The Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Eghosa Osaghae, speaks on Nigeria’s bilateral relationships, avenues to tackle insurgency from the international perspectives, among other issues, in this interview with Mudiaga Affe
Many Nigerians believe that the present administration is not doing well in terms of bilateral relations, the institution you head, plays a significant role in the nation’s foreign policy thrust, what is your take on this?
Globally there is a lull and there are so many other things happening at the same time. The global order is very unsettled at this time and COVID-19 has overwhelmed everything and almost locked the whole world. However, things are happening and they are mostly virtually. It is no longer the time when you travel all over the world the way the normal order permitted. So, a lot is going on that is not immediately visible and therefore is the temptation to take visibilities as ways, but that is not the case.
In terms of the bilateral and multilateral engagements, you would see that there had been a lot of strategies. Nigeria had responded frontally to developments within Africa and beyond. Recall that there was an economic summit in France and Nigeria had a very powerful delegation. You will also discover that these days, non-state-actors have also become global players in crucial global policies and diplomacies. Most recently, we had our leading business people in France, and it was not for nothing that one of them, the President of BUA Group, was made to chair a committee. Again, our President (Muhammadu Buhari) had been around. We had the Lake Chad River Basin meeting; the ECOWAS meeting, in which the last was in Ghana; and the President participated in all of these activities.
Nigeria is at the forefront of the global drive for vaccines and equitable distribution. The country is also a lead way for the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the African Centre for Disease Control (ACDC) on basically all the issues that have arisen at this time. So, it is not true that Nigeria has become less conspicuous or less active in any way. Recall too that it was even in the period of the pandemic that we recorded most of our successes- the appointment of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the return of Akinwumi Adesina as President of African Development Bank (ADB).
Overall, I think it is the lull in global events that seem to suggest that there had been a reduction in Nigeria’s foreign policy engagements and activities. If anything at all, we most recently sent out a whole batch of career diplomats and non-career diplomats to re-energise our missions abroad and pursue the policies of engagements. There is also our bilateral and multi-laterals attention on anti-terrorism fights- how we are cooperating with other countries on this. You saw what happened in Chad and Nigeria’s frontline roles. Our former Presidents are also involved in these. So, all put together, it is not true that we have waned at all.
The President recently posted former service chiefs for diplomatic service, does this in any way suggest a lack of confidence in our career officers?
You should as well have said that the appointment of non-career diplomats was a disappointment too. It is a global practice that you look for the most fitting diplomats for very specific assignments and I think that the appointment of the retired service chiefs should be seen in that light. Our career diplomats are some of the very best in the world and that has been proven time and again everywhere. So, the President is quite happy with our career diplomats.
Our embassies seem to think less about our nationals overseas because there had been complaints about the non-issuance of passports to total abandonments in times of trouble. How do you think we can turn around these narratives?
These are matters that are treated as they get reported. What the Federal Government of Nigeria is doing through the Foreign Affairs ministry is to become more proactive and already we have signals and pieces of evidence from all over the world that things are changing dramatically. For instance, in our consulate in Atlanta (United States of America), headed by Ambassador Amina Smaila, there is already a revolution taking place and you can verify this. Same with our mission in London and every other country where things are beginning to change. They have to change because the government has its citizens as the anchor of our foreign policy engagements, so, the welfare of Nigerians within and outside the country is preeminent.
France is gradually withdrawing its troops from the Sahel, while Ghana is fortifying its borders, do you think this has any consequence to Nigeria considering the recent surge in insurgency and banditry in the country?
It is not as if the presence of France in the Sahel in the first place helped to do things for Nigeria. France has its strategic interest to pursue like Nigeria. Once these things become clearer I am sure you would see that Nigeria has not been sleeping too. These are not issues that can be discussed publicly but be assured that Nigeria is quite aware of these developments and it is taking steps to advance our national interests.
Will you advocate for foreign intervention in the fight against insurgency in Nigeria?
Every fight as of today has to be a fight that secures the forces of the country in the defence of its territory. Our constitution makes the defence of the country the primary responsibility of the government. The conflicts that we have are acts of terrorism, banditry, sea piracy and all of these things have become transnational and therefore they require transnational solutions.
