Leadership and Buhari’s Foreign Policy (3)
Continued from yesterday
DURING this time, Nigeria’s demonstration of independence of action and dynamism was also captured by the Umaru Dikko Affair. Let us be reminded that only a few hours of the take-over by the Buhari junta on December 31, 1983, many key actors in the Shagari administration took to their heels. Among them, former Transport Minister, Dr. Umaru Dikko, Uba Ahmed, Adisa Akinloye, Richard Akinjide, and Joseph Wayas, President of the then defunct Senate. Umaru Dikko, the most powerful of them in the defunct civilian administration of Shagari, reappeared in London ranting about a Jihad “to restore democracy in Nigeria”. He was said to be worth at least N1 billion, made possible by the kick-backs he received from huge rice deals. He got the scare of his life on July 5, 1984, when he was kidnapped outside his posh home in London. He was later found drugged in a crate at Stanstead Airport, outside the British capital. Four men were arrested for the botched kidnap attempt which sparked a diplomatic row between Britain and Nigeria. Relations between the two countries have since remained lukewarm. Nigeria evidently pursued a policy of reciprocity at this period, which usually is possible when a country has a strong leader and capacity. Arising from the Umaru Dikko Affair, a Nigerian Airways plane was detained in London, Nigeria in retaliation detained a British Caledonian plane in Lagos. Both countries equally expelled two diplomats each, and “recalled” their high commissioners in the bargain.
With the benefit of hindsight, whereas Shagari’s foreign policy was based on “wait and see” and not willing to lead, but to be led; Buhari’s foreign policy showed activism, dynamism and realism. One only hopes that the Buhari of 1983 has not changed much from the Buhari of 2015. Indeed, we are waiting to see the ascetic and patriotic side of Buhari married to his newly acquired democratic credentials. Did leadership under General Buhari live up to expectation between 1983-1985? The answer is unequivocally yes. Some may not agree, but from the perspective of then, a young undergraduate student, and now a Professor of International Relations, perhaps some circumspection could have been shown in some decisions taken, however, let us remember that it was not only Buhari as an individual taking all the decisions, but a military junta. Much is therefore, expected from Buhari this time around, especially against the backdrop of his tenacity as an opposition candidate. It says much about his doggedness and character.
One cannot be sure, only to expect going by his pedigree, that he will again live up to expectation. Nigerians need this. In fact, Buhari in 1983 came to office with a wealth of experience in governance unrivalled by any previous military Head of State; he was successively, from 1975 – 1978, military governor of Borno State, Federal Secretary (Army) at the Supreme Headquarters and Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). He has since then, of course, garnered more experience in public service that we hope will be brought to bear in governance and management of Nigeria’s foreign policy.
This retrospective journey of the times of General Muhammadu Buhari at the helm of affairs empirically indicates (this is verifiable), not just a strong personality, but one with inclination for activism and the pursuit of defined objectives. Our expectations should therefore be that General Buhari, will reposition our foreign position in a manner that we are not just able to defend our interests, but regain our position as a regional leader. Nigeria needs to strengthen her relations with her neighbours in more realistic ways, and engage France in mutually beneficial manner. South Africa is a competitor, but also an ally; tact must therefore be deployed in our engagement with South Africa. The United States remains important to Nigeria, not just because of the economic linkages, but also because of the welfare of Nigerian citizens in the United States. China in recent times, has proven to be a dependable economic partner, we should continue to strengthen this relation, but mindful that the national interest is not undermined. Our foreign policy at this juncture should be long-term, with investments in human and material resources made to protect and project our national interests, especially within the sub-region. Continuity is equally, important, in the pursuit of our economic diplomacy, as the Goodluck Jonathan administration achieved a lot in attracting Foreign Direct Investments. This should be followed through. The foreign ministry is most suited to articulating these. All these are of course, predicated on bringing sanity back to the domestic environment. I have little doubt that Buhari will be able to add value to governance and leadership in Nigeria if he can find a way to navigate the murky waters of primordial politics. I have had my say, and like many Nigerians, hope for a new Nigeria, and a more potent foreign policy.
• Professor Agbu is Head, Division of International Politics, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
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