Why Not the African Giant? Reflecting On Nigeria’s Non-Invitation to Join BRICS Membership

Nigeria’s non-invitation to join BRICS membership following invitations sent to Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates reflects the country’s unimpressive foreign policy.

On 22 August 2023, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (known as the BRICS, a group of major emerging economies) held their 15th summit in Johannesburg, the third to take place in South Africa after the ones held in 2013 and 2018. 

Among the core issues raised at the summit, the issuance of new memberships was the most pressing topic addressed. Ethiopia, Iran, Egypt, Argentina, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were all invited to join with effect from January 2024 while Nigeria, a supposed continental powerhouse, did not receive a membership invite. What could have led to this catastrophic foreign policy failure?  

While attending the summit, Nigerian Vice President, Kashim Shettima, said ‘We want a partnership that provides opportunities for all to engage in trade, prosperity and shared progress with no marginalization based on geography, race and legitimate sovereign affiliations.’ He also emphasized the need for regional organizations and the creation of a new model of international collaboration. 

His comments align with BRICS being a group hell-bent on challenging Western imperialism and seeking to change the status quo. Also, to bring a change to the lack of consideration and respect of the Western world to the Global South, and to create a political cum economic force from the Global South that will be reckoned with.  


Within BRICS, there is the world’s largest autocracy (China) and the world’s largest democracy (India). No matter your sins, so long as you can carry the cross and spread the message of challenging Western imperialism, then you can apply for membership. 

Take a look at India’s Kashmir clampdown, Russia’s tantrums in Ukraine, China’s ethnic suppression of minority Uyghurs and Saudi Arabia’s austere past all because of divergent views on religion and culture, further marred by the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a known Saudi dissident, journalist and columnist for The Washington Post and Middle East Eye who is believed to have been murdered by the Saudi Arabian government.  

In the UAE, gender-based discrimination and domestic violence against women is of concern with 1,027 cases of domestic violence against women reported for the year 2018, with the government trying to stamp out the ugly trend. For years now, South Africa’s economic turmoil largely affecting the country’s historically disadvantaged groups has not receded and the country’s government has remained complicit in the face of senior government officials’ perceived support to xenophobic groups in the country, doing almost nothing to combat waves of xenophobic attacks.  

Can Ethiopia be free of wars? For decades Ethiopia have been battered by constant unending wars, which is even a disqualifying factor for NATO alliance membership, a Western Alliance which BRICS shadow rivals. How about Egypt’s past as a hotbed for Islamic fanatical uprisings and its political dispute with Ethiopia over the Grand Renaissance dam or its banking of the Nile River? 

India cannot and does not want to stand up to the ‘I am bigger than thou’ attitudes of China and its bigger brother diplomatic actions in any political gathering. In Iran all throughout the country, there was a clerical rule rebellion spearheaded by women and youths. High food costs accelerated the economy’s protracted decline. Foreign indignation was provoked by the violent suppression of dissenting voices by Iranian security forces. And the chance of reaching a nuclear agreement with the US seemed increasingly remote. So what have you? Just come with your sins and we will wash you to be as white as snow as long as we can stand together against a common enemy. In BRICS, no member tries to appear or behave like a saint like Western countries, so why was Nigeria not invited?  


A new signee, Ethiopia, is not pro-West and even has a track record of Western defiance. Ethiopia is closer to China militarily and economically, and both countries have been known to rub ideologies together. Meanwhile, Ethiopia was kicked out of the African Growth and Opportunity Act in January 2022 by the US for its war in Tigray. Ethiopia is more integrated into China’s Belt and Road Initiative than Nigeria despite our warm and cordial relationship with the Chinese and Ethiopia is and has been an ardent follower of the Soviet Union.  

While Nigeria seeks to shy away from pre and post-Soviet related affairs, it has not tried in any way to diplomatically support Russian narratives at the United Nations since the war in Ukraine. Nigeria has not been supportive of the Russians diplomatically at the UN, sometimes abstaining or even voting against Russia.  

Nigeria’s economy, despite being larger than Ethiopia’s has been unduly battered due to harsh International Monetary Fund and World Bank loan conditions which have led to capsizing of the Naira caused in part due to economic mistreatment. At this point, Nigerian leaders are too knee-deep in chasing after Western leaders to stand up to them and the economy is in shambles. Nigeria’s foreign reserves position is lower than the market capitalization of three top South African banks.  

Nigeria is so pro-West that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu had to send his Vice President, Kashim Shettima, to the Russian African Leaders Summit while he jetted out to Italy on a familiarization tour of EU bloc states. In Nigeria, no president has stood on the rostrum of power without going to kiss and dine with Western leaders first.  

As seen, all the current BRICS member states have a mild to hard anti-Western flavoured foreign policy stance and South Africa is no exception. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress have been bitten hard and is overtly hostile to the West, caused in part by harsh historical realities and experiences during the apartheid rule in which America and its alliance were complicit and numb with only the East Bloc nations, China and USSR and a handful of radical African countries offering support to the anti-apartheid struggle at the time.  

