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Monday, 28 September 2015

The Iran Nuclear Deal

Why Diplomacy Succeeded and Regional Alignments

Signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action announcing the agreement in Vienna, 14 July 2015. From left to right: Foreign ministers Wang Yi (China), Laurent Fabius (France), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany), Federica Mogherini (EU), Mohammad Javad Zarif (Iran), Philip Hammond (UK), John Kerry (USA). Image Source: Wikipedia

On July 14, Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia, United States) plus Germany – concluded a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) concerning the future of Iran’s nuclear program. On July 20, the UN Security Council unanimously endorsed the landmark deal.

In late October, Iran is expected to begin implementing its part of the agreement. In early 2016, following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) confirmation of Iranian compliance, the UN, US and EU will begin lifting sanctions and unfreezing Iranian assets – opening the way for Iran’s reintegration back into the global economy.

Basic Framework of the JCPOA

Broadly speaking the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) places extensive limits on Iran’s nuclear programme; makes provisions for an intrusive inspection regime to monitor and verify Iran’s compliance; creates a “Joint Commission” to resolve disputes that may arise over the implementation of the deal; establishes a “snap back” mechanism to ensure that should Iran cheat on its obligations, sanctions will automatically resume without the need for a new Security Council vote to avoid a possible Russian or Chinese veto; and outlines the sanctions that will be removed following Iranian compliance.

The JCPOA will last for ten years, but some restrictions envisaged by the deal will remain in place for up to twenty five years. 

Why Diplomacy Succeeded

Last meetings before nuclear agreement. Image Source: Wikipedia

The Iran deal has been widely praised as a triumph of nuclear diplomacy. Through negotiation and compromise, Iran finally accepted unprecedented restrictions and inspections on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions and reintegration back into the global economy. Why did diplomacy succeed? 

Leadership Changes

The elections of Presidents Obama and Rouhani, in the United States and Iran respectively, changed the complexion of the diplomatic negotiations. Both Presidents were determined to reorient the diplomacy of their respective countries away from the adversarial policies of their predecessors.

Obama came to power intent on placing diplomacy at the forefront of US’ engagements with adversaries – a policy that recently led to the restoration of diplomatic ties with Myanmar and Cuba.
Similarly, Rouhani’s electoral mandate hinged on his campaign promise to bring Iran out of sanctions’ induced political and economic isolation.

This context set the tone for a more positive participation in the negotiation process from the two most important countries in the dispute: Iran and the US.

Alignment of Major Power Interests

The Iran nuclear accord was signed amidst the backdrop of worsening tensions between the world powers. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and destabilization operations in Ukraine had put it at loggerheads with the west. China’s growing assertiveness in East Asia and its expansive claims in the South China Sea had seen diplomatic relations with the US deteriorate.

Despite such inauspicious circumstances, the world powers nevertheless maintained an impressive degree of unity during the nuclear negotiations. Why?

All had a vital interest in the diplomatic process being concluded successfully for three basic reasons.

The first is rooted in the fact that historically the five legally recognised nuclear powers – US, China, Russia, France, UK – have always sought to preserve their nuclear monopoly. Consequently, they have often been the strongest champions of strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The real strategic concern for all the major powers was that a nuclear armed Iran could set off a dangerous chain reaction in the Middle East – with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey, similarly going nuclear, and Israel coming out of the closet regarding its own atomic arsenal; all to balance against an empowered nuclear Iran.

The destabilizing potential of a nuclear arms race in an already unstable Middle East could also lead to a disruption of oil supplies, an acute concern for China and the European powers given their dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

The second basic reason has to do with proximity. 

Only the weak Caucasus and Central Asian countries separate Russia from Iran; and both Russia and Iran are littoral states of the Caspian Sea. This geographical proximity largely informed Russia joining the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table. Like any great power, Moscow doesn’t want nuclear armed neighbours.

This proximity concern also factored into the EU’s strategic calculations because the Middle East and North Africa are traditionally seen as part of Europe’s broader neighbourhood. A nuclear armed Iran, and the dangers of proliferation in the region, risks placing atomic weapons in the hands of major non-western states on Europe’s doorstep.

It also indirectly factored into China’s decision to stick with the diplomatic process.

China is surrounded by nuclear threshold states (i.e. countries with the industrial capacity, nuclear infrastructure and technological know-how to become nuclear powers) such as South Korea and most significantly Japan. 

For Chinese policymakers therefore, the guidelines for Iran’s nuclear programme could become “part of an implicit international standard that could be adapted and applied” against China’s neighbours, says Tong Zhao, an analyst at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.

The third reason for the success of the diplomatic process has to with preserving great power freedom of action. More nuclear armed states invariably means less scope for military action by the great powers against stubborn smaller powers.

This has been a central concern for the US as it remains the only true global military power. A consistent theme of US post-1945 grand strategy has been the effort to thwart both friends and foes from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Francis Gavin, a seminal thinker on US foreign policy, argues that the three core drivers of US nuclear policy has been the desire to “safeguard its security, preserve its power, and maintain its freedom of action”. US policymakers have “aggressively sought to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons” because they “could be used to deter the United States and limit its freedom of action, both regionally and in the world at large”.

This sentiment is echoed by Colin Kahl, the US Vice President’s National Security Advisor, when he stated candidly at an academic conference for nuclear experts in 2013 – a year before he entered government – that “it is precisely because of the potential constraint on American … freedom of action in the Middle East that U.S. policymakers so heavily weight some of the ills associated with a nuclear-armed Iran”. 

Regional Alignments

How will the Iran nuclear accord shape the Middle East’s strategic landscape?

One big positive trend to look out for is the possibility of a reduction of the decades long tensions between the US and Iran. The negotiations and compromise that produced the JCPOA demonstrates that constructive and positive dialogue is possible between Washington and Tehran.

