Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru - Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru - Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs
By Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru
I have always held the view that Nigeria’s foreign policy must be anchored on a strong domestic support and understanding. The more of this support we get and more consensus we are able to build behind Nigeria’s foreign policy exertions, the better the guarantee of its success. We live in changing times. The world continues to present a dynamic environment in which the interests of nations have changed over the years. In the case of Nigeria, the fundamental principles of Nigeria’s foreign policy have been fairly consistent since they were first espoused shortly after independence in October 1960. Yet the specific interests, priorities and emphasis of Nigeria’s foreign policy have continued to change and evolve in the context of the domestic and international environment. The main elements of the changing world and context include the following:
A. The end of the cold war, the emergence of the United States as a dominant super-power; as well as the emergence of multiple centres of power, especially at regional levels;
B. The birth of the African Union with new philosophical foundations for inter-state relations and engagements in Africa, including the jettisoning of time-honoured principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states, non recognition of unconstitutional change of government among other normative principles enshrined in the AU Constitutive Act;
C. The rise of democratic forces and the demise of dictators in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East;
D. The importance of economic issues in the conduct of foreign policies; and
E. New challenges such as international terrorism, piracy, oil theft, illegal bunkering, proliferation of small arms and light weapons, transnational crimes, irregular migration, climate change, stalled multilateral trade negotiations.
2 . Several scholars and commentators alike have spoken about the dynamism of Nigeria’s foreign policy, or the lack of it. Those in the latter group failed to take into consideration the changing environment in which foreign policy decisions are made in today’s world. What should be paramount is the extent to which foreign policy advances the core interests and values of the country and the people. It is this interface between the country’s goals and aspirations and the proactive manner in which the foreign policy machinery pursues these objectives that should determine dynamism and not the simple label that is devoid of reason, logic, realism and a full appreciation of the country’s national interests.
3 . With the successful conclusion of the decolonization agenda and the emergence of a post-Apartheid geopolitical environment in Africa, it became imperative to review and re-direct the orientation and aims of the country’s foreign policy. The outcome of this exercise led to the clear articulation of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy objectives, as specified in the 1999 Constitution, which is the promotion and protection of the national interest; the promotion of African integration and support for African unity; the promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations; respect for international law and treaty obligations as well as the seeking of settlement of international disputes by negotiation, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication; and; the promotion of a just world economic order.
4 . In pursuit of these objectives, the present Administration has identified, as main priorities the maintenance of unity, peace and security of Nigeria, particularly in the wake of current security challenges; job and wealth creation for Nigerians; the promotion of trade and investments; promoting the welfare of Ni gerians both at home and abroad protecting their interests. The others are i mproving the profile and image of Nigeria abroad; enhancing Nigeria’s representation and visibility in international organizations; enhancing Nigeria’s leadership role in West Africa in particular and Africa in general; among others.
5. While Africa has been the centre-piece of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy from the onset, successive governments have certainly adapted its principles, objectives and priorities to the prevailing circumstances. The Afro-centric posture of our foreign policy meant that the founding fathers of Nigeria had to anchor the country’s foreign policy thrust on the decolonization of the African continent and the promotion of African unity. Thus the deployment of substantial resources in the eradication of apartheid in Southern Africa and other theatres of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and South Africa.
6. Today, one of the questions frequently asked is why the populace cannot derive greater benefits from the huge investments made to the cause of Africa. In response to this enquiry as well as the global realities and changing times, we now effectively make Nigeria the centre-piece of our foreign policy. This entails that every foreign policy decision must pass the litmus test of how far and by how much Nigeria’s specific and general national interests are being promoted, pursued and served. We have therefore sought to deploy foreign policy to support and promote the economic development of Nigeria through job and wealth creation, empowerment and the development of critical infrastructure for the benefit of the Nigerian people. Making Nigeria our primary focus in terms of issues bordering on our national security, economic prosperity, youth unemployment and infrastructural development, does not translate to a reduction of our commitment to Africa.
