As a president emerged from an election that chloroformed the imagination of citizens from substantive issues during the campaign season, it is understandable, even if regrettable, that foreign policy issues never got to the top line of scrutiny and debates. It didn’t take time for such an important omission to assert itself.
In June, President Bola Tinubu visited France and pledged a foreign policy shift aimed at reinstating Nigeria’s Afro-centric approach, emphasising support for African stability and development. As the ECOWAS chairperson, he demonstrated this commitment by threatening to lead an intervention force to Niger to replace the incursionary military regime with the ousted but legitimate civilian leadership under President Bazoum, which sparked debate among prominent Nigerians.
Conventional literature and public discourse stress the alignment of a country’s foreign policy with its domestic circumstances, but Nigeria’s security challenges and economic decline have led to a redirection from an Afrocentric foreign policy to a more people-centred approach, while some critics have argued that Nigeria’s resources should be utilised for curbing insecurity and alleviating the poverty affecting citizens, rather than intervening in neighbouring countries.
To be sure, apartheid in South Africa has ended; the siege of Mozambique and Angola has been lifted; and most African states, with the lone exception of Western Sahara under Moroccan internal colonialism, are now independent, negating a compelling reason to retain Afrocentrism in its foreign policy.
Whilst there are still more battles for the genuine decolonisation of Africa, a prudent Nigeria, it stands to reason, would continue to navigate these complexities, balancing citizen’s interests amidst positive African and global priorities. It is pertinent to recognise that active international engagement does not mean neglecting domestic responsibilities. Conversely, solely focusing on international matters does not guarantee effective domestic performance.
In the absence of a clear presidential vision on foreign policy, the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Yusuf Tuggar, sought to bridge the gap, making the point as he assumed office in August that the ‘Four Ds’ guiding his Foreign Policy for Nigeria would be ‘Development, Democracy, Demography, and Diaspora engagement.’ This makes sense given that the imperative of history and the Tuggar Principle, for want of a name for it, sits well against previous perspectives on how to approach our foreign policy. Thus, Professor Bola Akinterinwa maintains that President Tinubu’s foreign policy should draw from the three main tenets of the ‘Consultation Doctrine,’ as promoted by Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, ‘Foreign Policy Concentricism,’ as adopted by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, and ‘Beneficial and Constructive Concentricism,’ as espoused by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji.
Looking ahead, thoughts on a redoubtable Tinubu foreign policy should be guided by the imperatives of economic development, security, sovereignty, regional stability, and international cooperation. Specifically, the following key principles and potential focus areas could guide the new administration in shaping its foreign policy:
Strengthening the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies, such as the Nigeria Institute for International Affairs (NIIA): In the 1970s and through to the 1980s, the NIIA was a major instrument for the formulation of Nigeria’s foreign policy and it provided guidance on the path that Nigeria should take on international affairs. While the Institute has been affected by weak political leadership over a couple of decades, the current leadership of the NIIA seems to have rediscovered its purpose. In July, the Institute facilitated a robust discussion on reinvigorating Nigeria’s foreign policy. The Director-General of NIIA, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, identified regional and multilateral partnerships, and citizen and economic diplomacy, as the cornerstone upon which Nigeria’s foreign policy should be constructed.
Reform of global institutions of governance like the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF and World Bank) and the United Nations (UN): The Russia-Ukraine war has exposed the global fragility and weakness of the increasingly obsolete UN in maintaining global peace. Nigeria should propel Africa to seize this moment to push for the reform, if not the transformation, of these institutions to accommodate the voices of the global South. While credit must be given to African leaders, such as the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Kenya’s President William Ruto, for exposing the asymmetry of relations and the urgent need for reform, the conspicuous absence of Nigeria, as one of the continent’s superpowers, is a diplomatic abnormality. The sleeping or crippled giant must be awakened to its responsibility as a potent voice of the black race.
Economic diplomacy: Nigeria must prioritise economic diplomacy to attract foreign investment, promote trade, and diversify its economy. The country should be more pragmatic by actively engaging with both its traditional partners (the West) and emerging global economies, such as China, India, and countries in the Middle East. While every country must condemn big power aggression within the system, Nigeria should push more for a non-aligned position, and work with other global actors to resolve evolving hostilities.
Diplomacy in conflict resolution and humanitarian assistance: Nigeria should refocus its foreign policy on diplomacy towards conflict resolution and humanitarian assistance. It needs to regain its role as a regional peacemaker, recognising that its security is interconnected with that of its neighbours. Active mediation in West African conflicts, including those in the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea, is crucial for regional stability. Nigeria should employ both hard and soft power, as seen during Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency in The Gambia and Sao Tome. Strengthening global partnerships is also essential to tackle challenges like climate change, displacements, and pandemics. The Tinubu-led government should be committed to international development efforts while advocating for equitable partnerships that align with the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and Nigeria’s development objectives.
Strengthening its stature within the AU and UN: The government must increase its activism and commitment to multilateralism by actively participating in several platforms such as the AU, UN, and other international organisations to contribute to the global agenda on peace and security, regional integration, socio-economic development, and political stability. Nigeria has dramatically regressed in its interest in multilateralism, which has weakened its international stature. For instance, it is not a member of the G7 or G20. The country is not a member of BRICS and has not been a member of the UN Security Council since its last tenure in 2014/2015. It has not been a decisive actor within the AU, its commitment towards the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is non-convincing, and its status in West Africa has significantly waned. A new foreign policy direction can enhance Nigeria’s economic growth, increase intra-African trade to the benefit of Nigerian entrepreneurs, and improve the country’s influence in continental affairs.
Embracing cultural diplomacy: The Nigerian government should prioritise the promotion of Nigerian culture, arts, and soft power on the global stage to foster positive perceptions and build cultural connections with other nations. Nollywood, the world’s second-largest film industry valued at $6.4 billion in 2021, offers a powerful platform. Notably, a report by Matthew Alford highlights the close relationship between the US government, Hollywood, and the influence of films in Washington DC. The US has supported approximately 900 films since 2005, while the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been involved in 60 film and TV productions since 1947. The government should invest in projecting a positive image of Nigeria and its people to enhance the country’s global reputation and harness its soft power potential.
Cybersecurity, energy and digital diplomacy: Many African countries have shown limited interest in cybersecurity and digital technology. Regional powers like Nigeria should address cyber threats wholesomely, engage in digital diplomacy, and promote digital inclusion for national security. Nigeria’s energy diplomacy, given its oil and gas production capacities, can strengthen partnerships and sustainable energy practices. Thankfully, the evolving digital warfare landscape is no longer a movie reality, hence an urgent response through research and collaboration on technological warfare can no longer be delayed.
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