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BRICS: Nigeria’s potential pursuit or prudent pause?

The 21st Century bore witness to the emergence of the BRICS alliance, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, as a formidable economic powerhouse.…

The 21st Century bore witness to the emergence of the BRICS alliance, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, as a formidable economic powerhouse. On August 22, the highly anticipated 15th BRICS Summit convened, welcoming not only the core five members but also extending invitations to an additional 67 nations, including Nigeria.

The summit’s focal points encompass a range of critical global issues such as international trade, multilateralism, peace, and development, as well as sustainable economic growth, public diplomacy, and the potential expansion of BRICS membership.

Among these invitees, Nigeria, long an advocate for joining the BRICS fold, was represented by Vice President Kashim Shettima at the summit. Anticipation had circulated that Nigeria stood as a prime contender for consideration among the initial expansion of BRICS members. However, contrary to expectations, Nigeria found itself excluded from the group of six new members that BRICS welcomed during this initial phase of expansion. In light of this unexpected outcome, it is essential to delve into the unresolved issues within BRICS and to weigh whether Nigeria’s current interests align with immediate membership.

Nigeria’s attraction to BRICS rests on several compelling factors. As foreseen by Goldman Sachs’ Chief Economist Jim O’Neill, the BRICS nations, accounting for over 40 per cent of the global population, presently contribute approximately 32 per cent to the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), surpassing the 30.7 per cent attributed to the G7. This significant shift signifies a gradual departure from the dominance of Western economies.

The allure of accessing the vast markets of BRICS member nations understandably appeals to Nigeria and other economies. Notably, China (24.7%), India (8.8%), and Russia (4%) stand as Nigeria’s top import partners, attesting to the tangible economic links.

Furthermore, the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) and other financial institutions within the BRICS framework have provided a viable alternative for funding development projects and loans across numerous countries, Nigeria included. China and India have emerged as principal creditors for Nigeria’s debt, with the nation borrowing more than four billion dollars from China alone. These countries, particularly China, have also extended substantial aid to Nigeria, encompassing areas such as military equipment, healthcare provisions, and more. Nigeria has equally reaped the benefits of foreign direct investments (FDIs) from both China and India.

An additional draw for Nigeria towards BRICS is the coalition’s commitment to fostering South-South cooperation—an initiative where less developed countries unite to further their interests and collective development, countering the influence of the so-called Global North, representing the more advanced nations. Given Nigeria’s status as a representative of the Global South, it can capitalise on this solidarity to champion its national priorities and advance its developmental aspirations.

BRICS emerged with the goal of championing global democracy, countering a post-Cold War era marked by escalating unilateral actions led by the US—spanning military interventions to economic sanctions. Nigeria and Africa have historically endured exploitation, from slavery to modern imperialism by more developed nations. This resonates with Nigeria’s foreign policy, reflecting its African leadership. Thus, a strong alignment of interests exists between Nigeria and BRICS, a notable convergence point.

However, despite the compelling confluence of interests that beckons Nigeria towards formal membership within the BRICS alliance, certain apprehensions loom that could potentially hinder or postpone Nigeria’s pursuit. One significant apprehension pertains to the inherent power asymmetry or inequality prevailing among the BRICS member states.

China, India, and Russia all hold substantial global influence and economic clout, potentially tilting the dynamics of the bloc to serve their individual interests. This aspect raises concerns about how this power dynamic might impact the functioning of the bloc—a pertinent issue for Nigeria, which often operates with limited leverage in multilateral contexts.

More pressing is the potential impact of the incorporation of six new members—Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iran—on the internal dynamics of the bloc. An examination of the identities of these new entrants reveals a common characteristic of being nations from the Global South. However, deciphering the criteria employed for their inclusion proves challenging, as their backgrounds vary considerably. This new development introduces a degree of uncertainty into the future direction of the bloc, requiring time for clearer patterns to emerge.

Ironically, BRICS was conceived to shield its members’ sovereignty from the mounting unilateral policies pursued by the United States, encompassing both military interventions and economic measures. Paradoxically, recent occurrences, such as Russia’s alleged involvement in military coups within West Africa, have cast shadows over its commitment to respecting the sovereignty of nations in its regional vicinity. Consequently, Nigeria’s concerns deepen over the prospect of a more influential BRICS potentially providing Russia with a fresh avenue for legitimising its foreign policy actions. In light of these evolving dynamics, Nigeria faces the weighty decision of reevaluating its interest in joining BRICS at this juncture.

BRICS has often faced criticism for lacking a coherent political agenda, even though its primary focus might be economic in nature. However, it is imperative to acknowledge that economic and political issues on the global stage are intricately interwoven. BRICS’ recent engagement in mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia underscores that political considerations indeed constitute a facet of the bloc’s agenda.

Delving into historical context, the past rivalries between members like Sino-Russian and Sino-Indo have left the bloc marked by underlying tensions. In particular, China and India’s relationship continues to be marked by recurrent discord.

Professor Zaki Laïdi has insightfully brought to light a pivotal factor: the divergence in foreign policy agendas among BRICS members. This reality warrants our attention, as it unveils the intricate facets of the alliance. These instances spotlight a readiness among members to give precedence to their distinct national interests, especially when power dynamics foster competitive scenarios.

A vivid illustration is the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) in 2015, a juncture that exposed the underlying mistrust between China and India. Their disagreement regarding the bank’s headquarters laid bare the simmering tensions between these influential members, a tension further accentuated by recurrent military clashes.       

Moreover, the pursuit of alliances with Western powers, despite outward opposition, underscores intricate dynamics. This inclination to protect national interests, sometimes at fellow BRICS members’ expense, reveals a vulnerability inherent in the alliance. India’s security alliances, particularly its cooperation with the US in the South China Sea, accentuate this fragility in the face of China’s influence and interests. The active Quad, officially known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, exemplifies these ongoing security alliances.

Undoubtedly, Nigeria stands to gain certain advantages if it were to successfully join BRICS. Nevertheless, given the prevailing internal contradictions within the bloc and the uncertainties that accompany its ongoing expansion, it might be prudent for Nigeria to adopt a more observant stance.

The inclusion of new members into the bloc by January 1, 2024, introduces an element of unpredictability to BRICS’ evolution. Additionally, considering Nigeria’s amicable relationships with certain Western countries, the decision to join BRICS at this juncture could potentially strain those existing ties moving forward.

Usman, PhD, is a Senior Research Fellow Asia Middle East Centre for Research and Dialogue

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