FEATURE ARTICLE

Andrew Obinna OnyearuWednesday, October 10, 2007
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"CITIZEN-CENTRED DIPLOMACY":
THE PARADIGM OF CHANGE IN NIGERIA'S FOREIGN POLICY

peaking recently at a public event, Nigeria's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe articulated what is now emerging as one of the focal points of the foreign policy of the current administration. Describing it as "Citizen-Centred", Chief Maduekwe observed that central to the policy is a greater appreciation of a new concept simply described as "diplomacy of consequences". In explaining this, he states that the acts of Nigeria towards other countries, and vice versa, would be determined by reciprocal niceness such that, in his words, "... if you are nice to us, we will be nice to you; if you are hostile to us, we will also be hostile to you".


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Since its postulation, this concept has been subjected to the most anxious but well meaning scrutiny by domestic and international commentators. There is common understanding that the thrust of this policy is not a new one, given that, in essence, it represents the general approach of every country towards the protection of its own image. Whilst there has been expansive discussion about its remit, there are those who have applied too narrow a description to the mechanics of its practical implementation. This concept of reciprocity has a significantly wider meaning than many have ascribed to it. Whilst explained in ordinary parlance as importing a responsive reaction to adverse treatment of Nigeria abroad, it is manifestly evident that this policy represents a great deal more.

Better and fuller understanding of the policy will show that it is a bold, audacious and proactive enunciation of a policy that Nigerians have awaited for a considerable period of time. Delivered with customary intrepidity, the Minister clearly identified the direction which this government's tenure proposes to adopt with the international community. Effectively, it calls for the international community to take responsibility for its actions towards Nigerians whether favourable or adverse. This position is consistent with the foreign policy of every major nation in the world in the protection of its image. Evans and Newnham describe image, crucially, as the view that people have of themselves expressed through their concept of nationality and their ideas of nationalism. They continue by observing that

"...images are affective as well as cognitive; they can therefore arouse feelings of amity or enmity. Hostile and/or friendly images of other national and ethnic groups are an important factor in the impact they can have on world politics. Indeed, a number of studies have shown the tendency for images to be reciprocated; hostility begets hostility, friendliness begets friendliness. This tendency is referred to as the Mirror Image..."

The policy has attracted praise and criticism in like manner. Its critics appear to be queuing up behind the much vaunted rehearsal of some of Nigeria's well documented problems. Many now argue that these drawbacks - and they are significant - make it either inappropriate or impossible that Nigeria is to orientate its policy in this direction. Those critics allege that we have neither the moral, social nor economic foundation to seek reciprocity in our dealings with foreign nations. This thinness of social-economic capacity is based on commonly repeated premises that Nigeria has some of the worst social indicators in the world; internal insecurity; a deteriorating infrastructural base; corruption; high crime; unbridled violence; ethnic conflict; a disorganised and moribund labour sector; a poor external image crisis exacerbated by a world-wide reputation for astuteness in financial and other related crimes represent some of these problems. Add to this highly inflammable cocktail is High mortality; a majority of the population ostensibly living below the poverty line in a country where the life expectancy is 47 and you get a country with a supposedly fragile base and foundation upon which such a policy can be founded.

Significant as these appear, there is a compelling necessity to balance these against the pluses, of which there are many. Nigeria is the 9th most populous country in the world. It is the most populous country in Africa with an estimated 140 million people and a population density as high as 139 people per square mile. 20% of the worlds' black population lives in Nigeria and as is commonly touted, one out of every 4 Africans is Nigerian as also one out of every 5 black people in the world. It is alleged that over 1 million Nigerians reside in the US, of which over 25,000 are, it is asserted, doctors and that UK Home Office statistics relating to those holding Nigerian passports puts the number at more than 2 million. Second and third generation Nigerians in the UK swell that number significantly, most making a serious and substantial contribution to the social and economic life in the UK. Economically, Nigeria is the economic powerhouse in West Africa and the second in Africa, only behind South Africa. With a GDP of over $170 billion, it contributes 50% of the GDP of the West African region. The GDP per head amounts approximately $692. Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petroleum in the world and the 8th largest exporter. Nigeria has the 10th largest reserves of petroleum and as of April 2006 became the first African country to fully pay off its debt, estimated at approximately $30 billion, owed to the Paris Club. These developments make it, in many respects, one of the most attractive business environments in the world, a fact demonstrated by its substantial trade relationships with the US, UK, China, Russia, France, Japan, and the Middle East, these being the major economies in the world. With a booming industry in telecommunications with more than 30 million mobile phone subscribers, it has the fastest growing market in the world, having overtaken South Africa.

Its foreign policy accomplishments are no less. Since independence in 1960, the liberation and restoration of the dignity of Africa has been central to the development of its Foreign Policy. From the Government of Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, its commitment to the eradication of apartheid and racism from the African continent has remained supreme. Under the military of General Yakubu Gowon, Nigeria committed itself wholly to the liberation struggles in various parts of the Southern African region and supported many of the movements including, for instance, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) with substantial funding. Nigeria was central to the formation, in 1963, of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner to the Africa Union (AU) and in 1975, of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Not only did the country donate towards substantially towards ECOWAS' set up costs including the Secretariat, it regularly paid its annual contribution of approximately 32.5% of the community's budget which was subsequently revised upwards to 40%. In the pursuit of world peace, Nigeria played a leading role in international peace keeping and trouble shooting in zones where conflicts have arisen across the world. Nigeria has contributed more than 200,000 troops to various United Nations peace keeping forces and, by itself, initiated and funded the monitoring group (ECOMOG) which monitored and managed the conflicts in Sierra Leone and Cote D'Ivoirie at the expense of several billion dollars. Most African countries have and continue to receive aid, assistance and grants from the Nigerian government. Despite its much publicised difficulties in providing electricity domestically and in the spirit of assistance, Nigeria exports its limited electricity to Benin and Togo, by way of assistance to the Ghanaian government to enable her fulfil the terms of a bilateral agreement to supply those countries following the drop in water level at the Akosombo dam. A similar situation exists with petroleum products with several countries in West Africa.