7. Within the overarching ambit of the set objectives and the felt need for a new foreign policy thrust geared towards the maximization of benefits of good governance to Nigerians, it became imperative to prioritize our foreign policy choices. Nigeria’s foreign policy will continue to be dictated by the political and economic programme at home. The current Transformation Agenda of Government on the domestic front has given the platform to execute good economic and social policies; the foreign policy of Nigeria will be more robust. The nexus between domestic and foreign policies cannot therefore be over-emphasized.
8. Nigeria’s brightening economic outlook is an accurate reflection of its positive political agenda. It is in light of the foregoing considerations, as well as the bright economic prospects of the country that we are encouraged by the recently released report by Price Waterhouse Coopers which forecasts the emergence of Nigeria as the 13th top economy in the world by 2050. Indeed, a recent study classified Nigeria, together with Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey, as members of MINTs, in recognition of our emerging economic prospects and as the new centres of global economic growth. These assessments are not only reassuring but are pointers that Nigeria is on the right path and must redouble our efforts in attaining the objectives of Vision 20:2020.
Consolidation of Democracy in Nigeria and Africa
9. Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa has been influenced largely by destiny. Not only must Nigeria always take the lead to ensure political stability in the region, but she must be actively involved in the economic development and integration of the continent. Nigeria's support for the promotion and consolidation of democracy, good governance and human rights in Africa is not in doubt. In partnership with the African Union, strenuous efforts at entrenching democracy in Africa are being made, including uncompromising adherence to democratic tenets and values, good governance, human rights, among others. Our stance is anchored on the firm belief that a stable and democratic Africa is in Nigeria's national interest. Consequently, Nigeria has provided material and other forms of support to the democratic electoral processes in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Niger, among others.
10 . In Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria’s strong voice to uphold democracy, evidenced in the support given to the winner of the Presidential election, prevented a bloodbath in that country. Our strong and unwavering support for democracy made the EU, UN and the US to follow Nigeria’s lead, while the AU had no choice but to come on board and support Nigeria’s position for the winner of the elections in that country. Nigeria’s position was not in support of any outside power but a step taken in line with President Jonathan’s policy to defend democracy in Africa. With over 3 million Nigerians, the intervention in Cote d’Ivoire was in our national interest. Today and for the first time, Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire are on the same side of the coin, working together to resolve the challenges in our continent. A number of Nigerian business men have since taken advantage of the very cordial relations between both countries.
11 . In line with the African Union and ECOWAS policy of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government, Nigeria condemned the recent undemocratic changes of government in Guinea Bissau and Mali. In addition, as a member of the ECOWAS Mediating Group, Nigeria was actively involved in efforts to restore security and constitutional rule in both countries, by playing a leadership role in initiating democratic transitional processes
12 . In Guinea Bissau, it was President Jonathan that negotiated a peaceful resolution of the crisis and prevailed on the coup leaders from executing their detained erstwhile Presidents and Prime Ministers and facilitated their safe passages out of the country. O ur desire to enthrone democracy in Mali is in our national interest, as the connection between the terrorists in Northern Mali and elements of Boko Haram has been established. The plan of the terrorists and criminal gangs that took over Northern Mali was to take over the whole of Mali, and use the territory as a platform to destabilise the whole of ECOWAS region with Nigeria as the prime target. It is therefore naive of any academician, political scientist or analyst to suggest that Nigeria should not intervene or take a back seat position in Mali. If the French had not intervened at the time they did, the situation in Mali will have been different today. Nigeria and indeed all members of the AU are grateful for the French intervention but Nigeria has risen to the occasion by taking the lead to ensure that the military campaign in Mali is now African led. Nigeria has committed over 1200 troops to the UN-mandated African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) under the command of our own Major General Shehu Abdulkadir.
