Foreign policy is an important arm of national policies because it goes a long way to either reinforce or diminish the sovereignty of a country. Doubtless, it shapes outsiders’ perception and reckoning of the country, which deploys its foreign policy tools on the basis of specific national objectives.
Currently, Nigeria’s foreign policy seems to be in a flux without a core. This has been a cause for concern to well-meaning Nigerians and many watchers of the country’s foreign policy. They have never ceased to recall the heyday of the country’s foreign policy, especially in the de-colonisation process in Africa.
Apartheid policy in South Africa, Ian Smith Universal Declaration of Independence (UDI) in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and the support of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) are some landmarks, which underscored the vibrancy of the country’s foreign policy in those days before curious civilization kicked us in the face.
The concern over the aberration in the country’s foreign policy was further deepened recently by an alarm bell coming from a Nigerian resident in Netherlands, Mr. Sunny Ofehe who is the Executive Director of Hope for Niger Delta Campaign. He frowns on the intention of the Nigerian government to cut down the number of its diplomatic missions abroad from about 110 to 80.
In his argument, the move would affect Nigeria’s prestige before the rest of the world in ways that are disgraceful. He further argued that given the country’s huge Diaspora population in various regions of the world, namely, Europe, Asia, America, Australia, Africa and Australasia, have made diplomatic representation imperative.
As is well known, diplomatic mission will not only act as channel between our government and that of the host countries, it also serves as a platform for projecting the country’s socio-economic and political values. Ofehe then expressed doubts on the argument of government, which intends to deploy technology in place of physical presence in countries where hitherto it had diplomatic presence.
The nudge from Citizen Ofehe is timely and the Ofehes too need to know certain peculiarities, in this regard. The story of Nigerian foreign missions is loathsome and a shame to the country.
Many Nigerian missions overseas are not solvent and are often indebted to the host countries in various ways. Besides, they are always unable to fulfill basic administrative duties and the upkeep of the missions.
In the course of the 2019 budget screening, Senator Shehu Sani, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, painted a gory picture of the state of our missions.
According to him: “Most of our missions are in sorry states by not being able to pay their electricity or water bills and even the nation’s diplomats too are in a state of hunger and indebtedness based on information gathered or practical experience witnessed…Many of the so-called diplomats cannot pay their children’s school fees particularly in Brussels, Belgium, and the worst of it is the toilet of the Nigerian Embassy in Moscow, Russia that is stinking due to non-functionality of its flusher, embarrassingly making anybody that uses it to flush it with bucket of water fetched from an adjoining Embassy.”
Interestingly, the Senate committee queried the meager budget provision in the 2019 budget, which could only cater for about 80 out of the 110 missions.
Last year, the Nigerian High Commission in London reportedly sacked over 50 members of staff partly because of budgetary constraints.
The situation is so bad that diplomats have had to look for extra-means of subsistence in ways that are counterproductive to their primary responsibility. There was a report that the Nigerian diplomatic missions in the United States, Canada, Switzerland and other Europeans countries were bankrupt and unable to pay salaries, utility bills and other work-a-day contractual obligations. This is an avoidable reproach.
Therefore, to deal with these failings, especially financial default, some have argued that the country should resort to the deployment of ambassador plenipotentiary model.
Nevertheless, it is high time we looked at the cost-benefit analysis of our diplomatic missions. More important, an interrogation of our foreign policy becomes necessary at this critical point.
On the cost-benefit arm, the question that arises is: does the country have the capacity to cater for its numerous embassies? The answer to this poser can’t be straightforward.
The Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations has always argued that diplomatic missions should make economic sense.
In the same vein, some have argued that downsizing of the embassies is not the answer in that the country has the capacity to shoulder its diplomatic responsibility.
Furthermore, others have observed that the failings are results of misplaced priorities. In this wise, the need for fiscal restructuring is inevitable, in the circumstances.
To explicate further, resources should be deployed from where they are not needed to fund the diplomatic missions and make our presence felt through adequate diplomatic representation. This is predicated on the role expectation of the country as the authentic leader of the black race.
This point should not be discounted on the altar of austerity measures. Diplomatic representation is critical to the realisation of this potential – as strong tower of the black race. The country’s ambivalence and lack of focus in its foreign relations seem to detract from this big picture of our foreign relations.
No wonder that Nelson Mandela out of frustration with Nigeria’s authoritarian turn during the military regime of General Sani Abacha expressed disappointment with the decline of Nigeria’s capacity and prestige internationally. He was forced to state at the Auckland Summit of the Commonwealth in 1995 that the world was dealing “with an illegitimate, barbaric arrogant military dictatorship which has murdered activists using a Kangaroo court and false evidence.
Our impatience at the development in Nigeria is that a nation that we look up to, should be subjected to tyranny and undermine Africa’s revival and the status of the continent in the eyes of the world”.
Indeed, such conveys the global expectation of the country’s position to offer leadership to the continent on the global stage. All told, that is why we need to strengthen rather than diminish Nigeria’s diplomatic status at this time, lest we should be the last.
Source: The Guardian