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Nigeria’s Foreign Policy @ 63 and Tinubuplomacy:  From Self-Assertion to Non-Assertion 

Bola A. Akinterinwa 

Today marks Nigeria’s 63 years of sovereign existence and post-independence anniversary. Three scores in the life of any human being, especially in Nigeria where the official retirement age is either attainment of 35 years of service or sixty years of age is important. While the Holy Bible talks about three scores plus ten for retirement from active life that is free from health challenges, it is three scores plus three for Nigeria today. The first sixty years have not been quite healthy.

The 63rd anniversary of Nigeria’s independence is particularly significant for one major reason: unlike previous independence celebrations, the 63rd anniversary is unnecessarily fraught with too many controversies and challenges. There are the threats of indefinite strike by the labour unions, removal of oil subsidy and its aftermath, crisis of election legitimacy, chairmanship of the ECOWAS and military intervention in Niger Republic, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) and Nigeria’s relationship with France, and perhaps most disturbingly, the inclement environment of living in Nigeria, etc. Cost of fuelling vehicles, high inflation, oil thieves, armed banditry, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda terrorism are also pointers to political instability which invited-foreign investors cannot but consider in coming to Nigeria to invest.

Without any whiff of doubt, life in 1960 was quite better than life in Nigeria as at today. In terms of foreign policy, Nigeria was very assertive and internationally well respected as at then. In fact, even before independence, Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, made very clear what Nigeria’s policy attitude towards France would be after the scheduled independence of Nigeria. Foreign policy direction was well articulated on August 20, 1960 and further re-emphasised on October 7, 1960 when Nigeria was admitted as the 99th Member of the United Nations. Today, the self-assertiveness has been thrown into the garbage of history. The status of being a giant and leader of Africa is under increasing threats. In fact, allegations of Nigeria under PBAT being a puppet of the great powers, especially of France, is the current controversy. 

Manifestations of Self-Assertion 

The manifestations of self-assertion in foreign policy are variegated in character. First was Nigeria’s diplomatic protest against French atomic tests in the Reggane area of the Sahara desert. The protest led to rupture of diplomatic ties on January 5, 1961. Diplomatic ties would not be restored until 1966. Even though France blocked Nigeria’s application to become an Associate Member of the then European Economic Community, Nigeria took much pride in her self-perception as African and Black leader. This was self-assertion.

Secondly, in 1963, Nigeria not only formulated exceptions to the UN principle of non-intervention as contained in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter, but also adopted the policy of ‘No Compromise with Apartheid.’ Nigeria made it clear that she could not stand by as an observer to watch very friendly and brotherly country like Togo to be mistreated in a coup originated by France and where the President, Sylvanus Olympio, would be brutally assassinated without reactive intervention. This was self-assertion.

Thirdly, when Nigeria’s civil war broke out in 1967, the Gowonian government sought to buy weapons from the United Kingdom and the United States but the request was turned down. Gowon simply turned to the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union not only quickly responded and supplied the needed weapons, but also gave active support to Nigeria during the entire struggle of Nigeria against disintegration. This situation quickly prompted the United Kingdom and the United States to review their policy attitude and to accept to sell weapons to Nigeria. The major dynamic of revisiting their policy might not be unconnected to the position of France who was generally acting on behalf of the West and particularly the NATO countries in Africa. Besides, France was then also supporting the carving out of a Biafran Republic from the Federation of Nigeria. There was also the factor of the Cold War power rivalry.  Perhaps more significantly on this point is the fact that, at the end of the civil war on January 12, 1970, France offered to assist Nigeria, but the Gowonian government rejected the offer and explained that there was no victor and no vanquished. In fact, the relationship between Nigeria and France that was predicated on dichotomy (political disagreement but economic cooperation) during the war simply continued. This, again, was manifestation of self-assertion.

Fourthly, the fact that General Olusegun Obasanjo nationalised the assets of the British Petroleum in 1979 and by so doing, denying it about 9% of its global crude oil supplies is self-assertion. The British Petroleum (BP) became was first renamed Beyond Petroleum (BP) in the United Kingdom. In the same vein, the assets of the Barclays Bank DCO (Dominion, Colonial, and Overseas), which was incorporated in 1969 in Nigeria, were also nationalised in 1977 and renamed Barclays Bank of Nigeria. These nationalisations, done within the framework of the 1972 and 1977 Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decrees, were manifestations of self-assertion as a regional influential. 