13 . In post Arab spring crisis and civil war in Libya when the leadership in Africa and the African Union were in total disarray, with no clear path to follow, it was Nigeria’s timely intervention in the recognition of the then Transitional National Council (TNC) that showed the way for other African countries to follow. Within a few days of Nigeria’s announcement, majority of Member States of the African Union, hitherto sitting on the fence, followed our lead. The commitment to principle of defending democracy informed Nigeria’s timely decision to support the aspiration of the Libyan people for freedom and democracy. Nigeria’s position was dictated by our national interest and not influenced by any foreign power. The immediate result of Nigeria’s action was the protection of our nationals that remained in the country during the civil war. Today Nigeria and Libya are working together to resolve the challenges in Africa.
Strategic Partnerships and Economic Diplomacy
14 . In a bid to encourage and promote the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment into the country, Nigeria has signed bilateral agreements and MOUs with several countries in the areas of trade, technological cooperation, ICT, education, culture/tourism, etc. The increased exchange of high level visits between Nigeria and other countries of the world have enhanced Nigeria’s bilateral cooperation with these countries. Such high level meetings have been able to attract considerable investment portfolios to the country.
15. The Bi-National Commission with the United States of America, Germany, Canada and South Africa continue to deepen the gains which the current Administration has made in Trade & Investment, Energy, Security, Agriculture, Good governance, Health and Education sectors. The Bi-National Commission with Germany, signed on 2 December, 2011, covers the areas of Power and Energy, Trade and Investment, Political Consultation and Education, Immigration and Cultural matters. Some of the projects under the German BNC relate to Power Generation, Re-forestation, Emission Control and Capacity Building for Research in Solar Power Energy for Universities. Some of these projects include: £65 Million 30 megawatts Kiri Dam, in partnership with the Adamawa State Government; £50 Million 20 Megawatts Yola Solar Power Station; £1.5 Billion 450 Megawatts Gombe Coal to Power Station; 450 Megawatts National Independent Power Project (NIPP) Geregu Power Station, Phase II in Ajaokuta, the Pilot Solar Power Plants for the Universities of Ibadan, Lagos, Sokoto and Bayelsa.
16. The Bi-National Commission (BNC) between Nigeria and the US has injected fresh confidence into the Nigerian economy to the extent that, Nigeria has become a new destination for US businesses and entrepreneurs. This has significantly increased Foreign Direct Investment from the US into Nigeria. The Commission operates under five (5) Working Groups, designed to cover literally all aspects of US-Nigeria relations, including assistance in capacity building, technical support, funding, security collaboration and the environment. Several projects and investments are flowing into the country to create jobs for our youths. Proctor and Gamble is constructing a factory to manufacture health materials in Agbara, Ogun State, while General Electric is investing USD 1billion and has commenced the construction of a factory in Port-Harcourt to manufacture Gas turbines to serve Nigerian and African markets.
17 . A foreign direct investment inflow of $US54 million is being executed with Mexico to develop agriculture plantations for cultivation of pineapple and other crops for export to the European Union market. Our relations with other emerging markets and huge economies such as China have also been robust. Apart from the involvement of China in the development of infrastructure and construction, the country has granted a soft loan of $500 million for the construction of a light rail in and around Abuja. A 50-bed capacity hospital, donated by China is currently under construction in Abuja.
18. From the foregoing, it is clear that quite a handful has fallen into the basket in terms of foreign investment inflow into Nigeria. Thus, according to United Nations World Investment report for 2012, the FDI inflows into Nigeria reached about USD8.9bn, far higher than in previous years. The projects generated from these would create jobs for our unemployed youths and wealth for the populace. A component of the country’s economic diplomacy is the involvement of the Organized Private Sector (OPS). More than ever before, the OPS is active in a number of African countries and continue to receive the active support of the Government abroad. From Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, Kenya in East Africa and to Cameroun, Senegal, Ghana, etc in Central and West Africa, the Ministry and its missions in these countries have been supporting the businesses and operations of Nigerian businessmen, especially financial institutions and factories.
