By ABBA MAHMOOD –
Perhaps no other issue has shown the glaring decline of Nigeria’s foreign policy and reduced international prestige than the African Union (AU) elections concluded this week in Addis Ababa.
Nigeria was occupying the AU Political Affairs commissionership during the administration of Dr Nkosazana Zuma. Ambassador Dr Aisha Abdullahi was the commissioner, who won the election for five years due to her personal merit as well as the influence of her country Nigeria then. Instead of contesting for the same position this year, Nigeria opted to contest for Peace and Security commissioner (PSC) this time. The PSC has been occupied by Algeria for more than a decade now.
Algeria is not only a powerful incumbent PSC but a formidable opponent. As an Arab and Francophone nation, Algeria is sure to have the support of these two blocs. In addition, due to Algeria’s enviable role in the African liberation struggle, it was sure to have the support of many countries in Southern Africa. To make matters worse, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had already earlier written a note verbale expressing Nigeria’s support for Algeria to continue in that position. Where is honour if a country can give its written word and then go back on it against a sister nation?
To further worsen the situation, Nigeria fielded Ms Fatima Kyari who has never worked for the government and is obviously unknown even here in Nigeria not to talk of the sub-region or the continent. If Ambassador Shinkaye, who has been a career public servant all his life and was Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ethiopia and the AU could not defeat the Algerian candidate for PSC in the past, what makes the Nigerian government think that unknown candidate Kyari can defeat Algeria this time?
It was obviously a lose-lose situation. If Nigeria lost, which we did, it was clearly expected since we took the AU election as a huge joke by fielding such an inexperienced and unexposed candidate. It tells a lot about Nigeria’s lack of seriousness that Dr Kayode Fayemi headed a campaign team to take Ms Kyari to Ghana and the team went to see President John Mahama who was handing over in two days having lost the presidential election, instead of going to meet incoming President Nana Akuffo-Addo. It was such a mess and indeed a lost effort. And even if she had won, Ms Kyari would have been an ineffective representative of Nigeria since she does not have the necessary experience and sufficient expertise to make her succeed. It was an untidy and clumsy attempt which smacks of nepotism.
When South Africa broke the unwritten rule of the AU whereby major continental organization leadership is left to smaller countries while the bigger ones influence from behind-the-scenes, it was clear that Nigeria this time had to go for the AU Commission chairmanship after South Africa. This is particularly compelling, given the current global outlook with Brexit and EU confusion and a most divisive election and a loose cannon President Trump in the US. The emerging scenario requires a strong African voice, strong African leadership and strong African representation.
Even the rest of Africa were expecting Nigeria to come forward to lead. That was why no strong candidate came up last year when Mrs Zuma declined to go for a second term. And Nigeria has a lot of capable candidates: Ambassador Olisemeka, Prof. Gambari, Prof. Akinyemi, Ambassador Kingibe are all eminently qualified and distinguished men of integrity, with more than sufficient experience, exposure and expertise necessary for this time. Each of them could stand up for Africa and make all of us proud. Each of them was at various times Nigeria’s foreign minister with distinguished career in the services of Nigeria and Africa.
Instead, for whatever flimsy reasons, Nigeria has let Africa down.
At a most crucial time like this Nigeria has shied away from taking an obvious responsibility for the black race. It is clear that we do not know our core interests let alone how to protect them. The consequence of this will remain with us for many years to come. The future generation will never forgive this government for what is in reality an abdication of responsibility to Nigeria and Africa. It is difficult to have a better time and a better opportunity than this, which was blown away. So much for our Africa-centered foreign policy.
The Summit has produced Guinea Conakry’s Alpha Conde as chairman and Moussa Faki Mohammad of Chad as the AU Commission chairman. Clearly, with two Francophone countries at the helm of affairs at the AU at this critical juncture of world history, and given the history of France in Africa and its relations to its former colonies, we should all get ready for the unfolding of the French agenda in Africa. If Prof. Mazrui’s hypothesis is anything to go by – that the real competitor for continental leadership with Nigeria is France – then one can safely conclude that France has won it this time hands down.
One lesson for this year’s AU election is the fact that if Nigeria puts the right candidate for any international elections, Nigeria wins and vice versa. Recall that Dr Akinwumi won the African Development Bank presidency and Dr Sanusi Barkindo won the OPEC secretary-general too based on their credentials and competence. But when the wrong candidate was fielded for the AU PSC, Nigeria lost, which tells a lot about our wrong choice of candidates and wrong approach to serious issues. It tells a lot about the diminished standing of Nigeria even in Africa, that in the AU Commission there is no Nigerian representation, despite our population and contributions.
After a relatively successful and dignified leadership provided by Dr Nkosazana Dlamimi Zuma of South Africa, instead of another major country with sufficient clout such as Nigeria to take over and sustain the momentum, Africa has produced relatively third-rate leadership at this most auspicious time in world history. Can anyone see what clout Chad or Guinea can pull in the current global arena on behalf of Africa? It is a pity. It is unfortunate. That is why, when Donald Trump put restrictions that target three African countries among the seven so far, there was no reaction from any African quarter. And that is why for all of Trump’s racist statements no one is reacting here.
One clear lesson from all these is the fact that when a country has weak domestic policy it cannot exert any influence at the foreign policy level. Nigeria’s domestic base is weak – no clear economic policy, no manufacturing base, no electricity, mind-boggling corruption cases with no convincing prosecution, ill-motivated and ill-trained law enforcement personnel etc. And that is why Nigeria is not respected anymore.
Another simple indication is the recent trip by ECOWAS leaders to convince defeated Jammeh of Gambia to surrender power to the winner of the December 1, 2016, presidential election, Adama Barrow. President Buhari was in that delegation but Jammeh did not respect even his age by complying. It is simply un-African.
History is on the side of the oppressed.