Nigeria has not supported Russian views since the war in Ukraine began, although the USSR helped stamp down the Biafran secession during the Nigerian Civil War when the West stood arms akimbo, offering only minimal support to Federal Troops. Now Russia wants Nigerian diplomatic support at the UN to help it wither away the barrage of sanctions hurled at them and Nigeria is stammering. Who would want such an untrustworthy political partner?  


The summit has asked member states’ finance ministers and central bank governors to work on the issue of local currencies, payment instruments and platforms away from the Western-led SWIFT system and report back at the next summit which Russia itself will be hosting. Can Nigeria shun the West, look them in the eyes and partner with BRICS to dismantle the dollar as a global currency and usher in an alternative currency? 

BRICS makes up 40 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of the global GDP before its present expansion, so why not add the 7th most populous country in the world and most populous in Africa? Nigeria simply isn’t ready to take the risk.


‘So far, we have not applied for the membership of BRICS. And is majorly informed by the fact that my principal, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a true democrat that believes in consensus building.’ Vice President Shettima told Channels on the sidelines of the summit. The High Commissioner to South Africa, Manta Haruna, also went on to say that Nigeria never formally applied for a membership. So the logic is that without a formal request, there can’t be any addition. But then, a report by the Times of India claimed Nigeria already applied for a membership formally. Even though the vice president said the country has not applied to join BRICS, in a widely circulated interview, South Africa’s International Relations and Cooperation Minister, Naledi Pandor, said Nigeria had shown interest.  

But then this is clearly a damage control act from the Nigerian vice president. Nigeria has always enjoyed an observer status at BRICS and have previously lobbied informally to join the groupings. Ethiopia and Iran only indicated interest in joining by the second quarter of 2023 and the last quarter of 2022 respectively. There is no formal application process required to join BRICS, just unanimous backing from member states.  


Oil is such an essential commodity; nations have ravished other countries all because of oil. To win a war, the victor must have enough oil to fuel their tanks, ships and planes. If the supply of this key logistic tool is seen to falter or be in short supply, then the belligerent will be a toothless bulldog. 

Oil also happens to be a chief constituent of toluene; a component for TNT bombs. Oil is also used to power jeeps and as a lubricant for guns and other war machinery. When wars come the need for oil acutely increases due to the large amount of weapons used. This causes the supply and price of oil to fluctuate around the world.  

How to best secure an oil advantage in a bloc and upend the US’s world order is by admitting more oil producers and refiners into its rank and file as is evident in the case of Iran, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all being major OPEC countries joining which will eventually boost the strategic image of BRICS 

Due to the war with Ukraine, Russia has emerged as one of the most sanctioned countries in the world by the US and its EU allies, but Moscow has been able to hold on and have even seemed to tighten the noose on EU member states by threatening to halt oil supplies to the bloc.  

Hungary and Serbia with a few Balkan nations have chaffed at an all-out oil embargo as introduced by the US because of their heavy reliance on Russian oil. Sadly in Nigeria, there are four government-owned crude refineries and a few smaller private ones. 

Nigeria lacks the incentive to refine its own crude oil and is widely known to export crude oil to the EU whilst importing refined crude from the Netherlands, Belgium, Russian Federation, Norway, India and the US with much of the imports coming from Russian and Chinese strategic foes. 

This Nigerian oil reality does not work out well for the BRICS grouping as Nigeria will eventually prove to be an impediment for BRICS in the event of a war between BRICS nations and the West. This happens to be a backend move by Russia and China which led to the membership of key OPEC Plus countries 

With BRICS trying to shift trade away from the dollar to individual member currencies, this cannot work with Nigeria which spends billions of dollars importing petroleum from the US and the EU. In just 2022 alone, Nigeria spent $25 billion importing oil and gas into the country. Nigeria is the only OPEC member that imports 90 to 95 per cent of refined oil, this importation dependence clearly does not fit into the BRICS ambitions.  


During the 26 July coup d’état in Niger, the presidential guard removed the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Tinubu’s first crisis-solving approach can best be described as undiplomatic. Tinubu rather adopted an all’s fair in war approach by cutting off all available means of communication with the junta. This really tested the diplomatic prowess of the Nigerian president and he was found wanting.  

As the coup unfolded, Western powers persuaded President Tinubu to lead an Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) military incursion into Niger Republic and if not for the need for approval from the Nigerian Senate, Nigeria and ECOWAS bloc would have been bogged down in a war with Niger Republic doing the underlying bidding of the Western governments with the guise of restoring democracy. 

Just as President Tinubu rambled and fumbled on and on with his invasion rhetoric, Russia and China looked on and signed their imaginary disapproval rating for President Tinubu in their unseen books for his apparent lack of diplomatic know-how. The failure of Nigeria to clinch the lauded BRICS membership happens to be from years of culminated failure at foreign policy and domestic cum regional leadership and execution

***Update: An earlier version of this essay stated that the 2023 summit was the first hosted in South Africa. This has been updated to reflect that it was the third summit hosted by South Africa.

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