There is no gainsaying the point that General Muhammadu Buhari’s
ascension to the presidency on May 29 this year brought some delight and dignity to the perception of Nigeria in the international community. I have said this much previously in this column and concluded that Buhari’s honeymoon with the West ought to be quickly maximized for national benefits. I had counselled on the need to make hay while the sun shines otherwise the euphoria of the new rapprochement would melt away resulting in eventual disappointment.
Now I have cause to warn again at the risk of sounding alarmist and tagged a wailing wailer (apologies to presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, who coined that phrase to describe the political opposition) that the President’s foreign forays are yielding less and less returns.
For example, in spite of recent gains by the military, Boko Haram remains intractable as the Chibok girls remain in captivity suggesting that Nigeria is not getting the kind of cooperation promised by friends abroad. It is true that diplomatic engagements sometimes require time and patience to yield results but the evident fact is that Nigeria is nibbling at the huge international goodwill gained at the turn of a successful political transition from a ruling party to the opposition. I premise this submission on the embarrassing lack of policy direction bedevilling the Buhari administration four clear months into its life span.
But before I expatiate further, let me commend the president for the diplomatic initiative of hosting Heads of States of West Africa over the political crisis in Burkina Faso. By showing leadership and in a swift manner too, the president brought Nigeria pride and reinforced that long-held foreign policy inclination of making Africa a centre-piece of the country’s external engagements.
His recent diplomatic shuttles to Cameroun, Niger and Chad are no doubt relevant especially towards addressing the cross-border menace of Boko Haram terrorism and enhancing regional security. The president’s intervention in rallying ECOWAS leaders to seek solutions to the constitutional breach in Burkina Faso where presidential guards overthrew the government is therefore a worthy consolidation of his sub-regional engagements in the last three months or so.
However, while there is yet the urgent need to articulate a clear foreign policy framework for the administration. This is what is expected of every government and the fact that this is lacking four months into the life of the government is something that has worried even admirers of President Buhari. No country commands sustained respect and serious attention without a clear-cut foreign policy agenda with which it engages the rest of the world.
And it is a known dictum in international relations that a country’s foreign policy agenda is a reflection of its domestic goals and aspirations. Thus if the Buhari administration has yet to articulate a clear domestic vision and mission then it cannot advance a foreign policy agenda. Forget the antics of publicists who are forced to rationalize this unfortunate situation on the assumption that things are shaping up in the country in mere response to President Buhari’s body language.
The narrative is that improved electricity supply, resumption of production at the hitherto moribund petroleum refineries, and the sudden reawakening of anti-corruption agencies among other tangibles and intangibles of the administration so far are attributable to the aura of the president. But the truth is that no country can grow its economy in a sustained and systematic manner based on the body language of its leader. It is even absurd to assume that diplomacy and foreign relations can be undertaken on such opaque mystique.
It is therefore no surprise that the President still bandies about a wish list as trump card in his foreign visits. Recall that British Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond had extolled the successful transition that brought President Buhari to office and invited him to bring a wish list before Western powers to help bring Nigeria up to higher plains. The Nigerian leader promptly accepted the invitation and has since made several trips to the West in pursuance of this wish list- which remains as twisted as the lack of a coherent foreign policy.
He visited Germany in June on the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel to participate on the sidelines of the G7 Summit where he held bilateral consultations. He was guest of President Barack Obama of the United States of America on a state visit that was hyped to high heavens. He recently just returned from France on the invitation of President Francois Hollande to further prosecute the actualization of his wish list. Presidential publicist, Mallam Garba Shehu had said the three-day visit to France focused on security around the Lake Chad basin area especially with respect to Boko Haram. He also spoke vaguely about the pursuit of foreign investments and strengthening Nigeria-France bilateral relationship.
Notably, Mr. Shehu said further that his principal would prevail on his host to get his colleagues in the G7 to actualize the wish list with respect to assisting Nigeria with intelligence and military hardware to battle Boko Haram, help in the reconstruction of the ravaged North-east part of the country, and the battle against corruption. This is pretty much the wish list of President Buhari. But a wish list is not enough.
It is expected that a leader canvassing support from foreign friends must tell in clear and measurable terms how he intends to tinker with the economy; explain indigenous initiatives to tackle insecurity; advance intentions to strengthen the political and electoral process; as well as commit in words and deeds to entrench respect for human rights, promote justice and fair play in a multi-ethnic system like Nigeria’s. Much doubt exist that President Buhari is doing these or truly committed to doing them.
It is noteworthy that the President’s delegation in nearly all of his overseas trips tells much of a lack of clear objectives sought to be achieved. Granted that Permanent Secretaries in charge of relevant ministries made up for the lack of ministers that should ordinarily accompany the president on foreign visits, the inclusion of certain individuals on the official delegation was further evidence of a lack of clear focus.
For instance, the inclusion of Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, the Edo State governor on the president’s state visit to the US in July was of anything but a nuisance value added. What Nigerians can remember about Oshiomhole’s role in the trip was his controversial claim that a State Department official had told the Nigerian delegation that a minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration stole $6billion of public fund. When challenged by the US to provide proof of his embarrassing claim, he balked thereby taking away a good slice of the seriousness with which Uncle Sam had held the Buhari team.
Nigerians also recall the controversial comment of President Buhari himself during one of his outing during the visit. He has complained of how the Leahy law of the United States was impeding the military onslaught against Boko Haram. The president’s position which attracted a rather vitriolic response from Senator Patrick Leahy, the initiator of the legislation in question, was later clarified by a presidential statement. But some damage had already been done to reduce whatever gains the US visit could have achieved in terms of confidence building on Boko Haram.
As you read this, President Buhari is back in the US to participate at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) during which period he would be engaging several bilateral and multilateral opportunities to promote Nigeria’s interests. This includes talks with UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Xi Jinping of China, former U.S President, Bill Clinton, Mr. Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, former British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who is the UN Special Envoy on Global Education and one of the main drivers of the Safe Schools Initiative, among others.
Also on the president’s schedule are meetings of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, a High-Level Roundtable on South-South Cooperation organised by President Xi Jinping of China and the UN, and another on an updated global health strategy for women and children. Clearly, the UNGA meeting opportunities provide yet another auspicious platform to pursue the actualization of President’s Buhari’s wish list. But this opportunity is constrained ab initio by a lack of clear foreign policy objectives.
It is further impaired by some marginal decline in the domestic fortunes of the country with special emphasis on the economy which has suffered sustained uncertainty and lack of direction since this government assumed office. This point was succinctly amplified by Prof. Akin Oyebode, a distinguished academic of international law and jurisprudence in a recent television interview when he stated that “we cannot talk of a foreign policy of the President Buhari administration when there is yet no clear domestic policy.” Until the president fulfills this basic requirement, his wish list remains what it is- a wish list waiting for the genie in the bottle.
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