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The good, bad, ugly of Nigeria’s diplomatic relations under Tinubu

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into power with a promise to enforce reforms across all sectors to return the country to the path of development.…

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu came into power with a promise to enforce reforms across all sectors to return the country to the path of development.

One area he focused on is the country’s relationship with others, though it has been a bag of mixed results so far. There have been some notable achievements as well as some very embarrassing moments.

The government designed in August 2023, a foreign agenda that would frame Tinubu’s administration’s relationship with other countries. The template is tagged 4Ds. It represents Diaspora, Development, Democracy and Demography.

Achievements

Immediately after his inauguration, President Tinubu began undertaking foreign trips to create new relationships and solidify older ones and he has made some breakthroughs.

In the gas and energy sector, Nigeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia on November 10, 2023, before signing a $500 million renewable energy and gas deal with Germany on November 21, 2023.

Earlier, on September 27, 2023, Nigeria signed an MoU with Russia on nuclear energy as well as with India on Renewable Energy on January 23, 2024.

Besides, an MoU was signed on December 06, 2023, with China on the development of a Floating Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Nigeria.

An MoU was also signed with two key collaborators, Solarge BV of the Netherlands and the African Green Infrastructure Investment Bank for the establishment of a 1GW Solar PV Manufacturing Plant in Nigeria in the same month.

In the move to improve infrastructure in Nigeria, the government signed an MoU with China on the provision of infrastructure worth about $2 billion infrastructure as well as an MoU for China to develop and establish a $150 million Lithium-Ion Battery Manufacturing and Processing Factory in Nigeria last December.

In the education sector, Nigeria through the MFA signed an MoU with Russia on education development in December 2023, while signing another one with the State of Qatar in March 3, 2024.

Nigeria also signed an MoU with Campus France on joint research and promotion of innovation, training of qualified Nigerian academics in French higher educational institutions, scholars/students exchanges, and support for the French Language Immersion Programme.

In the move to open up the economy, Nigeria signed an MoU with India to boost the trade volume between Nigeria and India in February 2024, before signing another one with the State of Qatar, on the establishment of a Joint Business Council (JBC) between the NACCIMA and Qatar Chamber on March 3, 2024.

In the Information technology sector, Nigeria and India signed an MoU in September 2023, on cooperation in the field of Sharing Successful Digital Solutions, to be Implemented at the Total Population Scale for Digital.

The federal government also has an agreement in place with Cuba, on collaboration in the field of Innovation, Science, and Technology, as well as a $600m I-DICE Financial Agreement with France for the digital and creative enterprise.

Besides, Nigeria signed two MoUs with the United Nations Office on Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) aimed to enhance their partnership in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism.

Also, Nigeria signed an agreement with the US on training of commanders of the Police Special Intervention Squad to tackle banditry and other crimes in the country.

These are only a few of the deals the current administration has been able to seal with international partners within a year.

These notwithstanding, there  have also been moments of concern for Nigerians as regards the activities of the Tinubu government in the country’s relationship with others.

Oversized delegation to COP28

President Tinubu’s 1,411 delegations to the Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai last year raised considerable concerns in the country, overshadowing whatever benefits could be potentially garnered from attending such a conference. Only the United Arab Emirates, which has 4,409 delegates, and Brazil, having 3,081 delegates, had larger number of representatives than Nigeria, which tied in third place with China, which also had 1,411 delegates.

In defence of the government, Temitope Ajayi, the senior special assistant to the president on media and publicity, in an article entitled, “Nigeria at COP28: Separating the facts from fiction,” sought to provide the government’s perspective on the controversy surrounding the size of the delegation. According to the media aide, “In Nigeria, like so many other countries, interested parties comprising government officials from both federal and sub-national governments, environmentalists, climate activists, business leaders, journalists and agencies of government such as the NNPC and its subsidiaries, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, NIMASA, and the NDDC are present in Dubai,” he wrote.

The presidential aide, however, failed to disclose the exact number of delegates that were funded by the government among the 1,411 delegates.

There were several issues involved in the controversy over the size of the president’s delegation to COP28: One was the cost associated with the size of the delegation. Some papers estimated that the number of people funded by the government to the 13-day conference was as high as 890. Aside from the cost of paying for chartered flights, other costs included accommodation, per diem for each delegate among others.

