Foreign policy imperatives for Nigeria’s sustainable development agenda
There is need for a paradigm shift in the worldview of the Nigerian leadership.
Femi Aribisala, international relations scholar, giving his speech at the colloquium
Nigeria’s foreign policy is in the doldrums. Our foreign ministry is currently comatose. Few people even know who the foreign minister is. Foreign policy has been reduced to occasionally going abroad cap-in-hand, seeking foreign loans and investments. Overnight, Nigeria has returned to debtor status, where a significant proportion of our income is once again mortgaged to debt-servicing.
And yet, this same Nigeria is an amazing country. It is a country teeming with exceptionally energetic and enterprising people; from North to South: from East to West. It is a country highly endowed with resources, both human and material. It is a country, which, just a few years ago, Barack Obama, then-president of the United States, described as a strategic centre of gravity in Africa; even proclaiming the country as the world’s next economic giant.
However, Nigeria has yet to develop a cogent plan and vision according to the new requirements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The country’s economic management is still handled by people mired in the tried and failed schedules of the past that have led us to the present cul-de-sac. They still tout statistics as reliable indices of development. They tell us how many foreign reserves they have managed to accumulate and expect to receive our commendation.
They base Nigeria’s foreign policy posture on pivots that are not likely to get us anywhere. These include a vaunted fight against insurgency (mainly Boko Haram), which persists in spite of their premature declaration of victory. It includes a boastful fight against corruption, which is mostly fought with megaphones on the airwaves and on the pages of newspapers. It also includes taking bows for the development of infrastructure that exists primarily as promissory notes on paper and provides an excuse for heavy foreign borrowing.
What foreign policy is not
The truth of the matter is that Nigerian foreign-policy makers do not know what foreign-policy should entail. Foreign-policy should not be just about planting embassies in different parts of the world without any coherent agenda for them. Foreign-policy should not just be about fighting against apartheid, without realising any tangible domestic gains from its eradication. Indeed, a foreign policy without domestic dividends is a waste of time. Nigeria can no longer afford such luxury.
Foreign-policy should not be just about being at the forefront of international peacekeeping efforts. Yes, Nigeria is the largest “exporter of peace” in Africa and the fourth largest worldwide. But what has that done for us? What is the point of being a proverbial exporter peace abroad when there is no peace at home? We cannot give what we don’t have.
Foreign policy is also not just about fighting to become the permanent African member of a reformed United Nations Security Council. Such highfalutin status would get us nowhere beyond providing jobs for one or two Nigerian diplomats in New York. Foreign-policy is about using diplomatic means to promote the interests of the Nigerian people. This simple imperative seems perennially lost on the Nigerian foreign-policy elite. A foreign policy without tangible benefit to the man in the street in Nigeria is a waste of time.
Foreign policy of the Buhari administration
As observed, the Buhari government goes everywhere preaching the gospel of anticorruption. The idea seems to be to convince foreign governments that Nigeria is now serious about dealing with corruption, so please come and deal with Nigeria. However, anti-corruption cannot be a foreign policy platform. If Nigeria is corrupt, it is corrupt. If it is not, it is not. You don’t go around saying your country is anti-corruption and expect foreign nations to take you at your word.
But nobody believes Nigeria’s current anti-corruption rhetoric, not even Nigerians. Foreigners don’t have to listen to Nigeria government’s propaganda about anticorruption. They confront Nigeria’s corruption first thing at Nigerian airports.