Similarly prior to this deal, the US and Iran proved that they could work as de-facto partners with mutual interests in combating the so-called “Islamic State”. American jets have practically acted as the air force to Iranian backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq.

With the suspicions around Iran’s nuclear programme resolved, the trend towards tactical cooperation on regional security between Washington and Tehran could become more prominent. 

However, this doesn’t mean that a full-fledged alliance between the two erstwhile adversaries is in the offing.  The US and Iran are still sharply at odds in Syria over the fate of the Assad regime; and Washington has supported Riyadh’s war against the Iranian backed Houthis with weapons, intelligence, and most visibly ships to help enforce a Saudi-led naval blockade in Yemen.

While strong disquiet over what they believe was the US sacrificing their security interests to reach a grand bargain with Iran may push the Gulf Arab states to begin diversifying their strategic partnerships – the outreach to Egypt and India, and Saudi Arabia’s warming ties with Turkey, underscores this trend – the US will nevertheless remain the principal strategic guarantor of these states.

Likewise, the US will continue to depend on the Gulf Arabs for stability in the energy market, and for its strategic presence in the Middle East.

One other trend that could become more prominent with the signing of the nuclear accord is a closer regional alignment between Iran and Russia.
There had been palpable tensions between both countries over Russia’s participation in the sanctions regime against Iran. Russia unilaterally cancelling the sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile system in 2010 (after the weapons had been fully paid for) to force Iran to the negotiating table, and to placate Israel, only reinforced Iran’s traditional suspicion of Russia as an unreliably power.

Putin’s lifting of the ban on the delivery of the S-300s in April, and the lifting of UN mandated sanctions, has removed the main sticking point in the strategic partnership between both countries.

A major negative trend to look out for is an intensification of the strategic rivalry between Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The JCPOA only seems to have convinced the authorities in Riyadh that Washington is determined to exit from the region; leaving the way open for Tehran to expand its power. This basic assumption will lead Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies to step-up aggressive military actions to push back against what they see Iran’s growing regional influence.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Fashola’s Website Scandal, Twitter Overlords, and Rumourpreneurs

Some Thoughts

Former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola. Photo Credit: Punch

Former Governor Babatunde Raji Fahola (BRF) has finally responded to the website scandal story that broke out last week. Couched between his anger-laced sentences was his confirmation that N78million of public funds was supposedly spent to “upgrade” his website ( 

Essentially BRF is telling us he approved about $400,000 – the price of a 4-bedroom house in Abuja – to pay for what is basically an internet-based, interactive billboard to advertise his achievements. 

 Apart from the condescending tone he adopted in responding to this serious allegation that borders on corruption and gross mismanagement of public funds, there are a couple of issues with this website scandal. 

First, the IT firm BRF said Lagos state paid to upgrade the website earlier denied receiving N78m, saying it charged N12.5m for the job but was eventually paid N10m

Second, it seems the IT firm – ‘Info Access Plus Limited’ – has no website of its own. Searching for the firm online is like looking for the fabled Loch Ness monster – a few sites with similar names come up, but upon closer examination you are left disappointed. How come an IT company that seemingly specialises in charging the price of a 4-bedroom duplex for a few fancy app gadgets – as BRF will have us believe – doesn’t have a visible online presence?

Third, even if we accept that the N78m was actually paid and Info Access actually exists, then the question arises: Was it an appropriate use of public funds – especially in a poverty-stricken country desperately in need of social and physical infrastructure investment, and where public officials are known for routinely inflating public contracts.

Fourth and finally, again even if we accept N78m was paid and Info Access exists, there is the problem of ownership. In his press statement BRF implied that the website was a public project. The web address – – and a few minutes browsing through the website will leave anyone with the strong impression that the website personally belongs to him. 

If this is the case then it is profoundly problematic to say the least that money that could have been better spent upgrading Lagos’ many dilapidated schools, hospitals, roads etc. was wasted on upgrading his website instead.

As far as I am concerned, BRF still has a case to answer as his response was thoroughly unconvincing. He is praised for having administered Lagos relatively well during his time as Governor of the state. Many see him (myself included) as a progressive reformer; part of the new breed around President Buhari expected to bring discipline and prudence to the management of our commonwealth. 

Therefore he should see the website scandal as a serious allegation demanding a sober response, not as a hatchet job by political enemies deserving of the insulting response he eventually gave.  

Twitter Overlords and Rumourpreneurs

Anybody active on Nigeria’s social media scene – particularly twitter – will know that there is a special class of people known as the ‘overlords’, or as I prefer to call them: ‘rumourpreneurs’. These individuals are the most aggressive defenders of their chosen party online (they are usually self-appointed to that role mind you). 

These individuals are permanently on high alert; constantly scanning the twittersphere for scandals that can be converted into damaging rumours to either harm political opponents, or to deflect attention from the scandal gripping their party or political masters. 

Their ability to concoct fantastic stories to tear down political opponents or delusional narratives to prop up the battered reputations of their fallen masters is unsurpassed.

We all have our favourite rumourpreneurs – I know I have mine. I generally start the day by going onto his/her timeline to get my dose of rumours.

PDP has the most ruthless and unprincipled practitioners of ‘overlordism’ – the campaign of calumny waged against President Buhari during the elections (including the utterly false rumour that he suffers from prostate cancer) and the recent incident of an APC overlord’s ‘Direct Message’ being fabricated and the fake message dumped online are just two examples of this ruthlessness.

The Fashola website scandal has however given APC’s own rumourpreneurs the opportunity to showcase their talent. And they have not disappointed. 

One or two rumourpreneurs seem intent on pushing the utterly fantastic story that BRF had no idea what happened. Some lower down officials probably fleeced the money. As the money is too small, it would have been impossible to keep track of. 

By stating that the N78m was spent on upgrading his website, rather than let suspicions that it was embezzled by his underlings grow, BRF was merely acting like a responsible leader who didn’t want to throw his loyal subordinates under the bus. 