Nigeria’s International Image
19. Nigeria has continued to earn more respect in the international community despite lingering domestic challenges. While we have experienced some security challenges locally, this has not affected the goodwill, friendship and partnerships that Nigeria continues to enjoy in the comity of nations. Indeed, we have continued to receive official delegations and visitors from all countries seeking to engage with us, to invest in Nigeria’s economy and exchange views on important issues of common interest and concern. Hardly does any week pass without the visit of one high-level delegation or the other; just as we are also received and respected abroad.
20. As a testimony to Nigeria’s strategic importance in the comity of nations, Mr. President has undertaken several trips to many countries abroad, where he was received very warmly by his hosts and the resident Nigerian community in those countries. It is encouraging that, in the past two years, a good number of countries have invited President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR, to undertake State, Official or Working visits to their countries. The President has, in turn, played host to Heads of State and Government and delegations from all over the world, including high-level visits by Prime Minister of Britain, the German Chancellor, the Presidents of Brazil, Indonesia, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the Presidents of Lebanon and Poland, including the French Foreign Minister, the former US Secretary of State, to mention a few of the Special Envoys and Emissaries from various countries. On 15 April 2013, the South African President Mr Jacob Zuma is expected in Abuja to consult with President Jonathan. This is a clear illustration of the goodwill towards our country and the desire of other countries to engage Nigeria in recognition of her strategic place and role in world affairs.
21 . One of the major challenges facing Nigeria’s foreign policy is the plight of Nigerians in prisons abroad. Over 9,000 Nigerians are in various prisons all over the world, the highest number of 752 being recorded in the UK. Most of them are concentrated in the Asia-Pacific with many of them on death row. Given these alarming numbers and the imperative need to find creative solutions to the plight of these Nigerians, we convened Regional Seminar s of Nigerian Heads of Missions in six centres. The Seminar for the Asia-Pacific region took place from 4 – 5 April 2013. At the end of the Seminar, the Heads of Mission made far-reaching recommendations, including the need to raise awareness in Nigeria on the dangers and perils of irregular migration as well as involvement in transnational crimes , especially drug trafficking. In the immediate term, the Missions have been directed to explore the conclusion of Prisoner Exchange Agreements with the various countries, to ensure that those prisoners in foreign jails are repatriated home in dignity to complete their jail terms.
22 . Some commentators on Nigeria’s foreign policy have reacted to the challenge of inadequate funding by suggesting that we close some of Nigeria’s missions abroad. It is argued that that since Government is unable to fund the over 100 Missions, it would be better to close some and use the savings to properly support the remaining ones. This, to me is a desperate solution that fails to address the fundamental problem of inadequate funding and the imperative need to promote and defend Nigeria’s national interests in a changing world. This approach has never worked as we have tended to open and close Missions in a cyclical movement that creates more problems than solutions. First, closure does not necessarily translate to savings. The Government would reduce the overall budget of the Ministry by the same amount that would have been deployed to the closed missions. It will not be spread to the existing ones. Second, the cost of closing and winding down is far greater than re-opening. Third, when we close Missions, we damage relations that have taken years to build. Fourth, at a time Nigeria seeks to be a member of the UN Security Council, in both permanent and non-permanent categories, our country needs more friends than ever before. A nation with such global ambition with its nationals spread all over the world cannot be shrinking its diplomatic and consular presence abroad. To begin to shrink rather than make new friends and consolidate existing relationships will be counter-productive to Nigeria’s national interests. What we have done instead is to commence gradual reduction in the staff strength in our missions abroad and thereby save cost. We have also been ingenious by creating SMART MISSIONS with only one ambassador assisted by few local staff. These prudent measures will help conserve funds while still maintaining our diplomatic presence.
Nigeria and New Global Challenges
23 . It is also remarkable that with the emergence of new global challenges, Nigeria has been in the forefront of addressing such issues as international terrorism, climate change, irregular migration, human and drug trafficking and illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. Some of these complex issues that constitute security challenges have invariably posed serious threats to peace and security in Africa, particularly in our sub-region. While ongoing efforts are beginning to yield the desired results, Nigeria will not relent in its commitment to addressing this menace. Terrorism is an international phenomenon, gravely threatening national, regional and international peace and stability. The armed forces are also tackling the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and theft of our oil. Foreign envoys have been informed and warned that any foreign ship caught will be arrested and the crew will face prosecution in our law courts. We require the full cooperation, support and partnerships of all our friendly countries.