What is obvious is that Nigeria’s responses cannot be taken alone in isolation and as much as possible Nigeria is worth being given multilateral frameworks to see how we can address the external dimensions of some of these conflicts.
There is the multinational joint tasks force, a product of such multinationalism. So, if the question is should we go to engage mercenaries, I think the question has already been answered with what I have said, but of course, as we have seen in terms of finance, we have been able to purchase some new Tucano jets. We need all the support that we can get from our friends and powers outside the country.
A militant group is known as the Niger Delta Avengers recently threatened to cripple economic activities in the oil-rich region, what does it portend for the country if they go ahead with their threat?
This is the time that requires the fullest patriotism and national-ness of all Nigerians. The country is going through some turbulences and one hopes that the Niger Delta militants do understand these precarious situations and would out of patriotism and loyalty not do that. There is abundant evidence that issues of the Niger Delta have always been on the front burner as much as possible. There is a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) that has been passed into law are instances.
The PIB is something that is expected to address many of the issues that have been raised in the Niger Delta region and it is no longer possible to keep issues from the region in isolation. The overall goal of the country is not only to pursue conflict management and reduction but also prosperity for all. I am sure that, like other people in Nigeria, the people of the region should enjoy the dividends. Remember that railway projects that are being launched all over the country have the promise of a great future for all of us and the Niger Delta axis is part of this development. We already have a proposed plan from Calabar to Lagos and those kinds of developments are critical indicators that things cannot remain the same. So, on the whole, I think the engagement with Niger Delta stakeholders is to ensure that militants will not have to return to the trenches again.
In Ghana, there is this call for a return to base for blacks and many are already responding to the request, why is Nigeria not taking such an initiative?
Ghana is just a recipient of a policy that it did not initiate. Several years ago, there was a feeling among leading black people like Steve Wonder, Michael Jackson, and a host of others that they needed to begin to return to Africa, so, Ghana has benefited from it. I also want you to see a parallel in Nigeria and the last 10 years we have been having black Americans coming over to Nigeria to represent our country in sports.
They are coming in significant numbers and volunteering to become Nigerians as well. Something is happening and for us at the NIIA, we are beginning a whole global project on the back-to-Africa movement. This is a legacy project that the NIIA is developing and the whole idea is to go back to what engineered the sentiments expressed and later the movement by Marcus Garvey and others who reckoned that the most effective way for the black civilisation to be seen is for all of Africa to have one voice. So, what is happening in Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Angola, and what is even happening at the AU (African Union) where the Caribbean are now having representations at important committees in the AU, are elements of an evolving black Africa. I am sure that in the coming days the NIIA’s legacy project on this will be unveiled. The NIIA will be 60 this year, that celebration will offer us the opportunity to initiate this project.
Under the new Joe Biden administration, what has been the improved relationship between Nigeria and the US?
For the first time in several years, we have had a relationship that entails and online communication between the Secretary of State and the Nigerian President. You would also see that the Biden administration has used multilateral platforms to send positive signals, such as the support for the director general-ship of Dr. Iweala, return to climate change agreements as well as the return to the WHO funding. These are important signals that are for Nigeria. Do not also forget that perhaps the first foreign policy appearance of Biden was to be at the AU virtual meeting in February.
So, both at the bilateral and multilateral levels, the signals are hopeful and we hope that it will be strengthened and deepened in the coming months, but we also hope that the United States will drive the process that will take all of us out of the tension, uncertainties that have been triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. America is back to its moral leadership of the world and steps that are being taken suggest that they are more prepared now to embrace multilateralism as the way forward. Things are very hopeful and I think that with Biden appointing many Nigerians to key positions in the US government, we can almost say that Nigeria has never had it so good.
As an institute, what challenges do you face and how do you hope to come out of it?
Like many other agencies in Nigeria, our institute is being challenged with funding- that is the key thing. We are, however, reaching out to all our stakeholders within and outside the country to see how we can get to a robust situation. What has become obvious is that with the support of several of the bodies such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Assembly, Diaspora Commission, Ministry of Finance, and the Presidency, among others, we can only get better. So, the point is that at this time when all hands need to be on deck and collaborating, the prospects for a brighter NIIA are very high.