Imperatives of redefining Nigeria’s National Interest
By any measure, Nigeria deserves to be called “Giant of Africa” by virtue of her stupendous resource endowments and population. The leadership position of Nigerian can be assessed within the context of its regional and continental leadership aspirations. This ambition is the underpinning philosophy and impetus for adopting the theory of four “concentric circles” as a defining parameter for Nigeria’s national interest.
The inner most circles typify the defense of Nigeria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by ensuring peace around the contiguous states. The second platform is the West African sub-region while continental Africa constitutes the plank of the third circle.
Nigeria seeks to promote peace, security and development within the context of democratic institutions. Using Africa as a launching pad, the fourth circle seeks to manage Nigeria’s multilateralism in the conduct of her foreign policy.
Nigeria derives her foreign policy objectives from two main sources namely: the Nigerian Constitution and the actions of the leaders, which are dynamic and reflective of the policy thrust of any administration in power. Thus Section 19 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states five foreign policy objectives. These include; Promotion and protection of the national interest; promotion of African integration and support for African unity; promotion of international cooperation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of 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 promotion of a just world order.
The Ministry of External Affairs identifies six main foreign policy objectives with emphasis on respect for the fundamental human rights, the principle of non-interference and non-alignment. Since national interest is built around the core values and ideologies of a nation, it is by far the most potent determinant of foreign policy.
Since independence in 1960, Nigeria was widely regarded as the “Giant of Africa”, but Nigeria’s image abroad appears to contradict this posture. Most Nigerians are humiliated and sometimes given shoddy treatment abroad. Nigeria’s relationship with the contiguous states of Republic of Benin, Chad, Cameroon and Niger is equally not cordial in spite of official pronouncements to that effect. For example, Nigerians suffer incessant harassment at Lake Chad in the hands of Chadian soldiers. Nigeria also responded in 1983 by deporting about 700,000 Chadian from Nigeria.
Recently, even Ghanaians have started to maltreat Nigerians. The contiguous State around Nigeria are demonstrating belligerence as can be seen in our war against Boko Haram insurgency.
Nigerian-Cameroonian Palaver over the Bakassi Peninsular has resulted in Nigeria’s ceding the oil-rich peninsular following the Resolution by the International Court of Justice. Amidst the growing disillusionment, there is now an increasing political and intellectual interest in re-defining what really constitutes Nigeria’s national interest in the light of contemporary global events.
Unfortunately, for Nigeria, our diplomacy is unprogressive. It is not benevolent to most Nigerians. For instance, the state security services that ought to be the eyes and ears of government an important component of our foreign policy instead some members of this distinguished body one found in public places discussing the current operations while foreign agents are taking notes.
A Nigerian citizen visiting the embassy for help will likely be given every reason possible not to render help in a foreign land. A Nigerian seeking help in a foreign land will most likely be left hanging.
The generally acceptable view is that national interest is a manifestation of the core values, objectives and philosophy underlying the actions of the leaders. Whereas the constitution provides a veritable basis for the collective actions of leaders, the references, predilections and sentiments of leaders is also important.
There are two schools of thought on the subject matter of national interest: namely the subjectivists and the objectivists.
The objectivists school argues that “the best interest of a state is a matter of objective reality. The subjectivists contend that what constitutes the national interest of a state depend on the preferences of the leaders, their ideas and priorities. Thus, national interest is wedded to the leadership of a nation and the perceptions and actions of the people.
In the past, Nigeria’s national interest was hinged on the creation of a suitable political and economic environment in Africa and the World at large, which will facilitate the defense of the territorial integrity of African States; the promotion of equality and self-reliance in Africa and the World; defense of social justice and human dignity of the black man, and the defense and promotion of world peace.
Nigeria’s national interest as consisting of six important elements in order of priority. These includes: self-preservation of the country; defense and maintenance of the Country’s independence; economic and social wellbeing of the people defense, preservation and promotion of the ways of his especially democratic values and the promotion of world peace.
The first three core national interest and they are not compromised irrespective of the administration.10. One of the most constant national interests of Nigeria’s diplomacy is her interest in Africa. This led to the foreign policy orientation of Afro-centrism.
Using Africa as the centre-piece as Nigeria’s foreign policy is rationalized on the basis that Nigeria is better positioned in Africa to identify with and defend the legitimate interest of Africa than any other nation. The assumption has been that the independence of Nigeria would be meaningless if it does not lead to the total liberation of all African States. Nigeria had wished to use her population, size and resources as advantage to contribute and facilitate the collective interest of Africa and this mandate was consummated as Nigeria’s historic mission. While some Nigerians advocated that Nigeria should play in Africa the type of role which the USA is playing in the Organization of American States, some advocated reciprocity, since Nigeria should not be the ‘beast of burden” of all African states.
The question then arises: If we say Africa is the centerpiece of our foreign policy, it means that Nigeria should identify with and defend the legitimate interest of Africa collectively, then it also means that Africa and African states should identify with and defend Nigeria’s interest. This however has not played out as demonstrated in the xenophobic attack in South Africa.
With the recent posturing of the dynamic national interests woven around economic diplomacy, the Non-aligned diplomatic interests of neutrality is no longer relevant. Even the interest against Zionism and apartheid are also irrelevant. In practice however, successive had showed some degree of inconsistency in the pursuit of the national interests.
Now, Nigeria is at the slippery slope not because we have no resources but because of national embarrassment that is large-scale fraud and mismanagement of our oil resources, yet Nigeria’s foreign is not hinged on economic diplomacy. The country’s investment in the struggle to liberate African countries has gone unrewarded. In a world that has become a global village, Nigeria’s multilateral diplomacy should translate into tangible diplomatic benefits in the overall interest of the country.