Nigeria: The Gains of Jonathan’s Diplomacy, By Reuben Abati
The gains of President Jonathan’s diplomacy are often overshadowed by misrepresentations of the size of his delegation, ignorance about the value of his foreign travels, and the positives of his constant engagement with the international community. I have had cause on more than one occasion to expose the lie about published
figures about the size of his delegations. I intend to deal here with what is overlooked.
Given the damage that the Nigerian interest suffered a few years ago, the same interest needed to be clarified and strengthened. We are living witnesses to that short, critical, phase in Nigeria’s foreign relations when the country failed to show up at important international meetings, lost many positions in multilateral associations, forsook obligations, and found itself in a situation where many of our allies started wondering what had gone wrong with Nigeria. President Jonathan has brought the much-needed change in this arena, and has launched an operational framework for Nigerian diplomacy, which continues to strengthen the place of Nigeria in the world.
In 2010, as Acting President, he embarked on a number of diplomatic shuttles, as part of a deliberate attempt to reassure the world that Nigeria was well and secure despite the trauma of succession that it had just experienced and the divisive politics of zoning that threatened to scuttle the country’s political transition. Many may have forgotten, selective amnesia being a dangerous national malaise, that President Jonathan’s statesmanship, his humility, and the maturity that he displayed during that momentous season proved to be a strong stabilizing influence on a nervous Nigerian community. He had promised that Nigeria’s next general elections to be conducted under his watch, in 2011, even with him as a contestant, will be free and fair, and that nobody’s blood was worth being shed for him to win an election.
That promise was kept. The elections were not only free and fair, they were adjudged the best ever in Nigeria’s modern history. The achievement was not merely one of legitimacy; the applause from the international community was redemptive. Nigeria, at that point, almost a typical case study of the challenges of democratic consolidation, became yet another success story. President Jonathan has since taken many steps further to build on this.
One of the very early steps was a four-day, August 2011, seminar on Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Process, with inputs from the Presidential Advisory Committee on Foreign Affairs led by Chief Emeka Anyaoku. The seminar and the foreign policy experts, recommended, inter alia, a robust diplomacy, driven by Nigeria’s economic interests. This accent on self-interest had shown up during the Obasanjo years. It reflected an increasing awareness that Nigeria’s foreign policy should not be driven by the vainglory of being a certain brother’s keeper, or the Father Christmas pretensions that dominated it for years, rather, hard-headed pragmatism. The world had changed a lot since Nigeria distributed its oil wealth to other countries and asked for nothing in return. The new strategy called for partnership, mutual respect, enhanced and innovative diplomacy, and constructive exchange. In this context, President Jonathan leads a foreign policy process that has been fruitful and meaningful, and properly linked to domestic policy.
His foreign travels fall into three categories: state visits (formal state to state activity), courtesy visits (attendance at ceremonies, burials, inaugurations) and working visits (trips to attend multilateral, bilateral and regional meetings). Each of these visits is official, the ultimate gainer is Nigeria, and it is well worth noting that since his assumption of office, President Jonathan has not gone on any unofficial or private trip abroad. It is a trite point that a strong foreign policy process, one which involves constant interaction and openness brings a country much goodwill, promotes understanding and strengthens the country’s friendship with other countries. Closed countries are often treated with suspicion; their leaders are subjects of mystery. President Jonathan has worked very actively in the last two years to promote Brand Nigeria.
His foreign travels are usually, carefully chosen. He has equally played host to Heads of State and Governments and delegations from around the world including high profile visits by Britain’s David Cameron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
On all of these occasions, Nigeria’s interest is strategically promoted. The President is accompanied on each of his trips by members of the National Assembly and Ministers who attend the relevant meetings and make necessary inputs for follow up action. Trade and investment always tops the agenda. The President personally leads the campaign of inviting investors to set up industries in Nigeria, and produce locally if they wish to take advantage of Nigeria’s huge market potential. Interestingly, Nigeria’s domestic security challenges have not proved to be a disincentive.
Foreign Direct Investment generated in the last year alone according to UNCTAD’s 2012 Investment Report was $8.9 billion making Nigeria No 1 in Africa and a top quartile investment destination in the world. During a recent trip to Rio, Brazil, Nigeria signed an MOU with Electrobras to invest in the generation of 10, 000 MW; since then, there have been subsequent visits to Nigeria by Brazilian investors interested in infrastructure, food and beverages and consumer items. In October 2011, when President Jonathan met with the Australian investment community in Perth, on the sidelines of CHOGM, the Australia-Nigeria Trade and Investment Council (ANTIC) was established to facilitate the flow of investments into agriculture, mining and the petrochemicals sector. Australian Council members have since visited Nigeria, and there is an agreement in place to provide technical support for the local mining sector. In April 2012, the President, in the course of an official visit to Germany, got Siemens to commit to investment in power generation, and turbine maintenance and repair in Nigeria. Generally, there has been massive support from governments and investors for the President’s policies and strong interest to invest in the country.
The corollary to this is the search for opportunities for Nigerian investors in foreign markets. The President often times travels with Nigerian businessmen who are looking for in-roads into foreign markets: the Nigerian private sector is involved in banking and insurance in Rwanda and other parts of Africa (Access Bank, IGI, GTBank), in manufacturing in Ethiopia, and Southern Africa (the Dangote Group, LUBCON) and so on. Such investors often require the support of the Nigerian government, which has been readily and consistently provided by the Jonathan administration.
