The Rise and Fall of Nigeria’s diplomacy By Issa Aremu

Since the controversial emergence of the former South African minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the new head of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, had been hard put to rationalize the abysmal collapse of Nigeria’s diplomacy in the face of South Africa’s dramatic diplomatic renaissance. In one breadth he claimed that Nigeria was never in contest with South Africa for the Chair of the Union commission. Witness him “You will recall that President Goodluck Jonathan said it many times that this is not a contest between Nigeria and South Africa and that Nigeria is actually not campaigning for anybody. That is the truth. We did not mount any campaign for any country.” But in another breadth he accepted as much that Nigeria did “stand by ECOWAS’ endorsement of the candidature of (the failed) Dr. Jean Ping the Gabonese foreign minister… and that was it.
We just took a position which was principled along with our ECOWAS members and we stood by it. But as usual, people can insinuate that once Nigeria was not in the camp of South Africa, it means that Nigeria is against South Africa. We are not against South Africa”. Somebody once observed rather sarcastically that “Diplomats make it their business to conceal the facts””. But when the facts are as obvious as stated by Ambassador Ashiru, it is simply unhelpful to obliterate the obvious. Certainly only the Honorable Minister and President Jonathan would disbelieve the obvious fact that with the endorsement of ECOWAS’ candidate meant Nigeria was truly in a contest it miserably lost.

In any case, Minister Ashiru accepted as much as an active contestant (certainly not a passive endorser of a sub-regional candidate) that   Gabonese foreign minister Dr Jean Ping (Nigeria endorsed) ran a miserable campaign compared to robust campaign of Ms Chirwa Dlamini-Zuma. Again witness Minister Ashiru; “We must admit that South Africa ran a better campaign. You can imagine that South Africa was able to dispatch envoys once or twice to all 51 African states, you can imagine the outcome. If they have worked hard which we must accept, then the result was not a surprise to some of us”.

It is certainly honourable to have accepted that South Africa’s victory was deserved. However it is unacceptable to engage in diplomatic subterfuge that Nigeria, a leading member of ECOWAS which ran a mediocre campaign was not in the contest. The recent diplomatic double talk, incoherence and wholesale setback for Nigeria in AU underscores the free fall of Nigeria’s diplomacy in general from the erstwhile globally acknowledged rise from independence even up to the formation of the AU in 2001.

Both history and bagful of deserved diplomatic achievements in favour of Africa and Africans spanning five decades qualify Nigeria as an unbeatable African leading nation in Africa Union (AU). AU emerged out of the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) formed by founding nations that included Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Liberia, Egypt and other nations in May 25th 1963. South Africa was then not a liberated country and it was indeed under the heels of the hated apartheid regime. In fact in 1961 the seemingly conservative government of the late Prime Minister Tafawa Balawa had spearheaded the expulsion of South Africa from the Commonwealth as part of the selfless overall objective of ending colonialism and its apartheid surrogate suffocating the African majority in the apartheid enclave. In the 70s and 80s,  Nigeria put its weight behind the liberation of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. The bold recognition of the major liberation movement, MPLA (the ruling party in Angola today) on November by Nigeria’s Murtala regime contrasted with the despicable role of apartheid regime of South Africa which unconditionally backed the notorious UNITA and FNLA that waged war of attritions against MPLA. Up to the 80s Nigeria was a frontline state that shared great historic ideals of African liberation with Zambia, Tanzania, Lesotho Botswana and Angola. All these diplomatic successes that accorded Nigeria a great respect were products of good governance and leadership at home and commitment to great ideals of OAU/AU. The recent Nigeria’s authority meltdown in AU is a reflection of domestic bad governance and clear cut abandonment of pan African development agenda. On what basis is Nigeria’s uncritical support for Dr Jean Ping? Are we to just back a candidate  because (he) is from our region or because he stands for greater ideals of the continent on the verge of second decolonization? Was the so-called principled support for the failed Gabonese foreign Minister not an extension of our domestic/regional tribalism that has degenerated into the new apartheid franco/anglophone divide? Yours sincerely remains a critic of the moribund Gadafi regime. But if the AU under the leadership of Dr Jean Ping as well as President Zuma of South Africa and President Jonathan of Nigeria had offered leadership, undoubtedly we did not need NATO to democratize Libya. We can only wish Dlamini-Zuma a refreshing tenure from the recent collapse of leadership in AU. She has already started on a modest note. She was reported to have said: “South Africa is not going to come to Addis Ababa to run the AU. It is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who is going to come to make a contribution”, she reportedly told reporters after her election to the post of AU chairperson. Most African leaders who are men are not known for modesty.

It’s time we reinvented Nigeria’s diplomacy in AU in line with the previous efforts of Nigeria’s founding fathers; namely Tafawa Balewa, General Gowon, Murtala Muhammed/ Obasanjo  Shehu Shagari (in that order of honesty of purpose and commitment to Africa.)
ISSA AREMU ([email protected]).

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