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When Mr. President killed two birds

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IMAGE: íTunji Ajibade »

Nigerians may have reasons to wonder about President Goodluck Jonathan. To wonder if he is a sharpshooter, and if such a skill has any relevance for the nation. It’s because their leader killed two birds with a stone the other time. He went to South Africa to honour an invitation, to discuss issues that South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, said were crucial to the continent. But he ended up disposing of a diplomatic itinerary that should intimidate, yet had a basketful of benefits for Nigeria. Even at that, where to start is not the President, it’s the staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is something to a package that saw the President doing so much in a few days in South Africa, and pulling it off. So, what the Foreign Affairs Ministry did that time, spurred by its current leadership, deserves a critical mention. For, if in recent times the ministry had sat down and did nothing, one would say so too. But other matters first.

So, the President went to South Africa and got that nation’s lawmakers on their feet, clapping. That was a coup at the highest level, coup against biases, misunderstanding and negative impressions in high places about Nigeria. The nation’s image will benefit, and citizens will not be left out. The parliament was not where the President had started out on this diplomatic offensive though.  He did with a meeting with the South African president. Zuma had always enjoyed good hospitality each time he came to Nigeria. So the last time he was here, he had said President Jonathan was welcome in his country. Now that the President is back home, taking stock of the implication of the trip is a good idea. When was it that some South African immigration officials misbehaved to Nigerians, and their government had to apologise? Some said it was the height of hostility between the two nations. Even the only Eyo (a unique Lagos masquerader) of Nigerian politics, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said so, pointing out that such is not good for both nations as well as the continent, and had called for fences to be mended. Let the reader note that it’s one reason this trip is worth looking into.

President Zuma had good words for Nigeria on that occasion, and President Jonathan had same for South Africa, a breaking of ice by any standard.  Even in the Cold War era, the United States’ presidents visited the former Soviet Union and vice versa, to talk nuclear proliferation and the rest of it. Important point here: Resuscitating a diplomatic relationship which had almost gone frosty that this trip signposts matters to Nigerians, and to the continent. An example: Many mention the South African challenge to Nigeria’s leadership role on the continent. South Africa, since it came under black majority rule, has proved itself a notable voice on the continent. Some say that nation is a challenger for a permanent security council seat which the powers that be at the UN had not even made up their mind to give. But Nigeria and South Africa think the seat is core to a reform of the UN. Who will have it in the end is the worry, and it makes both nations eye each other. But President Jonathan gave an answer: There should be no rivalry between Nigeria and South Africa over who should get the seat; what is paramount is getting the seat for Africa. South African lawmakers heard him, and they had stood up and clapped.

It sounds like a diplomatic answer. For now, there’s no point pursuing the next line of debate that the President’s words threw up. One point that should not be missed is that nations that bear brunt must have the right to claim when the returns arrive. Nigerians criticise their governments that they expend resources in ECOWAS and in the African Union, on endeavours that these bodies take interest in.  Governments have been unfazed though. The nation achieves its national interest through those channels that citizens condemn, officials have always maintained. Only students of international relations who understand components of power as well as national interest that drive nations to do what they do on the international stage will understand that kind of mentality. Suffice to state that when Sparta, an ancient Greek city state, demanded respect as a leader from smaller states, one of them had pointed out that; “supremacy has its duties… leaders are required to show special care for the common welfare in return for the special honour accorded to them.” This is where Nigeria finds itself both in Africa and West Africa.

And it’s something to ponder over: If Nigeria never says no to sending human and material resources in order to bring peace to nations on the continent, a matter of interest to the UN’s Security Council, how come South Africa that selects where it wants to send its soldiers and funds is now a contender for a permanent UN seat? Yes, that nation stands up to Nigeria in figures in the economic front and in some other instances, but potentially, Nigeria should be no bedmate of South Africa’s. Such should be a message to leaders here that all they need to do to put any other contenders where they belong is harnessing all that is available to project the strength of the nation, and it will be impossible for any nation to talk of a challenge, real or perceived. To another matter: Benefits for the continent when Nigeria enjoys good relations with South Africa. It’s unimaginable to have an Africa where both countries don’t see continental issues same way. Both stick out like sore thumbs here, what with nations like Egypt being so unsure whether they belong to Africa or an imaginary Arab continent? Sub-Saharan Africa especially will be a chaotic place if Nigeria and South Africa don’t cooperate. The world stage has an Order because the United Kingdom sticks with the US, and even though France goes its own way sometimes, it knows where its bread is best buttered. The nature of the African continent, and what Nigeria and South Africa have — in democratic structures, highly developed defence capability, diplomatic and democratic institutions as well as internationally respected leadership that have mediated and brought peace to conflict spots, make bonding together of the two nations essential.

Talking with Zuma on Africa, and talking to the South African parliament were not the only things Jonathan did. He had signed nine agreements that should have far-reaching impact on the nation’s economy if implemented. Then, he attended the World Economic Forum, African version, that took place in Cape Town, with its benefits for Nigeria. He had attended the world version in Davos, Switzerland, earlier on, a thing this writer had clapped about. In South Africa, investors and entrepreneurs had listened to President Jonathan who said Nigeria is where every investor needs to be, and that his administration is doing its best to make the nation investor-friendly.

Closer home, a machine, as noted earlier, that’s core to this itinerary is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The noticeable change that’s taken place in the diplomatic front at the ministerial level needs to behighlighted. It’s gratifying seeing the ministry address issues for which past administrators had remained silent. Charges made in foreign currency and collected by embassies in Nigeria for visa application rank amongst such. The nation’s foreign affairs minister, Olugbenga Ashiru, had called in ambassadors and expressed the nation’s displeasure. When South Africa messed with Nigeria on deportation over immunisation issues, South Africans too were deported. That’s radical, going by past experience here. When the foreign administrators of the ECOWAS Secretariat here began to breach known rules concerning filling of vacant posts, he had said it had to stop or Nigeria would bare its fangs. And when ECOWAS members went to the AU gathering not long ago, and reneged on agreement to unite and back one candidate for a post, the minister had issued warnings: Let it not be thought this can go on and Nigeria will not bring its power of the purse and otherwise to bear. That was how the minister had sounded, the language of international relations. Power. Some of the nations that won’t carry burdens as Nigeria does, and yet carry themselves more than they are should only do so much.

It’s time to be firm whenever Nigeria’s interest is impugned. Noteworthy in this administration is a trend that ministers that want to carry out their duties, especially in relation to foreign nations, have been free to so do. The Minister of Aviation showed it when some foreigners misbehaved in her sector the other time. The same is on display in the foreign affairs ministry. Political leadership at the highest level should continue to back the diplomatic leadership as it makes efforts to give teeth to the nation on the diplomatic front. It’s one means by which political leadership win, and their nations win as well, everywhere else.

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago

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