Against the background of these antecedents, it would be churlish to assume that Nigeria's basis for seeking reciprocal respect from the international community is based on fragile foundations. Indeed, were it not for the adversity of its image, such credentials should entitle its nationals to dignified treatment wherever they find themselves. In many respects, part of the reason why this has occurred is that this position has not been as strongly asserted as could be the case. Some of the reasons range from indifference to and the over-arching but necessary inclination to court the international community especially in the first world, flowing generally from the imbalance in economic fortunes. Those who suggest, therefore, that the social or economic basis upon which such a direction should be anchored is mistaken appear to ignore the real course of taking stock of the accomplishments of Nigeria as a country and building on those in order to assert an entitlement to respect and dignified treatment.

Critics of this policy have also suggested that there are some inherent difficulties in being able to achieve this objective. The suggestions upon which this potential failure is predicated include the weakness of Nigeria's position economically; the extent of the historical damage that Nigeria's image has suffered over the years; adverse internal circumstances exacerbated by several years of military rule; a poor human rights track record; abuse of the rule of law and, predictably, corruption. Even in the face of these ostensibly insurmountable difficulties, there is every reason to suggest that initiation of the policy represents an extremely constructive and expedient way forward and that this, taking account of the peculiar difficulties that currently exist, can be attained.

How can this be achieved? Apart from the well documented exhortations for improvement of the socio-economic circumstances in Nigeria, there are other factors that must be critically considered to ensure that this direction is actualised. In no particular order, some of the following should be considered. Nigeria must develop an agenda of engagement. This would entail creating a mechanism to investigate and deal with any adverse publicity reports relating to Nigeria. The objective would be to identify and collate all incidents of adverse publicity. Presently, this machinery does not exist and serious consideration should be given to establishing this mechanism. Doing this will import proactive involvement and in consequence, familiarity with a slippery and inherently embarrassing terrain. The familiarity is essential to, amongst other factors, build a template of responses to problems of a similar nature reoccurring in the future. Nigerian Missions abroad must be empowered to assume these responsibilities. Operational directions must be formulated; issued and implemented, worldwide within Nigerian High Commissions and Embassies. It is critical that resources are made available for this purpose. Additionally, there should be enhanced monitoring of the missions' activities to ensure that identified objectives are being met.

Nigerians abroad must be sensitized to the peculiar responsibilities of nationalism. "Nigerianness" abroad dipped significantly until the gains of democracy began to take root. Information dissemination amongst Nigerians must be initiated and improved upon. Nigerians must begin to appreciate that the biggest advocates of Nigeria are Nigerians themselves. The support structure and the linkage between Nigerians abroad and at home are and should be the Embassies and the High Commissions abroad. Nigerians abroad have often felt estranged and isolated from their representatives. Many are unaware that missions abroad are available to offer support and directions. In particular, for instance, Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires that when requested to do so, a state must inform a consulate that a national of a foreign state has been arrested or is in its custody, this being the basis upon which the Supreme Court of Minnesota decided that if the failure to provide consular notification causes prejudice, a conviction could be quashed on appeal. Often, such availability to assist is misconstrued as being essentially financial or infrastructural. Desirable as this may seem, it does not appear possible, except in the most severe cases. This situation arises from the sheer enormity of demand combined with the paucity of resources. Nevertheless, Nigerians know what the Missions can and should offer them, some of these being exposed in a well publicised "Citizen's Charter". Workshops and seminars must be targeted at the Nigerian community in various countries designed to reach out and create a visible interactive interface. What exists now is palpably below what is expected although some missions are working hard, with limited resources, to improve relations with Nigerians in their various countries.

The know how to engage home Governments lies within the strong Nigerian communities in various countries abroad, several of whom are employed by or work with those necessary to be influenced to effect change. This change can be aided by better knowledge and awareness of the circumstances of Nigerians abroad. Demographic information about Nigerians, or their activities abroad and whereabouts is currently thin and speculative. The Ministry of Foreign affairs must, first, seek to obtain information from countries abroad, as best can be the case, as to the presence of Nigerians in each country. This information need not contain details more than age and occupation which, more effectively analysed, will arm those seeking to reverse these trends as well as inform those within whose countries Nigerians enter and reside with a credible data bank to formulate appropriate responses. From Nigeria, Embassies and High Commissions could be persuaded to provide statistics about the quantum of Nigerians applying for and granted Visa's distinguishing only as to age, sex and whether or not such applicants are 1st or 2nd applicants. Confidential information for this purpose will not be necessary

The policy identified by the Minister is desirable, noteworthy and must be pursued. It is policy that is inherently proactive, decidedly dynamic, full of zip and conceived to achieve. Rather than ventilate unproductive drawbacks, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be wholeheartedly encouraged and supported, using incisive, critical appraisal not as a tool to denigrate but as a source of encouragement, advice and information.

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