“…no nation that is weak at home, politically or economically, can be strong abroad. Foreign prestige is a function of home strength. A government that tolerates no freedom at home will not be taken seriously when it preaches abroad…or retain the respect of the world…” Chief S.O. Adebo
As a student back at the tertiary level, we were made to understand foreign policy as the extension of a nation’s domestic policy. Therefore, to grasp the inherent meaning of foreign policy as a term is to see it as a basic set of principles adopted by a State to define its relations with other countries or groups of countries. If one is to interrogate deeply and properly Nigeria foreign policy in the last one decade, there is no denying the fact that there is a serious deepening crisis in the way it is promoted to the world. Our foreign policy may look precocious and complacent to its crafters, yet one salient effect is that it has failed in its entirety to give the country and its people the modicum of respect and fear she used to be known for and have decades back. The question on the minds of many concerned Nigerians today is: what went wrong with our highly respected foreign policy? Could it be that since there are serious systemic problem with our domestic policies, that is the reason we are not getting it right at the international level or how else can we describe the palpable situation where we have become a nation which, as usual, has moved from the sublime to the ridiculous in the way we relate with dignity and respect with the world, yet in return relate with us in a manner unbefitting of our Giant of Africa status.
From Malaysia, India, Libya, Egypt, The Gambia, the United States, to Commonwealth countries like the United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore, Ghana to mention a few, Nigerians are hounded, maimed, gagged, robbed, shot at and worse of all killed extra-judiciously on flimsy excuses or at the slightest provocation. If the above are not meted on Nigerians at home and The Diaspora, they are confronted with embarrassing acts ranging from forceful deportation, harsh travel bans, xenophobic attacks, high visa fees, huge monetary down payment before travel among others. With these cases continually rearing its ugly head around the world and in specific countries on Nigerians, most especially in countries Nigeria seem to be in one form of bilateral partnership/relationship or the other with, one begins to wonder where Nigeria’s foreign policy stands in all of these.
It is disheartening that the Nigerian state folds its arms and watch as some of these countries treat her citizens like unwanted waste and at best animals, forgetting the role we have played and continue to play in a fast globalising world. Not many will forget the sad death in 2007 of Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi in Singapore. Despite calls from both international and local human rights group to commute the teenager’s sentence, Tochi, who was arrested in Changi Airport in 2004 for being in possession of capsules containing diamorphine, was sentenced to death by hanging after a 13-day trial. The Nigerian government, complacent as it has always been, only found it imperative to act when it was already too late. Tochi’s death, even when our foreign policy should necessarily have saved his life, has reduced Nigeria to what Professor Eghosa Osaghae would call a crippled giant.
Not too long ago, we were inundated with the news of Nigerians deported in droves by the South African immigration for the lame excuse that the former did not possess Yellow Fever Cards. It was not until the Nigerian authorities acted swiftly that such obstinate attitude from South Africa was corrected. Recent events in South Africa, most especially acts against Nigerians should be of interest to the Nigerian government for the more reason that since the xenophobic attacks years back which led to the death of many Nigerians, there has been a systematic and clandestine move by that country’s police and citizens to frustrate Nigerians either working or living there. If Nigerians are not attacked, they are killed and such cases are never really reported in the media or made known to the Nigerian embassy.
It is an irony that a country like South-Africa whose freedom from and fight against apartheid was fiercely tackled by Nigeria could pay the country back with all forms of witch-hunting against its citizens. Nigeria more than any country of the world ensured that black and majority rule became a victory for the people of that country, donating money, helping with logistics and ensuring sanctions on the international stage upon the apartheid minority rule. Even when Britain remained disinclined to punish the apartheid regime, Nigeria was quite vocal at the Commonwealth, leading to the boycott of the Commonwealth games. It is quite saddening that South-Africa had suddenly forgotten where it was coming from and those who gave it a safe-landing when she needed it the most. No nation would sit and watch as such impunity against its citizens permeates without necessarily putting its foreign policy to action. Nigeria’s foreign policy has failed in this respect and should have a proper focus in tackling such dehumanising attitudes from belligerent neighbours and countries who pose as friends yet are villains to us.
Coming back to the recent policy enacted by the British government, imposing the payment of a 3000 Pounds bond on Nigerians and some selected countries, one cannot but describe such policy as irreverent, preposterous and obnoxious, most especially when it is coming from the Commonwealth of Nations bridge builder. When we assess this situation critically with past ones, especially the one of September 1986 where the Margaret Thatcher administration decided that travellers from Nigeria and few other countries will require entry visas from their own countries before travelling, one cannot be wrong to state that the UK’s visa policy has always actually been discriminatory against Nigerians despite our shared history.
In a critical situation like this which tends to further damage Nigeria’s reputation and already battered image abroad, one would have expected that the Nigerian government should be highly pro-active enough to start targeting British interests in the country, but rather went cold in handling the situation. The summoning of the British High Commissioner, Dr. Andrew Pocock by the Nigerian government and the unwarranted noise made in the Legislative chambers of a revenge mission, are not workable solutions to this shocking British policy. Nigeria is just too big to be embarrassed by its former colonial overlords, most especially at a time when Nigeria needs serious and better image laundering.
If Nigeria’s foreign policy were assertive enough, such embarrassment shouldn’t have been placed on the table of the country and her citizens. It is therefore; the reason Nigeria must use all diplomatic contraptions at her disposal to turn around this rather unpleasant policy and serve as a note of warning to nations that we cannot continue to be our brothers’ keeper when they are keen on being the adversary. On the other hand, the Nigerian government must get its acts right, most especially through its domestic policies. It is because the country is fast moving out of control from those who hold it together; it is why our foreign policy is not working out well for us.
Nigerians are not asking for a billion naira allocation for feeding but a good life where justice, equality and good leadership are the key. When these are provided the citizenry, none would have the reason to want to “check out” and become risk factors for countries like the U.K who see nothing good in Nigeria’s good heart. For those who claim to be guardian angels of the country’s foreign policy, now is the time to have a rethink else we may soon be confronted with a rather brutal policy from a country with pariah status.
Raheem Oluwafunminiyi is a social commentator who wrote via [email protected]