‘Foreign Affairs Minister Should Engage The People’

Akinterinwa-2Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa spoke to Debo Oladimeji in his usual bluntness on his expectations for the new Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama.

Expectation for the new Foreign Affairs Minister
At the level of foreign affairs, I think that there are more opportunities in the world to be exploited to the advantage of Nigerians. While the other ministers should be inward-looking in growing and developing the economy, I think the foreign minister should look at the global community as a special source of development opportunities. We need to exploit the use of citizen diplomacy to complement government’s effort in attracting international good will. If this is done ab initio, the minister has succeeded with his agenda.

Measures to improve Nigeria image
Improvement of Nigeria image is a function of domestic setting in this case. If as effort has been made to ensure that round pegs are put in round holes and that corruption is being combatted tooth and nail, and people can see that the economy is really growing to the extent that the whole environment is being made conducive for good governance, I think Nigeria’s international image will continue to grow, and it can only be to the advantage of the government and the people of Nigeria.

I think that in the foreseeable future the image Nigeria will have will be unprecedented, positively good.

All the ministers have the responsibility to ensure that people going out through their platforms are educated and well informed about the reality of the situation in the country they are going to visit.

Keeping Nigeria from embarrassment
What the foreign minister can do is through public enlightenment, public engagement and more seriously citizen diplomacy to reach out to Nigerians. If you do not educate the general public, they will continue to embarrass Nigeria outside the country. If people are educated on how to travel, if people are told that if you go to Malaysia, for instance, where it is clearly written on the signboard: “Drug Trafficking Attracts Death Penalty!” then they have been forewarned.

The freedom to move or to travel out is basically the right of the individuals and international migration has its positive and negative aspects. Going out to seek greener pasture opens new window of opportunities for people and the outcome is that they come back home with their new acquired cultures, riches, wealth and so on and so forth.

Measures to attract foreign investment
When Nigerian international image is improving and investors could now see that the domestic environment is also increasingly being made friendly, then you can expect foreign direct investors coming on their own free volition. At the end of the day which international investor has not found Nigeria as the most business friendly? They make more money here. The Nigerian market is big. The labour is cheap, and the goodwill, the friendship, the security is also there. When you have an improved international image, direct investment will just be coming in. The inflow will be galloping.

Improving ties with immediate neighbours
Africa is the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Secondly, the first immediate concentric circle of influence after the innermost is West Africa. And the innermost circle is not just Nigeria as conceptualised by Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. The innermost circle is made up of Nigeria and its immediate neigbours.

He argues that whatever happened in the immediate neigbourhood should be considered as happening within Nigeria. The security of Nigeria and the security of the immediate neigbours is intertwined. Any minister at all, not just the foreign affairs minister, not just the minister of the interior, but all the ministers are compelled to ensure that their policy calculations reckon with what obtain in the immediate neigbouring countries. So, they have a lot of roles to play, particularly the minister of foreign affairs, and more so, that what transpired in the immediate neigbouring countries, is also directly likened to what obtained in France.

Improving ties with Europe and America
The constituency of the foreign minister is not just limited to Europe and America. Europe and America are just a component of that. Africa is the first constituency of the foreign minister. So, all foreign ministers in most cases they live in aircraft. They are supposed to move to all parts of the world and ensure that they secure political goodwill for the country. So, I think that Western Europe and America being traditional allies of Nigeria, one would expect the foreign minister to begin with, in consonance with the principle of charity begin from home.

The immediate task of the minister
When the foreign minister resumes, he would start with the challenges first. The foreign ministry is very complicated and very complex. In terms of the issues to be dealt with because things are happenings simultaneously in the world, in this case, since he is prepared for it, the challenges are there for him to deal with. Since many members of staff there in the foreign ministry are very conversant with the problem internationally, the minister wouldn’t have much of a problem. I think he is going to work smoothly and progressively too.

However, having conditions, meeting the conditions constitute one thing. But when you are on the field you may come across what you never bargained for. You have to address such challenges and then the situation realities may be different. But for now, let us say it is so far so good.

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