– Nigeria's International Image: Beyond Political Chicanery, NationalTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers

Insecurity and Institutional Corruption Setting for Nigeria’s Foreign Policy
The image of any given country, locally or internationally, can be evaluated by varying factors: National Development Index, extent of state and human security, military strength, demographic factors, territorial size, political stability, quality of leadership and followership, national behaviour, etc. For example, Nigeria, which was not among the first ten most populous countries in the world in 1950, occupied the seventh position in 2020. As projected by the United Nations World Population Prospect, Nigeria is expected to replace the United States as the third most populous country in the year 2100, pushing the United States to the fourth position and coming only after India and China. With this projection, Nigeria’s international image is expected to be bright and positive, especially bearing in mind the likelihood of Nigeria becoming a bigger market economy when the population rises.
However, the situation in which Nigeria currently finds herself is such that the future is, at best, very bleak. Nigeria is currently challenged by many crises, including crisis of legitimacy and existence. First, there is the challenge of national insecurity, largely induced by boko haramic insurgency in the North East, armed banditry in the North West, Fulani-herdsmen conflict in the Middle Belt and Southern Nigeria, growing agitation for self-determination and secession, state terrorism and balancing the error of terror, etc.
In fact, Nigeria’s international image has been seriously tainted due to Nigeria’s many avoidable challenges. Bishop Mathew Kukah described the situation in Nigeria on a lighter mood thus: ‘Nigerian educational systems have surprising outcomes. The smartest students pass with First Class and get admitted to Medical and Engineering Schools. The Second Class students get MBAs and LLBs to manage the First Class students. The Third Class students enter politics and rule both the First and Second class students. The failures enter the underworld of crime and control the politicians and businesses. And best of all, those who did not attend school become prophets and Imams and everyone follows them. What a paradox of life. This can only happen in Nigeria where corruption is the order of the day.’ If we liken Bishop Kukah’s observation to what currently obtains in Nigeria in terms of political chicanery, national insecurity, and institutional corruption, it can be rightly posited that Nigeria’s current challenges have their roots in Bishop Kukah’s observation.
Challenges and Image Implications
The first, and perhaps the most critical, challenge is the crisis of legitimacy and existence. Nigeria acceded to national and international sovereignty on October 1, 1960. Even though Nigeria can lay claim to more than six decades of sovereign existence, there has not really been a united nation-state. National unity was first seriously threatened in 1966 to the extent that a civil war broke out in 1967 and lasted for about 30 months. No meaningful political lessons for nation-building were learnt from the war, which was fought on the basis of use of force: ‘to Keep Nigeria One, is a Task that Must be Done.’ How can Nigeria be kept one as at today? How can the task be a must? Can national unity be enforced again?
When the 1967-1970 was fought, it was basically an alliance of the North and South West against the Igbo South East. In the new war that appears to be in the making, the alliance may be quite different. Unlike the limited support of the South-South for the secessionists in the 1967 war, it is most likely that the Southern Nigeria will be united to resist what is perceived as likely Northern invasion. The drums of both secession and war have always been beaten since the end of the 1967 civil war in 1970.
In 2000, some Northern leaders threatened a breakaway. This prompted Mr. Christian Chukwuma Onoh, lawyer and businessman, who was elected Governor of Anambra State in 1983 to plead that Nigerians should be allowed to ‘part in peace’ (vide “Break-up Imminent. Northern Leaders Threaten Nigeria,” Tell Magazine, no.12, March 2000). This threat implies that the current threats of secession have antecedents. If the antecedents were taken with kid gloves, why is the treatment of fresh threats taken with professional boxing gloves? Why is it that the North wanted a break-up?
Again, a Senator of the Federal Republic from the north, Senate Leader Abdullahi Yahaya, made it clear that ‘the North can’t be intimidated or blackmailed by the so-called minority southerners. The political structures and institutions that is (sic) in place in the North can’t be broken by some hatred reddened so-called Southern Governors. Nobody can ban the Hausa Fulani open grazing in Nigeria without the endorsement of the President and the consent of the Miyetti Allah. Southerners are all learners when it comes to politics. Wait and see how it will unfold.’
Many issues are raised in the foregoing: What is the motivation behind Senator Yahaya’s point of observation that southerners are learners and that they should wait and see the outcome of the whole show? Why the use of ‘some reddened so-called Southern Governors’? Why talk about ‘so-called minority southerners’? Without doubt, answers to the questions explain the existing Cold War between the Northerners and the Southerners in Nigeria. What is the likelihood of a peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?
On the issue of institutional corruption, Nigeria’s global popularity has been to the extent that the country has had to be described as ‘fantastically corrupt’ by a British Prime Minister many years ago. Rather than have the problem meaningfully addressed, those who are generally involved in acts of corruption are celebrated. And true enough, the judicial system also raises more questions than answers, especially in terms of how people are accused, prosecuted, discharged and acquitted in Nigeria, but prosecuted for the same offences in other jurisdictional competencies and found guilty.
