By Ahmed Aminu-Ramatu YUSUF
On October 20th, 2022, the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) invited me to review a book, Continuity and Change in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under President Muhammadu Buhari, which it edited and published. The 185 page book has five chapters in the following order: Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s “Continuity and Change in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under President Muhammadu Buhari”; “President Muhammadu Buhari’s Foreign Policy: A Focus on Change and Continuity” by Ifeoluwa O. James-Iduma; “Between Neighbourhood and Economic Diplomacy: Reflections on the Continuities and Changes in President Buhari’s Foreign Policy Thrust in West Africa” by Dr. Emeka C. Iloh, Chukwuemeka V. Muoneke, & Dr. Cornelius C. Mba; “Nigeria’s Foreign Policy and Its ‘Oily’ Substructure” by Dr. Ikenna Arthur Amanchukwu; and “Discussion Notes on the Lecture: Continuity and Change in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy under President Muhammadu Buhari” by Rear Admiral Anthony O.M.A. Isa.
The contributors underscored that foreign policy: is a continuation of national policy at the international arena; should reinforce national policy abroad; and serve “national interest”. They touched on: the golden era of Nigeria foreign policy; its continuity and changes; and its progressive decline, fueled by the increasing decrease of Nigeria’s “oily substructure”. Their articles complemented and critique one other, with Gambari’s article and that of Iloh et. el, being most glaring.
For Gambari, Buhari’s foreign policy brought significant gains to Nigeria with the appointments of: Dr. Amina Mohammed as Deputy Secretary General of UNO; Professor Tijjani Bande as the President of the United Nations’ General Assembly; Chief Chile Ebeo-Osuji as a Judge in ICC at The Hague; Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-lweala as Director General, WTO; Professor Mohammed Barkindo as Secretary-General, OPEC; Dr. Akinwumi Adesina as President, AfDB; and Professor Benedic Oramah as President, AFREXIM Bank, etc. (pp. 8-10)
Other gains include the mobilization of international support for the war against Boko Haram, with USA, UK, France, Germany, ECOWAS, AU, and the UNO, leading to the sale of weapons to Nigeria; (pp. 6-7) and the reinvigoration of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), comprising troops from Nigeria, its neigbouring countries, and the Lake Chad Basin Commission to eliminate the threats by ISWAP and Boko Haram; (pp. 7-8 & 13) and Nigeria’s cooperation with the governments of Switzerland, USA, UK, UAE, Liechtenstein to repatriate Nigeria’s stolen funds by past Nigerian leaders. (pp. 10-11) Further listed were the government engagement with Nigerians in the Diaspora on national issues and xenophobic attacks; (p. 14) and Nigeria’s intervention in The Gambia, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea Bissau political crises, which brought relative peace, and political stability in the countries. (pp. 11-12)
Iloh, et el., however, argued that Buhari pursued an unprincipled foreign policy, lacking any clear-cut, well-articulated and consistent directions. Using Benin and Niger Republics as a case study, they argued that whereas Nigeria operated an unfriendly, hostile and punitive relations with Benin Republic, the reverse was the case with Niger Republic. This double standard, they argued, was “heavily influenced by filial relationship” (p. 57); “personal motives and preferences” (p. 48); “double standards” (p. 57); and “kinship considerations and preferences of the president and his kitchen cabinet”. (p. 37). Under Buhari “the centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy … shifted from Africa to Niger Republic”, as Niger received “both solicited and unsolicited assistance” from Nigeria (pp. 39-40).
The assistance included Nigeria’s: construction of a two billion dollar-284 kilometres standard-gauge railway with 12 stations from Kano state in Nigeria to Maradi in Niger Republic, solely financed by Nigeria (p. 40); signing of MoU with Niger Republic for a two billion dollar for the construction of pipeline for the transportation of crude oil from Niger Republic to Nigeria’s Katsina state for refining – with loans taken from China and other bilateral creditors (p. 42); signing of an MoU with Niger Republic for the importation of petroleum products from Niger Republic on the grounds of “increasing inter-regional trade in the sub-region”; (p. 41) and the authorization of the release of over one billion naira for the purchase of ten sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for Niger Republic – rationalised on assisting Niger Republic to “secure its territory”, even when “Nigeria’s security is seriously being threatened by the activities of bandits, Bako Haram, unknown gunmen, kidnappers etc.” (pp. 40-41).
