20 Mar 2015

Nigeria Need Not Be Sticky About Sovereignty - by Tunji Ajibade

Nigeria says other nations interfere in its internal affairs. It may have to take a second look at a few things. One is how elastic words such as internal affairs and sovereignty have become in contemporary global reality. 

Egypt is close by as an example to look at, anyway. It’s one country that has itself learnt to look at the United States of America which has perfected the art of overlooking claims of non-interference in internal affairs to deliver punches on enemies wherever they may be. There’s also the Vatican where the Pope presides. For long, it abhors use of military force in other people’s territories. Seeing the horror of decapitating heads that the Islamic State perpetrates in Syria and Iraq lately however, the Papacy has nodded to the use of military force against IS which everyone says is really a death cult. Such are the blows the concept of sovereignty has received in the face of new realities.

If the Vatican doesn’t look at the US at all, it sure realises now that the world is such that power and use of force are the only words a few hardened actors on the international stage respect. Yet, on that stage, everyone takes a cue from someone else. Who Nigeria copies from is of concern to this writer, if it copies at all, and if it understands that there are new challenges in the international system that demand shifting borderlines of concepts and principles in order to meet them.

Take Egypt for instance. Some extremists chose to decapitate its citizens so it went after them in Libya. It wasn’t the first time Egypt was reported to have crossed the border into Libya on a similar mission. Some nations on the continent hold the opinion that Egypt infringes upon the sovereign rights of Libya, no doubt. But the African Union has not released a statement of that nature in the name of its member states from its glistering office in Addis Ababa. One is sure however that if it calls for a vote on the Egypt-Libya matter, Nigeria will be among nations that feel Egypt has trespassed. What makes one think this way is the long-term conservative, unbending view of this country on foreign policy issues: Each country must be absolutely sovereign in its internal affairs, there are no two ways about it, where Nigeria is concerned.

Reading Nigeria’s foreign policy makers, a matter concerning sovereignty is ever black or white. It doesn’t matter that a leader has killed virtually all his people under a dictatorial rule, the complications of which Nigeria will be among the countries to be called in to untangle. It’s the reason this nation doesn’t say a thing when one expects officials to stand on a podium in Tafawa Balewa House in Abuja and send a word of caution to African nations whose leaderships veer off the path of sanity into the path of disaster. Nigeria doesn’t; not even when a public declaration of the official position of the nation (as the US does regularly) may be good enough to reprimand an African nation that takes steps in the direction of becoming a failed state. It explains why Nigeria considers the interest as well as the actions of some western nations in the 2015 general election as an undue interference in its internal affair. It also explains why Nigeria has some inherent powers it can exert on the international stage but never seems fit to utilise it.

Not long ago, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Aminu Wali, called members of the diplomatic mission in the country to Tafawa Balewa House and spoke to them of how they should learn not to interfere in what was the country’s internal affairs, accusing some of them of going beyond known practices in a foreign country. Now, where this piece is heading is farther than that. How no nation can expect to be taken seriously except it shows its muscles for others to see is one of them. How long established concepts and doctrines are being adjusted and adapted to meet new challenges on the international stage is another. Both say a thing on Nigeria’s view of what interference in its internal affairs means.

One leader was informed that he should give another nation its due respect. He had asked something like, how many soldiers can the nation put on the battlefield? The leader was former Soviet Union leader, Joseph Stalin. The man understood only one thing – power, military or otherwise. He knew it’s what the world is ruled by. He must have read the work of political theorists such as Nicolò Machiavelli and Hans Morgenthau who believe power is the commonest denominator on the international stage. This writer believes it too. Power is at the centre of how nations relate, and it determines what a nation gets, how it gets it, and whether it retains what it gets or not. This is seen in the different ways by which political scientists, historians and diplomats see and use the concept, and the different purposes for which nations pursue acquisition of power. They make reference to state power which indicates both economic and military power. States with significant power within the international system are tagged middle powers, regional powers, great powers, superpowers, or hegemons all indicating relevance of power in international relations.

As such, having power can be a goal and, in fact, it’s an inherent goal of mankind and of states. Internal political, economic, military or cultural development is viewed as ingredients for attainment of international power. Power may be used in terms of an actor’s ability to exercise influence over other international actors. Practical means of exercising influence can include the threat or use of force, economic interaction or pressure, diplomacy, and cultural exchange. Meanwhile, power can be in form of security; this is when describing states that have achieved military victories or security on the international stage, and nations can also be described as powerful if they successfully protect their security, sovereignty, or strategic interests from challengers. Power also describes the resources and capabilities of a state.

Everyone knows that on all these counts the US is at the forefront. It’s why it can gather men and materials and go shooting wherever it feels threatened. It’s why other actors take is seriously. Note also that Germany doesn’t go shooting but because of its economic power it influences the direction of Europe as the case of Greece’s debt has shown. Egypt however did something close to what the US normally did, earning respect, when its citizens were killed and it deployed aircraft to strike targets in Libya. One took note of this, more so as it happened at about the time Nigeria called the diplomatic community to Abuja and warned them not to interfere in its internal affairs. This writer thinks there is a link between the warning and how Nigeria generally maintains silence rather than speak up when things are going down the slope in other countries on the continent.

Aside from internal inconsistencies that have not allowed the nation to turn its potential power into strength and be a force on the continent, there’s something about the disposition and political will of the nation’s leadership that never allow it to be a voice especially from a preventive angle on the continent. This bothers. It does because when other nations that have the strong disposition sit up and do all they can to ensure that the 2015 elections is a success for the sake of Nigerians and the continent at large, Nigeria reacts the way it does.

There’s no doubt that no nation should allow its sovereignty to be trampled upon. But it’s also a fact that when things go wrong, the same nations that are considered interlopers will be accused of failing to do something on time. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Rwanda are examples, evidences that borderlines of concepts such as non-interference and sovereignty have been extended. Considering that Nigeria asks for assistance when it needs it from the nations it warns, and that these nations sincerely wish to assist in the way they know in order to make the 2015 elections a success, using advocacy visits and offer of needed election-related materials, Nigeria’s reaction to their efforts that time should have been more subtle, rather than being so strong.

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