Enhancing Nigeria’s representation and visibility in international organisations
24. Since President Jonathan’s assumption of office in May 2011, Nigeria has maintained a strong stand in Africa. Following the formation of the AU about 11 years ago, Nigeria has not been involved in decision making at the highest level of governance in the Organisation, in spite of our huge yearly contribution to the Organisation. We tried three times, between 2003 and 2011 to secure one of the posts of Commissioners reserved for our sub-region, but failed. However, Nigeria won the post of Commissioner for Political Affairs in a hotly contested election in July 2012. This was indeed a huge success for Nigeria’s diplomacy. We broke the unfortunate chain of losing elections at the continental level and today, Nigeria’s visibility at the AU is no longer in doubt.
25 . At the United Nations and other world bodies, Nigeria has since the advent of this government, maintained a robust presence. In the past, there were criticisms that Nigerian nationals were not fully represented at various International bodies and Organisations as these compatriots will bear the national torch and advance Nigeria’s interest in those Organisations. S ince we came on board at the Foreign Ministry, we have secured 12 international positions to which Nigeria and Nigerians have been elected in multilateral organisations . There was no time in the history of our foreign policy that we have achieved so much within a short period of two years. These successes point to the effectiveness of our foreign policy machinery, the professionalism and the dedication of our diplomats deployed to ensure these election victories. We will therefore continue to maintain a robust foreign policy and ensure Nigeria’s leadership and visibility, not just in ECOWAS but in Africa as a whole.
26. We have since launched our bid for election into the UN Security Council in the non-permanent seat category for the period 2014-2015. We have worked hard and have received the endorsement of ECOWAS Heads of State and governments. We expect to receive the endorsement of the AU at the next summit in May 2013. Our election to this position in October 2013 will be a befitting gift to Nigeria in the year of the centenary celebration of our existence as a corporate entity. It will also be the first time that Nigeria will return to the Security Council after only two years gap.
Welfare of Nigerians and Relations with the Diaspora:
27. The Ministry remains committed to protecting the interests of Nigerians by constructively engaging the diplomatic and consular missions in Nigeria, especially on visa matters. As we demonstrated in our swift and effective response to the deportation of Nigerians from South Africa over the issue of yellow fever cards and our various demarches to the diplomatic community in Nigeria over the issuance of visas to Nigerians, we have made it clear that Nigeria would not tolerate the maltreatment of its citizens at home and abroad. The Ministry also collaborated with other MDAs to evacuate Nigerians trapped in conflict zones in various parts of the world (Libya, Syria). In Gabon where some Nigerians were to be ejected from the two Islands they had occupied for years by the host government, the Ministry proactively engaged and successfully collaborated with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), to evacuate them back home. We have also successfully resolved the dispute over trading activities by Nigerians living in Ghana.
28 . An issue which I need to bring out is the lack of documented report on the activities of the Ministry since its inception over 50 years ago. We all must bear full responsibility for our failure to do this. We have taken it upon ourselves to correct this obvious omission as we have now published and launched the first edition of our annual report.
29. Let me end this presentation by expressing profound appreciation to you all, for this opportunity to address this exalted audience. It is my hope that a better understanding of Nigeria’s foreign policy in the face of today’s realities and the changing world has been achieved. As I have sought to demonstrate, there is really no basis for the criticism that Nigeria’s current foreign policy lacks dynamism. We have continued to be proactive in engaging the world and putting Nigeria’s national interests at the centre of our country’s foreign policy and international relations. What is needed is the support of major stake-holders and the vast majority of Nigerians in order that we can build a domestic base and consensus behind our country’s foreign policy exertions.
* Ashiru is Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs .