Tit for Tat Diplomacy By Ayisha Osori



Whether we like it or not – a lot of the treatment we get when we go abroad is deserved. Yes, it is painful to be blamed for what other people do, but the reality is that it is easier for governments around the world to manage the millions of Nigerians they have to deal with by simply treating us all the same. It is up to our government to design a strategy to fix these issues. Instead, what we heard early this week was that the Federal Government intends to deploy N5billion worth of digital transmission equipment into France, Finland, Poland, and the Americas. Why? We “hope to enhance better dissemination of information about the country to citizens of other countries and Nigerians beyond the shores of the country, thereby laundering the nation’s image.

 

The reaction of the Nigerian government to South Africa’s deportation of 125 Nigerians did little apart from assuaging bruised national pride and ego. All it did was sum up one part of our foreign policy strategy: reactionary “do me I do you” the other part being obsequious fawning or fence sitting.

Along with everything that needs fixing in Nigeria – our foreign policy needs attention.

There is little connection between our national role perception i.e., how we see ourselves and how the rest of the world sees us; we see ourselves is as champions of the African race.  We consider it our manifest destiny to assume this role merely because we are the most populous black nation in the world. Unfortunately for us, leadership is not merely a case of numbers and as such across Africa and increasingly around the world we are not as strategic as we think we are and in Africa we do not compare favourably with Ghana in the West, Rwanda in the East or Mauritius in the South. Within the continent, we are slowly but surely loosing the respect of member nations as evidenced by the glee accompanying our torpedoed ambitions to the Presidency of the African Union and internationally, we see ourselves as a key ally of the West– especially as a partner for managing peace keeping programs within the Continent but how long will this last when we cannot take care of ourselves internally? The failed rescue mission last week which resulted in the death of two expatriates – in the context of all that has happened and is happening – means that very soon we will no longer be able to afford the millions we spend policing Africa – we will need that money to police ourselves.

If we assess Nigeria’s foreign policy by two broad categories i.e., internally focused which is how we look after the interests of Nigerians all over the world and externally focused i.e., how we place ourselves strategically as a regional and global player able to influence policy and win concessions for the benefit of the country  – we find out that we are doing badly on both.

In every country where there is a Nigerian embassy there are horror stories about Nigerians interactions with the ambassador and consulate staff there. The difficulties around renewing or obtaining Nigerian passports are legendary, with long queues, stunning bureaucracy and the refusal to use basic services such as the mail and telephones to make the process more efficient – even in developed countries where the infrastructure and system supports this use. Instead our consulates stick to the Nigerian way of conducting transactions by requiring our physical presence and not keeping the records that would make repeat processes successively easier. Where we own property, the lack of regular maintenance is glaring and the shabby worn look of our consulates never matches our braggadocio. When Nigerians are in trouble (which is often) in their host countries, the reaction of the embassy is also never adequate to let the host countries know that Nigeria cares for its citizens – instead the fiercest defense from the government is reserved for thieving money laundering politicians or executives. And where Nigerians are working hard at building legitimate businesses in different parts of the world – they can rarely rely on the embassies to engage on their behalf, the way the American and British High Commissions regularly lobby our government to maintain a favourable business environment for their corporate citizens.

Externally, the thrust of our interactions seems narrowed on attracting more foreign direct investment than any other country in Africa and being Africa’s ‘finest’.  We beat our chests because of the size of our population, boasting about the ready market – socially wired to be aspirational – but the numbers of impoverished in Nigeria are growing instead of reducing – so where is this ‘market’s’ purchasing power? And instead of being so proud of being a nation of potential and actual purchasers why aren’t we more concerned about being a nation of manufacturers and producers? Asides from the fact that our infrastructure and politics makes doing business in Nigeria hard, the insecurity (and the hanging sword of a Petroleum Industry law) is resulting in a decline in investments. According to a United Nations report, Nigeria’s Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows fell from $6 billion in 2009 to $2.3 billion in 2010 and it is most likely that the numbers for 2011 and 2012 will be even lower.

The episode with South Africa should be the trigger for deeper more reflective thought about what Nigeria wants to be in the world – for its citizens and for itself.  This is the time when we would expect that the Foreign Affairs Minister, Olugbenga Ashiru would say to us – ‘we need to re-assess our foreign policy strategy and priorities’, instead he has been silent since the apology from South Africa…and the more recent deportation of 120 Nigerians from Britain. If the reason our government was silent on the British deportation exercise was because the circumstances were different i.e., these Nigerians had overstayed their welcome unlike those in South Africa who had not even entered the country – then we are still missing an important point.

Whether we like it or not – a lot of the treatment we get when we go abroad is deserved. Yes, it is painful to be blamed for what other people do, but the reality is that it is easier for governments around the world to manage the millions of Nigerians they have to deal with by simply treating us all the same. It is up to our government to design a strategy to fix these issues. Instead, what we heard early this week was that the Federal Government intends to deploy N5billion worth of digital transmission equipment into France, Finland, Poland, and the Americas. Why? We “hope to enhance better dissemination of information about the country to citizens of other countries and Nigerians beyond the shores of the country, thereby laundering the nation’s image.”

First, ‘hope’ is not a strategy and second – no amount of detergent and white wash can remove or hide the Nigerian government’s stripes of corruption, mismanagement and disregard for its citizens. Instead of wasting money on this charade…no different from Dora’s good people great nation or Obasanjo’s ‘heart beat of Africa’ – why don’t we focus inward for a change? If we decide as a country that our foreign policy strategy for the next 3 years is to clean up our embassies and consulates, make sure they get the money they need and improve services to and support for our citizens all over the world – we would start earning the respect of the world which we so dearly wish to have but do not want to work for.

Our sense of entitlement has permeated even our foreign policy so that we think just by having millions of illiterate and impoverished people, somehow this translate into an automatic competitive advantage through out the world. It doesn’t.  As James Kimer so eloquently put it in his article on the diplomatic row between South Africa and Nigeria and the underlying rivalry for top dog of Africa:  “how does Nigeria, with its penchant for self-destructive corruption, terrorist violence, and notoriously poor governance, stand a chance of competing with South Africa for regional influence?” The truth is although South Africa has its own demons – we don’t. And very soon there will be a list of other countries we cannot compete with either. Until we take a conscious decision to change our foreign policy track and focus on looking after ourselves properly, we are merely going to keep deceiving ourselves – like the emperor with no clothes. No matter how wonderfully well our music industry is doing as an export product “do me I do you” is not a sustainable foreign policy strategy  – at least not enough to support our vision as the giant of Africa.

 

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