An International Affairs expert, Mr. Charles Onunaiju, in this interview with Ibrahim Mohammed, talks about the progress made by the country in foreign affairs , especially under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. He notes with delight the gains made in Sino-Nigeria relations. The Director, Centre for China Studies, Abuja explains also why he does not believe the agitation for restructuring and state police.
As an expert in International Relations, what is your assessment of the present APC- led government of President Muhammadu Buhari in foreign affairs?
Foreign policy is basically a projection of national interest. A whole lot of national aggregate needs to be in place for a nation to be able to conduct effective and efficient foreign policies. No matter how you wish to project your national interest through the mechanism of your diplomacy, if you do not have the domestic aggregates in place it will be difficult to achieve very strong goals.
There are few things that are clear. This administration said that one of its key policies is to ensure Nigeria’s security and if you look at the diplomacy which President Muhammadu Buhari undertook soon after he was elected, in bringing Chad, Cameroun and Niger on board, in my view ,was formidable and it paid off handsomely in respect of curtailing considerably the threats posed by Boko Haram.
It was a great diplomatic success for Nigeria, because these are Francophone countries that only listen to Paris than engaging their neighbours. The last time they were engaged by Nigeria was in Paris when former President Goodluck Jonathan had to arrange a meeting with them in Paris. Engaging them using the sub-region mechanism in my view was one of the successes of President Buhari’s foreign policy output. This initiative paid off in the setting up of a Joint Commission of the three countries in tackling Boko Haram. I think the only challenge now will be sustaining the momentum of this initiative.
The initiative needed to be nursed. We need to see more engagements within the region to accelerate this. Of course, there are other challenges but I think security is the most important. Because attracting foreign investment will have lot of response from China and Asia, there hasn’t been much from Europe; there is dialogue between Nigeria and EU which is on-going but the question of returning money starched away in some of the European countries has not been successful still. I think a lot has to be done in that respect. But so far, we can say that Nigeria’s foreign is moving in the right direction.
There was one major loss, Nigeria has no single commissioner in the African Union because we presented a wrong candidate that was not experience and was rejected by the Union. But that’s not withstanding, I think we should do more on our leadership in Africa and also strengthen engagement with design and much more proactive policies to engage countries that are willing to engage with us like China.
China has established along with other Asian counties, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). This bank is capitalised much more than the World Bank and IMF put together. The bank is designed to support infrastructure construction in developing countries. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not assessed the membership of that very important body, not only that it has sufficient liquidity to drive infrastructures reconstruction, but in my view, it is a new architecture of international global finance and international global economy and it is very important that a country like Nigeria should be at table when a new international finance architecture is being design.
We were not there when IMF and World Bank were designed. We were then under colonial rule, but now we are an independent nation and we should not miss out in such an important meeting as designing a new International Order which is expressed in that bank.
Only two Africa countries, South Africa and Egypt are currently members. A number of European countries including, Germany, France, Britain and Italy are all member of AIIB.
Nigeria should be desirous of having an imprint in the emerging international order. And of course, China also has another process which has far reaching implication for the new international economic, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, better known as the One Belt and One Road Initiative (OBOR). These are all new international assistant to build infrastructure across the world both over the land, sea, digital and otherwise. Nigeria should find a way of engaging in some of these processes. We can’t afford to be outside the framework, not only should we be in but we should also have our input in this new architecture. We need to see beyond the immediate and began to anticipate the future and get ourselves ready to be part of this process. Nigeria foreign policy needs to catch up with some global strength like the AIIB, China led economic cycloid and the 21st Maritime cycloid.
Interestingy, Nigeria has been part of the historic struggle for dialogue between the North and the South, between the developing and emerging countries, Nigeria had been a critic of the old international economic order which was exclusionary. It excluded most of the new states that became independent after some of these institutions were set-up. Now, if new institutions that reflect a more balance, the will of the south and the aspirations of the emerging nations, why would Nigeria be missing.
Nigeria foreign policy needs to be fast-tracked, more holistic and needs to see beyond immediate and anticipate these changes and find a need within them.
Shortly after President Buhari assumed office, he visited China where a number of agreements were signed. With an inside knowledge, how far have the two countries gone in implementing them?
In 2015, there was a Second Summit of the China-Africa Head of States and Governments in Johannesburg, South Africa, under the framework of the Forum on China -African Cooperation (FCAC), and at the meeting China outlined 10 cooperation plans which include, cooperation on infrastructures, industrialisation, health, security and a lot of issues with $60bn budgeted for funding guarantees of these agreements. Soon after that, President Buhari traveled to China. It shows seriousness; it shows commitment to seeing the implementation of the 10 cooperation agreements and I can tell you they yielded a number of outcomes. China has been committed to modernisation of Nigeria’s agriculture. There has also been several workshops, support for the agricultural sector and of course the infrastructural projects. Kaduna-Abuja Railway project has finally taken off and from what I learnt, it is yielding one million Naira daily, and more coaches have been brought in, to increase traffic in that sector.
Now, the Ibadan-Lagos Railway project has been inaugurated to connect Kano. Recently, I gathered that another agreement has also been signed to commence the Itakpe – Ajaokuta Railway which has been on board and more importantly the Mambila Plateau dam that was stalled for several years has also taken off. When that project is completed it will add about 700 megawatts of electricity to the national grid.
This undoubtedly outlines China’s commitment to fulfilling the 10-corporation agreement. Africa China cooperation is running and producing dividends across Africa.
There have been agitations for restructuring of the country. What is your take on this?
The challenge basically is for us to modernise Nigeria. What we require is not restructuring, what we require is how to make the Nigerian state work. Actually, the reason for all these, in my view, is the weakness of the Nigerian state. We need to focus on economic modernization, creating economic opportunity, building infrastructures accompanied with agricultural modernization and industrialization, if we can build infrastructural network, the whole of Nigeria will be busy. And when people are busy, they will not have time to talk about restructuring.
Those talking about Biafra are not taking into account the trend worldwide. The trend worldwide is to open up. People are building bridges across, people are not restricting to enclaves, restricting to enclaves is not economically viable and beyond all these things the bottom line is improving the quality of the lives of the people.
The concept of Nigeria makes each and every one of us important. So, the challenge is to create a functional state.
I used to ask, are the states better? Are our Local Governments faring better? Go to the Local Governments. Money that is meant for farmers is being shared by the councilors. They take the money and build houses in state capitals and that’s all.
In my view I think, we need to get Nigeria working, get the industrial machinery running to replace the noise of agitations, if the Nigerian state takes up its role to drive economic modernization, to build infrastructural networks, both soft and hard infrastructures. Interestingly, the federal government has an economic blue print which in my view capture some of the key challenges.
The confusion in the Nigerian economy template is that, we are putting the cart before the horse. If we return the state to the centrality of our economic development, you will see growth that is more inclusive and not growth in one particular sector.
What is the Centre for China Studies all about?
Centre for China Studies was established in 2015. The involvement of China in Africa requires understanding. China is a highly misunderstood country for political propaganda of the west. They created a red China, a China that is a fomenter of crisis and the centre was established against the background to clarify some of the issues relating to China itself and China’s involvement in Africa. We are doing our best to clarify these issues through publication, meetings, seminars and workshops.
So, the basic mandate of the Centre is to advance the understanding of each other. We are providing scholarly clarity of issues involving China-Africa cooperation.
Do you support the call for state police?
No. You see, it is very dangerous. In my view, state police will lead us into trouble and it will be the easier way to disintegration. The police should continue to remain a federal institution