Additionally, General Obasanjo nationalised their assets because of Britain’s recognition and clandestine sale of Nigeria’s crude oil to the Government of Rhodesia and for transacting businesses with France, South Africa, Portugal and Libya. Fifthly, and more importantly, General Obasanjo insisted on the withdrawal of the French military from Chad. The Government of Nigeria prevented a Henry Kissingerian plane from landing in Nigeria on the basis that there was no prior clearance approval. This could not have been the crescendo of   self-preservation and self-assertiveness under the Murtala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo regime.  

As there were many cases of self-assertion until the fourth Republic began in 1999, so have there been several manifestations of Nigeria’s decline from incline.  First, there were contemplations under President Obasanjo to possible change from Africa to globalism as centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This attempt was not favourably supported. Second, the policy of non-acceptance of foreign exploitation of Africa’s strategic resources, a major pillar of foreign policy under the General Yakubu Gowon regime has become meaningless under PBAT as ECOWAS Chairman. President Tinubu is collaborating with France in the restoration of the ousted President Mohammed Bazoum of Niger Republic. The Nigèriens want the French out of their country in order to stop the reckless exploitation of their mineral resources. By hobnobbing with France in whatever format, Nigeria is also consciously undermining her policy of protecting African strategic resources. This is most unfortunate.

Nigeria’s foreign policy has woefully failed to take advantage of the country’s soft power, especially in polishing international opinions about Nigeria. Nigeria’s international image used to be taken very seriously. Today, Nigeria is more known as a fantastically corrupt county, as a country of Boko Haramism. Whereas, in the entertainment industry, Nigeria is one of the leaders of leaders. Fourthly, Nigeria’s altruistic policies which prompted Nigeria to be adjudged as a big brother and giant are not implemented on the basis of reciprocity. Nigeria’s goodness is reciprocated with disregard and disdain. This is most unfortunate.

Fifthly, Nigeria’s Father Christmas diplomacy has always been altruistic to the detriment of Nigerian people’s interests. Foreign policy has failed to meaningfully respond to the various xenophobic attacks on Nigerians. It has not been able to even prevent such attacks in spite of the so-called establishment of bilateral commissions and strategic partnerships. Sixthly, several countries have refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty until they have perfected their nuclear agenda. France and China are on record to have refused to sign the agreement. Even countries that initially signed the accord later withdrew from it. North Korea is a case in point. Nigeria and others are only encouraged to develop nuclear capability for peaceful purposes only, but the truth is that sthe development of nuclear capability for war purposes is not different from the processes of development of nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. Many are the countries that have acquired nuclear capability with the complicity of the Nuclear Weapons States. Nigeria does not have any focus in this regard.

In most cases, the government of Nigeria before PBAT took over power only think after actions. Hardly before action, and yet, several research agencies of Government abound! It is difficult to imagine the enormous intellectual resources in the country, especially empirical resources that the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN) can provide. The ARCAN is not seriously reckoned with. Many are the departments of international relations in tertiary institutions from which well-researched positions can be sought. Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi’s idea of Concert of Medium Powers (CMP) was myopically set aside. But good enough, the BRICS took off from CMP’s philosophy of removing the factor of foreign policy dependency. Today, Nigerians are complaining about Nigeria’s non-membership of the BRICS or of G-20m because South Africa is a member of both. Nigeria has really moved from the position of incline and assertiveness to that of decline and non-assertiveness. The potential and manifest resources still exist in the country. It is the extent to which Tinubuplomacy will be designed to address the situation of foreign policy decline that is now left to be addressed on the occasion of Nigeria’s independence at 63.

Tinubuplomacy and Quo Vadis 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), also referred to as Tafawa Balewa House, has provided a quadrilateral pillar on which Tinubuplomacy is being predicated. The MFA calls it the ‘4-D Foreign Policy Strategy.’ As explained by the MFA, the strategy ‘is to reinforce Nigeria’s position as a leader in Africa; enhance its influence globally; maximise opportunities through strategic autonomy; drive major multilateral reforms; and foster improved national security, trade and investments.’

The 4-D foreign diplomacy strategy is comprised of Democracy, Demography, Diaspora, and Development. As presented, the ultimate strategic objective is to achieve sustainable development. Democracy, Demography and Diaspora are nothing more than tactical instruments of attaining the objective of sustainable development. These are elements of tactical strategy and should not be confused with programmatic strategy.

