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Nigeria’s New Foreign Policy Drive: Our tasks at AU, UN

In this interview, Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Aminu Wali, indicated the direction of Nigeria’s foreign policy, especially now that the catalogue of domestic issues and problems are defining the context of the nation’s interaction with the rest of the world more than ever before. Besides the creeping insurgencies, the sanctity of Nigerian lives abroad and the country’s strategic plan for multilateral engagements, he also fielded other relevant questions from Foreign Affairs Editor, OGHOGHO OBAYUWANA, and JOHN OKEKE. Excerpts. 

What is Nigeria’s foreign policy direction under your watch now?

Under my watch, Nigeria is being repositioned to ensure effective delivery of the foreign policy pursuits of President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. To that extent, the direction is now aimed at the success of the Transformation Agenda of Government. We are also determined that the foreign policy must impact more directly on wealth and job creation objectives of government. As Nigeria integrates deeper into the globalizing world, the ministry has correctly identified that every aspect of the Transformation Agenda has a foreign policy component.

This is why we have placed emphasis on economic diplomacy, to partner the relevant Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) to attract foreign direct investment, modern skills and technology for the realization of the agenda, especially the construction of infrastructure such as roads, railways, airports, the power and energy sectors. But in addition, Nigeria’s foreign policy direction also aims at engaging Nigerians in the Diaspora. This is why Mr. President makes it a point of policy to meet with the Nigerian community each time he travels abroad. This has become a constant feature of the President’s programmes abroad. Our policy also aims at promoting the welfare of Nigerians abroad, to be sure that they are treated with dignity and respect in all circumstances.

We are asking this because we also want to be able to situate your vision of global engagement in the way you implement the foreign policy as articulated.

It is my intention to build on existing bilateral and multilateral relations and to promote new partnerships and collaborative initiatives centred on issues that are germane to Nigeria’s national interest and in tandem with the present government’s developmental goals. Hence I intend to recreate what I have called a new era of Nigeria’s foreign policy that would best serve the interest of the country and the people in our engagements with the outside world. In addition, it is my intention to instill a sound management culture in the ministry, a system that cuts waste and promotes prudence and efficiency of the increasingly scarce financial, material and human resources. I intend to run a system that instills greater discipline in the management of staff, a system that is open and transparent, a system that rewards hardwork and imposes sanctions for indolence on the part of staff members.

 Talking about prudence and reduction of waste, is that also affecting the size of delegations to foreign assignments?

Yes, of course. Charity must have to begin at home. We do not want people just running around. Movements must now have relevance to specific targets and purposes. But there are so many things we are doing in this regard that we are not necessarily putting in the public domain.

The threat to national security – insurgencies and sponsored terrorism all have international dimension. How have you been coping with this? Hard liners are already thinking that the collaborative pledges by other countries have become a mirage.

Insurgencies and terrorism are security issues which are alien to our country. Even though we were not ready for it in terms of the security architecture, we have nonetheless risen to the challenge. Let me seize this opportunity to salute the courage and professionalism of offices and men of the Nigerian Armed and Security Forces who have been in the frontline of our counter-insurgency operations. Many have made the supreme sacrifice in the course of duty, in defence of Nigerians and their country. I pray for the repose of the souls we have lost.

To strengthen the efforts of our security forces, I am delighted at the improved cooperation between Nigeria and her neighbours in the fight against insurgency. There is improved exchange of information and intelligence, including trans-border military operations, which have yielded great results.

I wish to express our appreciation to our neighbouring countries -Cameroun, Chad, Benin and Niger – including member-states of ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) for their unstinting support, solidarity and cooperation. Both ECOWAS and the African Union at the regional level have agreed on measures of support and solidarity. It has been accepted as a cardinal principle that terrorist attack on one member-state of the African Union is an attack on all others. This is consistent with the principle of collective security. It also means not granting safe havens to terrorists.

These meetings with neighbours and development partners…it looks like people are getting weary!

Well, I want to comment on the basis of one meeting because we have had a series – one in Paris, before the other in Nairobi, even at the AU, which are follow-ups to the conference in Paris, which out neighbours attended, and then Washington D.C. Also, what we are having in Nigeria are follow-ups to earlier meetings that have involved our partners. From the time we started to coordinate the meetings in Abuja, we have been able to achieve quite a lot in terms of the basic understanding of the problem, the type of the insurgency we are facing, the type of people that are involved in the insurgency and at the same time, the realisation that in all of these, we are not alone. The agreement with our neighbours in this regard is an achievement.

And the other major achievement here is the charter of forming a multi-national force, which would contribute battalions – from Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger. Secondly, we have been able to have intelligence feeding centre with high-tech formation setting up the headquarters in Abuja and headed by a Camerounian. This will bring in all the information and intelligence that we will gather to share among all the countries.

Are Nigeria’s neighbours totally committed to the fight?

