KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
THE IMPARTIAL OBSERVER
MATTERS OF THE MOMENT
Limits of Ashiru’s Remit
Friday 12 August, 2011
Nigeria is starkly absent from the broad global political theatre:
no longer within the broad regional concentric rings;
and no longer introspective or for that matter, retrospective at the domestic level.
In what is either a uniquely rare case of happenstance or fortuity or for that matter both, Nigeria’s incumbent foreign Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru indicated the direction of his foreign policy doctrine for Nigeria in January 2011, some six months before he was appointed to the position. That op-ed piece was centered on “national interest, political expediency and foreign policy” (See The Guardian 27 Jan. 2011). Clues gleaned from his piece suggest that he sees the problems and challenges confronting Nigerian foreign policy as merely administrative and systemic rather than substantive. For all he said, one point remains obvious: Nigeria’s foreign policy continues to waffle and wobble. No questions about that. And that is the mantle Ashiru has inherited. While the exact point where and when the nation lost her foreign policy bearings remains unknown, one issue is certain: the downturn has been slow in coming and now fully manifest.
The gathering of former Nigerian foreign policy czars and current vicars in Abuja last week, at the behest of the Emeka Anyaoku-led Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations, was a tacit, if not an explicit acknowledgment of the troubling status quo. Indeed, it was the first serious effort to review Nigeria’s foreign policy since the Babangida Administration convened the All-Nigerian Foreign Policy Conference at Kuru in the spring of 1986.
Olugbenga Ashiru, a career diplomat has his job cut out for him as the new and twenty-fifth Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs. He inherits in the main, a dysfunctional Foreign Service and a supporting Foreign Ministry that is an institutional albatross bedeviled by lack of focus, and extra-officious meddling from outside and an institution that is grossly underfunded. ( See ”Dissonance in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy” and “Whither Nigeria’s Lethargic Foreign Policy”)
Still, two issues are of critical importance; no one conducts a credible foreign policy on a shoestring budget and without a clearly articulated doctrine. Nigeria has been doing both for the past several years. That in its fifty years the nation’s foreign ministers have averaged two years in office is not exactly a befitting credential. The high turnover equals discontinuity plus dissonance.
Moreover, ephemeral cliché-driven foreign policy that seeks to mimic the Balewa Doctrine in different shapes and forms, are nothing but convenient excuses and pretenses at foreign policy activism that does not exist. By year 2003, Foreign Minister Sule Lamido had dismissed Nigeria’s Africa-as-centerpiece or Concentric Circle policy as totally unreasonable, inapplicable, impracticable and unsustainable in contrast to the preferred economic diplomacy option driven and “informed by the political economy of the emerging global order. This order has found expression in the phenomenon of globalisation as its organising concept…” Such dissonance and discontinuity marked the degradation of Nigerian foreign policy activism and the diminution of her international influence.
In a nutshell; Nigeria long lost her voice and foreign policy dominance and is hardly alive to how best to recover its niche. So when the new minister said that there was a change in a sense of direction but goes on to postulate rudimentary reciprocity as the basis for renewed international relations, he only affirmed the prevailing depth of the dissonance and rut in our foreign policy.
Surely, in all seriousness, Nigerian foreign policy cannot be redacted to questions of the visa regime and reciprocity that goes with it. Neither can the demand of “a strict adherence to diplomatic norms and etiquette” in dealings with Nigerians, government agencies as well as the ministry of foreign affairs suffice as a grounding tenet of a serious policy doctrine, as much as it is symptomatic of the weakness of the extant policies and the many other policy disconnects that are crying for attention.
Even those within Nigeria’s officialdom readily admit that present Nigerian Foreign Policy pales to the glorified disposition of the past. Yet, in saying so, they ignore or are unwilling to admit their own dissembling role and culpability in the withering and whittling down of the nation’s once very activist foreign policy.
In any case, Foreign Ministers come and go, and in recent times there has been no unique personality -- who is either a seasoned professional or a strong individual who can withstand all the meddling, distractions and dissonance that bedevil our foreign policy. Moreover, not since President Olusegun Obasanjo's second coming, have we had a president well-stepped in foreign policy to drive their own vision and policy. Regrettably, there has been no longevity or continuity in the appointment and sojourn of foreign ministers. And as Ashiru observed, one corollary of Nigeria’s nascent democracy has been the expedient use of diplomatic posts as “the patronage system of jobs for the boys at the expense of national interest”. The damage done to national interest by such political patronage of unsuccessful politicians, who rarely stayed at their posts, is unquantifiable. As a footnote, one recalls the animus between Gen. Oluwole Rotimi, erstwhile Nigerian ambassador to the U.S. and Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, which played out embarrassingly in public.
