In pursuit of foreign policy that aids development

Any useful consideration for a foreign policy that works must begin with adequate understanding of the world and the international system in its existential reality along with the trends that shape it and how its trajectories will continue to unfold.

Foreign policy is among the core components of any country’s policy, not only because any such country must engage in relations with other countries, but because the outcomes and inputs from foreign relations count and contribute significantly to the total domestic aggregate that constitutes the wealth, power and prestige of any country. If foreign policy is not tailored to generate returns and inputs that contribute to domestic development, such a policy is suboptimal and lacks utilitarian value and consequently, a burden and drain on national resources.

Many Nigerians like to reflect on the dynamism of the country’s foreign policy in the 1970s, 80s, and even the 90s, and the diplomatic service that ensured robust and efficient delivery of the country’s foreign policy. The same reflection causes some observers to bemoan what some have tagged Nigeria’s lacklustre contemporary foreign policy, made worse by a far less efficient and even dysfunctional Foreign Service establishment.

While there might be some good points that in the past, Nigeria’s foreign policy and its diplomatic service were far more robust, efficient, visible and attracted regional, if not global admiration than its contemporary counterpart, there are strong arguments that the challenge of articulating foreign policy and making of the diplomatic service is far more complex than it was in the past. The world and the international system have significantly evolved and newer elements are heavily weighing on the international system, much more acutely than in the period of the post-World War II international order.

How Tinubu can provide transformational leadership

The system of the international order in the aftermath of World War II which heralded the icy cold war was essentially exclusive to the pre-eminent powers of that period, US-led Western Alliance and the former Warsaw pact headlined by Moscow. The Bretton Wood institutions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were the main factors in defining the trajectories of international finance, as Western liberal rules and economic outlook were generously embedded as the foremost architecture of the global economic landscape.

Most countries, including Nigeria, were under western dominated colonial rule and had little or no impact in the immediate post World War II international order. Even on becoming independent, most countries in Africa, Asia and South America, sought to shield themselves from the most egregious fallout of the intense geo-political competition through the United Nations and the non-aligned movement. But there was no escaping the reach, influence and power of the western dominated international institutions, especially the all powerful Bretton Wood institutions.

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Nigeria, shepherded to independence through negotiations with British colonial authorities, retained a degree of the extant influence of London with which it inherited both the tradition of its Foreign Service and even foreign policy outlook. This did not detract from Nigeria coming into its own at independence, and her largely efficient diplomatic service ensured robust delivery of the country’s foreign policy. Africa and the world acutely felt the presence of Nigeria as it took a stance on critical global issues, whether on decolonisation, especially in southern Africa, the French nuclear test in the Sahara desert, and even the readmission of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations.

A utilitarian foreign policy and diplomatic service for its efficient delivery must first understand these tendencies and how best, it can leverage maximum returns to the country’s priority domestic agenda of economic recovery and sustainable and inclusive growth. While focusing on the factors with the prospects for a greater return, the country must maintain a posture of vigorous engagement with the world at large. Part of the reason for the art of diplomacy is, after all, for keeping in touch when there is even, no compelling reason to do so.

Low-hanging fruit for the incoming administration

Along with the Bretton Woods institutions are the Asia Investment and Infrastructure Bank (an arm of the Belt and Road Initiative dedicated to infrastructure funding), and the BRICS New Development Bank. Apart from the liquidity, with which these new international financial institutions are capitalised, they offer opportunity for countries like Nigeria to establish their footprints in the emerging international financial architecture. It would therefore be considered a national priority for Nigeria to seek outreach or membership of these institutions in any meaningful reassessment of her foreign policy.

Nigeria’s foreign policy has now the leeway and ambience to reinvigorate itself and find a niche to the opportunities of the contemporary multilateral system that is open to global partnership without the political ‘I-owe-you’ of narrow alliances and conclaves.


  • Mr Charles Onunaiju writes from Abuja

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