Benin Republic was, conversely, slammed with a “punitive” economic diplomacy that led to a unilateral closure of land borders by Nigeria, without any prior notice, and against the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods. The closure: left Nigerian “market women and vendors stranded with unsold perishable goods; truck drivers and associated employers out of job, and as much as over 700 trucks, many with perishable goods, backed up on both sides of the Seme border checkpoint” (p. 43); and halted completely the free movement of persons, goods and services, including genuine businesses between Nigeria and Benin Republic. It also triggered increase in smuggling into Nigeria, as smugglers “simply found alternative routes, which was beyond the reach of customs and immigration officials” (pp. 55-56). Seriously affected was Nigeria’s exports to other West African (ECOWAS) countries, leading to a drop of Nigeria’s revenue from N1,140,125:80 in the third quarter of 2019 to N181,117:81 in the third quarter of 2020 (pp. 54-55). These contributed significantly to the deterioration of the “already bad economic situation” in Nigeria, with food prices reaching “an all-time high of 18.3 per cent and inflation increased to a three-year high of 14.9 per cent” (pp. 53-54).
The punitive measures equally affected Benin Republic informal cross border trade (ICBT) which: accounts to 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP); provide jobs to about 100,000 citizens; and generate high revenue generation for the Republic – which in 2017 accounted for 11.3% of the total revenue (pp. 45-46). Even the enforcement of boarder closures was done discriminatively, with Niger’s boarder loosely patrolled, giving rise to “cross-border trafficking and kidnapping for ransom” and the hub becoming “the hotbed for insurgents and bandits” terrorising Nigerians, especially those in the north (pp. 49-50).
Gambari’s paper raises important questions. Did the appointment of Nigerians into top leadership positions of international organisations impact on the security and material well-beings of Nigerians? Did the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen funds impact positively on the development of Nigerians? Did the engagements with Nigerians in the Diaspora impacted positively on lives of the Diasporans? Definitely, NO!
Even if Buhari had performed significantly in the international arena, the colossal debts into which he plugged the nation, the gargantuan looting & plundering of the nation’s wealth under him, the bastardization & humiliation of the Naira, the prolonged closure of universities, the pervasive and all-round impoverishment and suffering of Nigerians, and the cash crunch attendant on an obviously hasty Naira redesign eroded such gains. Equally important, Buhari’s inability to secure the nation, leading to Boko Haram and Eastern Security Network killings as well as the banditry, abduction of schools children, kidnapping for ransom, raping of women, desecration of holy places, sacking of villages, destruction – by burning – of harvests, seizures of land, roasting of human beings, etc., especially in the north of Nigeria, by marauding and rampaging Fulani herdsmen and terrorists nullify and void whatever accomplishments Buhari made in foreign affairs. Worst still, Buhari’s lackadaisical attitudes to these disasters and calamities brought disgrace and shame to Nigeria and Nigerians internationally.
Iloh, et. el, paper raises the question of democracy in the administration of foreign policy. Why did the National Assembly not call Buhari to order over his filially based and ethnically biased foreign policy? Why did ECOWAS fail to act against Nigeria’s hostilities towards Benin Republic? Why did Nigerians tolerate Buhari’s actions? These questions show that the National Assembly and ECOWAS failed to perform their duties; and how lackadaisical Nigerians are on matters of foreign policy. All these, in turn, are cries for the professionalization and democratisation of Nigeria’s foreign policy.
If Tinubu’s government is to pursue a progressive foreign policy, as it should, it must secure the nation; generate employment; improve the material well-beings of Nigerians; restore the dignity of the Naira; and foster regional, continental and global security, peace and development, based on the principles of ECOWAS, African Union and the United Nations. Should this be too great a task, let him return the Naira and the living and working conditions of Nigerians, amongst others, to what they were on May 29, 2015. Doing these, means implementing “Chapter Two” of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). For, foreign policy begins and ends at home.
The author is a retired General Manager (Admin) of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and is reachable via firstname.lastname@example.org