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Published On: Tue, Jan 27th, 2015

Understanding Nigeria’s national interest

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Baba Gana Kingibe

Baba Gana Kingibe

Wednesday Column by Amb. Baba Gana Kingibe

Sterile and diversionary arguments about rebuilding Nigeria on the foundations of ethnic nationalities and other constructs being bandied about in our recent national discourse ignore the historical fact that the idea of organizing nation-states purely on the basis of common ethnicity, culture, language and religion was jettisoned effectively since 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia was signed.

Westphalia set the standard definition of a nation being not just the Monarch, the Emperor, nor the Church, but includes their defined territories which were considered sovereign and irreducible. 140 years later, the French Revolution extended the concept of a nation-state to include not only the territory which shall be inviolate, but also all its people irrespective of their nationalities and in whom Sovereignty resided. The people defined their social, political and economic direction and exercised control over their destiny, and none other may interfere in their internal affairs. Succeeding international agreements from the Vienna Convention, The Treaty of Versailles, and the post Second World War settlements clarified and expanded, but not altered, these Westphalian principles of how nation-states were organized and inter-acted. Despite the occasional disruptions to the international system, to date, it has brought stability by adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of each other and enforcement of the balance of power among nation states.

The most significant new development though not yet fully applied is the Responsibility to Protect principle which was adopted by the United Nations when Kofi Annan was the Secretary- General. This principle essentially gives the International Community, under a U.N. mandate, the right, without receiving the concurrence of the Government concerned, to intervene in any situation where innocent civilian lives are at risk. There is, therefore, the real possibility that we may see foreign boots on the ground in Nigeria if we do not soon get on top of the Boko Haram insurgency with its mounting toll on civilian lives. The United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, has already sounded an ominous signal when he charged the Boko Haram insurgents of committing crimes against humanity. We should expect him to come and warn the authorities of this prospect!

In the Third World in general and Africa in particular, the States were Colonial creations which bore no relationship to common ethnicity or culture. At Independence, African States inherited the borders bequeathed by colonialism and did not seek to change them. The new Independent States set about defending the integrity of the territories they inherited and sought to make nations out of their states. This was one of the founding principles of the OAU. In Nigeria, 53 years on, this task remains work in progress. However, as affirmed in our Constitution and reaffirmed on several occasions, most recently in the just concluded National Conference, there is a national consensus that we are one Nation with common aspirations, values, and purpose which together constitute our national interest.

The current National Defence Policy Document succinctly captures and defines the national interests we seek to promote and protect (Chapter 3).These interests span the territorial, economic, scientific and socio-cultural domains. The document classifies our National Interest as vital, strategic, and peripheral which I would paraphrase as follows:

Our vital interests are those that relate to our core values, – our cohesion and collective survival, inviolability of our territorial integrity, the guarantee of our sovereignty, the protection of our citizens and resources, and the defence of our democracy which enables us make independent decisions about our national life. In the defence of these values, we are prepared to deploy all necessary means, including our military assets.

Our strategic interests are those which though not vital as defined above, are nevertheless critically important. These include our interests in the political, scientific, technological, and diplomatic spheres. Our readiness to protect these strategic interests enhances our capacity to assure the vital ones. The main instruments for the pursuit of these interests are diplomatic and effective complementary domestic policies, although the use of force as a last resort is not precluded.

Finally, the document identifies our peripheral interests as those that relate to our inter-actions with the International Community through robust participation and contributions to the work of such organizations as the United Nations, the LCBC, the AU and ECOWAS. These organizations promote international peace and security and greater political and economic integration in an ever inter- dependent world. The policy frame-work for the pursuit of these interests is encapsulated in Chapter 2 of our Constitution which sets out the “Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy”. Nigeria is not an island unto itself and Chapter 2 of the Policy Document captures the domestic, global and regional environments in which we live and which impinge and impact on our ability to successfully pursue these interests. The lynchpin of our capacity in this respect is the domestic environment which acts as the multiplier and enabler agent in the pursuit of our national interests. An appreciation of the environmental factors and the threats and opportunities they present, will guide us in articulating an appropriate defence policy.

On the domestic front, our strategic location on the Gulf of Guinea with a huge land mass stretching from the Atlantic coast, through the Savannah grasslands to the Sahelian Belt, has endowed us with rich and abundant variety of natural resources unmatched by many other nations. Our huge population of some 175 million, majority of whom are under 40, if properly educated, motivated, and gainfully employed, gives us the critical pool of human capital to exploit and harness these resources for national development.