The whole scandal, says the overlords pushing this narrative, is in fact a calculated attempt by unknown forces to tarnish the impeccable reputation of BRF, and therefore block his path into President Buhari’s cabinet. 

The fact that the website scandal was initially uncovered by BudgIt, an apolitical civil society organisation, whom APC overlords have in the past loudly applauded for uncovering PDP’s financial malfeasance simply doesn’t register. 

Now that the anti-corruption guns have been turned on APC, the only response they can muster is:

These particular rumourpreneurs then finished off with a rhetorical flourish, warning all that will lend them their ears not to be swayed by the baying mob. Yesterday it was Goodluck Jonathan’s ministers, today it is BRF, tomorrow anyone could find themselves “thrown into the gladiatorial arena that is social media [and] torn to shreds”.

Yep. In the determination to defend their masters, overlords unfortunately sometimes stray too far in taking leave of their senses.

To the APC overlords peddling this rumour, please

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Why Nigeria Should Also Think of Itself as a Central African State

This article was first published on 'African Arguments Online' on 21 July 2015

President Muhammadu Buhari with the President of Chad, Idris Deby, during a Press Conference at the State House in N’djamena, Chad. 4 June 2015. Photo Credit:
The ‘concentric circle‘ model which frames how Nigeria’s foreign policy thinkers view our region places the country exclusively in West Africa. Consequently West Africa has traditionally been the main focus of the country’s regional diplomacy.

West Africa also remains the arena of Nigeria’s boldest and most celebrated diplomatic initiatives to date – the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975 and the ECOMOG interventions of the 1990s.

I think this view of our broader region which situates Nigeria on the eastern edges of West Africa is incomplete. Instead our strategic thinkers should embrace the country’s natural identity as a potential pivotal power situated at a crossroad between multiple regions, and an anchor state linking West and Central Africa together.

Nigeria’s broader region also encompasses Central Africa. Therefore we should also join Central Africa’s principal regional organisation – the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) – as an observer.

A Potential Pivotal Power and an Anchor State

Geographically, Nigeria shares land and sea boundaries with six countries: Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, and Sao Tome and Principe. Of these, only Benin and Niger are West African states and members of ECOWAS. Our other four neighbours are Central African states and members of ECCAS. Our longest land boundary is with a Central African and ECCAS state: Cameroon.

Map of West Africa and ECOWAS States (Blue) and Central Africa and ECCAS States (Red). Angola, DRC, and Burundi are stripped because they are members of both ECCAS and SADC (Angola and DRC), and ECCAS and EAC (Burundi).
Similarly, Nigeria’s most pressing security challenge – Boko Haram’s terrorist insurgency – is concentrated along our borders with our Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad. To all intents and purposes, given the serious security threat posed by Boko Haram, Nigeria’s defence diplomacy will be oriented towards our Central African border for the next few years.

Central Africa has a special place in Nigeria’s diplomatic and military history. Independent Nigeria’s first troop deployment abroad was to the Democratic Republic of Congo. A month after gaining independence, Nigeria volunteered an army contingent to join UN forces trying to quell the post-independence crisis that gripped that Central African country.

Similarly Nigeria’s first major military intervention abroad under its own initiative occurred in one of our Central African neighbours: Chad. Alarmed at the chaos on its north-eastern border as a result of Chad’s civil war, Nigeria deployed an 800-man peacekeeping force into the country in March 1979.

Its objective was to maintain order and provide breathing room for the rebels to hammer out a political settlement to the conflict. The mission failed. Nigeria, lacking the “political, economic and military leverage needed to impose peace on the factions in Chad”, withdrew its troops three months later.

Undeterred Nigeria again deployed troops in December 1981, but this time as part of a wider Nigerian-led multilateral effort under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity. The initiative was driven from Lagos, the force was commanded by a Nigerian, and Nigeria provided the bulk of the troops, 2000 out of 3500.

This was Nigeria’s largest force deployment abroad, until the ECOMOG operations in West Africa of the 1990s. Hampered by acute logistical weaknesses and financial difficulties – and after Hissène Habré, backed by France and the US, seized power in June 1982 – Nigeria and the OAU force withdrew.

A year later Nigeria again resorted to military force – this time unilaterally – to dislodge occupying Chadian forces from a disputed Island in Lake Chad and protect Nigerian fishermen from the spill-over of Chad’s raging civil war. This sparked a three month-long crisis and intermittent border clashes from April-July 1983, killing an “estimated seventy-five Chadian soldiers and nine Nigerians”, until an agreement was signed on 11 July resolving the crisis.

Unfortunately these important interventions – especially the abortive peacekeeping attempts in March 1979 and December 1981-June 1982 – and the rich lessons that can be gleaned from them are largely absent from public discourse, due to the West Africa-centric prism through which we view Nigeria’s regional environment.

Economic, Historical and Cultural Ties

Nigeria’s economic linkages further reinforce the point that the country is as much a Central African as it is a West African country. UNCTAD’s recent report on intra-African trade show that all thirteen countries that count Nigeria as among their top five export partners are West and Central African states (pg. 22-27).

Five of these – CAR, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe – are Central African and ECCAS countries. Similarly, of the eleven countries that count Nigeria as among their top five import partners, three – Cameroon, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea – are in Central Africa and ECCAS.

Nigeria’s own trade with the two regions however is heavily West Africa-centric. This is because West Africa is generally more developed than Central Africa, and because of the decades-long foreign and trade policy focus on West Africa.

