By Emma Emeozor
On October 1, Nigeria rolled out the drums to celebrate its 62nd independence anniversary. The Presidency and the state governments including the Federal Capital Territory were agog as they highlight their achievements and what they intend to do further to promote development and growth in their respective domain.
But mixed reactions have trailed the report cards of the leaders. While they received nods from some commentators, it was a backlash from others. Curiously, one sector that is not often brought for public scrutiny during independence anniversary is the Federal Government’s foreign policy and the state of the nation’s international image.
Daily Sun brought this sector to fore when it asked experts to assess the nation’s foreign policy and its international image at 62.
Professor of International Relations and Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences (COSMAS), Macpherson University, Seriki, Ogun State, Olusola Ojo, believes that there was nothing inspiring about the government’s foreign policy and indeed the nation’s foreign image. He defended his position, saying that a country’s foreign policy is largely a reflection of its domestic environment. “Therefore, we cannot be talking of Nigeria’s foreign relations in isolation of its domestic experiences or situations,”he said.
He asked: “Why do people take Europe serious, what makes the United States important, can you imagine how people will feel if an American president is coming to visit Nigeria, can you imagine how somebody would feel if he or she has been chosen to shake hands with the American president, is it because that president has two heads or three legs, of course, the answer is no. But it is because the US president is carrying the greatness, the honour and the might of America.”
As if to drive his argument home, he again queried: “How do you want to rate Nigeria in foreign relations when Nigerians are not even safe, Nigerians cannot travel by road, they can’t travel by train, they are not even sure of their safety when they are travelling by air, whether they will be seized by terrorists before they come down from the plane.
“How do you want to rate Nigeria … sometimes when I hear that our president is travelling abroad, I feel sorry for him. I mean, what you want to show, people are hungry and the economy has virtually collapsed.
“The president went to the United Nations recently to charge African leaders on corruption (as reported by the media), when his own minister have said that the oil that the country is producing are stolen. Reports come out on corruption every day. I don’t know why the president’s handlers are allowing him to be travelling abroad. The other day, I read about the controversy that trailed his proposed visit to Qatar and even that small country had to reject the date our presidency had wanted to arrive there. I hope you get the spirit of what I’m saying.”
It will be recalled that at the just concluded United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), President Muhammad Buhari had called for a concerted effort by African leaders to fight corruption in the continent. He said: “Corruption has dwarfed our growth and tainted our nations and continent. Africa remains at the far end of development index and concerted efforts made in the last few years need to be sustained, deepened by good governance and accountability that are guided by the rule of law.”
Ojo said charity begins at home. “We can say anything we like on the world stage; we can even say we are the best in the whole world, nobody will gag our mouth but what is the reality . . . what is the reality. Look at the exodus of professionals, particularly in the nation’s medical field.
“What is our pride … yes, the largest economy in Africa; yes, the largest population of black people in the world; but what is the reality at home?
“How will people abroad respect us? We must also know that these people abroad (non Nigerians) have Embassies, High Commissions, agencies and diplomats here in Nigeria. Some of them know more about our country than we even know ourselves. Their diplomats report back to their leaders. So, there are foreign leaders who know what Nigerians don’t even know about their own government and about their own country.”
With a tone of disappointment, he wondered “what do we have to show? Do we have to go abroad to carry out kidney transfer after 62 years of independence, for example? We learnt that even before Nigeria’s independence, the Saudi monarch use to come to the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan for regular medical check. Go to UCH now, you won’t have cause to have a patient there.
“I am not saying that it has been zero percent. But, sincerely speaking, we have not done well. And if we have not done well on the domestic scene, how can we do well on the external scene. Look at reports from our Embassies and High Commissions. Many of them owe rent, yet Nigeria is the giant of Africa. Find out the experiences of our foreign Missions, they are poorly funded.
The professor wants the public to know that the problems Nigeria is facing is due to leadership deficit and not because Nigerians as a people cannot perform if given the right environment. “Nigerians are not lazy, they excel if they have the opportunity, Nigerians are not stupid people, and Nigerians are highly intelligent people. I don’t know why there is no correlation between our intelligence, our brilliance, our knowledge and the sort of leaders that we chose.
“There is no correlation between what we see of Nigerians outside of the borders of the country and the performance of our leaders at home in the area of governance and performance. It is very sad, very sad.
Ojo expressed worry over what he described as the failure of the President’s aides to guide him properly on the running of the country’s affairs. “You imagine … not just these leaders … even those people around them … I don’t know the demons that surround them … at the beginning you made good promises to do things that would have transform the country … but today, we import everything, we are borrowing from China, knowing well what China has been doing to some other countries indebted to it.
“I hope it will not happen here because if Nigeria reneges on its loan payment to the point that Beijing becomes impatient, may be it (China) will be running the strategic sectors of our economy in order to recover its money. This being the situation with us, can you say this is an achievement?”
