Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari (pictured) recently launched a unilateral call to move the United States Africa Command to the continent. (Photo: Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press / Bloomberg)
It’s time to pull back the “giant” narrative and take a more collaborative approach to African affairs.
First published by ISS today
Nigeria’s taking a leadership role in Africa has been driven primarily by the size of its population and, more recently, by its economy. This expansion informed the role it played in situations such as the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
And it continues to shape the country’s role in organizations like the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Development Bank, of which it is the largest contributor.
However, domestic problems have affected Nigeria’s interactions with African countries and influence how it is viewed by the continent, which has never fully accepted its self-proclaimed leadership role. Nigeria needs to rethink its African policy to ensure mutual benefits for itself and for the continent.
Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, recently said the country should improve its engagement with the rest of the world in light of globalization and pressing internal needs. He was speaking at an April 19 conference launching Nigeria’s foreign policy review.
This is remarkable because Nigeria’s foreign policy has historically been Afrocentric – a position that dates back to the 1960 declaration of a leadership position “in which Almighty God has placed us.” [Nigeria]By then-speaker Jaja Wachuku. Gbajabiamila said that the foreign policy of 1960 was full of contradictions and inadequate to respond to current realities. These comments could be the first signs of a radical shift in Nigeria’s approach to a more globalist orientation.
Some scholars Argue that Nigeria’s initial focus on Africa stemmed from its inability to create a cohesive national identity to shape its external affairs. In West Africa, the continental orientation of Nigeria would have been motivated by the desire to counter the influence of France in the region.
There are also arguments that an Afrocentric foreign policy has done little in Nigeria. This may be due to the arbitrary nature of the position. A “focus on Africa” does not mean much in practical terms, and the country has failed to define its goals in concrete terms.
Nigeria’s image and influence on the continent appear to be waning, and the impact is felt by some of its citizens visiting or living elsewhere in Africa. Even his spending in regional bodies like Ecowas was seen to bring limited value to the country.
Nigeria’s planned foreign policy review must be evidence-based. To benefit the country and its citizens, the interests of both must first be clearly defined. And while Nigeria needs to rethink its approach to engage the world at large, it should not lose sight of Africa’s continued relevance to its business.
In 2020, the country benefited from a Trade surplus of about 4.6 billion dollars from the continent. Africa accounts for 20% of Nigeria’s exports. Economic ties between Nigeria and the rest of the continent are expected to develop within the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and as the country moves away from its dependence on oil exports.
Although recent data on Nigerian migrants are difficult to find, a study of the International Organization for Migration found that in 2013, 35.6% of Nigerian migrants lived in African countries. Africa was the largest recipient of Nigerian migrants that year, followed by Europe (34.2%) and North America (26.4%). While this may have since changed, Africa remains an important destination for Nigerian citizens – particularly West and Central Africa.
Nigeria’s West and Central African neighbors are also integral to its efforts to counter violent extremism. Although security coalitions like the Multinational Joint Task Force have faced challenges, the transnational nature of the Boko Haram insurgency requires enhanced cooperation with the countries of the Lake Chad Basin.
An attempt to repair the country’s image can only be successful if one clearly understands how it was challenged and what led to the deterioration. Nigerian diplomats in African countries should provide better information to the Foreign Ministry on Nigeria’s status in their postings while working to improve relations. Soft power instruments such as films can also project an image deemed more desirable for policy outcomes.
Another consistently overlooked issue relates to complaints against the activities of some Nigerian citizens in other countries. Although charges of criminality and illegal residence are often exaggerated, the government must show responsibility and urgency in the conduct of its citizens while protecting their lives and interests across Africa.
Nigeria should also respect its obligations under the African and West African charters that it has signed. This applies to his failure to comply with certain decisions of the Ecowas court.
Finally, the foreign policy review should reflect a more collaborative and pan-African approach to continental issues. This would reduce errors such as President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent call to move the United States Africa Command to the continent. It is not a position he should have taken unilaterally. A collaborative approach could also help to resolve border problems with countries like Benin.
Declining government revenue means Nigeria can no longer use its financial strength to support other countries to expand its influence across Africa. New avenues must therefore be explored to ensure mutual benefit for Nigeria and the continent. Nigeria needs Africa and should actively participate in efforts to build the strength of the continent – for example, with the free trade agreement.
Nigeria continues to grapple with serious domestic issues, including the calls to restructure its federation. However, the road to nation building is continuous. Defining its objectives and approach to foreign policy could help find solutions to its internal problems. DM
Teniola Tayo, Research Officer, Lake Chad Basin Program, ISS Dakar.
This article is funded by the Government of the Netherlands and the UK Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
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This notice was published: 2021-05-26 13:15:50