The historical and cultural bonds between parts of Nigeria and some Central African states complete the linkages binding our country to the fate of its ECCAS neighbours. Fulanis make up about 9% of Nigeria’s population and about 10% of Cameroon’s. Kanuris constitute about 4% of Nigeria’s population and about 9% of Chad’s.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which sprouted from modern day north-western Nigeria in the early 19th century and grew to become the most powerful state in West Africa, at its height stretched eastwards covering virtually all of northern Cameroon, and small parts of Chad and the Central African Republic. Similarly the Kanem-Borno Empire, which originated in modern day north-eastern Nigeria in the 9th century, at its furthest extent in the 14th century encompassed almost all of Chad, northern Cameroon and small parts of the Central African Republic.

With African integration seemingly gathering pace – the agreement to establish the Tripartite Free Trade Area between the 26 member states of COMESA, EAC, and SADC, was signed on June 10 in Cairo, and the deadline for establishing a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) has been set for 2017 – joining ECCAS will leave Nigeria best placed to take the lead and advocate for harmonizing the integration agendas of West and Central Africa in preparation for the establishment of the CFTA.

In sum, joining ECCAS will broaden Nigeria’s strategic horizon and give our foreign policy planners a more accurate perspective of our regional location. It will also incentivise Nigeria to participate in shaping the economic and security environment of a long neglected part of our wider neighbourhood: Central Africa.

Discarding the old paradigm that sees Nigeria as lodged on the eastern edges of West Africa, and instead embracing the country’s natural identity as a pivotal power, an anchor state, a geostrategic gateway, and a connecting node linking West and Central Africa will widen our regional opportunities. It will also enrich our economic and cultural diplomacy.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Nigeria and France: Geopolitical Rivals No More

How accurate is the widespread perception that Nigeria and France remain locked in an adversarial rivalry in West Africa?

President Muhammadu Buhari and President Francois Hollande meet on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, Germany. Photo Credit: Getty Images/AFP.
Reading Bassey and Dokubo’s monumental tome, Defence Policy of Nigeria: Capability and Context, one gets the impression that for Nigeria’s foreign policy elites France remains a formidable obstacle to the country’s regional ambition and an enduring threat to national security. As the authors observe: 

The pervasive and tenacious involvement of France in West-Central Africa has been widely seen by Nigerian defence planners as constituting a direct affront to its national security and also impeding the growth of the country’s political, economic and cultural interests in the region.
France’s politico-military presence all across West-Central Africa, the authors unequivocally conclude, means the “antagonistic relationship between Nigeria and France [will] arguably … continue in the foreseeable future”. This view is widely shared by most Nigerians and is rooted in the mutual distrust and adversarial rivalry which once marked bilateral relations between Nigeria and France. 

Geopolitical Rivalry

France looms large in Nigeria’s foreign policy thinking and the country has traditionally been seen as a rival for hegemonic influence in West Africa. France for its part has traditionally sought to retain control over the affairs of its former colonies and Nigeria’s size immediately marked it out as a threat to its hegemony in francophone West Africa. 

Diplomatic relations were established on October 1st 1960, following Nigeria’s independence. Relations however got off to a bad start.  In January 1961, in protest at France’s third atomic test in the Sahara desert, Nigeria broke relations with France, sent the French ambassador packing, “placed [an] embargo on French shipping and aircraft, [and] froze French assets in the country”. 

Franco-Nigerian relations reached their lowest ebb during Nigeria’s civil war when France played a leading role in sustaining the rebellion. A January 1969 memo sent by the-then US National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, to President Nixon underscores the decisive impact of France’s material support to the rebel cause:

The Feds [Federal Government] out-number the Biafrans 2:1 ... but French arms and higher morale give the Biafrans parity for the present [time]... The French are behind the arms flights from neighbouring Gabon that save the rebels. They think the Feds will break up first and they will have a dynamic new client amid the wreckage of an Anglo-American dream in Africa.
Michael Anda, in his interesting comparative study on the International Relations in Contemporary Africa, notes that:

De Gaulle’s policy of support for Biafra in 1968-1969 was largely motivated by geopolitical considerations and was intended to dismantle the Nigerian state, which was considered as a pole of attraction (and thus a potential threat) to the preservation of French influence in the neighbouring Francophone states.
As a result of this, reducing France’s politico-military presence in West Africa became one of the cardinal objectives of Nigeria’s foreign policy. France came to be seen as not only a geopolitical rival, but a national security threat. 

Immediately after the civil war Nigerian officials set about building an economic community that would encompass the entire region. They reasoned that through economic interdependence, francophone West Africa will gradually be pulled under the country’s wings. France, fearing loss of influence, tried to scupper the initiative. When that proved futile – ECOWAS was eventually established in May 1975 – France encouraged its West African clients to pre-empt Nigeria’s initiative by forming their own organisation – West African Economic Community (CEAO), established in April 1973 – so they can “coordinate their efforts to counterbalance against the heavyweight of Nigeria” within the soon to be established ECOWAS. 

French policy during the Chadian civil war in the early 1980s frustrated Nigeria’s diplomatic initiatives to end the conflict. France’s and the US’ support for Hissene Habre were primarily aimed at installing an anti-Ghaddafi client in N’Djamena to forestall a feared “gradual political union” between Chad and Libya which the previous Head of State had signed up to. This meddling nevertheless undermined the Nigerian-led AU peacekeeping mission in Chad. It also further reinforced feelings in Lagos that Paris was resolutely determined to thwart Nigeria’s regional ambitions at every turn. 

In the 1980s the view within the foreign ministry was that “in order to be credible, Nigeria’s defence policy must … be determined by the need to deter the most entrenched European power in West Africa, France”. ‘Deter’ in this context meaning to reduce France’s free hand in the region by building a military capable of both challenging its interventionist policies and eventually replacing it as an order provider in francophone West Africa.

General Babangida’s State visit to France in February 1990, the first by a Nigerian leader, seemed to herald a new era in bilateral relations. But relations sharply nosedived in 1994 when the Nigerian government accused France of deploying troops into the Bakassi peninsula to take command of Cameroonian forces during a period of heightened tension between Nigeria and Cameroon. A claim French authorities vehemently denied. 