Asked what should Nigeria be doing to improve on the present situation, Ojo paused, and then said: “Sincerely speaking, I wish I knew. I’ am very disappointed. Because people are saying yes, 2023 is another opportunity, election is coming, elect the best candidates, but when you elect people, what platform do you elect them to? Is it to a very deformed platform because our political structure is deformed.
“Bring the best people; they will not be able to perform. Even the ruling party, before they got to power, one of their promises was that they are going to restructure the country because they recognise at that the existing structure will not bring anything good to Nigeria. But they got there and nothing has been done about the restructuring of the country.
“The current political structure cannot lead Nigeria to any good place. People were telling the government that before 2023 general elections restructure the country. But that call fell on deaf ears. Restructuring exercise should have taken place before the 2023 general election.”
Dr. Ferdinand Otto of the Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, believes that successive governments since independence in 1960 have performed creditably in the area of foreign policy. He, however, blamed the citizens’ low knowledge of the country’s foreign policy on the failure of political parties and public office seekers to put foreign policy in the front burner of campaigns as done in Europe and America.
Asked to identify the changes in Nigeria’s foreign policy between 1960 and today, Otto said: “Our foreign policy has not changed except for what we call change in continuity. The basic principles of our foreign policy still remain the same.
“But the objective of the foreign policy of each administration changes. So, I would say that in the last 62 years, we have been consistently pursuing African foreign policy. We have also continued to maintain multilateral diplomacy, we have not changed that in all the regimes, from 1960 till date, we have always maintained that foreign policy thrust.”
On the issue of the foreign policy of Nigeria under this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, he said the foreign policy of a nation and its domestic policy is inseparable. “So, the government might be winning allies abroad but if at home it is not, that diminishes the gain it is making outside. In other words, it must look at the domestic environment in which its foreign policy is made. If it is not addressing the critical domestic issues and it goes outside and begin to sound very optimistic, nobody will take it serious. I think this is the starting point of my assessment of the present administration.”
Continuing, he said: “Granted yes, there are some gains that have been made in terms of Nigeria’s ascendency to the international level, the recognition given to the leadership at the international level, we can acknowledge that. On several occasions since 2015 when the President began to address the United Nations General Assembly, there is that conscious optimism that people will begin to see that Nigeria is coming back to take its right place in the international system in terms of what the government actually aspires to do in terms of security, fighting corruption and improving the economy.”
But, “the critical assessment of events as they unfold, we are now beginning to caution ourselves in terms of what the government has achieved because if it achieved something and it also destroyed it, then it has not made any achievement . . . it has not achieved anything. I am saying in essence that, eh yes, the government in the last seven years or thereabout has made some improvements in terms of Nigeria’s acceptability in the international system. But we must look at it also within the context of our domestic problems.
“Has it been able to address those domestic problems? Largely, no; to some extent, yes; because insecurity is still there, corruption is still there. In fact, I’m doing some work on corruption and it is so alarming from the various cases; and some people argue that, look, corruption has remained very much endemic under this dispensation, which of course, many people thought that the president is the one who is fighting corruption.
“I am not putting the blaming on Buhari as a person; I am putting the blame on the political leadership as a whole because Buhari will not be in all the ministries, Buhari will not be in all the government agencies. And if he appoints a person as the Director General of an agency and the person go and defraud the agency, where blame will come to Buhari is what action have he taken but the person who is the culprit will be blamed more because he is given the position on trust.
“So, if he betrays that trust, then that will rubbish on him or her. Therefore, we must marry these issues along with our foreign policy because every domestic issue has a foreign policy or external dimension direction. If our allies outside read those reports, they will feel very embarrassed, and say these people are not serious. Each time, Transparency International releases its report on corruption index; we are descending on the score board instead of ascending. And that is the way other countries will assess us in terms of fighting corruption.
On the economic front, Otto said “we know that there is a global economic problem, it is not peculiar to Nigeria. But why it is serious in the case of Nigeria is because of the kind of corruption that is going on in the system. People are crying that there is no food, etc, yet, some people are feeding very fat with the sweat of the people.
“It becomes a contradiction in the sense that the people who are fighting corruption and the people who, also, are trying to solve the economic problems are the same people who are perpetrating it (corruption). So, these are the issues. We must look at it in pari passu with what is going on at the international level.”
The don insists that “the international system of Nigeria’s foreign policy must be addressed within the level of our domestic policy because if we don’t get it right at the domestic level, no matter the way we present ourselves, it will not be acceptable. For example, the President addressed the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and he was talking about education, but how can he be talking about education when the universities in the country have been closed down for several months, but why should he be talking about education. It will be very laughable because that is a very critical issue. So, that is why I started by saying that we must look at the domestic issues first.”