Put differently, programmatic strategy is about strategic calculations. In this regard, democracy should be proactive and expected ‘to end conflict in sub-Saharan Africa, where democratically elected governments have been toppled by military putschists and the threat of a domino effect that it could topple even more looms. In other words, the promotion of democracy can assist in making coups d’état unattractive. However, based on the empirical cases of coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Gabon, coups d’état are also instruments of democracy, self-liberation from foreign exploitation, self-reliancism and assertion of national sovereignty.

For instance, all the coupists in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger simply want France out of their countries, if not totally out of the African continent. The coups are not aimed at denigrating democracy per se, but to address how democracy is being used by the great powers to exploit the strategic resources of African countries. Democracy is essentially about freedom, but the Francophone African countries do not even have the said freedom in the conduct and management of their national affairs. 

It is truism to say here that French Central Bank is the depository for about 85% of the reserves of Francophone African countries. In the award of any international contract, France must be given the first priority, and by so doing, France not only determines at what cost, but also directly manages the execution of whatever projects. Besides, the election of Francophone presidents in Africa are always subject to the whims and caprices of France. Perhaps more interestingly, it can be rightly posited that France first introduced coup-making to Africa, considering that France is on record to have initiated the coup that removed President Sylvanus Olympio in Togo in 1963, when Olympio did not want to buy the idea of continued French re-colonisation of Togo.

Consequently, the promotion of democracy is not an antidote to coup-making. The problematic is how democracy is conducted and managed. It is the training of political minds that should be given priority attention in ensuring that all democratic processes are managed on the basis of objectivity and honesty of purpose, rule of law and justice. Whenever the law is manipulated for political purposes, democracy cannot be held responsible for its non-workability. Like Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has called for special reflections on the nature of democracy in Africa, he could not have been more correct, especially in light of how democracy is being managed in Africa. In fact, it cannot be rightly argued that there is true democracy in Nigeria of today. Nigeria is simply playing host to the whims and caprices of the Nigerian politicians. Democracy is everything about the politicians in Nigeria. Economic poverty has become the order of the day.

As regards demography, in the eyes of the MFA, it ‘should push for representation at the highest level of global decision-making,’ considering that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. For two main reasons, demography is, at best, relevant only on moral grounds. First, France and the United Kingdom have populations that are less than that of Nigeria. France’s population as at January 2023 was 68.045m as against 67.75m in 2021,while that of the United Kingdom was 67.33m people in 2021 and 67,792,715 people as at yesterday, Saturday, 30th September 2023. Yet, they are part of the highest level of global decision-making Council, the United Nations Security Council. Military and industrial power is more significant as a criterion than mere consideration of

Without doubt, the MFA has raised the issue of democracy in the context of Nigeria’s possible permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. The required conditions for eligibility for permanent membership of the UNSC have very little to do with the size of population of any candidate for membership of the UNSC. The mere fact that for every five Africans, one is a Nigerian is important only in the context that the minority cannot be dictating to the majority. Decisions cannot be taken without reckoning with the position of the biggest population and the biggest economy.

To be eligible to be part of the highest level of authority at the United Nations, the conditions are specific: extent of contributions to the peace support operations of the United Nations; extent of voluntary contributions in terms of assessed dues to the budget of the United Nations; and more importantly, membership by regional representation. Every region of the world is normally given a number of seats. The notion of a region in this case should not be confused with Africa’s definition of a region as contained in Articles 1(d) and 1(e) of The Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community which was done in Abuja, Nigeria in 1991 and by which Africa, as a continent, comprises five regions: West, North, Central, East, and Southern. For the United Nations, Africa is a region. This partly explains why the United Nations did not accept Africa’s request for five Permanent Seats, but only two for the whole of Africa as a region.

Apart from five countries with bigger population (China with 1.40bn in 2021; India with 1.40bn in 2021; the United States with 331.9m; Indonesia with 275,000,500 in 2022; and Pakistan with 229, 489,000 in 2022), many countries with lesser populations than Nigeria  are not, and some are, part of the highest level of authority at the United Nations. Russia is adjudged the 9th biggest population with 145,800,000 people in 2021 while Nigeria occupied the 6th position with 216,747,000 in 2022. Russia with her lesser population is a Permanent Member of the UNSC with the right of veto. This observation raises the issue of the Diaspora.