Geopolitical Rivals No More

Franco-Nigerian relations have however significantly improved in the past decade and a half. Bilateral relations are now marked by pragmatic cooperation. Both countries have slowly accepted that each other’s roles in West Africa are “complementary rather than competitive”. Nigeria and France are geopolitical rivals no more. Bassey’s and Dokubo’s characterisation of an “antagonistic relationship” is therefore simply not reflective of current realities.

France’s military presence that once posed a formidable national security threat, has now become crucial both for Nigeria’s security and for broader regional stability. The 3000 French troops spread across five countries in the Sahel – as part of operation Barkhane – are what stand between Nigeria and the chaos in Libya. They are also what keeps Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb at bay. French intervention in the Central African Republic in December 2013 saved that country from collapsing into genocidal bloodshed. 

The humanitarian and security crisis that would have spawned from uncontrolled chaos in CAR would have undoubtedly strained Cameroonian and Chadian resources to breaking point, and inevitably impacted on their ability to meaningfully take on Boko Haram.

France’s previous penchant for stymieing Nigeria on the regional stage has appreciably reduced, if not disappeared altogether. The past few years has witnessed a remarkable rapprochement and an unprecedented alignment of views on regional security. In many cases France has actively encouraged Nigeria, either bilaterally or through ECOWAS, to take a greater leadership role in crisis management – even in francophone West Africa.

When political crisis and civil war erupted in Cote d’Ivoire following Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after losing the 2010 Presidential election, Nigeria and France coordinated their response to the crisis – culminating in a jointly sponsored UN resolution calling on Gbagbo to hand over power. 

Similarly in the Mali crisis, from all indications the strong preference in Paris was for the AU and the Nigerian-led ECOWAS to take the lead, with France playing a supporting role. France was eventually thrust into intervention by the rapidly deteriorating situation. Jean-Christophe Belliard, a senior French diplomat, at a Chatham House presentation discussing French policy in Africa described how as the crisis unfolded, France’s Foreign and Defence Ministers consulted with the AU, ECOWAS, and African presidents, including Nigeria’s, “to exchange ideas on the situation in Mali”. This is a far cry from the adversarial relationship of the past. 

More recently, the security summit hosted by France in May 2014 facilitated the rapprochement between Nigeria and its two Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad, and laid the foundation for the soon to be established anti-Boko Haram regional coalition. 

The French Development Agency (AFD) recently contributed $130 million to the establishment of the Development Bank of Nigeria. Since the opening of its Nigerian branch in 2008, AFD has so far committed about $694 million to various project in the country. 

President Chirac’s State Visit to Nigeria in July 1999 was the first by a foreign Head of State to the country after its return to democratic rule in May of the same year. And President Sarkozy was the only major world leader to attend Nigeria’s Centenary celebration in 2014.

These are all indications of the more positive and cooperative atmosphere that currently prevails in Franco-Nigerian bilateral relations. French economic interests in Nigeria has also served to reinforce the positive trajectory in bilateral relations. Trade between the two countries and French investment in Nigeria has grown in leaps and bounds. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is France’s largest trading partner (5.1 billion Euros in 2012) and the second largest export destination for its goods (value of exports was 1.3 billion Euros in 2012). French investments in Nigeria dwarf those in francophone West and Central Africa. Its major multinational corporations – such as Elf, Lafarge, Peugeot, and “over a hundred” other subsidiaries and joint ventures – have significant presence in Nigeria. 

This is not to suggest Nigeria and France have identical regional interests or that geopolitical competition has permanently disappeared as an organising principle of Franco-Nigerian relations. It is merely to point out that the current overlap and convergence of interests between the two countries makes the notion of an ongoing geopolitical rivalry unreflective of contemporary Franco-Nigerian relations.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Change of Defence and Security Chiefs: Some Thoughts

From Left: Chief Of Air Staff, Avm Sadique Abubakar; Chief Of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Iba; Chief Of Defence Staff, Maj.-Gen. Abayomi Olonisakin; Chief Of Defence Intelligence, Avm Morgan Riku And The National Security Adviser (NSA), Retired Maj.-Gen. Babagana Monguno. During their meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Monday 13 July 2015. Image and caption: Premium Times.
On Monday, President Buhari sacked his Service Chiefs, Chief of Defence Intelligence and National Security Adviser. A widely expected and long overdue decision. The new individuals are:

National Security Adviser (NSA): Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd.). He is from Borno state. He was the Commandant, Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command, before his retirement from active service in September 2013. Major General Monguno (rtd.) replaces Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd.).

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS): Major General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin. He is from Ekiti state. Until this appointment he headed the Nigerian Army Training and Doctrine Command. Major General Olonishakin replaces Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.

Chief of Army Staff (CoAS): Major General Tukur Y. Buratai. He is from Borno state. Until this appointment he had recently been appointed to head the soon to be established Multi National Joint Task Force; the five-nation anti-Boko Haram regional coalition. Major General Buratai replaces Lieutenant General Kenneth Minimah.

Chief of Air Staff (CAS): Air Vice Marshal Sadique Abubakar. He is from Bauchi state. Until this appointment he was the Chief of Administration, NAF Headquarters. AVM Abubakar replaces AVM Adeola Amosun.

Chief of Naval Staff (CNS): Rear Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe. He is from Cross River state. Until this appointment he was Chief Executive Officer of Navy Holdings Limited. Rear Admiral Ekwe replaces rear Admiral Usman Jibrin.

Chief of Defence Intelligence (CDI): Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan. He is from Benue state. Until this appointment he was the Air Officer Commanding, NAF Logistics Command. AVM Morgan replaces Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi.

According to the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, “the new Service Chiefs will hold their appointments in an acting capacity until confirmed by the Senate” which will return from adjournment on July 21. Appointments of the NSA and CDI however are the exclusive prerogative of the President and so do not require Senatorial assent.