In sum: Nigeria’s foreign policy continues to wobble; her voice distance and her presence in the international scene extremely perfunctory. But foreign policy is not a self-driven mechanism as it is a visionary product of well-articulated policy-oriented endeavor.
Furthermore, it is an accepted maxim that every foreign policy strength or weakness mirrors in the main, the domestic and national scene, the foibles of the leadership; the vagaries of local politics and considerations included. Moreover, every bureaucracy creates its own weaknesses and the Nigerian Foreign Service establishment is not an exception. Over the years the Foreign Ministry has devoted more time to institutional promotion and self-administration than really prosecuting the foreign policy mandates and catering for Nigerians abroad. In converse, those Nigerian diplomats who are sent abroad but hardly receive any policy guidance from home, are left to fly on a wing and prayers. Naturally, they feel blameless when they fail.
Together, these policy fault lines spell great challenges to anyone appointed as Nigeria’s foreign policy vicar. Setting aside the seeming nuisance of the harassment visited on Nigerians while abroad, domestic and foreign expectations about Nigeria’s capabilities are constantly high and are further compounded by the nostalgia felt by Nigerians and Africans, of the heady era when Nigeria indisputably held Africa’s foreign policy leadership and was the uncontested bellwether. Not anymore.
Today, many Nigerians are neither enthused nor impressed with their nation’s foreign policy dynamics, utterances and overall disposition. Issues and questions begging for answers; some of the scope and character from which nations cut their teeth and some gain respect for their nimble role or assertiveness, have all eluded us. Nigeria is starkly absent from the broad global political theatre: no longer within the broad regional concentric rings; and no longer introspective or for that matter, retrospective at the domestic level.
So are things about to change under Ashiru’s watch? It is doubtful, even as one must give the benefit of doubt to President Goodluck Jonathan and his appointees. For those who have made nebulous excuses for Nigeria’s many failings, it is a hard sell to rationalize the foreign policy failings; even more so than the ongoing political permissiveness that dogs the nation. But Ashiru is not one to rest on his laurels, so he will run against the establishment in order to bring about the desired change. To succeed, however, he must begin with the revamping of his Ministry’s Policy Planning Department, which was once vibrant and assertive under Ambassador Brownson Dede and his deputy Segun Apata, but has since become moribund.
There are several tale-tale signs of how bad things are. Nigeria’s role in the crisis in Darfur, Cote D’Ivoire, Libya, and Egypt, were less than pivotal notwithstanding that they coincided with her tenure of the UN Security Council. On the Council, she does not command the African voice or the confidence of the BRICS (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) alliance. This posture is similarly true of her disposition within the African Union.
Understandably conflicted over the issue of South Sudan, Nigeria, a nation that hosted the CPA talks in Abuja at the most critical juncture pussyfooted; quite in contrast to its robust disposition and role in Angola and in the recognition of the SADR, thus ceding the leadership role on overseeing the peaceful secession of South Sudan to western countries. Perhaps the nation was hamstrung and spooked by its own “Biafran experience” or the presumed implications its support for South Sudan might have on the restive Niger Delta region. Whatever be the case, her lethargic role in the various instances were sufficiently glaring for her to have become inconsequential in critical considerations.
On Libya, Nigeria inexplicably voted along with the western countries’ hardly concealed enforcement action, aimed at regime change and dismemberment of that country under the guise of “civilian protection”, even when it was clear to all that there could be no military solution to the Libyan crisis; and that even if there was, it would have dire and unprecedented implications for international politics. Comparatively and in retrospect, despite its pariah status, the “Constructive Engagement” foreign policy dynamics under the Abacha regime that guided Nigeria’s role in Liberia and Sierra Leone seems far more coherent and assertive. It is thus clear why citizens of both countries are not bashful in extolling Nigeria’s leadership role in saving their countries.
