Foreign Policy And Journalism In A Democratic Era

Paper Presented By Alli Hakeem, Managing Editor, News Agency Of Nigeria (NAN)
By Alli Hakeem, Managing Editor, News Agency Of Nigeria (NAN)

Foreign policy can be described as a carefully devised strategy or plan of action put in place by a country to protect its national and international interests and to expand its sphere of influence within the comity of nations. Oftentimes, it has economic ring and interests around it.

Journalism is a profession or vocation that entails the legitimate gathering and processing of news and news materials in text, pictures, audio and audio-visual forms for dissemination to the public.

The materials must be such that are factual, objective, fair, balanced and of interest to the large majority of the people.

The journalist, therefore, has social duties which include the advancement of the right to freedom of expression, access to information, freedom of the press, media independence, conflict transformation and peace building.

These are also some of the prerequisites for open governance and development, which ultimately serve the public interest.

These prerequisites are also unassailable ingredients for the sustenance of democracy.

Democracy, as we all know, is a system of governance that guarantees universal adult suffrage.

It is a system of representative governance sign-posted by political self-determination and encourages pluralism.

In order to properly x-ray the topic: Foreign policy and journalism in a democratic era; let us look at the evolution of our country's foreign policy and how journalism figured in the process.

The Abubakar Tafawa Balewa government created the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations in 1961 with Jaja Wachuku as the minister and journalists reported the event as was expected.

That ministry was later named the Ministry of External Affairs and now the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Between 1960 and 1965, the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, presented the State of the Nation address annually to parliament and this was also reported in the media, but because of the dearth of analytical information, they were handicapped in establishing how little the attention foreign policy got in the addresses.

In the book: The Structure and Processes of Foreign Policy making and Implementation in Nigeria edited by Gabriel Olusanya (D-G, NIIA, 1984-1991) and R. A. Akindele, the latter in his article ``Nigerian Parliament and Foreign Policy'' stated that in 1960, while Tafawa Balewa devoted 92.7 per cent of his address to domestic component, foreign affairs got 7.3 per cent, in 1961 it was 91.9 to domestic component and 8.1 per cent to foreign affairs.

In 1962, Balewa devoted 91.3 per cent of his address to the domestic component and 8.7 per cent to foreign affairs. In 1964 and 1965 respectively, domestic component of the prime minister's address got 82.9 per cent and 81.5 per cent, while foreign affairs attracted 17.1 per cent and 18.5 per cent respectively.

Akindele went further to state that:
Throughout the period under review (1960 – 1966), approximately 19 motions bearing on the country's foreign policy came up for debate in the House of Representatives.

The earliest on record was that of April 1960 urging the government to protest France's atomic tests in the Sahara and to take appropriate measures if that country refused to heed warning.

The last called upon the government in 1965 to negotiate the acquisition of Fernando Po with Spain.

Some of the motions cannot be easily categorised as being exclusively in the field of foreign affairs.

Examples are the motion in 1960 which called for the imposition of a ban on the importation of South African goods into Nigeria and that of 1962 urging the House to view with concern the proposed entry of Britain into the European Common Market.

Analysis of the various motions shows that 53 per cent of them were approved without amendment by the House, 16 per cent were outrightly rejected and 31 per cent were accepted with amendment.

After the collapse of the first republic and the entry of the military into the nation's political terrain, Nigeria pursued its foreign affairs policy with vigour, particularly where issues affected African states.

Such resilience contributed to the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, as Nigeria was one of the frontline states in the struggle to end white minority rule in that country.

Nigeria has, however, been paid in bad coin by some of the countries it had helped.

Of note are the xenophobic attacks on foreigners, particularly on Nigerians in South Africa, which still go on.

Only last Thursday, the Nigerian consulate in Johannesburg criticised what it described as the xenophobic attacks on Nigerians living in that country.

Okey Emuchay, the Consulate-General of Nigeria in Johannesburg, said in Springbok, in the Northern Province of South Africa, that labelling all Nigerians in the country as drug dealers was "unacceptable''.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that no fewer than 23 Nigerians were forced out of their homes and chased out of Port Nolloth community on Sunday, May 26 by some South African members of the community, accusing them of dealing in drugs.

According to Diliora Ndubisi, the spokesman of Nigerians in that community, the leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in the area instigated some community members to force them out of their homes.