Some Thoughts


One major surprise is the emergence of Babagana Monguno as NSA. Lieutenant General Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd.) had been widely tipped to get the post. Premium Times, citing “Presidency insiders”, says Dambazau had long lost the race to become NSA because President Buhari’s preference was for an individual with an intelligence background. Dambazau was in the military police. 

Furthermore, says the Premium Times report, Dambazau’s record as Army Chief from 2008-2010 cast a shadow on his ambition to become NSA as it was tainted by financial scandals and allegations of corruption. His tenure as Army Chief was also reportedly marred by allegations of ethnic bias, says Nnamdi Anekwe-Chive, a security analyst. If reports are to be believed however, Dambazau may yet still emerge as Minister of Defence.

Another major surprise, at least for me, was why a Minister of Defence was also not announced. The appointments were billed as a clean sweep of the country’s defence and security leadership. Given this, and given Boko Haram’s seeming resurgence, it is odd that such a vital post as Minister of Defence will still be kept vacant. And if the allegations of corruption and ethnic bias are true, then it will be surprising to see Dambazau emerge as Minister of Defence.


An interesting observation that has now been widely commented on is the fact that the NSA and CoAS are both from Borno state – the epicentre of the insurgency. As the CAS is from Bauchi state, this means three of the pivotal institutions at the heart of the counterinsurgency campaign are now headed by individuals from the northeast – the most badly affected region. 

By appointing individuals from the restive northeast to spearhead the counterinsurgency, this will hopefully inject a greater degree of seriousness and urgency to the war effort. It should also hopefully bring greater sensitivity about the plight of the civilian population in the warzone to the defence and security establishments.

One other observation is the timing of the appointments, particularly those of the Service Chiefs. The appointments could not have come a day sooner of course. But it seems to me the upcoming state visit to the US on July 20 possibly played a role in speeding up the filling of these important posts. Security assistance is expected to dominate President Buhari’s discussions with President Obama. 

The recent Amnesty International report which accused the Nigerian military of war crimes in the northeast recommended that the former CDS and CoAS, Alex Badeh and Kenneth Minimah respectively, be “investigated for their potential command responsibility”, as they either knew or should have known of the war crimes but “failed to take adequate action”. 

Given that the Nigerian military’s poor human rights record had badly strained security cooperation between Nigeria and the US in the past, it is reasonable to assume President Buhari wanted to clear any major stumbling blocks from negatively affecting discussions on closer security cooperation before his upcoming state visit. 

Why the Sackings

So far as I am concerned the CDS, CoAS, CAS, CDI, and NSA should have long been fired, even before the coming to power of President Buhari. Boko Haram mushroomed into an existential threat under their watch, and their tenure was filled with gaffes and disasters that would have sent security chiefs in other countries packing. 

Boko Haram’s seizure of vast swathes of territory, which required the hiring of mercenaries and the intervention of our small neighbours to reverse; the kidnapping of the Chibok girls and the many thousands of other nameless and unknown Nigerians; the “ceasefire” fiasco; the unforgivable denial of Wing Commander Chimda Hedima; the amateurish attempt to smuggle $9.3 million into South Africa to allegedly procure arms; the recurrent claims that frontline soldiers are frequently short-paid, under equipped, and poorly supplied; the comic Ali-esque easily verifiable lies that military spokesmen shamelessly tell or tweet. Any of these debacles should have been sufficient to sink the careers of our (in)security chiefs.

CDI Rear Admiral Gabriel Okoi’s disingenuous and thoroughly unconvincing response to a question put to him about corruption in the military at a March 11 presentation both he and Ambassador Ayodele Oke (Director-General, National Intelligence Agency) were invited to give at the Atlantic Council highlights one of the major problems with the military and security leadership thus far: ‘head in the sand’ syndrome. He basically blamed the entrenched corruption that has crippled the military’s combat power on the fact that the government had to buy weapons at inflated costs on the black market because the US refused to sell Nigeria weapons.

Competence of the New Men

So far the new appointments have been widely praised. The NSA and CoAS especially have been described as professional, competent, perfectionists etc. There is little I can add here except to say that for me the proof of the pudding is in the eating. For now, I will hold back on giving a firm opinion until I see what their reform agendas are for the military and security services. I remember the gallons of praise that were showered on Kenneth Minimah and Sambo Dasuki upon their appointments to the posts of CoAS and NSA respectively. Dasuki was widely described as urbane, suave, and Minimah’s background as an infantry paratrooper was glowingly referred to. Yet their performance turned out to be supremely disappointing. 

Good luck to the new men in their new appointments. Their success is Nigeria’s success. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

What President Buhari can Learn from Prime Minister Modi’s Foreign Policy

Prime Minister Modi’s first year in office has witnessed a remarkable reinvigoration of India’s foreign policy, with several bold initiatives taking observers by surprise. What can President Buhari learn from Prime Minister Modi's diplomatic outreach in his first year as he draws up his own foreign policy agenda?

President Muhammadu Buhari and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on their respective Inauguration Days
Prime Minister Modi completed his first term on May 26, three days before President Buhari’s inauguration on May 29. While on the domestic front his one year in office is generally said to have achieved mixed results, his bold forays on the international front however “surprised just about everyone” and has been widely praised. He has reoriented India’s foreign policy, reinvigorated its regional diplomacy, and revitalised key partnerships – notably the Indo-US and Sino-Indian relationships. 

Let’s take a look at one of Prime Minister Modi’s key diplomatic initiatives, and see how it can work for Nigeria.

Neighbourhood First Policy: Reprioritising India’s Immediate and Extended Neighbourhoods

India’s regional diplomacy was widely felt to have badly stagnated under previous governments. This neglect had seen China make significant inroads into South Asia – India’s traditional ‘sphere of influence’ – over the past decade. By pouring investments into the region China increased its clout at India’s expense. Ambitious infrastructure projects, soft loans, and development aid were China’s preferred method of filling the vacuum opened up by India’s apathy. 