There are clearly evident limits to what Gbenga Ashiru can achieve as foreign minister, if the foreign policy decision-making and operating environment is not exorcised of the present lethargic incubus. Nigeria’s foreign policy will not become proactive overnight, merely on the say so of one president or foreign minister. But the institutional set up has to be modified, perhaps by taking the Foreign Service out of the Civil Service structure; by barring any lateral transfers from state civil services into the Foreign Service, as is the case with Turkey and by pegging, if necessary through constitutional dictates, the number of political appointees to ambassadorial posts.
On substance, an economic diplomacy doctrine that is disconnected from the prevailing economic realities on the ground will always be dysfunctional. Hence, what is desirable is a holistic rather than piecemeal approach that emphasizes the nexus, between the national economy along with its import and export components and the leverage which foreign policy executors can muster when playing in the global arena. That we presently import almost everything and sell only oil is not exactly a strong leveraging factor. We need also to define and debate policies and their essence. Ironically, of Nigeria’s twenty-four former foreign ministers, only two, Joe Garba and Ibrahim Gambari have documented the fundamental imperatives that were at play during their respective tenures. Inconsequential as such an obligation might seem, it serves two critical functions; a basis for lessons learned and it puts Nigeria’s interlocutors on notice that any adverse treatment of their relations with Nigeria will not go unrecorded for history.
Foreign policy is not just what a nation projects outside but what it is capable of attracting as a reliable partner. This latter reality translates to how it manages and sells its own domestic environment. Presently, Nigeria faces a humongous task in selling its skewed national image and distressed environment. Investors, tourists and capital will always take flight when the situation becomes, as is now the case, one of glaring insecurity, talk less of incessant terrorist activities like those of Boko Haram and the attending overbearing reaction of law enforcement agencies that border on extra-judicial and extra-official mayhem all in the name of keeping law and order. In real time, any worthy Nigerian envoy would be at pains to explain and justify why Nigeria continue to use the military for civilian police duties, a trend that started when President Shehu Shagari deployed soldiers to quell the Maitasine violent riots.
There are others challenges also; some more insidious than others. While it may not seem so, the current upsurge of Nigerians trooping to India for medical attention and organ transplants, with many being duped, and killed by quacks, is a vexing foreign policy issue as much as it is a health issue. The Nigerian Government is perhaps oblivious that most of such trips are arranged by a fee-for-referral cabal in Nigeria that may also be involved in facilitating the required visas. What could be a more pressing foreign policy is than this?
There are other areas of concern. Unquestionably, there continue to be a broad and unfettered intrusion into the foreign policy realm, even with some States appointing Diaspora Envoys without any reference to the Foreign Ministry. Another parallel is the incremental and now distractive practice of parasitic retired Foreign Service establishment personnel using the cover of appointment as Advisers or Special Assistants to the President to meddle and hijack the nation’s foreign policy machinery—all the while undermining the Foreign Ministry and confusing Nigeria’s foreign policy interlocutors. The byproduct of this sorry state is that many governments now bypass Nigeria envoys at post and even the Foreign Ministry to conduct bilateral diplomacy directly with the Presidency without any repercussions or sanctions.
Moreover, the Legislative Branch rather than oversee, fund and give assent to foreign policy tenets and appointments, has continually engaged in micromanaging, by unapologetically insinuating itself into foreign policy politics and remit, to the point of not properly screening foreign ministerial and ambassadorial appointees. The notion that one is good to go merely by appointment and therefore is asked to bow and head on to a representational office is at best ludicrous.
Nigeria’s foreign policy will not recover its lost niche and essence any time soon, without the nation first grasping its past failures, which will translate to understanding why reform and uncovering the causes of the present policy dissonance has so far proven elusive. But all said the greatest limitation dogging Nigerian foreign policy is the lack of vision and policy clarity. As in most things in life a little or blurred clarity in the foreign policy realm is a dangerous thing. Foreign policy is never conducted in a vacuum or blindfolded.
It is hoped that Gbenga Ashiru will serve beyond the two-year average tenure of his predecessors and that he would be given the free hand to articulate foreign policy and speak for Nigeria in unfettered ways. Being a careerist is a plus, but that too, could prove to be a key limit to his remit, especially in a setting where politics trumps everything and our national interest priorities may have changed on paper but not in practice.
With neither anger nor partiality, until next time, keep the law, stay impartial, and observe closely.
Hank Eso is a columnist for Kwenu.com. His observations on Nigerian, African and global politics and related issues, has
appeared in various print media, journals and internet-based sites.
© Hank Eso, 12 August 2011. Email: email@example.com
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