Our neighbours are totally committed, particularly Cameroun. Niger is very much involved too. They are very much fighting Boko Haram. As well, Chad gives us a lot of support in this fight. So we have all come to the realisation that Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian problem. It is a problem of Cameroun, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. And it is going beyond, but at least these are the core countries that are directly affected by the activities of Boko Haram. So we have now come to understand and accept that we have to collectively face this challenge because defeating Boko Haram in Nigeria does not mean you have defeated it in Cameroun, Chad and Niger.

So we are coming together to collectively face the challenge and make sure that we contain the activities of Boko Haram in our entire sub-region. I must also thank our development partners who recently met with us in Abuja as a follow-up to earlier meetings in Paris, London and Washington, to work out specific areas of collaboration, especially the establishment of a regional intelligence fusion centre, for the exchange and analysis of information on counter-insurgency operations, among other concrete steps of support.

With so many distractions, what have you been telling the rest of the world when they think about coming to Nigeria?

Let me use this opportunity to reiterate that in line with the policy thrust of economic diplomacy, to deploy diplomacy and foreign policy to attain the economic development and social objectives of the transformation agenda of our administration, I have been telling the world of our commitment to maintaining Nigeria’s status as a preferred destination for foreign direct investment in Africa. We are telling the world of our resolve to create the enabling environment for doing business in Nigeria. We have been telling the world about the rebasing of our economy, which has opened new vistas of cooperation and engagement with foreign partners in several areas such as agriculture, small and medium scale industries, infrastructure and the service sectors, which are today in dire need of fresh capital.

What is your take on the protection of Nigerian lives and property abroad? 

The protection of lives and property of Nigerians abroad are core mandates of the ministry and its missions abroad.  As far as many Nigerians are concerned, their welfare is the rationale for maintaining missions abroad. This is why we take our consular responsibilities very serious; the plight of Nigerians in prisons and detention facilities, to be sure, they are treated with dignity even when they run foul of the laws of their host countries. You will recall the evacuation exercises we carried out in close collaboration with NEMA, from various troubled spots such as Libya, Syria, Cote d’Ivoire, Saudi Arabia and the Central African Republic, where we needed to take reciprocal action against unfair treatment of Nigerians as it happened during the Yellow Card saga with South Africa. We did not hesitate to do so.

It is now clear to most countries that Nigeria would neither tolerate nor compromise on the maltreatment of its citizens abroad. The vast majority of our people abroad are resourceful, hardworking and law abiding. Only a small percentage is involved in crimes and other anti-social behaviours. While we will continue to discharge this essential function of extending consular assistance to Nigerians in need or in distress abroad, it behooves all Nigerians to remain good ambassadors of the country, and to respect the laws and sensitivities of their hosts. I will like to seize this opportunity to appeal to these Nigerians to stay on the right side of the law and desist from activities that will tarnish the image and reputation of our country.

Recently, there was a case in the UAE where a Nigerian was pushed down to death from a high-rise building. The thinking is that the Federal Government did not handle this particular matter very well. Can we have an update on this? 

It is very unfortunate that the incident like that happened in UAE. It was very tragic and up till today we cannot say exactly what actually happened. That is the case in Dubai. Now, what we kept relying on, whether we like it or not, was the report of local police and the security agencies. We cannot say that we exempt ourselves from the law of this country. So from the report that we received the allegation was that the report says the. Nigerian was in the party and there was a fight and in the process the Nigerian student died. Now, we are not there.

We cannot speak on the report of the police because they are the ones that went to investigate the whole thing. The witnesses, that is, those that participated in the party, but we don’t have to relax. I can assure you one thing that our Embassy in Dubai went out of their way to really dig into it and did the best they can to assist the family and do what is diplomatically possible within our own limitation as a diplomatic Mission in that country.

Now, efforts in protection of life and properties of Nigerians any where else I will say that I am one of those in the foreign ministry that headed a in China and we faced a lot of this thing that happened and we faced it squarely and I tell you and I can assure you for one thing, not just because I am a foreign affairs minister or because I served in China but I know through personal experience in China and in some of those countries especially in South-East Asia that if the generality of public know what Nigeria relations are doing in terms of protection of lives of individual Nigerians and also their properties, what is being done for their rights in those countries people, they have no idea. But I know a lot is being done in that respect.

What is the strategic action plan for multilateral engagements such as in the UN, AU and ECOWAS at this point in time?

In partnership with the African Union, Nigeria is making strenuous efforts to lead the process of entrenching democracy in Africa. These include our uncompromising adherence to democratic tenets and values, good governance and human rights, among others. Our stance is anchored on the firm belief that a stable and democratic Africa is in Nigeria’s national interest. Consequently, Nigeria has provided material and other forms of support to the electoral processes in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Niger and other countries in Africa. We have continued to play active role as a permanent member of the AU Peace and Security Council.

