Is our foreign policy assertive enough?
The United States of America suffered a fatal attack on the 11th day of September 2001 as terrorists hijacked passenger airliners and flew them into the then two tallest buildings on earth, the Twin Towers aka (World Trade Centre). It was an attack that had such a devastating effect on the mentality of Americans and became significant turning point in the country’s foreign policy. It led to the coalition forces invasion of Afghanistan and subsequently Iraq in what later became a global war against terrorism, which they are still spearheading with minimal successes and major setbacks. The impact of the invasion has turned Iraq and Afghanistan into large portions of unstable and ungovernable territories while it has also contributed to the escalation of wide scale conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
But a significant feature of Americas meddling in the regional politics of the Middle-East has been the benefits it has brought to American companies such as oil companies, construction companies, environmental companies and needless to say their small and medium arms companies. There is a cliché that America only intervenes were it can benefit from, but the more the events and outcomes of their involvement in these scenarios continue to deliver the same set of expected results, that is, more investments and more money, then the theory gains more credibility.
Nigeria on the hand has the largest economy of Africa, with a monstrous population and natural resources that few countries globally can match, if any. Nigeria has such a tremendous and abundant mix of resources and intellectuals that automatically should make the country unmatchable in Africa at the very least and possibly among the top twenty dominant players in the world politically and economically. But in many instances, I have noticed a lack of real assertiveness in Nigeria’s foreign relations especially at a basic and regional level such as ECOWAS.
As a teenager during the last decade I got very used to hearing Nigerian government officials singing the praises of Nigeria’s military interventions during the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and various other feats the military attained under the auspices of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), the African Union (AU) or the United Nations (UN). At a point it started sounding like the national sport of the country to offer these eulogies for such gallantry in warfare. While I didn’t pay much attention to the details back then and, of course, I was and I’m still very passionate and honoured by the exemplary achievements of our military. I have also discovered that something was not completely right.
This is where the comparisons with the United States and possibly her allies resonate. These few questions become pertinent, of what economical gain was Nigeria’s military intervention in Liberia and Sierra Leone? How did a military that was so widely praised just over ten years become so unmotivated and poorly armed? How significant has Nigeria become in Africa?
Firstly, starting from the first question. War comes with rapid destruction of infrastructure and the subsequent conflict resolution processes will normally include peacemaking, peace keeping and peace building, then comes an obvious need for the reconstruction of basic infrastructure and social institutions that was destroyed during the turmoil. While Nigeria may have played such a critical role in bringing peace to those countries, it is of note that she gained nothing from the reconstruction efforts in those countries. Where were the Nigerian construction companies that would have swooped in on those opportunities and make their impact felt geopolitically, promote their brand while contributing to our economy? Why were Nigerian businessmen not carried along by the political class to identify opportunities and make Nigeria’s presence felt in West Africa? Additionally, Liberia and Sierra Leone also happen to be very rich in natural resources chief of which is diamond and one seriously wonders why there was no effort from Nigeria to capitalise on her military conquest by gaining more economic influence, which naturally maximises geopolitical leverage. They are days where I come to the sad conclusion that if we are so lazy and dishonest that we cannot compete with the German and Chinese companies within our borders then we should look beyond and perhaps make our presence felt elsewhere likewise.
Secondly, I personally believe the Nigerian military is composed of very gallant, raw and fearless individuals who are ready to go the extra mile to defend the country against both internal and external aggressions. In raw will and sheer determination to fight there is hardly a more competent fighting force in Africa like the Nigerian military, but the political class failed the military through the outright neglect and lack of willingness to consolidate on the gains of the military in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
It seems the need to reinvest in the military only returned when the country was on the verge of losing large parts of the Northeast to the ongoing insurgency, and of course, by then an arms embargo had been slapped on Nigeria preventing us from rearming adequately for an assault on the insurgency. It reminded me of Niccolo Machiavelli who said: “In peace, a prince should addict himself more to the exercise of war, than in war; this he can do in two ways, the one by action, and the other by study.” Clearly, there was no taking stock of our achievements and shortcomings during our then successes and hence there was no basis for any substantive improvement in training and inventory before it apparently became too late.
Thirdly, on how significant Nigeria has become in Africa generally. It is worthy of note that with the evolution of time Nigeria with such a massive population would ultimately become very important in Africa. Our strategic position geographically which allows us to interact directly with West Africa, Central Africa and the Gulf of Guinea makes us very important continentally. Our natural wealth and potentials are not also unnoticed continentally, but it is my personal opinion that we may have under played our advantage for decades.
I believe we are well positioned to be a service hub for all neighbouring and land-locked countries around us but that is an opportunity we have left for neighbouring Benin, Togo and Cameroon to enjoy while we officially answer “the boss” theoretically. Landlocked countries such as Niger utilise the port of Cotonou, Benin Republic for their exports and imports, Burkina Faso utilises the port of Abidjan in Cote d’iviore and Chad capitalises on the Cameroonian port city and economic capital of Douala. Needless to say this racks up so much revenue for the countries involved and has evolved into a progressive host and beneficiary relationship. All these happen around us without Nigeria playing any significant role, because we lack the ports, roads, cargo trains and more importantly the will to become a practical giant and not an entitled one, that is, by population.
It was Thomas Sankara that said: “He who feeds you controls you” and it will be very difficult for Nigeria to dominate globally if she can’t play a driving role in regional economic dynamics by making more African countries more dependent on us for trade, thereby adding value to our economy and increasing our assertive authority regionally. While Nigeria has recently played a significant role in restoring civility in Burkina-Faso we should have learnt by now that such spontaneous occasions to demonstrate our leadership skills will become more few and far between in the future as more countries are becoming constitutional democracies, and we will need to become a robust economic powerhouse as well as we have been in regional interventions to promote peace.
The first challenge for us will be to put our own house in order and then look outwards. China dominates East Asia even at the expense of such a developed and large economies like Japan and South Korea, Beijing has finally discovered how to combine military, political and economic strength to her advantage. Russia still holds a large influence on Eastern Europe and Central Asia especially the old Soviet block for reasons that are quite apparent such as defense, politics, economics, culture and language. The Germans are pretty much the dominant force in Europe, while the Americans and Brazilians have the dominant say globally and in Latin America respectively. Africa needs a dominant force and a leader. It is high time Nigeria gears up to play that role theoretically, which we have been doing for a while and practically where we have never been assertive enough.
• Boniface, a public speaker wrote from Plot 42, Sultan Dasuki Way, Kubwa, Abuja. 08088294518; firstname.lastname@example.org