Foreign Policy and Nigeria’s External Affairs Ministers

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

In theory and in practice Africa has always been the primary focus of Nigeria’s foreign policy thrust. History and the political realities of colonial and post-colonial Africa dictated much of this trend. In other words, African-nationalism and Pan-Africanism were two of the factors that helped shaped the thinking, the disposition and implementation of the country’s national security and foreign policy agenda.

In spite of the occasional call for a rethink, there has been no noticeable change in Nigeria’s foreign policy protuberance. And even though the formal colonization of the continent has ended, the Cold War as we know it is over, and Communism has passed on, Nigeria has not be been proactive and forward-thinking in her approach to national security issues. Nigeria, it seems, is trapped in time.

The world is changing. We are confronted with new and old concerns relating to ethnicity and subnationalism, poverty and hunger, weak institutions and poor governance, corrupt leadership and criminalities, and ecological difficulties associated with the activities of the multinationals, HIV/AIDS and several other human and basic security concerns. And then there are the global problems: fragmenting states, terrorism, and the exploitative and predatory policies of the Western world towards Third World countries.

Also, there are the (sometimes) dangerous and unconscionable activities of new but powerful states like China, Israel and India. The aforementioned are enough to cause a shift in Nigeria’s involvement in the world, but that has not been the case.

Ebenezer Okpokpo, writing in the African Studies Quarterly (1999), posited that “the scope of Nigeria’s foreign policy should no longer be limited to continental affairs. It should be focused world-wide and geared toward the promotion of our cultural heritage, and scientific, economic and technical cooperation with viable partners. Its goal should aim at enhancing our national development, and military arrangements with NATO countries in order to give peace a permanent character in our societal needs and our sub-region.” A future treatise — “Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Ten Years Into the 21st Century” — will critically examine and build upon the points made by Okpokpo.

My task here — to be concluded in part 2 — is to achieve two basic objectives: (1) engage in a brief study of the men and women that have been at the helm of Nigeria’s foreign policy; and (2) attempt to understand why, in more than two decades or so, Nigeria has not had illustrious foreign affairs ministers; and why Nigeria manages its foreign policy from the desk of the President. Furthermore, in view of the loud silence coming out of Abuja vis-à-vis regional, sub-regional and global events, one could be forgiven for believing Nigeria does not have a foreign/national security policy.

Of all the External Affairs Ministers Nigeria has ever had, Jaja Anucha Wachuku, Arikpo Okoi, Joseph Garba and Bolaji Akinyemi seem to be the most noteworthy. Okoi holds the distinction for being Nigeria’s longest serving External Affairs Minister (1967-1975) yet, not much has been written about him. Not much is known about him. Of the four Wachukwu and Okoi are, in the estimation of many, the “first amongst equals.” Dr. Jaja Anucha Wachukwu was also Nigeria’s first Speaker of the House, and was also, at various times, Nigeria Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. It was said that he was never tainted by corruption, ethnicity, or by self-aggrandizement. Not only was he loved by many, he was well respected at home and abroad.

I never met or saw Ambassador Wachukwu; but his excellent and enviable reputation preceded him. In another time and place, he would have been enshrined in the nation’s consciousness, monuments built in his honor. Ambassador Joseph Garba was Nigeria’s External Minister from 1975 until 1978, and was also at the United Nations from 1984 until 1989. Joseph Nanven Garba was born in 1943, at Langtang, Plateau State. He became, at 19, the youngest officer in the Nigerian Army. Sadly, he passed away at 58 without achieving his dream of becoming Nigeria’s President. He will forever be linked to the coup that displaced General Gowon; but more than that, he will be remembered for the vigor, vision and vitality that he injected into Nigeria’s Foreign Service.

Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was a scholar, a teacher and a diplomat. I prefer to think of him as a as an intellectual. He was, from 1975 until 1983 — before General Babangida appointed him Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minster — the Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs. He is credited with creating the Technical Aid Corps (Nigeria’s version of the Peace Corps), and was also the draftsman for the Concert of Medium Power. He was also a supporter of Nigeria’s nuclear ambition.

Akinyemi’s reputation and democratic credentials were somewhat tainted when he called for a coup against the administration of Chief Ernest Shonekan. But for historical circumstances, he most likely would have been Nigeria’s foremost Foreign Minister. Bolaji Akinyemi was brilliant, competent and farsighted. He had a lot to offer, and still have a lot to offer. Granted one is not familiar with all the capable men and women with credentials that warrants being appointed Nigeria’s foremost diplomat, Akinyemi, in the estimation of many professionals in foreign affairs, is about the only man (today) who can bring the much desired sanity, sensibility, and direction to our foreign affairs/service.

Nigeria needs a man or woman with both the theoretical and practical understanding of foreign affairs; the country needs someone with the temperament, the reputation and the brilliance of mind to help formulate, project and protect the country’s foreign policies. The country also needs someone who is well respected at home and abroad and within the Foreign Service establishment. Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi is that person. He fits the mode. His academic and non-academic qualifications surpass what’s needed to bring sanity and direction to our foreign service.

Why he (Bolaji Akinyemi) has not been returned to the Foreign Ministry is beyond my wits. There is precedence in such appointment and reappointment. General Ike Sanda Nwachukwu was Nigeria’s Foreign Minister from 1987 until1989, and again from1990 until 1993. Of all Nigeria’s top diplomats, Dr. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Minister between 1984 and 1985, has served in the United Nations system the longest.

Since flag independence, Nigeria has had twenty External Affairs Ministers. Of these, two have been women — Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Dr. Joy Ogwu — both of whom had about the shortest and most uneventful tenures. Other External Affairs Ministers have been Nuhu Bamalli, 1964-1966; Henry Adefope, 1978-1979; Ishaya Audu, 1979-1983; Emeka Anyaoku, 1983-1983; Rilwan Lukman, 1989- 1990; Mathew Mbu, 1993-1993; Babagana Kingibe, 1993- 1995; Tom Ikimi, 1995-1998; Ignatius Olisemeka, 1998-1999; Sule Lamido, 1999-2003; Oluyemi Adeniji, 2003-2006; and Ojo Maduekwe, 2007-.

Between 1999 and 2007, with Olusegun Obasanjo as the President, External Affairs Ministers were nothing more than the President’s companions on foreign trips. President Obasanjo micromanaged Nigeria’s foreign affair the same way he micromanaged the energy sector. But during the tenure of Jaja Wachukwu, Arikpo Okoi, Joseph Garba and Bolaji Akinyemi, the world knew who Nigeria’s External Affairs Ministers were. These diplomats were visible and of substance. They articulated Nigeria’s foreign and national security policies. Fortunately for the country, the heads of government they served, for the most part, allowed these Ministers

a free reign. Recent External Affairs Ministers and their ministries have been operating without clear vision and without claws and fangs. As a consequence, Nigeria’s role and place within the global arena have diminished.

More than two years into the administration of President Yar’Adua, the External Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, seems to be Missing-In-Action. He has had no voice and no significant role in the shaping and in executing the country’s foreign policies. That Ojo Madueke is the most incompetent, confused and ill-mannered foreign minister Nigeria has ever had, is beyond debate. He is bad, thoroughly bad and ineffective. Under Madueke’s watch, nothing impressive has been articulated, and nothing significant has been ventured or achieved.

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