Foreign policy is a very essential aspect of life and existence of every sovereign nation and since Nigeria became independent in 1960. Its foreign policy like that of most other countries has witnessed’ successes and failures. The global outbreak of the coronavirus was a major test to Nigeria’s foreign policymakers. This article aims to dissect and examine Nigeria’s foreign policy, its responses to the covid-19 outbreak, and how it was able to adapt during the lockdown period. The first part gives a brief introduction to Nigeria’s foreign policy and the Nigeria foreign policy is examined in the second part, the third part takes a look at how the Nigerian government can prepare for the next pandemic and the last part lay out the conclusion and what needs to be done.
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic affected the workings of international relations, disrupted countries’ foreign policy objectives and caused diplomatic tensions, that the UN security council has to pass a resolution demanding a global ceasefire. This is to show the extent and reach of the Coronavirus in countries worldwide. Nigeria is no exception.
Nigeria is often referred to as the giant of Africa owing mainly to its strong economy and large population among other African countries. But the Covid-19 pandemic humbled the giant of Africa to its knees, as the schools and businesses were shut down in a desperate measure to contain the spread of the deadly virus. During this period, the nation struggled how to engage with other countries effectively in terms of vaccine delivery, the safety of its citizen overseas, and helping other African countries; this is due to the fact that there is no plan on the ground to guide the nation decision policymakers during such emergency. It is time to ask ourselves, what is Nigeria’s foreign policy? The promotion and protection of Nigeria’s national interests is too vague an answer.
The Nigeria ministry of foreign affairs self-described itself as the gateway to Africa’s most populous nation”, this is quite true as the Nigeria foreign affairs ministry is the statutory body created to manage the foreign decision-making and implementation processes in Nigeria and handle the external promotion of Nigeria’s domestic vision and ideals. Fun fact; the ministry of foreign affairs was created in 1961, with Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa appointing Jaja Wachuku as the inaugural minister of foreign affairs and commonwealth relations. The ministry of foreign affairs has since evolved both during the military regime and civilian rule, but one thing has remained constant, its saddle with the main responsibility of promoting Nigeria’s national interests in the comity of nations.
What is Nigeria’s foreign policy?
Foreign policy is those practical strategies a country employs to protect its national interest and achieve specific goals for the benefit of its citizenry and country generally. The word “foreign policy” implies that these strategies are taken in relation to other countries.
Olorundiji defined foreign policy as a set of pre-established strategies designed and implemented systems to manage a country’s relationship with other nations. Which begs the question, what is Nigeria’s foreign policy? Upon independence in 1960, Nigeria’s prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa declared “Africa as the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy! That policy has been the recurrent theme of successive Nigerian administrations.
Reasons for Nigeria’s foreign policy include; achieving national goals, promoting the economic interests of the country, having a well-defined approach towards other countries, tackling global issues through multilateral cooperation, protecting the territorial integrity of the country, and protecting the interests of its citizen within and outside the country. With these general reasons, we can cull that having foreign relations with other countries is quite necessary since no country can be entirely self-sufficient.
Impact of covid-19 on international relations
The covid-19 pandemic has transformed our lives and the world around us. Yet one of the most important and sobering aspects of the pandemic has gotten relatively little attention. We are not only experiencing huge changes in how we live day to day, but we have moved into a world of far greater unknowability about the future. How is this vast unknowability affecting Nigeria’s foreign policy and practically (the benefits that we get from interacting with the rest of the world?
The first case of covid-19 was reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, was declared as an international public health concern and a global pandemic by the WHO on March 11, 2020. The consequences of covid-19 led to worldwide lockdowns, border closures, disruption to private and government businesses, embassies closed, etc. It’s safe to say that during this period, the Nigeria foreign policy machine was effectively grounded to a halt, resulting in the loss of potential beneficial deals for the country and limited resources diverted to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Likewise, significant domestic challenges in part by rising economic hardship, unemployment, food insecurity, infrastructural deficit, sub-optimal productivity, banditry, and significant national debt (38.6 trillion as of December 2021) often conspire to frustrate well-intentioned foreign policy aspirations. After all, for Nigeria to project any serious measures of international clout, its domestic affairs ought reasonably to be consistently well managed on all key credible-visionary leadership, law and order, security and good economic management, food security, etc.
At the very least, the covid-19 era seriously challenged the health systems of the world and disrupted significant gains made in the areas of education, diplomacy, and poverty alleviation in Nigeria. Even while the country is still slowly recovering, experts have said that the covid-19 pandemic is not the first and most frightening global pandemic and predicted that it may not be the last.
On January 23, 2020, the WHO international health regulations emergency committee advised that “all countries should be prepared for containment including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread”. It was revealed in the course of evolving national response against this covid-19 that Nigeria has fewer than 500 ventilators for a population of over 200 million people. This demonstrates the limitations of the nation’s public health infrastructure. Authorities in Abuja must do well to prepare better for the next crisis, as the covid-19 exposes the perennial weakness of Nigeria’s institutional and governmental structures at all levels as well as the precarious state of its nationhood.
