Leadership and Buhari’s Foreign Policy (1)

Buhari

Buhari

WE all know the importance of effective leadership in moving associations, organisations or nations forward. It is indeed, the most crucial element in determining the dynamics of any nation.

Unfortunately, Nigeria has not really been blessed with good leadership when it really matters.

It suffices to observe that effective leadership is needed at this period in Nigeria’s political history, especially considering the fact that our foreign policy has also taken a nose-dive.

Every country needs a leadership that would command respect internationally and enable the country to fulfill its destiny in the world. It is a fact that no country in the world can command the respect and admiration of the international community without a dedicated and purposeful leadership.

If a nation’s foreign policy is understood as the expression of its national interests vis-à-vis other countries, it follows that foreign policy decisions need to be made and expressed by people not ghosts.

Therefore, foreign policy decisions are not necessarily made by states, but on their behalf, by individuals and groups of individuals, that include Mr. President as Primus inter Pares.

There are, therefore, heightened expectations that the government under Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) which won the Presidential election will pick up the gauntlet and do what is expected to reposition Nigeria, not just at the domestic level, but also amongst the Comity of Nations.

But, leadership is such a complex concept as we know, and there are different types of leadership.

It has often been said, that what Nigeria requires is transformational leadership at all levels of society, and, you must agree with me that this kind of leadership is most important and symbolic at the highest levels of political governance, in order, to create the right kind of momentum and followership. Unfortunately, while the PDP government professed this, it did not quite live up to the expectation.

So who really is Muhammadu Buhari that we are inclined to entrust so much hope and expectations, especially in championing the repositioning of Nigeria at the global level.

This is against the backdrop that Nigeria, critically speaking, presently has no ‘god-father’ at the global level.

Instead, it appears that Nigeria is an orphan, on whom so much responsibility and expectations are entrusted upon, regionally and continentally.

Muhammadu Buhari and his colleague Major General Tunde Idiagbon were thrown up to the limelight when they and their colleagues seized power on December 31, 1983 on the basis that Nigeria’s economy was in dire-straights and therefore, needed salvaging and stabilisation. He was overthrown by his colleagues on August 27, 1985. As noted by many, Buhari has a reputation for honesty among the largely corrupt political class. It is generally believed that with his military background and zero tolerance on corruption that he is well-fitted to wage a successful war against insurgency and terrorism and provide the much needed security for the country.

As we now know, he has made history as the first opposition candidate in Nigeria’s electoral history to remove a sitting president from power. Before this, he had contested thrice, in 2003, 2007 and 2011 for the presidential job. He is, therefore, not easily dissuaded from his objective.

General Buhari is quite popular amongst the ordinary people, especially in the north of the country, who gave him immense support during the 2015 presidential election. He hails from Daura, in Katsina State, and is known to be a disciplinarian.

Married with eight children as reported, he had military training in the UK, India and the United States. A Muslim, Buhari is experienced enough to know that religion and indeed, his military background should not be allowed to interfere with his day-to-day execution of the affairs of state.

It was indeed, encouraging to note that the content and comportment of his political campaigns were moderate and civil, amidst the virulent political environment. This was a good sign.

In retrospect, subsequent actions or inactions of his administration as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces were instructive in determining whether indeed, his administration had any impact on our domestic environment and foreign policy. Some were of the view that a new dynamism, objectivity and realism came into Nigeria’s foreign policy with the arrival of Muhammadu Buhari on the scene.

At this period in time, many Nigerians were fed up with the excesses of the previous civilian administration. And the acrimony among political parties made many wonder if civil rule was not really a curse.

Towards its demise, corruption was rife among public officials in the previous government, contracts were inflated, kickbacks collected and many were busy carving out financial empires for themselves at the expense of the people.

The country’s foreign image was bad. The emergence of Major-General Muhammadu Buhari as the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces set the tone for the administration – “The corrupt, inept and insensitive leadership of the past four years have been the source of immorality and impropriety in our society since what happens in any society is largely a reflection of that society”.

The Buhari administration started out on its mission with more goodwill from the general populace than was ever available to any regime, except perhaps for the coup of January 15, 1966, and Obasanjo’s second coming in May 1999. Perhaps, Buhari is lucky, for being accepted once again by a generality of the Nigerian people to pilot the affairs of the country from May 29, 2015.

The Buhari interregnum’s over-riding objective was to revamp Nigeria’s flagging economy. Nigeria’s external debt situation outstanding as at the end of 1983 was N12,237.4 million, which was astronomical at the point in time.

At this period, Nigeria’s foreign reserve stood at only N807 million, which rose momentarily to N1.1 billion by October of 1984, when Buhari assumed leadership.

This was a dramatic increase from the downslide it was experiencing. The objective of revamping the economy made this administration to take some high-risk decisions.

The increase in Nigeria’s debt profile made the Shehu Shagari administration to approach the IMF for a stabilization loan. However, the negotiations bogged down on three conditions – devaluation of the Naira, trade liberalization and a removal of subsidies on essential services. The Buhari government refused the loan, but rather embarked on strict belt-tightening.

Buhari’s military government also promulgated several decrees to enable smooth governance, and was later accused of gagging the press and committing human rights abuses. However, whilst the decrees were largely perceived as ‘draconian’, they were effective to the extent that they kept corruption at bay and checked the negative behavioural tendencies of Nigerians. Some rationale could be established for the promulgation of the decrees.

First, they were predicated upon the eradication of corruption in the public and private life; secondly, the preservation of potency of the naira; thirdly, the maintenance of general stability; and finally, the advancement of economic security and combating the pernicious menace of dangerous drugs.

The spirit of many Nigerians flagged, face to face with the pains, sacrifices and deprivation brought about by the decrees. The stiff practices, long jail terms, and in some cases, death sentences discouraged would-be criminals.

• To be continued tomorrow.
• Professor Osita Agbu is Head, Division of International Politics, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs

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