We are involved in the ongoing elaboration of the AU Agenda 2063, which is intended to chart a new roadmap for Africa’s development as we seek to consolidate the gains of the past and push forward to confront present challenges. Also, in his capacity as then ECOWAS Chairman of the Regional Contact Group on Guinea Bissau, President Jonathan successfully directed the negotiation, which brought peace, democracy and political stability to Guinea Bissau. Nigeria successfully concluded her fourth tenure as an elected member of the UN Security Council for the period 2010-2011. It is worthy to note that during this period, Nigeria chaired the pragmatic debate at the UN Security Council at the 66th Session of the UN General Assembly held in September 2011 and devoted to Preventive Diplomacy as a means of stemming conflict across the globe.

As Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, Nigeria also institutionalised the triangular cooperation between the Security Council, the Secretariat and the troop-contributing countries. For the first time, the voice of the troop-contributing countries was elevated. The current vibrancy of Nigeria’s diplomacy is further buttressed by our return to the UN Security Council in the non-permanent category for the period 2014-2016 in October 2013. Nigeria chaired the rotational presidency of the UN Security Council in April this year. During the month, Nigeria chaired the debate on three thematic subjects – the Middle East (April 8), Women, Peace and Security (April 25) and Security Sector Reform (April 28). Nigeria took the lead in negotiating appropriate resolutions, which were adopted, thereby earning the country greater respect in the international community.

  What is Nigeria’s status with countries with which she has strategic relationship?

Nigeria’s relations with all countries in the world are generally cordial and warm. As a matter of fact, Nigeria is one country that has no problem at all with any country. Irritants may crop up from time to time. It is to the credit of Nigeria’s astute diplomacy that such hiccups are usually addressed and resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties. Now, Nigeria does not rank its relations with countries on any scale, as every relationship is taken very seriously. It all depends on our country’s national interest. Like with all countries, relations vary in depth and scope on the basis of national interest. This is probably why you refer to some as ‘strategic partners.’

There are countries with which Nigeria has deep, traditional ties dating back to the colonial days. Relations with the UK, France, United States, Germany and the European Union have deepened since independence and beyond. Under the military, we moved to diversify relations to cover all countries, including Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Nigeria has elevated its relations with some of these countries to the status of bi-national commissions as the instrument for effective management of the multi-faceted bilateral relations.

While relations with these countries have remained excellent, Nigeria has also deepened relations with emerging market economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) and others in this category. Our objectives are to intensify South-South cooperation and diversify Nigeria’s relations in a manner that is consistent with our development aspirations. In this regard, economic cooperation and partnership in project financing and execution, especially in infrastructure such as power, health and railways, among others, have been the goals of our collaboration and engagements.

Secondly, Nigeria has revived several moribund bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU) and negotiated new ones with many countries, including Italy, Brazil, Switzerland, Austria and Australia, among others. These agreements include Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (IPPAs), Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, Agreement on Abolition of Visas for Holders of Diplomatic and Official Passports and Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA), among others.

Today, what can we say are the fruits of Nigeria’s economic diplomacy?

As a result of the new thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy, she has begun a review of trade pact with several countries with a view to promoting trade and investment. We have received over 50 trade delegations from countries such as UK, India, Germany, Canada, Australia, France and Finland, among others. In addition, Nigeria has established bi-national commissions with several countries with huge potential for investment capital, transfer of skills and technology into her economy, such as the U.S., Germany, South Africa, Canada and Algeria.

The issue of service years of certain categories of officers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has generated some bad blood already. Can you give some clarity regarding the controversy?

The so-called controversy over service years has since been resolved. Counting the eight-year tenure from the notional dates has since been cancelled such that the eight years start counting from the effective date of promotion. It is a decision of government with service-wide implications. It has since put the controversy to rest. All the officers affected by the old rule have since returned to the service and to their desks in the ministry.

What can Nigerians expect at the UN General Assembly meetings the nation is preparing for now?  

In this biggest event of the year, the expectations from our theme are the concerted efforts being outlined to pursue all the areas identified – (insurgency, terrorism and post-2015 MGDs agenda) – in our national interest. We are looking at what constitutes national interest as of today and these are situated, for example, in the post-2015 MDGs. We are also taking up the issues of insurgency and terrorism. The Nigerian team is prepared for this. The Security Council meeting being convened in this regard is very important. The MDGs discussion is very crucial to us because we are a developing country. We have seen what we are able to achieve through MDGs and how we can now engage with the post-2015 agenda is recording a lot of support from around the world just about now.

What we are looking at is, what type of programmes will come under the post-2015 development agenda? What is in it for us as a people, as a government?

Where would you push for adjustment or amendments and what are the resolutions and proposals on board? Of course that is the time our President will be presenting our statement from our contribution in terms of our perspectives on terrorism. So, it is a very important time and the world is facing that aspect all over again. I think the major issues also point at the need for more concerted efforts in this regard. Since we have recorded some achievements, the outcome of those debates and the resolutions will come eventually on terrorism. It is our business to dwell on this positively.