It is established that the Nigerian Nation State exists within a defined territory and consists of people with different identities reflecting our geographical, ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural diversity. What unites us as one nation is our shared citizenship of the geographical space called Nigeria which is our common patrimony. The pursuit and promotion of our collective security, wellbeing, happiness, hopes and aspirations are what constitute our national interest. The primordial tendency of people with distinct identity is to seek to exclude those who are different from them and gain advantage over them. Our effort over the past half century has, therefore, been how to aggregate our separate identities and forge collective solidarity through shared citizenship beneficial to all. This is the process of nation building through loyalty to the state which provides, via the Constitution, a common legal system, and national institutions in which all participate.

To advance this process, the role of the central authority is pivotal. Does the central authority give inspirational leadership to blunt the centripetal tendencies of different identities or do the posture and policies of the leadership re-enforce the sense of “otherness” in the nation`s constituent parts? Regrettably, there has never been a time in our national life when this sense of “otherness” has been more pronounced than it has been in recent times. Clearly, the key to forging an inclusive national identity lies in giving all citizens a sense of belonging, of having equal opportunities for self- actualization and equitable development in a secure environment. Citizens should expect their Governments to create the enabling environment, if necessary through Affirmative Action, for a fair chance of access to education, health, housing, gainful employment and adequate infrastructure. Where a group feels that they are denied these opportunities and services, alienation sets in. This sense of exclusion can be felt in the political process, public sector involvement, and sharing in the prosperity generated by the national economy.

The democratic system of government lays the foundation for an inclusive society. That is why it is critical for us to commit to deepening our fledgling democracy. It is as simple as our leaders allowing us, the people, to freely vote for the governments of our choice at all levels, governments that we can hold accountable. The current campaign for non-violent elections is very laudable and we must all heed the call. In my view, however, this call must be balanced by also calling on The INEC, from the Chairman down to the polling clerk, to conduct transparent elections; by calling on the security agencies to maintain order in an impartial manner and refuse to be used or to be seen to being used as instruments of intimidation; and by calling on the authorities at all levels not to abuse their power of incumbency to subvert the will of the people. There is nothing inherently violent about the Nigerian people. It is just that they are passionate about their voters’ choices and preferences. It is rarely the case that leaders actually urge their political supporters to be violent. Voters in the developed democracies are no more peaceful nor any less passionate than we are, but the manner the election umpires, the security agents and the incumbent governments in these countries conduct themselves in the discharge of their responsibilities calm passions and make recourse to violence unnecessary.

No less important for national cohesion is how we manage our economy such that all citizens prosper. Growing the Nigerian economy cannot be left in the hands of an unaccountable, parasitic rentier oligarch class, whose acquisition of personal wealth is not as a result of invention or innovation, but through pure state patronage and service sector activities which they tout as national growth. We have not yet reached the point in our economic development to say that it is the private sector that will lead it; partnership with government, yes, but leadership, not yet. In an environment where unemployment is widespread and where poverty is so general, extreme and visible, there is the need to rebalance the economy by adopting policies that prioritize industry and agriculture, thereby reducing wide disparities within and between regions. Since the financial crisis of 2008, even the developed economies are beginning to re-think their economic policies in favour of industries and other high employment generating activities, policies which for example, enabled the German economy to weather the storm of the crisis.

As we think through what strategic policy options best suit our long term economic interests, we must bear in mind the economic impact of globalization brought about by science and technology (instant communication, robotics and faster and larger transportation), and the tendency towards freer movement of capital, goods, people, and services. Today, promoting the national interest is not just about internal policies, but external competitiveness. Moving forward, national interest is best served by acquisition of skills, knowledge, and technology because these have become important factors of economic success. The development of our human resources to acquire scientific and technological knowledge and skills are now critical factors of our national interest if we are to survive and compete effectively in this new world where there can be only winners and losers.

Turning to the regional environment, that we share extensive but largely uncontrolled borders with four other nations presents both the challenge of avoiding frictions and the opportunity of developing harmonious good neighbourly relations to expand our market and sphere of influence. Our neighbours are our first external line of defence. The way we successfully exploited this factor during the civil war and our failure to effectively do so now even when we face an unrelenting insurgency threatening our very territorial integrity, underscores this point. It reflects badly on our diplomacy and the state of our relations with our neighbours that they have not shown the expected commitment in cooperating with us in confronting the menace of Boko Haram.