In the case of the first elected Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, he was convicted and jailed, having confessed to offences of criminal abuse of office and corrupt enrichment. However, the Government of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan gave him a state pardon, which prompted public protests. There was, for instance, the “Say No Campaign Nigeria,’’ a coalition of civil society organisations fighting corruption and impunity, which protested in Abuja against the government in 2013.
In the words of the convener of the protest, and Executive Director of CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Musa, pardoning Alamieyeseigha had ‘turned Nigeria into a comedian in the committee of nations. It is an issue of serious concern to see government pardon a person convicted for plundering the country’s economy and diverting public funds kept in trust and jumped bail in the United Kingdom.’ More interestingly, Mr. Musa declared ‘a formal disapproval and objection of the pardon by calling on Government to reverse the pronouncement and repatriate Alamieyeseigha to London to go and clear himself with the Metropolitan Police.’
In the same vein, Mr. Jaye Gaskiya, the National Coordinator of the United Action for Democracy, called on the Judiciary ‘not to give soft landing to corrupt people,’ arguing that ‘we are tired of corruption and Government is not doing anything about the perpetrators.’ (vide ‘’Groups protest Alamieyeseigha’s pardon, demand repatriation to UK for trial,’’ Premium Times, April 10, 2013).
What is noteworthy about this case of Alamieyeseigha is that he was under prosecution and conviction in the UK, when he jumped bail and escaped to Nigeria, where he was given a state pardon. In this case, how is Nigeria expected to be perceived internationally? Can Nigeria ever be perceived as a country that is seriously fighting corruption that had been institutionalised? Alamieyeseigha did not commit a political offence but a crime against the State. Consequently, why pardon crimes?
If Nigeria’s state pardon is seen from the perspective of ethnic solidarity, that is, from the perspective that the then President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, was also from Bayelsa State like Alamieyeseigha, in which way has the pardon helped to nip institutionalised corruption in the bud? Have the manifestations of ethnic sentiments not been shown variously under subsequent governments? In which way can Nigeria’s image of a deeply corrupt country be redeemed for good? Can the perception of Nigeria by the British as a ‘fantastically corrupt’ country be easily changed, with the recidivist character of institutional corruption? The most recent case in Nigeria cannot allow for such a perception.
It is the case of indictment of a Deputy Commissioner of Police, Mr. Abba Kyari, who was indicted by a district court in the United States. Mr. Kyari has it that one Mr. Ramon Abbas, alias Hushpuppi, contacted him to assist in the recovery of a N8 million for a friend. The claim of Hushpuppi is different: he said he gave money to Kyari to help arrest and jail ‘one of his rivals in Nigeria after a dispute over a $1.1 million scam on Qatari business people,’’ a claim that Kyari has vehemently refuted. It was alleged that Kyari even requested for the sum of $1.1m as gratification. Kyari again denied the allegation, but admitted to having collected only N300,000k for clothing purposes.
Abba Kyari’s problem has not been helped by the United States’ FBI which has released the contents of conversations between him and Hushpuppi. The conversations have revealed that Hushpuppi wanted Kyari to arrest Chibuzo Vincent Kelly and detain him for a long time. Kyari responded that he would get in touch with his team to do something about it. Hushpuppi then requested for a bank account number to which to send money to the team. Abba Kyari complied and the conversations have not only led to the suspension of Kyari by the police authorities, they have also prompted the US government to ask for the extradition of Kyari the US for trial.
Noteworthy in this case is that, in the eyes of Nigeria, Abba Kyari is a ‘super cop’, while in the eyes of Americans, he is nothing more than a ‘dubious cop.’ So is the case, in the eyes of the international community, with Diezani Allison-Maduekwe, former Petroleum Minister, who looted Nigeria to the bones and marrow. Assets already recovered from her have been valued at N47.2bn: jewellery, N14.46bn; forfeited houses, US $80 million; etc.
Existential Survival and International Image
The story of James Ibori is not in any way different. He also recklessly looted public funds in Delta State, and damaged Nigeria’s international image. The damage is not only at the individual level of Ibori, but particularly by the Federal Government of Nigeria. Government sends out conflicting signals. James Ibori was accused in the United Kingdom of money laundering and was first convicted in 1991 for stealing from DIY shop in London. He returned to Nigeria thereafter and joined politics. Indeed, he was elected the Governor of Delta State in 1999.
When James Ibori placed an order for a private jet through his solicitor in London in 2005, the British police began to monitor him. Ibori escaped arrest in Nigeria after his supporters attacked the police, but this did not prevent his arrest in Dubai in 2010 and his extradition to the United Kingdom where he was convicted on 10 counts of fraud worth a total amount of almost £50m. Even though he was cleared in 2009 in the Nigerian law court, he was, still convicted in the United Kingdom. What is always cleared in Nigeria is generally not cleared elsewhere.
