By Owei Lakemfa
On the eve of Africa Day, this past Monday, May 24, soldiers went to Malian President, Bah Ndaw, not to salute him, but to pick him like a chicken. They did the same to the Prime Minister, Moctar Ouane. The duo was taken to the Kati Military Camp, Bamako. The soldiers were carrying out the orders of the Vice President, Colonel Assimi Goïta.
The next day, Nigeria, the giant in the region, issued a feeble statement, signed not by the Foreign Minister or any high official, but by the Ministry’s spokesperson, condemning “the detention”, when even high school students knew what had occurred was effectively a coup. The Nigerian statement whispered that the coup plotters should know that: “Stakeholders in the region and friends of Mali reject any act of coercion of the detained officials, including forced resignations.” Which coup plotter will take such a statement serious?
Just nine months ago – on August 18, 2020 – the same Colonel Goïta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta by similarly picking and taking him to the same Kati Military Camp. On that occasion, Nigeria and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), put up a similar feeble stance; merely demanding that a serving soldier like Goïta should not be the country’s President. However, he was rewarded with the position of Vice President. More seriously, he and the coup plotters were allowed to dictate who the new President would be. So, they picked their retired chief, Bah Ndaw, a former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Malian National Guard and Defence Minister of the overthrown President Kaita. So, rather than take a decisive principled position on that coup, Nigeria and its minions in the region sought to appease the coup plotters. Even now that the military has again staged a coup, the body language is to appease the plotters in Bamako.
Nigeria’s unclear roles in contemporary foreign relations is transmuting into policy shifts, which conflict with express provisions in the Constitution and fail to take cognisance of the increasing interrelatedness of humanity.
The world has become a global village, meaning that while domestic policy should drive foreign policy, few matters remain local or unaffected by international relations or politics. Boko Haram was a local Nigerian conflict which has taken international dimensions. So, the defeat of these terrorists in Nigeria will have implications not just for our immediate neigbours like Niger, Cameroon and Chad, but also for countries like Mali and Burkina Faso.
The war in Darfur was supposed to be a local conflict between Sudanese rebels and the government. However, Darfur provided the base for Idriss Deby to invade and take over Chad. Thirty years later, the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), whose invasion last April, led to the death of Deby, also has its base in Darfur. Banditry is usually local, but some of the bandits today terrorising Nigeria are from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Benin Republic and Libya.
Again, to show how interconnected humanity has become, India is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. That ordinarily should not be the cause of a major headache for Nigeria. But it is because India is a major client of Nigerian oil and the slowdown of its economy due to the pandemic might adversely affect the Nigerian economy.
Our foreign policy since independence has been Afro-centred. The late General Muritala Muhammed’s regime actually spelt it out that Africa is the centre of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Based on this, we have always fought against colonialism, racism and racial discrimination. In fact, during the anti-Apartheid war, despite being 6,523.8 kilometres from the South African border, Nigeria was regarded as a frontline state. But shockingly, when the United Nations (UN), on December 31, 2020, introduced a Resolution titled: “A global call for concrete action for the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action”, Nigeria was not amongst the 106 countries that voted for this fundamental bill; rather, it could be found amongst the 44 countries that abstained!
First, it is illogical for Nigeria not to support a UN bill seeking, amongst others, to protect Black people, including Nigerians, against racial discrimination. Secondly, Nigerians, especially in South Africa, have suffered multiple xenophobic attacks. So, why will our government refuse to vote for a universal bill that seeks to criminalise such attacks? Thirdly, such a vote is against our cherished tradition of being Afro-centred in foreign policy. Fourthly, the vote violates Section 19 (c) of the Nigerian Constitution, which states that: “The foreign policy objectives shall be (the) promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace and mutual respect among all nations and elimination of discrimination in all its manifestations”.
The 14 countries that voted against this UN Resolution for universal racial equality were the West and its allies, who are never tired of shouting human rights from the rooftops. They included the United States, Britain, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Czech, Slovenia and Israel. The minors in this group were the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Guyana and war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo. So, was the Buhari government pressurised by Western powers not to vote for the resolution? Why this major shift in our foreign policy?
A second noticeable shift concerns a commitment to democracy. The Constitution, in Section 14.(1), states that: “The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a State based on the principles of democracy and social justice.” This implies that our foreign policy should reject coups. This is besides the African Union position that there shall be no unconstitutional change of government in any African country. Also, Nigeria’s often declared position is that coups are unacceptable. However, when, on April 19, the Chadian Army staged a coup, following the death of President Idriss Derby, Nigeria rationalised it by claiming it did not want a power vacuum in that neigbouring country. An indication of the Buhari administration’s acceptance of the coup was its rolling out of the red carpet to receive the coup leader, General Mahamat Deby, at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa. Again, why this shift in policy, and is government under pressure from foreign powers?
A third discernible foreign policy shift was the April 27 appeal by President Buhari to the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, that America moves its African Command (AFRICOM) military base from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa, in violation of a multilateral consensus amongst African countries, which incidentally, Nigeria had championed. This resort to unilateralism is a major shift from what our country has always been known; a team player in Africa. So, why is Nigeria adrift in international waters?
Owei Lakemfa, a former secretary general of African workers, is a human rights activist, journalist and author.