By 2014, the year Modi came to power, Pakistan – India’s most troublesome neighbour – was already firmly lodged in China’s orbit. More worryingly for India’s strategic planners, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka were widely perceived to be gradually tipping China’s way. And Bhutan – “India’s long-standing, steadfast friend” – had long endured a “mix of persuasion and coercion” to get it to “open relations with Beijing”.

Even before coming to office Modi had hinted at where his foreign policy priorities would lie. And once in power he wasted no time in injecting energy into what he termed his ‘neighbourhood first’ policy. For his inauguration, invitations were extended to all the SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation) leaders – the first time this had been done. His first two state visits were to Bhutan and Nepal, underscoring his commitment to bolstering relations with India’s smaller neighbours and highlighting his intentions to assert India’s primacy in its ‘immediate neighbourhood’. 

Graph of Prime Minister Modi’s first year’s foreign trips. Source:

By the end of his first year Modi had visited almost all of India’s South Asian neighbours – signing deals ranging from infrastructure projects, such as the two hydropower dams for Nepal worth a combined $2.4bn; to opening new lines of credit, such as the $2bn for Bangladesh and the $318mn for Sri Lanka; to improving defence ties and people-to-people exchange programmes in the neighbourhood. The only SAARC countries not visited by Modi in his first year were Pakistan, due to fraught relations; Afghanistan, whose leader paid a state visit to India instead; and the Maldives, due to a political crisis in that Island nation.

At home, Modi pushed for and secured Parliament’s bipartisan ratification of the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement. A landmark achievement which defuses one of the most contentious issues between the two countries. Modi’s second year in office has so far not seen a slackening in the tempo of his regional outreach. The goodwill generated from his recent state visit to Bangladesh, where a raft of 22 deals where signed including the historic one settling the border dispute, has gained Indian cargo vessels access to two ports, including the strategically sensitive Chinese built Chittagong port. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi presents the transcripts of the Parliamentary debates on the landmark Land Boundary Agreement to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh during his state visit to the country, 6 June 2015. Source: The Indian Express.  

Modi’s activism on the international stage in his first year has also seen him breathe new life into India’s ‘extended neighbourhood’ policy with state visits to three Indian Ocean island nations (Seychelles, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka), five East Asian countries (Japan, Singapore, China, Mongolia, and South Korea) and two South Pacific countries (Australia and Fiji). In each of these, there was a “special emphasis on strengthening economic and security ties”. 

The extended neighbourhood policy had previously rested on a ‘Look East’ policy, and the notion of India being a ‘balancing power’. Modi rebranded these. India is now to ‘Act East’ and will see itself as a ‘leading power’. In other words, rather than merely reacting to strategic developments around it – policies that in the past decade had seen China increase its presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region at India’s expense – India as a rising great power will now be proactive in taking the lead to shape the economic and security environment of its immediate and extended neighbourhoods.

A Neighbourhood First Policy for Nigeria?

Like India, regional power status is deeply ingrained in Nigeria’s foreign policy identity. And like India, Nigeria in material terms has no peer equal in its regional neighbourhood. On one important indicator of regional influence, Nigeria seems a regional power per excellence. Of the so-called ‘Big Five’ – Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa – Nigeria has served as West Africa’s representative on the Peace and Security Council (the African Union’s apex decision making body) since its founding in December 2003, whereas the others have been rotated by their respective regions. Nigeria has been in the PSC for all 12 years of its existence, Algeria 9 years, Ethiopia 8 years, South Africa 7 years, and Egypt 4 years. 

Nigerian soldiers and officers during Liberia’s first Civil War. The officer in the foreground is Major General Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro, ECOMOG’s then-Field Commander. Photo Credit: Corbis/Patrick Robert.

In reality however, just like India, Nigeria’s regional influence has badly declined in the past few years. A combination of state weakness, lack of strategic vision, and mounting domestic troubles have led its foreign policy to be described as “weak and incoherent”, and being in “self-inflicted decline”. Nothing best illustrates Nigeria’s dramatic loss of influence over its neighbours than the fact that it took the intervention of France and a Security Summit in Paris convened by President Hollande in May last year for Nigeria’s Lake Chad neighbours to take its pleas seriously about the need for a regional coalition against Boko Haram. When a regional power has to seek the intervention of an external power before its smaller neighbours take its existential security concerns seriously, this is an indication that its regional diplomacy is in serious need of reforms.

Like Prime Minister Modi with India, President Buhari should therefore also make an intensive and wide-ranging reengagement with Nigeria’s neighbours a key component of his foreign policy agenda in his first year. Nigeria’s weak state capacity and current economic troubles means the type of ‘big bang’ policies – multibillion dollar credit lines and multiple infrastructure projects – that Prime Minister Modi unveiled in his first year’s regional outreach are probably off the table for now for President Buhari. But there are some initiatives that can be undertaken. 

So what fresh ideas can President Buhari initiate to shake up Nigeria’s regional diplomacy in his first year in office?

Nigeria is also a Central African Country: Apply for Membership in the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS)

The phrases ‘immediate’ and ‘extended’ neighbourhoods are not used in Nigeria’s foreign policy discourse. But the ‘concentric circle’ concept which frames how Nigerian foreign policy makers view our region captures the same essence. It equates Nigeria’s immediate neighbourhood to the ring of countries that surround us and, in the maritime domain, to the Bights of Benin and Bonny. Our extended neighbourhood is seen as comprising the West African region and the Gulf of Guinea. I think this view of our extended neighbourhood is incomplete. Nigeria should see its broader region as also encompassing Central Africa. 

Consequently President Buhari should submit an application for observer status in ECCAS in his first year in office, with a view to eventually fully joining the organisation. Let me explain.

