For­eign pol­icy im­per­a­tives for Nige­ria’s sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment agenda

There is need for a par­a­digm shift in the world­view of the Nige­rian lead­er­ship.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - Contents -

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.

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