I must begin this piece with a thousand apologies to my readers for my irregularity in the past five weeks.
It would have been easier for me to advise my editors that I was going to be on holiday for sometime but as a â€˜good Africanâ€™ the idea that I should be on holiday was anathema to the cultural instinct. Whether peasants or presidents, we are programmed to work till we die even if the evidence of the work may remain scanty! Our lives are a kind of permanent emergency needing constant urgent attention. So, I could not declare that I was on leave.
The other and perhaps more pressing reason has to do with the objective fact of where I have been in the past five weeks â€” Nigeria. Somehow, the country is not synonymous with holidays! The hassle and tussle of survival in Africaâ€™s allegedly NO 1 country, selfâ€“declared super power is one that will task the best spirits of the most eccentric adventurer. As regular readers of this column will know, over the past five years when I became legal visitor to Nigeria after more than a decade of being â€˜wantedâ€™ by the various caricatures of leaders from neo-fascist Buhari-Idi Agbon regime through â€˜the original 419â€™ IBB through to psychopathic Abacha, whenever I am in Nigeria, this column is never regular.
All kinds of objective and subjective circumstances conspire to make me less efficient. My various editors have developed a kind of â€˜Nigerian discountâ€™ for my lapses. Yet this is a country that has proclaimed since independence from the British in 1960, its â€˜manifest destinyâ€™ not only to lead Africa but Black people wherever they may be in the world. The irony is that not many Africans or even African countries are not disputing this putative leadership. They only wished that Nigeria were able to lead effectively. If anything stands in the way of Nigeria, it is its own selfâ€“doubt and its inconsistencies that is undermining its claims to leadership. Take the example of two out of many issues currently occupying the chatters of foreign policy-minded academics, policy wonks, sections of the media and some civil society activists: Nigeriaâ€™s recent loss of the Africa Development Bank (ADB) presidency to Rwanda and Nigeriaâ€™s quest for a UN permanent seat in the UN security Council.
The national pride was greatly hurt that â€˜little Rwanda,â€™ despite not having majority African support in most of the tortuous stages of the ADB presidency contest, lost out to Rwanda in Tunis after a deadlock in Abuja.
A number of things counted against Nigeria, which my Nigerian friends are unwilling to come to terms with. One, the countryâ€™s influence does not go far beyond Abuja itself. If you bring people to Abuja, you can have your way but outside it they may, and often do, change their minds. Two, Nigeria is too complacent in its diplomacy believing that its case is â€˜too clear.â€™ Three, this complacency makes its officials believe that the country is the only selling point whoever the candidate is. They thought they were competing only against Rwanda but the candidates were also competing on their merits. Four, President Obasanjoâ€™s obsession with external validation was once again proven to be pointless. He bends backwards (often against national instinct for anti- western independence) to please America and the West yet when it matters, their own geopolitical interests dictate clipping Nigeriaâ€™s dominance in Africa and building sub-regional counter checks. Five, it is not only the West that is interested in cutting Nigeria to size.
there are many seemingly friendly African countries who desire the same though they may not openly articulate it. South Africa is an obvious candidate in this category. Post-apartheid South Africa has many reasons to be grateful and friendly to Nigeria but it has many reasons too to checkmate Nigeriaâ€™s regional influence as it seeks its own economic and strategic interests on the continent. It wants business with Africaâ€™s largest market but also contests the leadership claims of Africaâ€™s sleeping giant. No amount of personal rapport between leaders and diplomatic niceties can hide these contradictions. Nigeriaâ€™s folly is in believing that â€˜there is no problem.â€™
There are many more reasons that Nigeriaâ€™s policy formulators need to wake up to if they are going to realise many of their diplomatic and strategic goals in Africa and the world. Otherwise they will forever be beaten by so-called small countries backed by larger interests. And this is where Nigeriaâ€™s second immediate foreign policy goal of securing one of the two anticipated African seats on the UN Security in the ongoing UN reform proposals also run into trouble.
If Nigeria had its house in order, no African country would be bold enough to challenge its claim. rather, they should have been clamouring for the second seat. However even in West Africa where Nigeria claims to be a sub-regional power, Senegal is also in the race. If Nigeria cannot have the unanimous support of its own backyard, why should it expect the unanimous endorsement of the rest of Africa?
The atmosphere is so charged that many of my Nigerian friends and comrades have lost all kinds of objectivity in assessing their situation and think I must be a traitor to be raising doubts about the countryâ€™s ineffectual claims to continental leadership. Some even suggest that I have lost touch and I have no right to comment on Nigerian affairs because I have been away for so long from the country. Yet, what we are debating is not domestic affairs but international ones. They need to persuade others, not themselves but somehow, this detail is lost in the petty nationalist jingoism that clouds these discussions. And they wonder why â€˜foreignersâ€™ cannot accede to their claims!
Nigeria is blind to the hurdles in her backyard