Nigeria is often seen as the power house in West Africa and a leading actor on the continent of Africa. The largest ‘black’ State in the world, Nigeria adopts a foreign policy that depicts Africa as its centre piece. This thread has been preserved since October 1960 when the country gained its independence.
Nigeria has demonstrated its commitment to the continent’s good and peace by leading the formation of the ECOWAS alongside Togo, contributing military forces and finances to peace keeping missions in Africa, and leading continent-wide platforms, particularly the Organization of the African Unity, now called the African Union, and its several missions and agencies. This African Union concerns itself with promoting political development and stability, preventing and resolving conflicts, achieving economic growth, development and interdependence, and achieving social justice in Africa. These are the elements that the African setting urgently needs. And through much activity Nigeria has shown itself committed to achieving this for Africa’s international space. However, this is not gaining as much recognition as one would expect.
Nigeria’s impact as a leading power on the continent is inseparable from what we do within and contribute to the A.U. There are tons of books that outline our participation in the OAU/A.U and other international African platforms but it appears as though the average Nigerian is indifferent to these. I strongly think that this has a lot to do with how pragmatic we are when engaging these platforms.
It is good to be neighbourly but this should not replace the core issues of our national interests. We ought to expect some rewards for what we do or contribute. It is only fair that when much value has been put into a platform there should be a fair exchange, a mutual benefitting. The focus here, then, is to examine how to deploy our resources to build a more impactful A.U and serve our national interests better.
The African Union will not be able to achieve its objectives if it does not have a successful relationship with the rest of the world and the ordinary African. Such a failure would amount to a colossal waste of Nigeria’s national power invested in the organization. The organization’s objectives have to be conveyed in a clear and practical manner. They have to connect with trends in the world and open a healthy communication pathway with Africans and between Africans and the rest.
This is important for us as a continent in need or what we would have is a ‘closed’ African Union- free from foreign influences but alienated from the African on the streets. This places an imperative on Nigera as a leading African state to focus more on directing the agenda and pace of what the African Union does than reacting to the trends. The League of Nations had a very elaborate structure but it failed when it was needed the most because it had far flung interests, little initiative, and little touch on the realities of the international system. Today, we have several intergovernmental organizations that could easily step in to fill a gap the African Union should have but failed to cover. These replete alternatives may prevent an outright collapse of the African Union but this is enough temptation to cause the Union to slip into obsolescence. There was a display of this weakness when Libya was begging for meaningful intervention. The U.N and NATO responded but not the A.U.
African states would rather appear before the United Nations International Court of Justice than before the A.U’s Court on Human and People’s rights. Besides, there is not as much publicity of the African Union’s organs as there is for its model, European Union.
Publicity is key. But then, good publicity for bad content would not improve the Union’s relevance. The world pays great attention to NATO and G8 meetings, and considers every decision and proposition that arise from them. Sometimes, they dominate what is discussed at U.N summits, as well as guide foreign policy postures. It is true that the hype these groups enjoy have a lot to do with the popularity of the countries in attendance, but it is also true that these meetings are well publicized. Room is made for public debates and opinions because the people can see that there is a direct link between what goes on in these IGOs and what their individual governments do at home. But what do we have here? Sometimes the African Union holds conferences and it does not make headline news! Anyway, it’s not going to make headline news because it is a closed system, and there are no real links between what goes on in those meetings and what happens at home.
If Nigeria is going to earn that recognition and respect it deserves at home and globally for all its contributions to the A.U, then it must do more to set the tone of the Union’s agenda to be a lot more open and impact-making to the African on the street. Security and economic issues are good starting points.