The class of Nigerians who have probably benefitted most or who stand to do so, would be the Nigerians in Diaspora. Wherever President Jonathan goes in the world, he insists on the local embassy organizing a meeting with the Nigerians in the country. He likes to exchange views with them, find out how they are faring and even ask them to raise issues they may want him to take up with the host country. Such issues usually range from immigration to Nigerian issues, particularly absentee voting, and in one instance, request for the airlifting at Government expense of Nigerians who are willing to return to home, but cannot afford to do so.
President Jonathan never fails to acknowledge the importance of Nigerians abroad and the invaluable resource that they represent. To prove the point, many members of his government were sourced from the Diaspora. The Jonathan administration has always had cause to defend the interest of distressed Nigerians in diaspora in pursuit of citizen diplomacy, famously the evacuation of distressed Nigerians from Libya (more than 2,000 between March and November 2011) and Egypt (more than 1, 000 in January 2012). It continues to engage with several development partners to ensure managed migration in the overall interests of all sides, including Nigerians. The fifth Nigeria/EU dialogue on Migration and Development was held in Abuja in January 2012. Thus, the welfare of Nigerians in their relations with other countries has also been given the top most priority. Government has stood up to all countries in upholding the principle of reciprocity and by insisting that Nigerians be treated fairly.
Multilateral institutions usually have vacancies to be filled by nationals from all over the world. Even when the positions are rotated on a regional basis, the relevant countries still have to compete for such positions. It is not always an easy struggle as each country jostles for the positions with the highest possible visibility or influence. It requires sharp diplomacy to secure the support of other countries and to get the required number of votes for your candidate. When your country is not eligible for the post, you become one of the brides to be wooed to deliver the vote in favour of a particular country’s candidate. It sounds like routine diplomacy, but it is high-wire politics. In the past one year, President Jonathan has devoted considerable energy to lobbying and campaigning for Nigerian candidates to get into positions in international organizations. The achievement in this regard has been remarkable: Dr. Bernard O. Aliu, President of the Executive Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) based in Montreal, Canada; Mrs. Theodora Oby Nwankwo, member, UN Committee on the Elimination of All forms Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs.
After three unsuccessful attempts, Nigeria finally broke the electoral jinx at the AU for the first time in ten years. Mrs. Salamatu Sulaiman, Commissioner Political, Peace and Security at the ECOWAS Commission; Nigeria’s election to the Executive Board of UNESCO for a term of four years in November 2011; Nigeria’s election to the Governing Board of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP); Nigeria was also elected to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on October 24, 2011; Election of Mr. Adamu Mohammed, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, as the Vice President of INTERPOL representing Africa at a meeting held in Hanoi, Vietnam in October, 2011; Re-election of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN to the International Law Commission on November 17, 2011. The election of Dr. Chile Eboe-Osuji as one of the six judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in a tightly contested election in New York in November, 2011 and the election last year, of Nigeria as the first President of the Executive Board of the United Nations Entry for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women).
Our embassies abroad are also better organized. Ambassador Gbenga Ashiru, Jonathan’s appointee as Minister of Foreign Affairs is a career diplomat who has been doing a good job of actualizing the new framework for Nigerian diplomacy. He is collegial in approach, and supportive of Mr. President’s vision. Career diplomats used to complain about their jobs being taken over and messed up by politicians. This year, President Jonathan handed over letters of commission to the country’s new set of ambassadors, mostly career diplomats, and because he has thus encouraged the professionalization of the diplomatic service, career diplomats are no longer complaining. Many who have no foreign postings have achieved their career dreams as ambassadors-in-situ; our diplomats are reciprocating by showing higher levels of enthusiasm for the job. Nothing can be more damaging to a country’s foreign policy process than a distracted professional foreign affairs cadre.
We have a leader who is respected by the international community. When TIME international magazine named President Jonathan one of the 100 Most Influential leaders of the world in 2012, a fitting acknowledgement of his achievements, and the only African leader to be so recognized, the warm citation was written by the Liberian President. Our President also holds one of the highest national honours in Liberia. In the last year, he has also been honoured by people, governments and institutions in Nigeria, Ghana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
At the regional level, Nigeria’s voice now rings loud and clear; its interventions are taken more seriously. President Jonathan served as ECOWAS Chairman for two years, and received great applause at the end of his tenure in February 2012. Under his watch, he led both Nigeria and ECOWAS to put an end to the threatened mayhem in Cote D’Ivoire when Laurent Gbagbo refused to hand over power, after the 2010 Presidential elections in that country. He helped to check a similar crisis of self-perpetuation in office in Niger, and has provided support for democratic efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mali, Ghana and Guinea Bissau. He was one of the first African leaders to recognize the National Transitional Council of Libya and ask Muammar Gaddaffi to quit. Since handing over as ECOWAS chair, President Jonathan has remained a respected voice among his brother Heads of State. At the moment, he is a co-mediator in the crisis in Mali. The relationship between Nigeria and other countries in the region, particularly Ghana, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Republic of Benin, Niger, Senegal and Liberia has never been stronger.
Commentators often insist that greater emphasis should be placed on domestic policy, not foreign policy. Our new framework links both strategically. The investments that are flowing into Nigeria create jobs, deepen competition within the market, push the drive for necessary infrastructure further, and on all fronts, Brand Nigeria is strengthened.
Dr. Abati is Special Adviser (Media and Publicity) to President Jonathan.