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Jubril Shittu: President Buhari’s inaugural address and future of Nigeria’s foreign policy

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Jubril Shittu: President Buhari’s inaugural address and future of Nigeria’s foreign policy

By Jubril Shittu

What will foreign policy under President Buhari look like? Below are a few things that his inaugural speech shows us.

President Buhari’s inaugural address on May 29 was hailed as remarkable by some analysts. His address highlighted the points of engagement of the new administration in tackling national issues ranging from security, unemployment to power shortages. It also provides some hints as to the directions of Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Protection of Nigerian interests and citizens at home and abroad is likely to be an important feature of Nigeria’s foreign policy decisions now that President Buhari has assumed office.

In his inaugural speech, President Buhari expressed gratitude to all Nigerians including those who did not support him. He specifically mentioned intention[s] to keep his “oath and serve as President to all Nigerians”.

Buhari, shortly after winning the elections in May publicly supported the candidacy of Nigeria’s minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina in his bid to become AfDB president. Buhari also dispatched former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar to undertake a goodwill mission and lobby African leaders. It must be recalled that Adesina is neither an appointee of President Buhari nor a party member of President Buhari’s political party.

President Buhari in supporting Akinwunmi Adesina has hinted support for the welfare and protection of the interest of every Nigerian both at home and abroad.

Nigeria prior to this had lost out in key bids to other African countries, such as the 2012 African Union Chairmanship seat.

Africa has always been the centerpiece of Nigerian foreign policy and will continue under the new administration.

Nigeria will play a more active leadership role among African brethren especially her neighbours. Buhari made that clear in the following statement:
“Our neighbours in the Sub-region and our African brethren should rest assured that Nigeria under our administration will be ready to play any leadership role that Africa expects of it. Here I would like to thank the governments and people of Cameroon, Chad and Niger for committing their armed forces to fight Boko Haram in Nigeria.”

This statement reflects a contrast from Nigeria’s foreign policy posture during Buhari’s tenure as Head of State.

What was Nigeria’s foreign policy under Buhari’s military regime?

In 1984, four months after Buhari took over as head of State, General Buhari closed Nigeria’s borders and they remained closed until February 28, 1986 when General Babangida who overthrew Buhari in a coup reopened them. The reasons for the closure of borders was to minimize smuggling across the border and to make sure corrupt politicians did not escape.

Buhari as military head of state arranged the silent kidnapping of Umaru Dikko, Nigeria’s minister who had escaped abroad with stolen public funds. However, President Buhari has assured Nigerians that he is a converted democrat.

Positive engagement with the international community will be a core component of Buhari’s leadership. However, indications are that President Buhari will seek closer cooperation from the West, most especially Britain and the United States. A few days to his inauguration, Buhari embarked on a foreign trip to the United Kingdom where he met with the British Prime Minister, David Cameron. The United Kingdom Foreign Secretary and United States Secretary of State were notably present at President Buhari’s inauguration. Nigeria is also expected to attend the G7 summit scheduled to hold in Berlin, Germany early this June.

Also present at Buhari’s inauguration were countries from the Far East: China and South Korea. The Chinese Minister for Agriculture who led the delegation to Nigeria’s inauguration declared the intention of the Chinese government in assisting Nigeria on her path to economic recovery. Balancing Nigeria’s interests with the demands of foreign powers in achieving the Nigeria’s economic goals will be a major test for Buhari’s administration.

Promotion of National Image in ensuring secure environment for investment and anti-corruption is foremost on President Buhari’s agenda. The command and control components of the Military High command are being deployed to Maiduguri. Less than a week after his inauguration, the President is expected to visit neighbouring countries of Chad and Niger on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss security arrangements.

The Amnesty program is also another domestic issue that indirectly affects foreign policy. The possibility of the resurgence of militancy is an issue that has caused much worry among investors interested in the oil rich Niger Delta.

President Buhari made the following comments about the amnesty program.

“Government intends to invest heavily in the projects, and programmes currently in place. I call on the leadership and people in these areas to cooperate with the State and Federal Government in the rehabilitation programmes which will be streamlined and made more effective. As ever, I am ready to listen to grievances of my fellow Nigerians. I extend my hand of fellowship to them so that we can bring peace and build prosperity for our people.”

Corruption is another issue which weighs largely on Nigeria’s image. Tunji Andrews, chief executive of the SBM Intel, a Lagos-based consultancy has already mentioned that “moving swiftly against at least a few corrupt officials or institutions will be important in burnishing Mr. Buhari’s anticorruption bona fides and restore investors’ faith in the economy”.

The Buhari administration holds a lot of promise national development as well as foreign policy. A lot is expected; however it is certain that the change mantra will be highly reflected in President Buhari’s approach to foreign policy.

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