Tinubu’s sons in Qatar

After the uproar that greeted the bloated delegation to the climate conference in 2023, it was surprising to many Nigerians that President Tinubu’s sons – Seyi and Yinka – made the list of the delegation that travelled with the president on a state visit to Doha, Qatar in March.

At that time, a video where the president’s sons were seen standing among presidential delegates, went viral.

Recalled ambassadors

President Tinubu on September 2, 2023, ordered the recall of all Nigeria’s ambassadors and envoys with immediate effect.

Nigeria has 109 diplomatic missions worldwide, comprising 76 embassies, 22 high commissions and 11 consulates.

While asking Nigeria’s diplomats to come back in September, presidential spokesman, Ajuri Ngelale, in a statement, said, “The president is determined to ensure that world-class efficiency and quality will henceforth characterise foreign and domestic service delivery to citizens, residents and prospective visitors.”

He said the decision was sequel to a careful study of the present state of affairs at Nigerian consulates and embassies worldwide.

Seven months later, Tinubu is yet to appoint new ambassadors and diplomatic experts say the president may have taken the decision in a hurry.  While speaking with a national daily recently, a Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) at the Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Professor Damilola Olawuyi (SAN), recalled that President Tinubu took office with a vow to put international diplomacy at the centre of the country’s development strategy.

He said, “There have indeed been positive signs of such increased global engagements, with Nigeria playing key roles in landmark international summits such as the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the COP-28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“However, 2023 was generally a slow and underwhelming start in terms of a clear and discernible foreign policy agenda. Early blunders such as the outrage and backlash that trailed the rushed recall of Nigerian ambassadors were a preventable embarrassment for a country of Nigeria’s stature.

“There is, therefore, an urgent need to resolve the appointment of new and returning ambassadors as soon as possible, including Nigeria’s representation at UN bodies such as WTO, WIPO and UNESCO.”

Meanwhile, Alkasim Abdulkadir, the spokesman to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, said there was no cause for alarm as the government was working on the appointment of new ambassadors soon.

Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso issues

Tinubu is the Chairman of ECOWAS and the handling of the coup in Niger Republic by the regional bloc has been questioned in many quarters.  The regional bloc announced many sanctions against the Sahel nation, including border closure and cutting off of electricity to the nation. There was also a threat of military action against Niger and other two countries – Mali and Burkina Faso – that were earlier taken over by the junta.

These infuriated the three countries and they eventually announced their exit from the ECOWAS on January 28.

The ECOWAS “withdrawal provides us with an opportunity to achieve real fraternity… without any outside interference or manipulation,” said Mali’s Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga.

But in a bid the resolve the impasse, ECOWAS, in response to a call from a former Head of State of Nigeria, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, lifted most sanctions imposed on Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, following the unconstitutional change of government in the three countries.

Gowon, the surviving founding leader of ECOWAS, had made the plea in an open letter to the regional bloc which he presented to Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, President of the ECOWAS in Abuja.

That notwithstanding, the three countries have refused to return and many analysts have blamed President Tinubu for his handling of the situation. They felt he should have been more diplomatic in approaching the crisis.

 Lifting of visa ban

After a meeting in Abu Dhabi, UAE capital, in September 2023, Tinubu’s media crew was fast to announce that the visa ban imposed on Nigerian travellers had been lifted.

However, the joy of Nigerians was cut short when the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not make any comment on lifting the visa ban imposed on Nigerian travellers in its statement on the meeting its president, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, had with his Nigerian counterpart.

In a statement earlier, presidential spokesman, Ngelale, had announced that the meeting with the UAE authorities was fruitful, saying disputes on the visa ban slammed on Nigerian travellers in 2022, and suspension of Etihad and Emirates flights were resolved at the meeting, but to date, these issues are still lingering with many Nigerians stranded in the golf country.

NASDAQ bell claim

Also, in a rather embarrassing circumstance, the presidency had to retract a claim that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the first African leader to ring the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations (NASDAQ) bell.

On September 11, the president was invited by the United States Chamber of Commerce to ring the closing bell at the stock exchange market, based in New York.

Shortly after performing the act, a statement released by Ajuri Ngelale, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, labelled Tinubu as the “first African president to ever receive the honour”.

Contrary to that claim, Jakaya Kiwete, former president of Tanzania, rang the NASDAQ closing bell in 2011.

 

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