Our national security and economic interests require us to focus not just on strengthening our relations with our immediate neighbours, but also with our neighbours in the West African Sub-region. The combined population and variety and quantum of their natural resources are no match to ours. It should concern us that although internal stability is returning to most countries in the region, there are still many challenges to consolidating the gains of recent years. Their democracies and institutions are weak, and their already fledgling economies have been further strained by the effects of the recent outbreak of Ebola. For quite some time, we have borne the burden of peace keeping, absorbing their migrating populations, and providing economic support to many of the countries in this region. We cannot, therefore, ignore to strengthen a region so vital to us as a market and as a sphere of influence.

This is not to say that we can ignore the rest of Africa or the world at large. Apart from the many good reasons for inter-African brotherhood and international solidarity, Africa is a vast market for our products, goods, and services, while it is to the global market that we turn not only for trade, but to acquire the knowledge and the technology we need for our development.

In view of the little time I have left, I would like to take a moment and return to where I began by making a remark or two about our most vital national interest which is the defence of our unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is where the role of the military is paramount. Today, almost all institutions of state – Governments at all levels, the Judiciary, the National Assembly, and traditional leaders do not appear to adequately respond to the people’s yearnings and aspirations. There is a growing tendency even among our religious leaders to divide our people along the fault lines of faiths. Hitherto, the military, by its composition, its esprit de corps, training and doctrine, has been the foremost national institution. They have consequently been the last line of defence of national unity when other institutions failed. However, their traditional method of correcting real or imagined threats to national stability by direct involvement in governance is no longer tenable in the 21st century. There is a national and indeed international consensus on this. Recent developments in Burkina Faso and Sri Lanka are clear indicators in this regard.

The last five years or so have been testing times for even our military. Their well merited reputation for professionalism and discipline through their gallant participation in numerous peace keeping operations since Independence has been put to the test in their campaign against the insurgency ravaging the North East since 2009. Regrettably, well- meaning Nigerians who love Nigeria no less than the Military have been reluctant to make any legitimate comment about what they observe daily in the “war zones” because of the fear of being labelled unpatriotic and unsupportive of our troops. I am aware of the unconventional nature of the challenge they are confronting and the intricacies of conducting any type of warfare, let alone mastering the unfamiliar territory of an insurgency.

Yet, there is no denying that all is not well. That our troops are not suitably or adequately equipped and motivated cannot be disputed. Neither can there be a dispute about the problem of indiscipline in the ranks given the incidence of mutiny and the spate of courts-marshal, desertions and dismissals reported by the military themselves. In the midst of these and other internal challenges, the military appear to risk alienating the civil populations whose support they require for success as the contributions of the so called Civilian JTF to their recent victories has shown. Collective indictment of the civil leadership of the whole region, or directly accusing some ethnic groups of encouraging the insurgency do not win hearts or minds.

Additionally, there is this serious gap in the proper management of war time information. It should not be the military that should inform the nation and the world of consequential developments in the war effort especially if they turn out not to be accurate. A few examples are the announcement of the release of the Chibok girls, agreement on a cease- fire with the insurgents, the liberation of Bama, and the equivocation over the recent massacre in Baga irrespective of the numbers involved. Such pronouncements should be the responsibility of the political authorities to whom the military are subordinated such as an authoritative Civilian Defence Spokes- person, the Minister of Defence or, depending on the magnitude of the development such as proclamation of the end of the war, The Commander -in- Chief himself. Glaring and repeated dissemination of inaccurate information directly by the military seriously erodes credibility and confidence.

If in raising these issues I have touched on any raw nerves, it is not out of lack of patriotism or lack of appreciation of the difficult cross roads at which our Armed Forces find themselves. I do so only to draw attention to the need for the military to make serious internal self-appraisal of which the defence policy review now being undertaken is a part. This is especially so as it is not apparent that we are under any imminent threat of aggression by any outside power or by our neighbouring nations as things stand. The major concern to our national interest today is the growing suspicion and disharmony among our people and the possibility of disruption to our oil region by land and sea. For now, the most immediate threat to our national interest is the Boko Haram insurgency which grew from a small band of misguided local youths to the franchise of international terror that they have become. We must draw the correct lessons from how we succeed or fail in dealing with this threat so that we might forestall or confront any similar insurrections in the future, including its resurgence in the Niger Delta.

Excerpted from a presentation at the national defence policy review interactive session Kaduna, 21st January, 2015

 

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