Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi
Nigerian leaders have spent a good part of the last 15 years in the sky, cocooned in our many presidential jets, ostensibly shuttling the world in search of foreign investors. With so much time spent in that rarefied atmosphere, it is not unusual that the official view of the world has become so distorted, that putting the cart before the horse might appear normal to some of them. A school of thought which I subscribe to, argues against the wasteful shuttle diplomacy and foreign investment drive, reminding those with their noses in the sky that the salvation of Nigeria does not lie abroad but mostly in the hands of honest Nigerians, empowered to drive the process. However, that argument for building bottom-up, with a deliberate and strategic investment in Nigeria’s massive, but poorly-managed human capital, is for another day.
A tracking of the commentary on the messy $15 million purported arms purchase deal from South Africa leaves much to be desired. One of the sore thumbs that stick out precariously is the threat from official and unofficial quarters on suspected South African commercial interests in Nigeria, in retaliation for perceived wrong done Nigeria by South Africa. Coming from a country that has amassed giant carbon footprints calling on the world to come invest within her shores, that is strange. To habitually throw tantrums at foreign interests once the country’s dilapidated boat runs into stormy waters abroad, is not only cheap, it is a counter-productive approach to tackling otherwise serious issues. Some folks even went as far mobilising people to boycott South Africa, at the height of it all. How childish do we get, with some of these things!
But it is the domination by such pedestrian thinking and a poorly co-ordinated engagement with the world that has led Nigeria to where she is at the moment – yearning for water of support and understanding to quench her thirst, in her hour of distress. Yet, it need not be so. Nigeria is one country that has given the world so much, in its own way. Her record in international peace-keeping is second to none. But we are just unable to leverage on our strengths and accomplishments. The absence of a coherent foreign policy machinery to enable Nigeria attain properly-defined objectives, in consonance with her national interest, has made nonsense of her exertions on the international stage. Harvesting gains from seeds planted in external fields has never been Nigeria’s strong point.
Indeed, Nigeria is a veritable study in contradictions. To Prof. Solomon Akinboye, ours is a paradox of ‘Beautiful abroad, Ugly at home’. Even then, the days of ‘Beautiful abroad’ are long gone. Our ‘beauty’ now defies borders, threatening to snuff out all that is good about us. We now openly sanction an infraction on the laws of another country, and our officials even rationalise it.
Whoever thought up the appellation – ‘Giant of Africa’ might not have envisaged a giant with feet in chains of clay, but that seems to be the case today. Nigeria now projects itself like a corrupted version of the ‘Almajiri’ roaming the world with a bowl, begging for arms (alms?). If you follow the official narrative, the country has been abandoned by her ‘friends’, especially the United States of America, in a time of her need. Nigeria is being denied access to weapons for the prosecution of the war against terrorists, we are told. Yet, an elementary study of international relations points to power diffusion as a defining characteristic of this age. How does that work when terrorism sits firmly as a major item on the list of transnational issues which most nations are very keen to uproot? How are we not able to get the buy-in of the USA and other countries on this?
Perhaps, it is our characteristic penchant for making a mess of otherwise easy things that has made it difficult to rally friends around a cause that should be of interest to everyone. How is it that Nigeria has become such a nondescript entity on the international stage, with no visible presence or voice in global politics? How can it be that Nigeria is finding it hard to find friends among other nations? The answer should not be too difficult to find. It is evident in Nigeria’s intercourse with the world, which has been largely cacophonous, without definitive rhyme or reason.
Perhaps the lack of direction emanates from the popular misconception on the part of pseudo-experts on foreign policy who mistakenly equate a nation’s power quotient with the level of resources at the country’s disposal. Nigeria has been stuck in that archaic mode which situates the strength of a nation-state around the traditional elements of foreign policy, not realising that particular train left the station, long ago.
In the age in which we live in, the methodology for approximating power and conducting international relations has radically changed. The fluidity of the moment is such that the state with the best military can easily lose to a smaller adversary with a better story. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not fashioned her own story. In the absence of a story thoughtfully crafted and deliberately projected, the nation’s story is being told by others, as they deem fit. Nigeria is being sold in line with objectives set by others for her, while she wallows in deliberately polluted waters of obscurity, seeking to fly on the wings of a rebased economy, when she has not even learnt to crawl, unaided.
Our leaders blame everyone but themselves. Fishing for enemies has become a pastime for the leaders and their exuberant supporters. America is the problem, they tell us. South Africa is jealous of our accomplishments, we are told. They think the problem is out there, whereas the enemy lies within. It should be obvious by now that international relations is definitely not one of President Jonathan’s strengths. He needs help, but his foreign ministry under the leadership of Ambassador Wali is rather listless, further pushing the nation down the ladder of obscurity by its inaction. But those who want to boycott South Africa don’t see that. They blame America, rather than face up to the incompetence of their man. They want to goad him into needless, senseless and baseless diplomatic brickbats with other countries.
It often comes across that Nigeria is yet to discover itself and her own place in the world. The challenge is this – How does a country identify or determine her friends when she does not even know where she is headed. If we do not know where we are going, how do we determine how to get there? How do we measure our steps? How do we know when we get there? Yet, we want to pick fight with countries who know us better than we know ourselves. Is this a joke?
Nigeria simply does not exist, as a brand, on the international stage. She is yet to cut the picture of an entity or personality with definite attributes purposefully projected to the world. It is no hyperbole to state that Nigeria, at the moment, has no foreign policy. If one may ask – what is Nigeria’s policy towards France that encircles the country, in terms of geography? What are the special attributes of Nigeria’s relationship with Britain, the erstwhile overlord?
What relationship have we nursed with countries like Liberia, South Africa and others which we rescued from the jaws of oppression with our sweat and blood? What is the nature of our relationship with our immediate neighbours? Have we figured out how the nation’s economic fortune is closely intertwined with the quality of our relationship with these neighbours? Our Agriculture Minister, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, dances in the rain of transformation over a reduction in the volume of rice imported to Nigeria. Has he considered the large volume of rice that flood the market through smuggling across our borders? How can you manage your economy with your borders ajar? Is there a Nigerian strategy for relating with Benin Republic, with a thriving segment of its economy built around smuggling of goods to Nigeria? What exactly is our pitch to the world to enable us win friends and achieve our objectives, in line with a defined national interest?
We must acknowledge the fact that global politics is no tea party. It is brutal, ruthless and constantly in a state of flux. Friendship is largely predicated upon cold, calculated interests. The extent of a nation’s success is contingent upon her ability to make her interests coincide with those of other players. Blaming your misfortune on others is a mark of naivety in international relations. The global arena is not the place for you to sow cluelessness and harvest transformation.
Our challenge lies in the software powering our system. Ours has become anachronistic. We cannot continue to power our system with defective software, designed in the days of the mainframe, hoping it will miraculously outwit players operating with software built for the iPad. Nigeria will do well to upgrade, rather than keep whining and moaning. There is no place for such in this age. If we do our homework well, we will not keep getting stuck and embarrassed all over the place. The choice is ours to make.