Historically, foreign policy has played a unifying force for Nigeria. Like sports or, more precisely, soccer, foreign policy tends to dissolve barriers. As divided at home as Nigerians, a typical foreign policy controversy could be so unifying. Even as they casually call for all manner of separate paths, they resent anyone from outside who joins them to does so. A Southern African president who put his foot wrongly in that direction a few years ago got no less than three quick editorials, with the punchiest coming from the Punch. So punchy it was used to illustrate dimensions of ‘Nationalism and Globalisation’ in university classes for quite some time.
Today, however, nobody knows what the foreign policy is. Nobody hears the foreign affairs minister either, even as he has attended some of the most reputable universities in the English speaking world. Was his appointment based on a pact that he should never speak on the realm? This is an unavoidable question since he is neither someone without exposure nor hard of hearing and talking?
No foreign minister sits alone and decides what a nation’s foreign policy might be. That is the job of the party in power. In Nigeria, however, the party in power has been replaced by Dodan Barracks and later The Presidential Villa. That’s what Chief Obasanjo meant by saying that foreign policy resides in Dodan Barracks in Joe Garba’s Diplomatic Soldiering.
Under military rule, Dodan Barracks is where the most important signifier of the military – the Commander-in-Chief -resides. In that sense, Obasanjo is correct but Obasanjo in his second coming, 1999 – 2007 was not able to outlive that conception of control of foreign policy. He still appropriated foreign policy from the PDP and rather made the party an onlooker in that domain. Not only did he sanction neoliberal strategy, making it the core of Nigeria’s self-understanding, there was not even a party document that anyone was referring to in practicalising Nigerian foreign policy.
President Buhari has gone far above Obasanjo by not only ensuring that his foreign minister is unheard but also nearly unseen. Sule Lamido, Obasanjo’s first minister for foreign affairs, was not only heard, he was visible. Lamido had too many critics but none denies him the factor of visibility even if some of the issues on which he was visible bothered more on regime protectionist advocacy than substantive foreign policy issues. The puzzle is why one of Nigeria’s most educated foreign affairs ministers may be so invisible as to be near totally missing in action in foreign policy? Is that the president or the incumbent minister’s making?
There are those who deceive themselves that just because someone is called the foreign affairs minister, s/he is, therefore, the sole repository of theory and practice of foreign policy. They are totally wrong. No political party properly organised will accept that. And even if it does, the president or prime minister will most likely not. Even where a sitting president allows a particular foreign affairs minister leverage, it is no more than that the particular minister is trusted for one reason or the other. But even then, such a foreign minister must still watch it, foreign policy being so slippery a terrain. The day s/he puts his or her foot wrongly, it is still the president and/or the party that will save him or her from an infraction infested terrain. In order words, when Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s current minister of foreign affairs, is said to be missing in action, it is not that he would seek to be seen as the soul, heart and face of Nigeria’s foreign policy. That will be dangerous for him as a person as well as for the country as explained above. Rather, it is simply that, in his own case, he is not that vigorous in articulating or clarifying foreign policy. But that realm is completely an articulatory realm because the nation state is itself a product of articulation. This is why in spite of the perceived glamour of the office, most politicians who want to be powerful in whatever sense of the word would not accept to be minister of foreign affairs. So, without the articulatory verve, there is not much to do there. The paradox is that the articulating logic is reproductive.
Right now, the world is in the throes of escalating relations between Iran and the United States of America. So many interests are working on de-escalating the tension but nobody can tell what is going on between the two and what the outcomes might be. Yet, Nigeria is already full of defenders of either the US or Iran. This is largely because, among other things, no authoritative voice is explaining the self-depreciation of such approach, using the Libyan example in particular.
In 2011 when the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, (NATO) found a rebel group worth working with and then bombing Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, Nigeria was playing the role of the gentle giant. It became a divisive issue between Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. While Zuma was insisting on African leadership of crisis resolution, the Nigerian president was decidedly non-committal and, perhaps, understandably so. Gaddafi had bad mouthed Nigeria, calling it a ‘big for nothing’ country or something of that nature and, at some point, calling for the break-up of the country into Muslim North and a Christian South. Typically, Nigeria had not forgotten or forgiven him as an outsider even though calling for division of the country along the same line is a heroic thing in Nigerian politics. So, there was an unspoken consensus that Gaddafi was meeting his nemesis at last in NATO. Of course, Gaddafi ended very badly and even as Africa was sulking from being dictated to through aerial coercion, there were few ready to mount a counter-offensive of any type, be it in mass protests or a diplomatic way – in. Gaddafi was eliminated from the scene but before anyone could say the late Gaddafi, Nigeria was boiling and bleeding.
According to Muhammadu Buhari, Goodluck Jonathan’s successor as president of Nigeria, the insecurity crisis in Nigeria is not Fulanisation but the resurgence of well armed renegade fighters from Gaddafi’s trained reserve force who fanned out North, West, East and South of Libya with the demise of their protector. President Buhari might not be totally correct to explain the current level of insecurity in that term but it is interesting that this is also the position Chief Obasanjo has maintained too. So, if Nigeria had known, it would have been most vocal in favour of the sort of approach Jacob Zuma was talking about when NATO descended on Gaddafi. Why Nigeria did not know or pretended that instability in Libya or any part of the world today would leave it unaffected is part of the mystery of statism in Nigeria.
The expectation is that the elite would anticipate and block ill-informed activism about US-Iran conflict within Nigeria by citing the vulnerability of every part of the world nowadays to fall-out of violent encounters anywhere. Surprisingly, not a word has been heard from any quarter that can be called authoritative. Perhaps, that is not surprising after all. What else might be expected from a highly fragmented elite and an equally fragmented populace characterised by preference for easy solutions: good or bad, victory or defeat, right or wrong. But reality doesn’t fall neatly into good or bad, right or wrong. Truth or whatever we call it is always hidden in between the two and it is almost always the in-betweenness of things that really crack brains work on in most cases.
Talking of authoritative voices in a matter like reminding Nigeria of the consequences of what befell it from the collapse of Libya, who else’s voice would symbolise that beyond that of the foreign affairs minister? If the incumbent is so well educated but works through silence, then something must be wrong somewhere about that arena worth worrying about. If the minister has, however, spoken and it is Intervention that has missed his outing, then this claim is withdrawn. But it is not only on this issue. He has largely been silent. Could that be a matter of personal choice, a survival strategy, his qualification for the job or penalty for some infraction or what else?
But, if for whatever reasons, the foreign affairs minister is not inclined to be a Kissinger or to do so silently, what about the military, the universities, the think tanks, NIIA, NIPSS, IPCR and so on and so forth? The modern military is a key agency in discursive intervention, something well beyond few paragraph press releases full of false claims in the name of propaganda.
Who prepares the generality of Nigerians against plausible fallout of diverse contestations in a diffuse and interpenetrating world? This is a serious question because unlike the theory that presidents don’t like appointing people with pedigree because they will insist, the incumbent foreign affairs minister has pedigree. That makes his silence puzzling!