After his conviction, he was kept in the immigration detention centre to buy time to deal with how to recover about £57m from him. When he was eventually released, he returned to Nigeria and sued the British Home Office for what he called unlawful detention. He won the case and was awarded just £1 (one pound) as compensation. More interestingly, in 2012, Ibori was again convicted of stealing about $165 (£117m) from Delta State. How do we explain his recidivist attitude in stealing? Why is this type of attitudinal disposition not reckoned with during election time, especially in terms of qualification eligibility? Why is it that the general public, more often than not, also acquiesce to institutional corruption?
The overall implications of the foregoing is not simply manifested at the level of Nigeria’s external image, but particularly at the level of threats to Nigeria’s sovereign existence. At the level of international image, Government’s non-coordination of its public pronouncements is a major problem and dynamics of international animosity towards the Government of Nigeria.
For instance, the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, told Nigerians in May 2021 that the sum of £4.2m, recovered from Ibori Loot, had been returned to the Government of Delta State, which promptly and vehemently denied such a refund. The denial prompted the Director of Information, Press and Public Relations in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Henshaw Ogubike, to provide a clarification that ‘the issue of the £4.2m Ibori Loot has not been properly resolved’ and that the money ‘is still being awaited after which the issues around it will be resolved before further action is taken.’ Thus, the image or message being sent outside is a government that is not well coordinated, which is most unfortunate.
And perhaps more disturbingly, the foregoing crises of policy contradictions and institutional corruption are made more complex with the abduction of Chief Sunday Igboho and Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, both of whom are leading the agitation for self-determination and secession from corporate Nigeria. Chief Sunday Igboho is spearheading the Oduduwa Republic in the Yoruba South West, while Nnamdi Kanu is leading the struggle for a Biafran Republic in the South East.
Without jot of doubt, the PMB administration has been wrongly very hostile to any idea of dismantlement of Nigeria on the basis of non-constitutionality. In the thinking of PMB, Nigeria is indivisible and indissoluble. This is because the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, so provides. And additionally, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB), former and only military president of Nigeria, justified the position of PMB differently during his exclusive and thought-provoking interview with the Arise News Television last week. In the eyes of IBB, the people of Nigeria agreed as far back as the early 1950s to be united as one country and one people. Consequently, even if there are several ‘talk shops’ in the country today, there cannot be any going back on national unity.
Most unfortunately, this thinking is very myopic in interpretation, misguided in strategic calculation and misrepresented in application. There is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking to be strongly united. But the whole wish to be united cannot but be totally wrong and misplaced when the defining principles on which such unity is largely predicated are not respected by parties to the decision. Besides, an agreement done today must not be expected to remain valid eternally without ensuring that the environmental conditionality of the agreement remains sustainable. In my view, there is nothing like indivisibility or indissolubility of any nation or nation-state in global politics. One set of people decides for the general public and such decision stands the test of time until another set of people raises the inadequacies of the status quo, for purposes of an amendment to the decision. It is very undemocratic to insist that a decision cannot be altered or should only be altered on the basis of a constitutional provision that is contested. Democracy is a priori an instrument of dialogue, not a catalyst for dictatorship.
Nigeria, under the PMB administration, democracy has become a dictatorship within the current presidential system. This is most unfortunate. For instance, the manner of abduction of agitators for self-determination has seriously dented Nigeria’s international image. The abduction of Nnamdi Kanu, with a British passport, in Kenya, has raised a diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, as well as another diplomatic row between Kenya and the United Kingdom. Should the Government of Nigeria have arrested or abducted a non-Nigerian on the territory of another sovereign State without any international warrant of arrest? Is the international responsibility of Nigeria not necessarily raised with the abduction? Can the abduction and incarceration of Nnamdi Kanu put an end to the agitation of the IPOB or the MASSOB for a Biafran Republic?
In the same vein, in which way is the military aggression on the house of Chief Sunday Igboho in Igangan or his arrest in Benin Republic a solution to the Yoruba agitation for an Oduduwa Republic? Is it not possible for the arrest to kick-start a regional instability, especially if the Yoruba people in the South East of Benin Republic decide to reunite with the Yoruba South West of Nigeria?
The incarceration and trial of Nnamdi Kanu, as well as that of Sunday Igboho, is generating national insecurity, with the threats of possibly locking down the whole of Biafra land with effect from Monday, 9th August, 2021 at the level of the Igbo people, but also the strengthening of Yoruba solidarity worldwide. All these threats bother much on Nigeria’s existential survival. Government reflect more on preventive measures rather than reactive catalytic measures of disunity.