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LIBYA: NIGERIA'S FOREIGN POLICY FAUX PAS

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN.
PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN.
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That the Nigerian government has formally recognized the National Transitional Council (in Libya) is not only disappointing, it is appalling. This move shows that President Goodluck Jonathan and his foreign policy team are weak and incapable of complex analysis; and perhaps, do not truly understand international politics. Frankly, Nigeria’s position on this matter should be roundly condemned, not just by ECOWAS and the African Union, but by all those who value good governance, truth and accountability and the sovereignty of nation-states.

In the spring of 2005, I wrote an essay chastising President Olusegun Obasanjo for agreeing to turn over Charles Taylor, the former president of war-torn Liberia, to the international community for his eventual prosecution at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. In spite of Taylor’s crimes, I was one of those who favored granting Taylor refuge in Nigeria - in spite of the fact I had always asserted that criminals be brought to justice. On this particular matter, however, I was of the opinion that there are times when it was necessary to allow misfits off the hook especially if such ‘leniency’ would serve a greater good.

In this instance, the primary purpose and goal of the arrangement was for the peace and security of Liberia and its suffering people. Without it, Liberia would have descended into a deeper abyss. The deal offered Taylor was simple: (1) Give up the presidency; (2) Leave Liberia for Nigeria; and (3) Never interfere with the domestic policies of Liberia. In exchange, Taylor was offered safety from arrest and prosecution by any court as well as safe and reasonable accommodation in Nigeria. The man behind the agreement was Obasanjo. The agreement was also witnessed by and consented to by a group of African presidents, including Thabo Mbeki of South Africa.

Moreover, the African Union and ECOWAS also nodded their concurrence. Still, the arrangement would have failed if the international community had not come onboard. And in fact, the word within the diplomatic community was that Obasanjo’s “decision to grant asylum to Taylor was initiated by the international community, including the US, European Union and the United Kingdom.” I believed then, just as I believe now, that all those involved in the arrangement did the right thing by granting Charles Taylor a safe passage and an internationally recognized immunity from arrest and prosecution.

Charles Taylor kept his end of the bargain. But not so for Obasanjo who jeopardized his and Nigeria’s credibility. Obasanjo backed out because the United States directly and indirectly twisted his arms and Achilles Heel. It was sad, so very sad to see a military general, a war hero and then president of Nigeria succumb to the barking of a lowly-regarded George Bush. The president of a sovereign nation, acting in good faith and within the constitution of his country and international conventions, has the right to grant safe passage and political asylum to anyone he deems fit.

Even if for nothing else, a man’s word ought to mean something when given without duress. Obasanjo was not under duress when he offered Taylor safety. Trust, we must understand, is a very important and necessary ingredient in international negotiations and international politics. In this instance, and in the years since, it’s been proved that Olusegun Obasanjo is not a man to be trusted. It has happened again, but with a different personality. In this instance, President Goodluck Jonathan – an Obasanjo protégée – succumbed to the dictates of President Barack Obama over the ongoing power tussle in Libya.

From the moment NATO/USA decided they were going to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, Western corporations and countries began the Scramble for Libya. No matter what the ordinary Nigerian may think, Libya is not Egypt, Libya is not Yemen and Libya is not Syria. This was a country – in spite of Gaddafi’s shortcomings – that was far better run and better managed than virtually every oil-producing African country. This was a man who ruled his country far better than most in the developing south. This was a man who cared deeply for his country’s ecology and who refused to mortgage his country to foreign concerns.

Obama, who is scared of the Republican/Tea Party, saw it fit to vandalize, destabilize and destroy an African country. Most of Obama’s foreign policy moves have been called into question. Yet, it is to this man, this president, that Jonathan yielded. This is a very low point, not just in America’s foreign policy, but in Obama’s foreign policy excursions. But beyond that, it is one of the lowest points in Nigeria’s foreign policy. Jonathan did not even bother to tell the National Assembly or the Nigerian people why he embarked on such ‘rascality’. And we now know that he did not even, as a matter of courtesy, inform his counterparts within the continent. It is a mystery why he decided to abandon the African Union’s position and arrangement.

By hurriedly recognizing the rebel government in Libya, Jonathan has shown that he has an inadequate understanding of African politics and ethos. By succumbing to the dictates of NATO/USA, he has shown that his backbone is not made of steel. By violating the stated and unstated understanding reached during the various deliberations of the AU, he has shown that he is not a man to be trusted or a man who understands the meaning of trust in domestic and foreign politics.

Even a neophyte in global politics and economics knows and understands why western governments – especially the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France and Germany - are in such a haste to get rid of the Libyan leader: his Cold War era sins. Multinational oil companies bought into the idea because of Libya’s oil. The defense establishment is happy over the current situation because it would be able to sell arms to the Libyan rebels.

And some US Congressmen are happy to see Gaddafi go because of what has come to be known as the Lockerbie Affair. In other words, Gaddafi is being sent packing, not because of his dismal human rights records, but because he committed several sins against several western capitals. And to think that President Jonathan and his national security team do not understand this? Incredible!

What we have going in Libya has nothing to do with the fabled Arab Spring. Only Tunisia and Egypt, in the view of many, fit that description. At the core of the ‘internal opposition’ against Gaddafi are Mahmoud Jibril, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, Abdel Hafidh Ghoga, Ali Tarhouni, Fathi Terbil, Abdul Fattah Younes, Ali al-Essawi and Khalifa Hifter. Most of these men are not exactly political saints, human rights activists and/or paragons of morality. What we have here is self-interest and a palace coup aided by western governments and interests.

And frankly, one could add another reason to why Abuja easily and quickly sided with Washington. In March 2010, the Libyan leader - piqued at the incessant religious and ethnic violence and at Nigeria’s unrealized goal of economic and political development – had suggested that Nigeria be split into two along religious lines. Gaddafi’s statement rattled Nigeria; and this led to a short-lived diplomatic row. And of course, Gaddafi has, in the last three decades or so, managed to enrage Nigeria at the continental level. It is now payback time, perhaps.

Just like the Obasanjo/Charles Taylor debacle, the Jonathan administration has shown that it cannot and must not be trusted. Insofar as the Gaddafi-NATO-USA matter goes, this is not the way to conduct foreign policy. This is not the proper and fitting way to respond to a crisis within the continent. This is not the way you treat members of the AU. As the Secretary-General of the African National Congress, Mr. Gwede Mantashe, said, “Nigeria is jumping the gun in recognizing the rebels as representatives of Libya.”

He probably meant to say, “This is not the way to treat the AU…this is not the way responsible leaders behave…this is not how you conduct foreign policy.” This, by any standard, is a bleeding foreign policy faux pas.

Written by Sabella Abidde lives in Montgomery Alabama. He can be reached at [email protected]

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