By Umar Sa’ad Hassan
Famed journalist, Dele Momodu told The Punch in an interview published in Sunday’s edition of the paper, that Nigeria’s foreign policy was at its weakest ever and that President Buhari needs to practice diplomacy of reciprocity otherwise countries will exploit that weakness. Foreign policy in a few words is the sum total of measures put in place by a nation to promote and safeguard its interests in interactions with other nations.
To put it very simply, Nigeria has no foreign policy under Buhari. It just lives every day as it comes. Urging Buhari to employ diplomacy of reciprocity against nations like Ghana as Mr Momodu did is with all due respect to him, most laughable. Ghanaians are locking down Nigerian shops and asking for $1 million levies, how many Ghanaian businesses are here for Buhari to reciprocate that?.
To make demands and ensure compliance, one has to have leverage. Nations that weren’t gaining much from us respected the fact that we had superior clout with the big nations overseas but we have to face the reality on ground today which is that we have been a global laughing stock since Buhari came on board. He was in South Africa saying he was proud of Nigerians making positive and NEGATIVE impact across the globe just weeks after being sworn in and a while later, he was in the UK saying our reputation for crime has made us unwelcome in the country.
There were a lot of Nigerian criminals abroad under previous governments but those Presidents chose not to amplify that because they understood the weight portrayal carried. They had only encouraging things to say because they had focus on foreign aid and investment. The issue of foreign investment was a potent tool for the Jonathan administration.
When the South African government deported 125 Nigerians for not having yellow fever certificates, he reciprocated by sending 85 South African nationals back to their country. An apology came within a week with a firm promise to adjust their immigration policies. Nigeria was the biggest market for some prominent South African corporations and Jonathan had leverage because he did not impose hefty fines for infractions by MTN et al neither did he try to drown them in taxes. They took us very seriously and responded appropriately when xenophobic killings became global knowledge.
What measure of reciprocity can Buhari effectively use against a country like Ghana?. The FG itself said they deported 825 Nigerians from 2018-2019 alone and it was in the news months ago that they had to intercede to save 39 arrested for entering the country illegally. Are there any Ghanaians trying to move to Nigeria?. That is a country that paid electricity bills for the entire period of their lockdown and has now extended the gesture to 2021. They also paid the water bills for everyone during the lockdown and for an extra 3 months after. There are so many Nigerian businesses in Ghana, they can’t stop thinking about what Ghanaians will gain when they are shut down. There is just no way we can hit back as hard as they have hit us.
Our economy is in a free fall and bilateral agreements are not as common a sight as they used to be despite Buhari’s record-setting foreign trips. The famed number one military in Africa was shit on by Chad when they shot a video of troops led by their President waiting for our soldiers to come and reclaim our territories. The Chadians have every reason to not disclose their mission to us based on very obvious suspicions. Our President releases the terrorists they are fighting and even sends a military aircraft to bring them back from other countries.
The whole world was watching and applauding their offensive and instead of Big Brother Nigeria to save face by calling to make enquires as to how we can co-ordinate to ensure Boko Haram has no hiding place, we sat and acted like nothing was happening. The closest thing to an acknowledgment was a denial by our military that the Chadians were waiting for us to reclaim our territories. The Chadian President was so annoyed, he vowed never to let any of his soldiers fight outside Chad; a very hot slap on our face. We have condescended to being ridiculed by a country like Chad.
Foreign policy under Buhari (if at all you can call it that) is in tatters. The question on the role of youths he messed up at the 74th United Nations General Assembly was perhaps necessitated by his ‘some lazy youths’ comment. Reading out a prepared speech on weather climate in response to that question may just have been what saved him from embarrassing us further.
As far as international relations go, we are in a deep mess. What reciprocity and against who?. The same ECOWAS countries that now borrow us grains to feed?.
Umar Sa’ad Hassan is based in Kano