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Nigeria's Call For AU Not To Interfere In Its Internal Affairs

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The recent report that the Nigerian government has cautioned the African Union, (AU), not to interfere in its internal matters, following calls by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the continental body to prevail on the Federal Government to prosecute perpetrators of the recent crisis in Jos, Plateau State, made an interesting reading. It should be recalled that the NBA had in its presentation at the 48th session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in Banjul, Gambia, called on the AU to press on the Nigerian Government to prosecute those behind the recent crisis in Jos in which many lives and property worth million of naira were lost. Pius Otey of the Ministry of Justice, who read Nigeria's reply, was reported by the Vanguard of November 15, 2010 as offering the warning.

  The purported warning by Nigeria to the African Union raises a number of interesting issues.

  One,   the idea of 'non-interference' in the internal affairs of other countries is based on   a certain notion of state sovereignty, in which   each country's domestic affairs are said to be no one else's business. For a long time dictators and maximum rulers hid under the doctrine of 'non-interference' to ward off any criticisms of human rights abuses in their countries. However with the end of the Cold War and the increasing globalization of such values as democracy and human rights, there has been a shift in the traditional notion of   state sovereignty   with its emphasis on 'non-interference' in the internal affairs of other countries to the notion of sovereignty as a 'responsibility to protect citizens'. In fact, the global pressure to re-think the notion of 'non-interference' gained special momentum during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and again in Kosovo in the late 1990s when NATO was compelled to intervene. Following NATO's intervention in Kosovo, the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan challenged the international community to reconcile the two foundational aspects of legitimate statehood - sovereignty and the protection of fundamental human rights of peoples. The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), which developed the notion of    'sovereignty as responsibility' argued that a state has the primary responsibility to protect its populations, and where it is unable or unwilling to do so, such a responsibility would be borne by the international community. ICISS also showed that the relationship between sovereignty and humanitarian intervention is complimentary rather than contradictory.  

  Two, even within the African Union, the idea of 'non-interference' has also evolved, with emphasis increasingly placed on 'non-indifference' in the affairs of Member   States that will have deleterious consequences for human rights or democracy in the affected country.   In fact, Article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union provides for the right of the Union, in certain cases, to intervene in the affairs of a member state on the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council while Article 4(j) provides for the right of Member States to request for such an intervention. The decision by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU (which adopted the Constitutive Act of the African Union) to incorporate the right of intervention in that Act stemmed from concerns about OAU's failure to intervene in order to stop the gross and massive human rights violations witnessed in Africa in the past such as the excesses of Id Amin in Uganda, Bokassa in the Central African Republic in the 1970s and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The evolution of the notion of 'non-interference' both globally and at the African continent will suggest that calling on African Union not to interfere in Nigeria's internal affairs, using the old doctrine of 'non-interference', amounts to the country making a fool of itself. In fact with the developments in the notions of state sovereignty, it has become rare for leaders to use 'non-interference' in its internal affairs to ward off external criticisms of its policies. As a rule, these days a country opens itself up for suspicion if it recourses to the use of 'non-interference' in its internal affairs as a defence against external audits of its policy options.   Countries likely to hide under the old banner of 'non-interference' are those that are under intense international pressure for its human rights abuses.   Nigeria is not in such a category of countries despite her numerous challenges.      

  Three, there is a distinction between 'non-interference' and 'non-intervention' in the affairs of a State. While both denote non-consensual involvement in the affairs of another country, intervention suggests action of a more aggressive and forceful nature. Nations do actually routinely 'interfere' in the internal affairs of others such as using diplomatic channels to offer advice or providing grants and loans to support defined projects. In this sense, if the report that Nigeria called on AU not to 'interfere in its internal affairs' were true, then the country failed to appreciate the difference   between 'interference' and 'intervention'.   It would actually seem from the Vanguard report that the NBA was merely lobbying African Union to apply diplomatic pressures on the Nigerian government so that the country will prosecute the perpetrators of the Jos crisis. I do not see anything wrong in it as it has not asked the AU to intervene in the country to twist the country's arms towards a given policy option.      

  Four,   after carefully reading through the report in the Vanguard ,   it will seem that this purported   embarrassing call was the result of wrong reporting rather than a gaffe by Mr Otey. I found no where in the report that collaborated the paper's headline suggestion that the federal government called on the African Union not to 'interfere' in its internal affairs. The closest statements that came to matching the headlines were these quotes attributed to Mr Otey: 'We wish to state that there is no basis for the call by the NBA for the intervention of the AU in the resolution of the Jos crisis. Nigeria has already commenced the implementation of several peace building measures in its sovereign capacity and we are hopeful that the measure will achieve the desired result.' Certainly these statements do not amount to calling on the African Union not to interfere in the country's domestic affairs. Unfortunately the impression from that headline would be that Nigeria has become one of those 'banana republics' where the maximum rulers cannot brook any criticisms of its actions, and whose foreign policy formulators are so much behind the times that they cannot realize when a foreign policy concept has become anachronistic.    

  Jideofor Adibe (