“All the members of the community had a meeting on Friday on the need to curb the selling and usage of drugs in the community.

``On Saturday a teenager committed suicide in police custody and by Sunday some members of the community led by the ANC Youth League leader came to our houses asking us to leave the community.

``They said we are the ones selling drugs to their children. They destroyed and looted our property and one Nigerian was seriously beaten and is on admission in a hospital in Johannesburg,'' Ndubisi said.

He said that the attack, which targeted Nigerians only, could be attributed to envy and jealousy about the success of Nigerian businesses in the community in the midst of poverty and unemployment among South Africans living there.

Much of ill-feeling had been expressed by this turn of events.

In democracy, Nigeria has become more visible in international affairs and has earned respects in ECOWAS, the AU, and the UN and from other international organisations and journalism has helped in bringing these to public knowledge.

At the return to democracy in 1999, major foreign policy goals of the President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration were the re-integration of Nigeria into the international community after years of isolation occasioned by military rule, conflict resolution, regional integration and resuscitation of the Nigerian economy.

Since the inception of the President Goodluck Jonathan's administration, more achievements have been recorded in its transformation agenda.

Some of these are the country's strong commitment to the promotion of democracy and democratic values in foreign policy exertions in Africa, advanced policy of good neighbourliness, and the election of Nigerians into international organisations.

There has also been the positive side in the area of economic diplomacy.

Nigeria has been doing investments drives to attract foreign direct investments and has succeeded in the energy, agriculture, transportation and communication sectors, among others.

Overall, how has journalism fared in Nigeria's democracy in the area of foreign affairs coverage? The answer is not far-fetched.

Nigerian journalists have been up and coming in the discharge of their duties in the coverage of foreign affairs issues, sometimes at great risks to their lives.

The killing of Chris Imodibe of The Guardian and Tayo Awotusin of The Champion) in Liberia in 1991 allegedly on the orders of President Charles Taylor still rings a bell in the community of Nigerian journalists.

If Nigeria was not involved in peacekeeping operations in that country, these journalists probably would not have had cause to be in Liberia.

Challenges are all over the place for Nigerian journalists to effectively cover assignments, present in-depth analyses of developments in various facets of human endeavour, including foreign affairs.

This is largely because they do not readily have access to information or sources of information are frugal with the release of needed details. And it is common knowledge that where information is not readily made available, you allow speculation to thrive. Where you don't allow the plough to go, you allow the weed to grow.

For instance, apart from summoning the British High Commissioner over his country's proposed policy requiring Nigerian travellers to the UK to deposit £3,000 (about N750,000) as bond in case they overstay their visa limits, Nigerian journalists are largely not aware of any other steps taken so far.

At the multilateral level, Nigeria takes positions when flashpoints across the world like Syria, Egypt, and the DRC are the subject matters, but there is usually the need for the Foreign Affairs ministry to make further clarifications as journalists, though are smart people, are not diplomats and should rely on the ministry to interpret developments.

What has Nigeria done or keeps doing to assist asylum seekers across the world? What services do Nigerians get in their embassies abroad when they need to establish businesses? What form of assistance do Nigerians get when they are being repatriated? What and how many mitigation pleas does Nigeria present when its nationals are being sentenced in various courts abroad? These and many other issues need to be brought to public knowledge.

It is also not heart-warming that the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not been functional for months and when it is functional, it is not regularly updated.

It is, however, salutary that the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru promptly responds to enquiries sent by journalists through e-mails, but what time would there be for the minister to attend to other maters when he has to be responding to e-mails?

A more proactive thing that could be done in the absence of a functional website is for the ministers and perhaps the ministry to register presence on social media like the Twitter, so that journalists can follow them and be updated about developments in the foreign affairs arena.

Many journalists across the world follow John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State and William Hague the British Foreign Secretary on twitter and that way they had been able to reach a wider majority of people with needed information.

It will also not be out of place for the ministry to do weekly press briefing to explain developments like the planned withdrawal of Nigerian troops from Mali and Darfur.

The hints to these came from outside the Ministry of foreign Affairs.

Provision of authentic information about affairs of state is necessary in a democracy because that is how the symbiotic relationship between foreign affairs and journalism can wax ever stronger.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."