Tinubuplomacy, in terms of quo vadis, is fraught with many challenges. The first and most critical challenge in addressing insecurity in Nigeria is how to relate with France directly and indirectly. While PBAT is on record to be making strenuous efforts towards rapprochement with President Emmanuel Macron of France, the thinking in France is that France should engage in destabilising operations in Niger Republic where France has been successfully declared unwanted. Not only has the 64-year old French Ambassador, Sylvain Itte, checked out of Niger on August 26, 2023, the Elysée-and Matignon government in Paris has also announced the final withdrawal of all French troops from Niger in December 2023.

For declaring France non-grata, and for that matter shamefully, a former DGSE intelligence officer, Vincent Crouzet, has asked the Government of France to carry out destabilisation operations in Niger Republic after the return of the French Ambassador to Niger. In the words of Vincent Crouzet: ‘il est peut-être temps de changer de posture, bon ensuite, c’est vrai que, étant présent nous pouvions mieux nous protéger des actions des groupes djihadistes d’un autre côté aussi peut-être maintenant notre ambassadeur et notre contingent n’étant plus otages au Niger en quelque sorte dans cette position de fort à l’amour nous aurons peut-être plus de latitude pour monter des operations de déstabilisation cette-fois plus clandestine.’

Explained differently, ‘it is perhaps time to change the posture. Good again, it is true that, being present, we could better protect ourselves against the actions of Jihadist groups. Also on the other hand,  perhaps now with our Ambassador and our contingent no longer held in hostage in Niger in some ways, this position from strength to love, we will perhaps have more latitude to organise destabilisation operations this time more clandestinely.’  This consciously made statement by Vincent Crouzet is self-explanatory: carry out clandestine destabilisation operations when the time is now propitious. 

More importantly, the implication of France’s acceptance to act contrarily to her policy directive to the French Ambassador not to leave Niger even though the military junta had declared him non grata, and considering Crouzet’s point that Ambassador Itte and the French troops in Niger are no longer in hostage, President Emmanuel Macron has woefully failed in foreign policy calculations in Niger. France did not recognise the legitimacy of the junta, only recognising the ousted elected government of Mohammed Bazoum, but has in outcome been compelled to dance to the tunes of the non-accepted military government. The actions and reactions cannot be equal bearing in mind that the French government is now being called to attack Niger.

Nigeria, being a neighbour of Niger by territorial contiguity and France also being Nigeria’s neighbour by geo-political propinquity, there is no way any destabilisation operations in Niger Republic will not adversely affect the northernmost parts of Nigeria, especially in terms of insecurity: internally displacement of people; influx of more terrorists to Nigeria; higher costs of living, etc. Beyond the bilateral considerations, the plurilateral and multilateral dimensions are more challenging. The advanced countries only want Africa to be permanently maintained as a source of raw materials for the development of Europe, contrarily to Nigeria’s policy stand adopted by Dr Okoi Arikpo under the Gowonian regime. In this regard, how does Tinubuplomacy respond to the foreign exploitation of Africa’s strategic raw materials beyond Nigeria @ 63? It has been made clear that the developed countries will not let Africa off the hook of raw materials exploitation without a big fight. Additionally, the structure of Western education and its institutions are said to have been designed to ensure stunted growth and development in Africa. A speaker during discussions on the global economic system against Africa, explained it thus: ‘let’s get clear about that, … [T]his means all the economic structures, all the global institutions and economics we teach everyone is (sic) all designed to keep Africa exactly where it is and whether it is Europe or United States or now China, it’s always the same. We need Africa to be impoverished because we need those raw materials and we need them that cheap.’ Okay, that’s the message.’ 

More important, it is also made clear that, ‘because if Africa does do something different, I assure you the living standard of all those in Europe and North America and Asia is going to fall. Okay, and that is a big price to pay.’ This is one major reason why ‘the job of many Western academics is to convince them that they have to keep doing what they are doing and to show them it’s your fault that you’re poor, it’s not our fault that you’re poor.’ In light of this, Tinubuplomacy is critically challenged. This is why the celebration of the 63rd anniversary should be made, at least, one month for various levels of conversations on the way forward. The subject of inquiry is quo vadis?