‘Corruption Has No Place In Foreign Policy’

Akinterinwa-2Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa spoke with DEBO OLADIMEJI on Nigeria’s foreign policy.

CORRUPTION has been said to be the bane of Nigeria’s progress. Does it affect foreign policy?
In foreign policy, we deal more with intangibles. When the Minister of Works construct roads from Lagos to Abuja, you can see them and then you can raise the issue of whether there will be corruption or not. Foreign policy is the other side of the diplomatic coin. You can look at diplomacy as a discipline, as a science, the act of negotiation etc.

It is something that you cannot quantify. However, it does not mean that in the act of diplomacy you cannot engage in corruption, but it is not like in other places because the corruption people talk about does not have the same meaning in other ministries where money is diverted or embezzled. You must do your work professionally, without waiting for anyone to come and compensate you.

And because you are dealing with sophisticated internationalist, you don’t talk about corruption in whatever capacity. When you look at it, corruption does not have any place in foreign policy at all. If because diplomats are present when they negotiate contracts, contactors can give anybody money but that is at the level of the individuals, not at the level of foreign policy. Foreign policy can be synonymous with a decision, it can be the totality of the process.

It can also refer to a policy; a policy is more enduring. Within the framework of policy you take many decisions.

For instance, in 1963, the Minister of External Affairs, Dr. Jaja Nwachukwu announced on behalf of the cabinet that there will not be compromise with apartheid. That is a policy, it is not a decision. The policy now under it will have many decisions. The policy is no compromise with apartheid. The holder of Nigerian passport was required to fight tooth and nail apartheid with all the means available.

What we are now saying is that corruption at the level of foreign policy does not exist per say, at the level of the individual, or at the level of the diplomatic agent but at the level of the government itself.

For example, the principle of mediation in international law requires that the mediator does not have any partisan interest. The mediator must be acceptable to all the warring parties. If not, there will not be any credibility in all the outcome of the decisions.

So, when you are settling a dispute, the first thing foreign policy must deal with is to avoid being the friend of one and the enemy of the other party. You must be a friend to the two parties or you must be an enemy to the two of them. Your spirit of reconciliation must be such that the disputants have confidence in you.

So, you must do many things to make the warring parties to want to accept your mediation. What do you do in that case? Corruption can be there. But that is institutional corruption. It can exist at that level. But it cannot exist at the level of individual per say. It does not mean that the individual cannot steal. If for instance they ask you to give this money to this party and you take part of it, that is a manifestation of corruption in one way or the other.

Foreign policy is a policy that endures. Even though apartheid has been dismantled, Nigeria is permanently opposed to any manifestation of apartheid in whatever form and ramification. Again, protection of black dignity and the African man is a policy, it is not a decision. You can easily change a decision, revisit it but hardly do you do so in terms of policy. So, if Nigeria is frowning at the xenophobic attacks in South Africa, it is a manifestation of Nigeria’s foreign policy that is constantly against the oppression of the black man; by whoever you want to have in mind, even by another black man. When you look at it, in the past 16 years, our foreign policy focus has remained essentially the same.

That is what we called strategic foreign policy. Strategic foreign policy has not changed, we still strongly believe in good neigbourliness. Nigeria has consistently been settling whatever misunderstanding with any country peacefully. We have not discussed about the issue of the Bakassi Peninsula, the Green Tree Accord even though all indications point to the fact that Bakassi Peninsula has always belonged to Nigeria.

It was claimed that General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) signed away Bakassi Peninsula but he has denied doing so.

Whatever is the case, as of today, the peninsula has been given away to Cameroun. I am saying that at the end of the day, the factor of good neigbourliness, the factor of oneness of the black man, has remained constant in Nigeria’s foreign policy.

What changes are you expecting in Nigeria’s foreign policy?
Our foreign policy strategy has been consistent but our tactics of implementation has been changing depending on the issue.

What should be the nature of Nigeria’s relationship with the Arab world?
Nigeria is on record to have been consistently supporting the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). I think we were the first
to even grant the PLO the permission to open an office in Nigeria. We have been voting consistently along with the Arab world on the need for a Palestinan home or state. Nigeria’s position has always been clear.

We also know that in 1947, a home for the Israelis was approved; the state of Israel later took off. Because the Arabs said they will push the Israeli to the sea, that they will not exist, Israel and the Arabs have been fighting to the extent that they have fought many wars; particularly the Yom Kippur war of 1973.

All these things were there but the position of Nigeria has been that it is not right not to allow Palestinians to have their own state. And on this basis, we have been supporting the Palestinians. However, few months back, the PLO decided unilaterally to proclaim an independent status. Everybody had capitalized on Nigeria’s vote but at the voting in the UN Security Council, Nigeria did not vote for the first time?

That is what we now call real politics. Nigeria decided to look at his own national interest truly speaking. We look at what is at stake. The Israelis are helping us to fight Boko Haram and they are giving us a lot of help. Now, does it make sense to vote against a country that is bailing you out of the hands of Boko Haram? This is what we are now talking about.

What agenda are you now setting for the new government?

If President Muhammadu Buhari wants to succeed within the next 24 hours, he should place greater emphasis on citizen diplomacy and particularly attitudinal change by Nigerians.

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