Abdul Mahmud: Musa Babayo And Nigeria’s Economic Diplomacy

For almost a decade and half, and if not more, Nigeria’s foreign policy has evolved almost to the point that the acclaimed “Africa as the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy” is today a non-recognizable relic of the foreign policy museum. In the years following Nigeria’s glorious contributions to the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles on the continent, there hasn’t been any conscious attempt at reinvigorating her foreign policy to meet contemporary realities, globalization, high modernity and the plurality of global politics- that is if it is accepted that China, Russia and the European Union have introduced, widened and pluralized international hegemony, politics and trade.

Beyond the poor attempt by General Babaginda to engineer economic diplomacy as a foreign policy response to the domestic debt crisis. An option President Obasanjo later pursued with a certain gusto that was ill-defined and purposeless; an Ajala-like way of seeing and knowing the world and pleading seeking debt forgiveness. This too must be noted: though attempt was also made by President Obasanjo to center democracy, human rights, good governance, transparency and the liberalization of the domestic economy as aspects of Nigeria’s foreign policy, no lasting foreign policy framework emerged from this attempt, due largely to incoherence and poor articulation of the policy. The greatest damage inflicted on the “new attempt” was done by the President Obasanjo himself. Under his watch, democracy was rolled back, corruption climbed to its zenith and the fundamental rights of citizens were routinely abused.

It isn’t entirely correct to argue that it was General Babaginda that first introduced economic diplomacy. Far from it. Our argument, here, is that though General Babaginda showed vigor in the pursuit of his regime’s economy diplomacy, economic diplomacy as a foreign policy tool in shaping the power of the Nigerian state was also present during the regimes before his own, without any tangible result as the supposed claim of economic diplomacy helping to increase foreign direct investment didn’t happen. It must be stated that economic diplomacy didn’t account for the FDI failure, the repressive nature of the regime did. At least, the political component (with economy diplomacy as the other component) of foreign policy was in full throttle during the brief rulership of General Muhammed when the interests and the commitments of the Nigerian people to decolonization of Africa converged with the foreign policy objectives of the state. This, more than anything else, indicated how domestic political currents shaped foreign policy objectives.

Let it be noted that while the stated political interests and commitments created a shifting acre of respect and prestige for Nigeria within a short-lived space of time, that acre wasn’t translated over a period of time into any discernible economic or political influence within the continent. The many years of Nigeria’s activist political diplomacy within the platform of the Non-Align Movement (NAM), peace-keeping roles around the world, notably in Lebanon, Vietnam, Haiti, Liberia, Sierra-Leone, Sudan and Ivory Coast, though consistent with the foreign policy objectives enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1979 and 1999, did not produce any tangible benefits to Nigeria’s domestic economy, nor did it help to further the broad national economic interests of Nigeria. While the Constitution seeks the “promotion of international co-operation for the consolidation of universal peace”, those who wielded the levers of power during the era under review failed to highlight Nigeria’s domestic economic objectives as a nexus to her international co-operation and global peace commitment. And while our leaders struggled to end wars everywhere, they forgot that peace also comes with the glorious moment for sharing the spoils of war. Take the case of the interventionist roles Nigeria played in South Africa and Liberia, for instance: while Nigeria’s oil wealth was placed at the disposal of the African National Congress in its struggles against apartheid, no attempt was made to engage that anti-apartheid congress at the cultural and economic levels beyond the vain glory that support for anti-apartheid struggles brought. I could be wrong here, but there is nothing that suggests there was. Our leaders were merely content with maintaining non-cultural, non-economic relationship with the anti-apartheid movement, while enjoying photo-ops with exiled leaders of the resistance movement. Liberia is a sadder case. There, and at the height of the madnesses of the troika of Sergeant Doe, Charles Taylor and Yomi Johnson, we sacrificed men and women and financial resources to restore sanity and peace to the Liberian asylum without any lasting economic blueprint or economic diplomacy strategy that would eventually influence and impact on the post-Liberian economy. How else can one explain the horrendous xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa and the incessant harassment of Nigerians in Ghana, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea in spite of Nigeria’s huge history of commitment to the African Renaissance? But, why is it so? Why is Nigeria increasingly losing her global respect and prestige?

In his 2015 book, ‘Economic Diplomacy and Nigeria’s Foreign Policy’, Musa Babayo provides a brilliant and seminal inquiry into Nigeria’s economic diplomacy that will invariably shape our understanding of ” economic diplomacy as policy instrument to promote economic growth through non-oil exports and attract foreign investment into the Nigerian economy”. While the inquiry looks at the Babaginda era, Babayo casts his scholarly eyes on the long road of the market that our country has travelled since the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). Babayo doesn’t directly provide answers to the questions I posed in the foregoing paragraph, but he implicitly answers the “whys” in the chapter on “adjustment and growth crisis in Africa” and argues further that growth can only be achieved through domestic economic reforms. Here, for me, is the kernel of his brilliant scholarship and it is solely on the basis of connecting true domestic economic reforms to foreign policy objectives can economic diplomacy be centered, rightly pursued and correctly framed, no matter the pious proclamations most governments make in their foreign policy objectives. Pantelis Sklias correctly captures this point when he notes that “foreign policy is determined in large part by the stability and cohesion of domestic policy, particularly in fields which generate increased power for the state”.

How is economic diplomacy possible in a chaotic democracy? Hear Babayo: ” an enabling environment is critical to economic growth…among the reasons for the relative failure of Nigeria’s economic diplomacy in achieving its economic goals was the uncertain internal political situation in Nigeria”. The fate of economic diplomacy doesn’t change either in an unstable democracy. But, it is also possible to make small gains even in an unstable democracy as Babayo notes in the concluding part of his book, thus: “in the last few years, the Nigerian domestic economy has been stabilized. The process of recovery has been quite impressive. With an annual average growth rate of over 6 percent and a projection of 7 percent in the next few years, Nigeria is one of the fastest growing economies in the world”.

Babayo’s ‘Economic Diplomacy and Nigeria’s Foreign Policy’ is an important contribution to the wider discourse on change. In the concluding paragraph of his book, Babayo argues that economic diplomacy is always a forgotten foreign policy tool when economic growth rates and prospects are brighter. Well, economic growth has taken the nosedive since this brilliant seminal was published early in the year and it is only imperative that this new government of President Muhammadu Buhari takes a look at his framework in order to grasp the timeworn truth that economic outcomes depend largely on how well market forces are predicted and how they are understood. And it is by so doing that economic diplomacy can be deepened in a time of economic crisis. Sadly, we have just woken up to the new economic crisis; and we can as well use the opportunity to test Musa Babayo’s claim now that our economic growth outlook is dim.


Article written by Abdul Mahmud..


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