Map of ECOWAS and ECCAS member states. Map modified by author. Original map at

Nigeria traditionally sees itself as a West African country. And West Africa has been the arena of Nigeria’s boldest and most celebrated diplomatic initiatives to date – the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975 and the ECOMOG interventions of the 1990s. 

Geography, economy, history, and culture however suggest Nigeria is a West and Central African state. Geographically for example, Nigeria shares land and sea boundaries with six countries: Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Niger, and Sao Tome and Principe. Of these, only Benin and Niger are West African states and members of ECOWAS. Our other four neighbours are Central African states and members of ECCAS. Our longest land boundary is with a Central African and ECCAS state: Cameroon. 

Similarly, Nigeria’s most pressing security challenge – Boko Haram’s terrorist insurgency – is concentrated along our borders with our Central African neighbours, Cameroon and Chad; countries that together with Niger and Benin constitute the five nation regional coalition we want to establish to combat the insurgency. To all intents and purposes, Nigeria’s defence diplomacy will be oriented towards our Central African border for the next few years.

Nigeria’s economic linkages further reinforces the point that Nigeria is as much a Central African as it is a West African country. According to UNCTAD’s report on intra-African trade (pg. 22-27), all thirteen countries that count Nigeria as among their top five export partners are exclusively West and Central African states. Five of these – CAR, Chad, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Sao Tome and Principe – are Central African and ECCAS countries. 

Similarly of the eleven countries that count Nigeria as among their top five import partners, three – Cameroon, Chad, and Equatorial Guinea – are in Central Africa and ECCAS.
The historical, cultural, ethnic, and familial bonds between Nigeria and its Central African neighbours completes the linkages binding Nigeria to the fate of its ECCAS neighbours.

Joining ECCAS will therefore broaden Nigeria’s strategic horizon and give our foreign policy planners a more accurate perspective of our extended neighbourhood. Joining ECCAS will also incentivise Nigeria to actively participate in shaping the economic and security environment of Central Africa. 

Now that African integration seems to be gathering pace – the agreement to establish the Tripartite Free Trade Area between the 26 member states of COMESA, EAC, and SADC, was signed on June 10 in Cairo, and the deadline for establishing a Continental Free Trade Area has been set for 2017 – joining ECCAS will leave Nigeria best placed to take the lead and advocate for harmonizing the integration agendas of West and Central Africa.    

Improve Relations with Cameroon: Push for Parliamentary Ratification of the Green Tree Agreement

In some respects, Cameroon is Nigeria’s Pakistan. While in recent times Chad has done its best to challenge for that title, Cameroon remains Nigeria’s most difficult neighbour. It is so far the only country that Nigeria has come to the brink of interstate war with over a territorial dispute. 

One of the main sources of Nigeria-Cameroon distrust and tension is the issue of the Bakassi Peninsula. The International Court of Justice settled the question of territorial sovereignty over the peninsula in Cameroon’s favour a decade ago. President Obasanjo signed the 2006 Green Tree Agreement – the treaty ceding sovereignty over the territory – and the peninsula was formally handed over to Cameroon in 2008. The treaty however proved highly unpopular in Nigeria. Consequently to date the National Assembly is yet to ratify it. This makes the 2008 handover potentially illegal under Nigerian law and leaves open the possibility, however unlikely, that Nigeria could retake the territory by force.
As a confidence building measure, and to reduce areas of tension with Cameroon, President Buhari should lobby the National Assembly to ratify the treaty within his first year. To placate critics at home and gain something for Nigeria abroad, ratification of the treaty should be linked to Cameroon supporting Nigeria’s bid for ECCAS membership. While the treaty ratification will not resolve all of Nigeria’s problems with Cameroon – the difficult issue of fully demarcating Nigeria’s maritime boundary with Cameroon will remain – it will create a more positive atmosphere for Nigeria’s diplomatic engagement with its difficult neighbour. 

The goodwill generated from this initiative will also open up opportunities in other areas of bilateral relations.

Boko Haram should not Dominate Nigeria’s Regional Diplomacy: Visit More Countries and Broaden the Agenda

President Buhari’s neighbourhood diplomacy has so far been shaped by the need to establish a regional coalition against Boko Haram. He has moved with impressive speed and purpose to realise this singular goal. Making Chad (June 3) and Niger (June 4) his first two state visits, and a week later (June 11) hosting the leaders of Benin, Chad, Niger, and a representative of the Cameroonian President to a Summit in Abuja to clear the way for the establishment of the long-awaited Multi National Joint Task Force have yielded positive results. 

A Nigerian has been chosen as the MNJTF’s commander. More significantly, our coalition partners seem to have accepted President Buhari’s proposal that the force be permanently commanded by a Nigerian for the duration of its mission. 

President Buhari on arrival in Niger Republic with his counterpart President Issoufou. Photo Credit: Paul Ibe

Boko Haram however should not dominate President Buhari’s regional diplomacy in his first year. The momentum from this renewed regional engagement should be leveraged to score gains in other areas of bilateral relations, such as improving regional trade and infrastructure, and driving the regional integration agenda. 

UNCTAD’s report on intra-African trade for example shows that Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have large net trade surpluses on food items with the rest of the world, and Nigeria runs a large deficit on same (pg. 35). This provides a possible opportunity for expanding trade with Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire for example. 

President Buhari should therefore broaden his regional state visits to encompass other West and Central African countries. A true neighbourhood first policy must be comprehensive in its agenda. Security should be only one component of this regional outreach. The same visibility and energy that has accompanied President Buhari’s coalition building tour of Chad and Niger should also be brought to bear to state visits where trade and other bilateral issues are on the table.

These three initiatives, if pursued in President Buhari’s first year, can serve as the foundation upon which Nigeria’s foreign policy can be refocused back on what should be the country’s most important partners: its immediate and extended neighbours.