How to prepare for the next pandemic
The question is how best in the 21st century “post-pandemic world” can the combination of Nigeria’s human capital, thought leadership, demography, vast natural resources, and competitive maritime advantage be coherently harnessed to formulate a robust foreign policy? Ambassador Obasola Fatonla’s book entitled “history of reforms and reorganization in the ministry of foreign affairs: 1960-2007” made it clear that “there is a fundamental need to review the foreign strategies to accord greater priority to national interests”. In the book, he has shown some cases in which foreign policy decisions have not reflected the protection of the country’s national interests! This should not be so. In fact, ambassador Fatonla also noted that “there is a need to promote and encourage frequent review conferences on Nigeria’s foreign policy during which issues of professionalism, rules and regulation, welfare development, etc. will be addressed. No one is disputing the fact of globalization with its attendant implications, but a responsible government must never be caught unaware. Nigeria’s foreign policy has particularly under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari been more reactive than pragmatic. There is a major need to review Nigeria’s foreign policy to be able to withstand the next crisis no matter what.
Nigeria, the proverbial “giant of Africa” and a country particularly concerned with its regional standing on the continent will become more better off putting together a new robust foreign policy agenda that will allow it to project an image of a country with solid plans to responding to any health emergency or otherwise. Hence, Nigeria’s foreign policy should focus on “advance Nigeria”. In summary, the concept-advance Nigeria- is therefore posited as a foreign policy plan to shape the direction of international affairs for this and succeeding generations.
“Advance Nigeria” sine qua non would be!
- Coherently distinguishing the nation’s foreign policy and the nuances therefore from the overarching provisions contained in section 19 of the 1999 constitution: – This means the era of chanting “Africa first” must come to an end, thus, “Nigeria first” must be the new slogan. Covid-19 has shown how little Nigeria can offer the rest of Africa in terms of financial and material items, unless Nigeria gets its right first domestically, its Africa-first strategy will continue to crumble in the face of the unseen enemy like the covid-19. Hence, Nigeria’s foreign policy should be centered around projecting the country’s soft and hard power abroad, while carrying the rest of the continent along.
- Developing a strong digital diplomacy platform: – in an increasingly digital world, it has become imperative that the country develop a strong virtual platform that will allow it to continue to pursue its foreign policy in the event of an emergency like covid-19. The closing of embassies around the world to citizens who are trying to access consular services is a big low to the country, efforts should be made to digitalize these services. There are records of hacking attempts at government infrastructure during the pandemic, efforts must be made to avoid that.
- Safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity: -Charity they say begins from home. There is no way the country can achieve its foreign policy objectives when it’s battling insurgents and bandits for control of its territory. A Nigerian proverb goes thus “the insect that is destroying the vegetable is inside the vegetable”, thus efforts must be made by authorities in Abuja to curtail the activities of insurgents within its territory.
- Building domestic resilience and economic foundation: – Nigeria is ranked as the poverty capital of the world. According to the recently release multidimensional poverty index report by the Nigeria bureau of statistics, over 100 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line. This does not portray the country in a good light and serious efforts must be made in laying a strong and robust economic foundation that citizens can build on to escape the poverty line. When the majority of citizens are satisfied, the foreign policymakers can then have the clout and soft power to project and pursue a foreign policy that aligns with the country’s national interests.
- Critically assessing the relative benefits and disadvantages against the country’s national interests before acceding to future treaties, international cooperation, and multinational company’s offers: On 20th September 2022, a news report came out that Nigeria has rejected an offer from Tesla Inc., a US company to mine lithium from its soil. The reason is that what the multinational was proposing does not align with the country’s national interests. This should be the standard by which all foreign offers for the country’s resources should be evaluated against. National interests should be the guiding force, all short-term benefits should be abandoned for sustainable and long-term benefits. The disastrous oil exploration in the Niger Delta has shown what happens when things are not adequately taken into consideration.
- Building sustainable and mutually beneficial military and strategic alliances with targeted global superpowers.
- Articulate the country’s unique selling proposition e.g. natural gas, lithium, etc.
- Advocate and secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council with all the rights and responsibilities pertaining to existing member states.
- Respecting international law and treaty obligations
- Developing viral disease early warning system and threat to the country and citizens.
The slogan should be “Nigeria first”, we cannot help the world if we cannot help ourselves. The aim of this article is to show that in a post-pandemic world, we can’t continue to conduct our foreign policy business as usual. Things need to change; the country’s foreign policymakers need to adapt and rejig how we conduct our foreign policy business. We have to do better. Hopefully, the country will be able to emerge stronger and better in the next great upheaval the world will face.
Ebenezer Okpokpo: The challenges facing Nigeria foreign policy in the new millennium. liberal arts and sciences-ASQ.
Olajide Aluko: The new Nigerian foreign policy; development since the downfall of general Gowon Princewill Eze: Nigeria foreign policy; features, problems and achievements.
covid-19 pandemic and Nigeria foreign policy review in a new cold war setting: qub vadis?
AMB Obasola Samuel Fatonla: History of reforms and reorganization in the ministry of foreign affairs: 1960-2007.