Leadership and Buhari’s Foreign Policy (2)

UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon, President Muhammadu Buhari and Foreign Minister of Germany, FW Steinmeier at the cocktail reception at the G7 summit

UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon, President Muhammadu Buhari and Foreign Minister of Germany, FW Steinmeier at the cocktail reception at the G7 summit

Continued from yesterday

FURTHER, the government embarked on retrenchments and demolition of illegal structures, changed the colours of the Nigerian currency, which began April 26 and ended May 6, 1984.

All hell broke loose at the action, but Nigerians went through the pains for the sake of the economy. Until the Buhari regime launched the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), any attempt to check corruption and indiscipline was killed by rumours and innuendo and cries of ethnic or political victimization.

WAI drew attention to the fact, that apart from the objective of economic recovery, issues of discipline, probity, morality and patriotism were equally important to the regime.

WAI was implemented in stages, the first phase was the entrenchment of the queuing culture, the second was to improve work ethics, the third phase focused on matters of nationalism and patriotism (including respect for the flag and National Anthem), while the fourth phase focused on total war against saboteurs and all facets of corruption.

The difference between perhaps, some of the previous leaders and the Buhari regime was the discipline shown by those at the helm of affairs, who were not only willing to sacrifice, but showed a genuine willingness to solve Nigeria’s problems.

One of the success stories of the regime was its conduct of foreign affairs (then external affairs), especially with neighbouring countries. That leadership quality was instrumental in moulding the character of Nigeria’s relations was not in doubt. An adage in foreign relations says that foreign policy begins where domestic policy ends. A nation’s foreign policy is not only a direct continuation of its domestic policy, but it is also a reflection of its way of life. Hence, the necessity for an introspective re-visit of domestic policy environment under the Buhari regime from 1983 – 1985.

The basic character of Nigeria’s foreign policy has been determined as far back as in 1960 when Nigeria became self-governing and, to a large extent, this character has remained unchanged. What has changed and will continue to change is the style and manner of execution of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Nigeria’s foreign policy has been basically Africa-centred, even till today.

Therefore, on assuming office, Buhari maintained that Africa would continue to be the centre piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This was reiterated in a speech he delivered at the Annual Patron’s Dinner of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) on December 3, 1984. From the Speech, the General and his administration were committed to the total liberation of Africa, the eradication of the inhumane system of Apartheid, uplifting the social and economic well-being of the people of Africa, and protecting the independence and territorial integrity of African states. Although, some of these objectives have today largely been achieved, others still remain relevant.

Let us at this juncture remember that the “Concentric Circles theory” which at least in theory, undergirds the formulation and implementation of Nigeria’s foreign policy was articulated during the Buhari regime, by the seminal Professor Ibrahim Gambari, as External Affairs Minister.

In sum, the environment of foreign policy making under the leadership of then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was to a significant extent determined by the economic reality Nigeria faced. The previous administration, under Shehu Shagari had brought the country close to economic bankruptcy, anarchy and social decay. With the state of Nigeria’s economy, one could only imagine the strength of our foreign policy and military capacity. Buhari brought back the radical posture in Nigeria’s foreign policy making and execution. However, it is necessary to note that the regime was not constrained by the usual constitutional provisions and bottlenecks as obtained under civil rule; hence, it was able to conceive and speedily implement policies. Also, we know that a kind of moral responsibility is usually entrusted upon a leader to justify the seizure of power. I believe that this was the case with the Buhari/Idiagbon regime.

The leadership of Muhammadu Buhari could be said to be both objective and realistic, and at once encompassed some dynamism, independence of action, and commitment to the protection of Nigerians and Nigeria’s interest abroad. Acknowledging the importance of effective leadership in foreign policy making, General Buhari in a lecture noted that “No country in the world can command the respect and admiration of the international community without a dedicated and purposeful leadership” (The Guardian, December 4, 1984:1).

On the assumption of office in 1983, Nigeria’s foreign policy architecture had some internal reorganisation, but no major shake-up. There was substantial reduction in staff complement of the embassies and the commissions abroad in keeping with the government’s determination to cut back on overall government expenditure. Eight Nigerian Missions were closed down in different parts of the world. The government then brought experienced and reputable Nigerians from outside the service to serve as Heads of Missions, and this helped to complement the Ministry’s own efforts in restoring morale at the headquarters and diplomatic missions abroad. The nation’s diplomatic machinery was restructured under a Permanent Secretary with five Directors-General (one of which dealt exclusively with international economic matters), and twenty-one separate departments. Emphasis was also placed on the training of all categories of staff in the Nigerian Foreign Service. Foreign Service officers undertook post-graduate studies at the University of Ibadan, Ahmadu Bello University, and University of Lagos, Ife and Nigeria. Some also received training at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Lagos.

Specific foreign policy issues addressed by this regime included the matter of the closure of Nigerian borders with her neighbours, which was criticized by some. The then External Affairs Minister, Dr. Ibrahim Gambari, responded to the critiques saying that “The closure of the borders may be a bad thing, but the collapse of the economy will be worse for all” (Newswatch, March 4, 1985:p.14). On the recurrent Nigeria-Cameroun border problems, the regime sent General Obasanjo (Nigeria’s former Head of State), as a special envoy to explain Nigeria’s position to the Camerounian leaders. Part of the explanation was that Nigeria will henceforth, not tolerate the kind of situation that existed during the civilian era, when Nigerian citizens were killed with impunity at the borders.

Nigeria at this period was at the forefront of the negotiations for the withdrawal of foreign (French/Libyan) troops from Chad, and even provided its territory (Kano Airport) for the evacuation of these troops. Further, Nigeria continued to show her dislike for the Apartheid regime and her commitment to its destruction; although this effort was dampened by the signing of the Nkomati Accord (a non-aggression pact), between Mozambique and South Africa. In response, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister undertook an extensive tour of the neighbouring South African countries, at which period Nigeria was not only made a frontline state, but her efforts in the struggle was recognized as she was made a depository for the papers of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid through the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA).

On Western Saharawi, Nigeria’s recognition of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) on the eve of an OAU Summit was described as a ‘master stroke’, by the then Minister of External Affairs; for him, Nigeria took this measure because of its belief in the principle of self-determination and the preservation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Perhaps, this is why we continue to have problems with Morocco.

The SADR/Morocco problem is still an unfinished business that needs a resolution. Nigeria’s recognition of the SADR was a strong move, and only a person in the mold of Buhari or Murtala Muhammed could have done this. By this singular move, Nigeria restored her leadership position in the OAU, enhanced the solidarity of African states and ensured the survival of then OAU (AU). Morocco left the organisation, amidst protests from her and her allies.

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

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