On Wednesday, I attended a foreign policy lecture organized by the Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja. At the event, Professor John Kayode Fayemi, the former Governor of Ekiti State and a renowned foreign policy expert, dissected the root causes of Africa’s lack of a cohesive and comprehensible foreign policy agenda on the global front.
In his remarks, Fayemi called for an end to the age-long dependence on foreign aid by African nations. He emphasized that for Africa to truly become independent on the global stage, it had to redefine itself and its partnerships with the rest of the world.
After the lecture, I sat down with a few older diplomats — former Ambassadors who had served in Europe, Africa, and North America — to discuss the former Governor’s comments, and we all agreed that as a template, his recommendations for Africa worked; however, on a case-by-case basis, each African nation had to obviously take its own unique considerations into account.
For us here in Nigeria, with a relatively new administration in place, there is an opportunity to strategize on our global agenda and our global perception. We need to take our interactions with the rest of the world seriously. For example, at the United Nations General Assembly, our President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, delivered one of the most profound speeches ever made by a Nigerian or African leader at the General Assembly. However, from all accounts, the powerful speech was not backed by any evidence of action by the supporting actors that were meant to galvanize the new Nigerian leadership that was projected in the speech.
From several firsthand reports, Nigeria’s lack of inter-ministerial coordination at the 78th UNGA was glaring. We seemed to be present at most meetings, but we did not have the content or strategy to justify our presence. This has to change.
Moving forward, we need to see our foreign policy as an extension of our domestic policy — understanding that right now, in the dynamic world that we live in — a whisper on the streets of Ajegunle can be heard all the way from 2nd Avenue in New York City.
The world is moving, and like power, the African leadership that we projected at the UN will not be served “à la carte.” Hence, we need to not only redefine the theoretical framework for our relationship with the rest of the world, we also need to set it in motion.
For example, it is clear that most pronounced conflicts on the global stage are as a result of the action or inaction of the three powers that are competing for dominance. China, with its vast resources as a carrot, and its accumulated ownership of global debt as a stick; the United States with its military might and soft power; and Russia, with its vast mineral and energy resources, nuclear capabilities, and influence in several anti-West nations — are in a constant dance for global domination.
In this dance, all three nations are courting Nigeria — but how is Nigeria responding? How can these courtships translate into leadership on the continent? And if they are all wooing us, what do we have to offer in return?
Taking a look at what India is doing with its self-interested multi-alignment foreign policy strategy, in its relationships with the three powers, and other strategic blocs, it continues to maintain its strategic autonomy— while promoting its own interests through cooperation on mutually beneficial issues with all three powers.
With China and Russia, India sits on BRICS to counter the United States’ global influence. On the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), India collaborates with the United States, Australia, and Japan, to curb China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region. India buys a bulk of its weapons from Russia — which is largely in a renewed state of Cold War with the United States, yet, it still collaborates with the United States in attempts to curb Chinese influence in South Asia.
A friend to all; a foe to none. This is the approach that Nigeria must follow. India provides an example of the sort of strategic foreign policy framework that the Nigerian government must develop and cultivate in all its future interactions with the Three Powers. We need to engage all three strategically because each of them offers unique advantages for partnership.
Russia is offering us weapons and nuclear electricity capabilities. We can partner with them to improve our security architecture, arsenal, and our electricity-generating capabilities using nuclear power. As we do this, we must be wary of limiting their internal influence in our domestic affairs.
China is offering us funding for infrastructure and access to development loans. We can partner with them to close our infrastructure deficit — provided that our debt to them remains sustainable.
The United States continues to partner with us on several fronts. It provides us funding for healthcare, education, food security initiatives, and technical assistance. We can continue to partner with them to improve the lives of our citizens by utilizing their funding in the various intervention areas, while limiting their technical assistance and internal involvement in our national issues.
In all this, we must push for partnerships. We must renegotiate existing agreements that do not favor Nigeria’s interests, and we must approach such negotiations with the fact that we too have several strategic advantages. First, the world needs Nigeria to guarantee peace in Africa and the West African subregion. Second, we have the largest African market both in size and population. Third, we have vast mineral resources such as tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, and zinc, that can aid in industrialization. Fourth, we have a young large population that is ready to work for relatively less than other nations. And finally, our strategic location makes us a gateway for trade into Africa.
In this regard, if we can meticulously manage our strategic advantages with all three powers, eventually, each of the countries will understand the need to relate and collaborate with us in an issue-based way, instead of the one-size-fits-all approach that they use to deal with other African nations. By doing this, we can become the most powerful black nation in the world within a few years.
However, as with all good things, this framework is necessary, but it is easier said than actualized.
I rest my case.
— Oluwole Onemola writes on foreign and domestic policy from Abuja.