There are times and periods in the affairs of men when it becomes logical and imperative to evaluate and assess their relationships with peoples; groups; entities and in some cases, states in the short and long run respectively. The Nigerian state is at such junction in her socio-political relationship with all African states in the contemporary period. The nation needs to reassess and strategise her foreign policy options to reflect the realities of the contemporary African and global political system. It is time to put a stop to the thankless duties of the “Africa as the centerpiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” clause of our national interests in view of the levels of reciprocities that has accrued to the nation from it.
Historically, Nigerians or the ethnic groups that make up the Nigerian state before the 1860s when the British colonial government subjugated the Nigerian peoples’ territories had had one form of interactions or the other with the outside world through commerce; religion; politics etc. The point being made here is that foreign relations were not new to Nigerian nations before the Europeans came into the socio-political scene in Nigeria. However, the British colonial government’s idea of creating a modern state system fashioned after European models heralded the nation into the world of international diplomacy on October 1st 1960 when she became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and later the 99th member of the United Nations Organization respectively. Nigeria’s Prime -Minister, Tafawa Balewa promptly laid the foundation of the nation’s foreign policy articulation on the pedestal of Afrocentrism. The 1960s was a period of proactive Afrocentrism and Nigeria due to the strategic nature of her position in African politics could not ignore this noble undertaking. African states needed a vibrant voice to speak for them in the international system and Nigeria dutifully ensured that she stood tall for African states in this regard. One of such period was Nigeria’s vehement protests against France when she tested her atom bomb in the Sahara in the 60’s. Balewa’s administration also felt duty-bound to contribute troops to the UNO contingent from Africa when violence broke out in the Congo in the 1960’s. Thus, began the nations foray into the world of international peacekeeping. The Balewa government was vociferously active during this period and she called for sanctions against South Africa over her racist/apartheid policies against the African population who were the majority. Furthermore, Nigeria was pivotal to the establishment of the Organization of Africa Union O.A.U as a regional body for African states. Yet, African states tends to perceive Nigeria and Nigerians negatively. This was even manifested during the fratricidal war between the nation and short-lived republic of Biafra between 1967 and 1970.These African states wanted a divided Nigeria for their own benefits.
The post-civil war era of the 1970s was a period of economic boom for the nation. Nigeria’s economy improved creditably well due to stimulations from the petroleum sector and this had its profound effects on the nation’s foreign policy articulations. The Gowon administration energetically delved into foreign affairs with careless abandon under the clause of Africa as the centerpiece. Nigeria became African states “Uncle Christmas” who doles out money just when it is requested for by African states. All they need to do is to ask the “Big Brother”. Lagos became Africa’s Washington D.C overnight. The successive regimes of Muritala/Obasanjo were not left out here. Under these regimes, Africa as the centerpiece gathered its momentum. Huge sums of money were channeled into issues that concerned African states. Examples are Kenya; $150,000; Guinea $75,000; Sudan $150,000; Senegal CFA 10 million amongst others. What did we get in return? Brutal treatments and murders in some cases of our nationals in many African states under the guise of their being criminals. Furthermore, Ethiopia (Famine); Chad(Drought)Cameroun (who spat on our collective faces at The Hague recently) were all beneficiaries of Nigeria’s oil largesse. Mozambique; Zimbabwe(Rhodesia); Angola all got financial assistance from Nigeria during this period. Let’s get down to the 1990s and 2000s where the nation expended billions of dollars in the name of keeping peace on issues in Liberia; Sierra Leone; Mali; Burkina Faso; Guinea Bissau; that does not concern us under the Africa as the centerpiece clause. Nigeria’s military shed their blood for other people’s fatherlands during the period. In fact, whenever there is fire in any part of Africa, the African Union (AU) has made it a tradition to turn to Nigeria and request for troops to put it out. It’s only Nigerian troops who knows how to die on matters that are foreign to us in Africa. Maybe since we are the most populous in Africa, these crises would help in “controlling” the population of our forces.
Recent events in the Cape of the continent i.e Xenophobia brought about this recourse into the past. Nigerians were murdered in the land that they helped to liberate from the clutches of modern slavery without the South African government and the AU taking firm action on. Video footage of this barbaric acts on the parts of the South Africans showed the lackluster attitude of the South African police displaying the overt attitude of the government on the issue of Nigerians being murdered. Are these the same South Africans that the government of Nigeria almost broke the banks for during the dark days of apartheid? Are these the same South Africans that Majek Fasek, late Sunny Okosun and other Nigerian musicians sang their voices hoarse for? The same South Africans who came into our country and were given homes; educated in our ivory towers; now acting as if they have suddenly developed amnesia. I think South Africans have wiped out this part of their national history. South African iconic Mandela was once here in Nigeria as a political refugee amongst many others. No amount of excuses could be made for the dastardly acts of South Africans on this issue.
The point here is that it is not only in South Africa that Nigerian nationals are treated brutally. Other African nations are also guilty of this too. However, the murders of Nigerian nationals under the guise of xenophobia, suspicion of being criminals has become a recurring event in the former apartheid enclave without their government ensuring that justice is carried out by the end of the day. Yet, in Nigeria, there are people of African descents going about their business without molestation from anybody both documented and undocumented. It is on record that since the early 2000s in South Africa, over 300 Nigerian nationals have lost their lives in questionable circumstances and there it ends. Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent killings that took place, Nigerian youths who threatened reprisals on South Africans and their business were duly protected by the Nigeria Police Force. There was no loss of South African lives or destruction of their business concerns in Nigeria. It is glaring that many African states who claimed to be Nigeria’s friends are only fair-weather ones given their lack of concern about these bestial acts of the South Africans. Yet, when they need aid or our military intervention in their polities, the Big Brother is available. Nigerians are accused of about just every kind of anti-social malaise and vices across Africa as if Nigerians are the most criminally minded people on the continent. Imagine, the murderer of the South African reggae star, Lucky Dube said that “I thought the person in the car is a Nigerian”. That’s how cheap a Nigerian’s life is valued in South Africa. In South Africa, Nigerians have tagged “Children of Death”. Kill a Nigerian and you have just deleted a drug dealer; fraudster.
It is high time that the Nigerian government should wake up to and put a stop to this solicited and unsolicited Afrocentrism. We have been made fools of for so long in the international system by the same countries that we have been expending our resources for without as much as a thank you. Instead, our nationals are murdered as a way of showing us how powerless we are politically and economically on the continent. In future, any request for our troops for international peacekeeping activity that does not hold any advantages for us should be turned down. Let the AU find its peacekeepers elsewhere. This idea of Africa as the centerpiece is best archaic in the present. We are no longer interested in being our brother’s keepers. Our brothers of yore are now old enough to be responsible for their actions. The continuation of this policy by the Nigerian government would not only cost us financially but it would present us as “plain Stupid” to the rest of Africa and the global society. It is time for the Nigerian state to channel her resources into productive sectors in the international system in which our nationals would derive benefits from collectively. Nigerians are not guinea pigs. We are human beings. We are citizens of the world. We deserve our respect and dignity as members of the human race. God bless Nigeria.