By Owei Lakemfa
The Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria, ARCAN, Africa’s largest, and perhaps most experienced gathering of diplomats decided on October 6, 2020 to make a prognosis of their country in international affairs 60 years from now. Almost all these ambassadors are above 60 and certainly will not be alive in another six decades; but having spent the most active part of their lives moving around the world in the service of their country and propagating its foreign policy of Pan-Africanism, they want to assist their country peep into the future.
To lead them in this journey of virtual clairvoyance, they picked William Alade Fawole, a leading professor of international relations whose surname is associated with Ifa, the Western Nigeria god of Divination. However, ARCAN was not looking for an Ifa priest, but for a person whose rigorous intellectualism and deep, penetrating knowledge, can illuminate the future and make an informed prognosis. Fawole fitted the bill. The intellectual left no room for diplomatic niceties. Rather, he was clinical in his conception, conclusion and delivery.
First, he made a caveat that whatever future is predicted depends ultimately on Nigeria’s survival as an indivisible country. He argued that the old diplomacy which centred around decolonisation, African unity, and opposition to apartheid in which Nigeria excelled, is gone. These are now replaced by challenges of insecurity, political instabilities, civil wars, insurrections and state fragility.
Fawole posited that Nigeria’s aspiration for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council is unrealisable because the five permanent members are united in their unwillingness to share the power and privileges they have monopolised since the foundation of the UN. Additionally, he said there are African countries who will oppose Nigeria and play the spoiler.
After deep, penetrating analysis, Fawole declared the inevitability of a new world order: “A brand-new world order is indisputably in the offing- a world of diminishing American hegemony, in short, a post-American world order!” He said military capability is no longer the sole determinant of states global ranking: “Instead, economic and technological advancement, as well as availability and deft employment of soft power resources have become important indicators of power and influence.” He pointed at rising new powers such as China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia India and a resurgent Russia. Fawole said China with its state-controlled economic policies is the brightest star.
The intellectual predicted the replacement of what he called the post-Cold War “unipolar moment” with one where power is so widely diffused among several powers and actors that it becomes a “non-polarity” world. He painted the envisaged “non-polarity” world as one “where international and regional organisations, international NGOs, tech giants such as Facebook, sundry terrorist groups, companies and individuals in the ungoverned cyber domain can hold nations to ransom…”
Turning to Africa, he said the continent would in “due course overcome its stagnation, as some of the fastest-growing economies are also on the continent, and some are making efforts to get their acts together.” Despite this, he ruled out the continent’s political union in the nearest future.
While cautioning Nigeria to watch out for insidious France and its stranglehold on most of its former territories in Africa, he declared that Nigeria’s global influence rests fundamentally upon its relevance as a leader in Africa. Arguing that the country remains a giant in African economy, he pointed out that: “Nigerian-owned businesses and investments, from banking to telecoms and cement manufacture, are helping the economies of many countries on the continent. Nigeria’s leading banks are operating in at least 20 countries with the United Bank for Africa, UBA, nicknamed Africa’s Global Bank in the lead; the Dangote conglomerate has invested billions of dollars in no fewer than 14 African countries where Alhaji Aliko Dangote is a major employer of labour and contributor to economic growth; Chief Mike Adenuga’s telecoms giant, Global Communications Ltd (a.k.a. Glo Mobile) operates in a number of West African countries. These and more are the by-products of Nigeria’s African diplomacy.”
In order to succeed in its continental leadership role, Fawole argued for the restoration of professionalism and the primacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as the most pivotal organ of Nigeria’s foreign relations. In this wise, he said the establishment of the now defunct Ministry of Cooperation and Integration in Africa and the current Nigeria in Diaspora Commission, NIDCO, are counterproductive.
In the follow up debates, the issue of the role of the legislature in diplomacy arose. Professor Bola Akinteriwa, former Director General of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, clarified that while the constitution empowers the President to be fully in charge of foreign affairs, this is moderated by the fact that signed international conventions cannot be binding until domesticated by the legislature. Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, former Nigerian Ambassador to Australia, was worried that the Foreign Affairs Ministry is not playing a major role in the African Continental Free Trade, ACFTA. He advocated specialised training for diplomats in various aspects of diplomacy like trade.
Ambassador Clement Olayiwola Olaseinde, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Angola said Nigeria did not take advantage of its support for the independence of a country like Angola. He concluded that that if “you are not leading yourselves, how do you lead others? ”Dr. Uche Gwam did not buy Fawole’s strident criticism of France. He argued that Nigeria has not constructively engaged that country. Ambassador Abdul Waheed said the Foreign Ministry needs adequate funding and that the country needs a consistent foreign policy.
Ambassador Kenneth Chikere Nwachukwu, Nigeria’s immediate past ambassador to Mali painted the messy situation in Mali, including 50 per-cent youth unemployment and two thirds of the country being under terrorist occupation. In a veiled reference to the UN Peace Keeping force in Mali, he asked rhetorically: “How do you keep peace when there is no peace?” He said the only fighting force in Mali is the French contingent without which the terrorists would have overrun Mali and pushed into Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso towards Nigeria. Ambassador Godknows Igali did not agree that the world power relations is about changing arguing that in the foreseeable future, America would remain the unipolar power in the world.
There was a consensus that the Foreign Affairs Ministry, its missions and diplomats should be responsible for running our foreign affairs, not individuals who find themselves in the corridors of power. It was also the consensus that it was better to appoint career diplomats as ambassadors and the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, and that diplomats should specialise in various fields.
There were also suggestions that diplomats be well trained with an eye on the future, and that rather than being part of the general Civil Service, a Foreign Service Commission be established for staff of the Foreign Ministry.