✕ CLOSE Online Special City News Entrepreneurship Environment Factcheck Everything Woman Home Front Islamic Forum Life Xtra Property Travel & Leisure Viewpoint Vox Pop Women In Business Art and Ideas Bookshelf Labour Law Letters

The pilgrimage to power: Nigeria’s presence at Chatham House

In a recent conversation with some associates, the topic of Africa’s excessive reliance on the West emerged and a sentiment expressed by one left us…

In a recent conversation with some associates, the topic of Africa’s excessive reliance on the West emerged and a sentiment expressed by one left us instantly polarised. He extolled the leadership styles of former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi and Nigeria’s General Sani Abacha as models for any African leader seeking to emancipate their nation from the influence of Western powers. This perspective, which is a mainstream position even among Nigerian intellectuals, is borne out of a prolonged inclination towards optimism and an inflated perception of Africa’s capacity to assert itself against its former colonisers and the Western nations determined to maintain the established global order. 

Such references to these former leaders, known for their antagonism towards Western influence, often minimise the price of their tyrannical rule. Both were heavily sanctioned by the West and barred from participating in various international gatherings and opportunities. However, the impact of their leadership extended far beyond these measures. General Abacha’s pursuit of allies in the East left a lasting negative impression on his country, and he died in office still grappling with the pushback from the West. Similarly, Gaddafi’s oppressive actions ultimately sparked a rebellion that prompted Western powers, which he had vehemently denounced, to intervene and ultimately remove him from power, resulting in his death. 

Abacha and Gaddafi were not simply casualties of the misguided notion that Africa had achieved maturity, their notions of autonomy from Western influence were not rooted in a realistic understanding of the continent’s ongoing dependency on Western technology and markets. Whether in the pursuit of advanced weaponry to ensure domestic stability or in advancing their agendas within the international political economy, which is heavily influenced by Western interests, these leaders failed to comprehend the limitations imposed upon them in a Euro-centric global order. 

The current debate surrounding the frequent engagement of Nigeria’s presidential candidates with Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs in the build-up to the 2023 general elections highlights a growing sentiment among nationalist circles that African leaders should reject subservience to the West. While this sentiment is admirable, it is rooted in a lack of comprehension of the power dynamics between Africa and the West, as well as the realities of the international system. 

As Nigeria’s aspiring leaders seek to navigate the complex and competitive international arena, they must be viewed as individuals seeking out markets for their country. In this context, institutions like Chatham House serve as valuable resources, providing access to the intellectual capital and connections necessary to survive in a world characterised by both cooperation and conflict. The currency of international politics, both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, is interest, and it is this self-interest that has prevented the West from attempting to recolonise Africa, despite their military capabilities to do so.    

The desire for Africa to break free from Western hegemony is a foreign policy objective that has been pursued by Nigerian leaders in the past. General Yakubu Gowon, for example, devised and implemented indigenisation policies in the early 1970s, which involved transferring ownership of foreign-owned enterprises to local business leaders. Similarly, General Murtala Muhammad publicly declared at the Organisation of African Unity that the continent had reached maturity and would no longer submit to Western imperial interests. However, these efforts did not yield the desired outcome. 

Chatham House is not an arbitrary institution, it serves a purpose that is to recognise the interests that hold the international system together and provides a platform for leaders and representatives of other nations to present their ideas and assess decisions that may have a significant impact on their respective nations or regions. The institution also offers visiting leaders an opportunity to participate in discussions and events that are relevant to their country, such as those on economic development, governance, and security. It also provides a forum for leaders to share their country’s unique perspective and to advocate for their nation’s interests and priorities on the global stage. 

Critics who denounce Nigeria’s leaders for engaging with institutions like Chatham House often overlook the country’s historical challenges, including poor governance, when attempting to demonstrate their own patriotic credentials. However, a candid examination of Nigeria’s developmental challenges as a nation, for which loans, grants, and technical assistance have been sought from Washington and Beijing, highlights the need for political engagement with destinations that recognise and support the country’s interests. 

During the era of Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria experienced the consequences of its weakness in the international arena, when the US government invoked the Leahy Law, which prohibits military assistance to foreign military units accused of human rights violations, to halt arms sales to Nigeria. As a result, the Jonathan government had to resort to procuring arms from black markets to counter terrorism. These unstable relations with the West, whether driven by sentiment or hidden agendas, illustrate that arms supplies for addressing internal security crises cannot be taken for granted until shared interests are pursued.    

The patronage of Western institutions by Nigerian leaders serves as a reminder of the basic principle of foreign policy decision-making, that one can only pursue their objective effectively if one possesses the necessary capabilities. Nigerian leaders are engaging with both the West and the East from a position of weakness, and attempts to disengage from beneficial countries and institutions without the ability to independently manage domestic affairs have consistently proven to be detrimental. 

Nigeria’s engagement with institutions like Chatham House may appear unbecoming, but it is an undeniable reflection of the country’s economic and political standing. The power Nigeria seeks to reclaim or enhance its self-esteem is an attempt to achieve internal balancing, making the country a materially secure and industrially productive nation that can survive even if other countries choose to halt arms sales to its government.