• Saturday, February 24, 2024
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Nigeria seeks US partnership to entrench democracy in West Africa ahead of Blinken visit

Celebrating Nigeria’s, Taiwan’s resilience to democracy

Nigeria wants to work alongside the US to uphold “democratic ideals” in a region rocked by coups, the country’s foreign minister said ahead of a visit by America’s top diplomat Antony Blinken.

Yusuf Tuggar, Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, said efforts to tackle the backslide in democracy highlighted by the wave of coups that have removed eight west and central African leaders since 2020 would top the agenda when he meets the US secretary of state in Abuja this week. The pair will discuss ways “to reify the upholding of democratic ideals, and the importance of strengthening democratic institutions in the region”, Tuggar said in an interview with the Financial Times. It was vital that “we don’t put more emphasis on the fight against terrorism than strengthening democratic norms”, he added. Blinken’s latest visit also includes stops in Cape Verde, Ivory Coast and Angola, as President Joe Biden’s administration steps up its engagement with Africa to counter the growing influence of China and Russia. Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, has maintained good relations with Washington as both have partnered on various economic, democratic and health initiatives.

President Bola Tinubu, who took office in May, wants the country to reclaim its role as a regional heavyweight that has been largely squandered over recent years.

Tuggar said Nigeria was keen to join the Brics alliance of emerging markets nations, and that it also deserved a seat on the UN Security Council, which should be “democratised” beyond the five current permanent members. But Nigerian efforts to project strength were undermined by its handling of the Niger coup just two months after Tinubu took power.

The removal of President Mohamed Bazoum was a wake-up call for Abuja, Washington and Paris because he was a key western ally in the region. It was also an embarrassment for Nigeria, which led the regional Ecowas bloc to threaten military action against the junta and then effectively backed down. Bazoum remains under house arrest and the new regime has solidified its hold over Niger. Tuggar rejected the idea that Abuja failed its first foreign policy test, pointing to the release this month of Bazoum’s wife and son, who had been arrested with him, as proof that “progress has been made”.

Tuggar, a former MP and one-time ambassador to Germany, took over the foreign ministry about a month after the Niger coup, but he admited there were “too many participants” in the mediation efforts that included leading Islamic clerics, Algeria and others. “That gave the junta the feeling that they could always switch sides and they played for time. This also happened in the era of social media and public opinion counts for a lot, and it can easily be manipulated or swayed. It made it even more complex than it ought to have been.”

The Nigerian foreign minister also called on the US to use its “leverage” over Israel to halt the war in Gaza. Tuggar travelled to Paris and London late last year alongside counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere to campaign for a ceasefire. “We’re for a cessation of hostilities and we abhor the disproportionate actions and violence being meted out to the citizens of Gaza,” he said, adding Nigeria was “unequivocal about a two-state solution” and the need for Palestinian statehood. “The key to this is the US — the US has more leverage than the European countries and we’re beginning to see that even the US is taking a harder stance,” he said of Washington’s efforts to contain the fallout from the war and to press Israel to limit civilian casualties. “But they need to go beyond that.”

Alongside the US, China has become an important trade partner for Africa, and a financier of major infrastructure projects. Its foreign minister Wang Yi visited four African countries this month. Russia, meanwhile, has taken advantage of fraying relationships between some African states and their western allies as it seeks to build global relations after being frozen out in Europe over its war in Ukraine. Moscow reopened its embassy in Burkina Faso last month after a 30-year absence.

Asked about his view on African countries drawing close to Russia, Tuggar stressed that while Nigeria had relations with Moscow, they also opposed “interference from external actors”. “It’s not just Russia, it’s any other country that would decide to come in to prop up the military junta in any country,” he said.