions. This is where it faces the grim reality of real world politics and changing dynamics. Today, it is doubtful if most of the countries that benefited from Nigeria’s contribution are willing to give in return. In some extreme cases, Nigerian citizens living in some countries are daily molested and killed and their property destroyed.

Nigerian citizens have become regular victims of xenophobic attacks in South Africa and other places in Africa where Nigeria assisted in their times of need. The principle of reciprocity has been jettisoned by these nations. This is perhaps why the President Buhari administration decided to review the nation’s foreign make more attuned to Nigeria’s national interests. Nigeria may not be willing to abandon the Afrocentric foreign policy but has become incumbent on the nation to redirect its foreign policy objectives to now serve its economic interests first.

Speaking to BDSUNDAY on the new foreign policy thrust, an in international relations and security expert, Dahiru Majeed, expressed support for the Nigeria first foreign policy thrust.

“It is a step in the right direction. The foreign policy of any nation is very important for their economic wellbeing. We live in a global world in competition among the constituent members. Competition for a common market, competition for global resources, and successful nations have been able to calibrate their foreign policy away from just being a moralist tool for political solidarity to realist policy for economic advancement of respective nations.

“So, 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. So 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,” he said.

He added that it is only through a realist foreign policy that is well-organized  economically that a nation secures fairer share of global resources through multilateral and bilateral engagements with other interested parties.

Majeed tasked Nigerian leaders to vigorously pursue the Nigeria First foreign policy initiative because that in itself is a way to resuscitate the Nigerian economy and restore its glory.

“Foreign policy should manifest in Nigeria’s outlook in West Africa sub region. Nigeria should use foreign policy to push for a place in oversea investment and negotiate a fairer share of common market in the sub region,” he said.

The new foreign policy thrust appears to be a total reawakening to Nigeria in the face of its unparallel generosity to the rest of the world.


Innocent Odoh, Abuja

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