Controversies surrounding President Tinubu and Vice President Shettima point to an image crisis that could ultimately contribute to Nigeria’s declining international reputation.
In the aftermath of the Nigerian 2023 presidential election, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) winner amidst widespread criticism and allegations of electoral irregularities, voter intimidation, attacks on voters and electoral officers. Following the constitutional requirements for challenging poll results, aggrieved candidates of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Atiku Abubakar, have each filed a petition challenging the result and the declaration of Tinubu as the winner. In light of the foregoing, some critical issues require urgent attention from the new administration. Researching Nigeria’s hegemonic status, soft power and global image within the last two years has left me puzzled about how and why Nigeria has receded to its current fragile position. Nigeria, as dubious as it might seem today, once occupied the position of a frontline state with an incontestable and globally applauded hegemonic competence in Africa.
NIGERIA’S HEGEMONIC COMPETENCE AND PERCEIVED GLOBAL IMAGE
A regional hegemonic state is notable for its leadership claim and acceptance by neighbours, stability, the use of foreign policy instruments, the possession of superior power capabilities, contributions to the development of other states, good reputation perception and projection of the interests and values of a regional power. Such a state should be capable of leveraging social capital and power capabilities to act as the mouthpiece of the region.
Given this, we should worry about Nigeria’s current hegemonic rating and perceived global image. However, in making sense of Nigeria’s current predicament, we need to go down memory lane and compare the golden days of Nigeria’s hegemonic competence in Africa with its current condition. Otherwise, just like people who lack knowledge of their history and identity are unlikely to know where they are going, the new president and his team are likely to repeat the undoing of the past administrations.
So, what was Nigeria’s global image and position in the leadership spectrum in Africa between the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, and what is the situation now?
NIGERIA’S IMAGE IN THE PAST
Nigeria is a resource-rich country that prides itself as being the giant of Africa and the continent’s big brother, mainly owing to its vast human, natural and cultural resources, as well as its economic and military capabilities. Nigeria’s first and only prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and country’s successive post-independence leaders have long perceived the country as an indisputable global actor and a hegemonic state bequeathed with the manifest destiny of championing the continent’s course. Nigeria’s perception and attendant foreign policy actions are not unconnected with the petrodollar money accrued from the oil boom in the 1970s and Nigeria’s abundant human and material resources. The perception of Nigeria as a global actor and a real continental powerhouse was sustained by successive generations of political leaders. These leaders continued to affirm the country’s hegemonic stance on global and continental issues through their material and immaterial commitment to promoting peace, stability, and the development of the states in Africa.
Also important is the aggressive foreign policy stance of the Murtala-Obasanjo regime and President Obasanjo’s civilian administration, which are often described as the most glorious epoch of Nigeria’s foreign policy, notably for Nigeria’s hegemonic roles in the decolonization of Angola, Mozambique, South Africa and other states in the continent. Also important are the laudable contributions of the Murtala-Obasanjo administration and the successive leaders of Nigeria in addressing the development crisis, human capital deficiency, and other challenges undermining the development of Africa and its people.
During this period, Nigeria was a frontline African nation to be reckoned with on the global stage, in international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and regional organizations such as the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union (AU), the Commonwealth and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Beyond this, since the 1960s, Nigeria has been a frontline state in the prevention of violent conflict and the promotion of peace in the continent through a steady commitment of its trained troops to restoring peace in countries like Liberia from 2003 to 2018. These and other credentials earned Nigeria good appellations such as the ‘giant of Africa’ and the ‘big brother’ of the continent.
NIGERIA: A DECLINING REGIONAL POWERHOUSE
Currently, Nigeria falls short of being described as the frontline state that once commanded the respect of the movers and shakers in the contemporary global era, the UN, and the AU, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Nigeria is often the subject of disdain, scorn, and mockery, even among its immediate neighbours, fellow members of the ECOWAS, and the countries it assisted in fostering their independence, including South Africa. For instance, Ghanaian President Nana Akuffo-Addo made disparaging comments about Nigeria’s currency at the Oxford African Conference that was held in the United Kingdom in 2018, for which Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, lamented that he felt ashamed as a former President that the President of a neighbouring country used Nigeria as negative examples. Another regrettable ridicule of the Nigerian state by a former Kenyan prime minister, Raila Odinga, occurred in 2019 at a multi-sectoral National Anti-Corruption Conference, where he used Nigeria as a laughter-provoking anecdote to draw a nexus between corrupt enrichment and the development crisis.
Similarly, the body language and inactions of the leaders of global powers like Britain and the United States in their relationship with Nigeria speak volumes in this regard. For instance, in 2016, while talking about an anti-corruption summit in London, the former British Prime Minister David Cameron was overheard saying ‘We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.’
Furthermore, although Nigerian presidents have kept the culture of paying homage to the United States, one may wonder if the exclusion of Nigeria from the list of countries President Barack Obama visited during his five trips to Africa between 2013 and 2015 was tied to Nigeria’s worrisome records of political corruption, insecurity, human rights violations, and bad governance. President Obama visited Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania in 2013; Kenya and Ethiopia in 2015.
The United States vice president, Kamala Harris, recently visited several African countries, but Nigeria was not on the list of countries she visited. Although the exclusion of Nigeria by the US presidency may not mean anything to a layman, critical minds have linked it with the dwindling hegemonic influence of Nigeria on the continent. Arguably, this position substantiates the decision of previous United States presidents to visit or avoid Nigeria in their trips to Africa. For instance, President Bill Clinton excluded Nigeria in his 1998 visit to Africa because of the poor global image of the General Sani Abacha regime, which was notorious for undemocratic practices, massive corruption, and human rights violations. On the other hand, President Jimmy Carter visited Nigeria in 1978 when Nigeria was a frontline state in the continent. After the restoration to democratic governance in 1999, President Clinton and President George W. Bush visited Nigeria in 2000 and 2003 respectively. Their visits occurred during the civilian administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and at a time when the hopes of democratic renewal in Nigeria were very high.
Furthermore, contrary to the popular ascription of terms such as the ‘giant of Africa’, the economic powerhouse and the big brother of Africa, Robert I. Rotberg the founding director of the Harvard Kenedy’s School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict and John Campbell of the Council for Foreign Relations labelled Nigeria as being a fully failed state of critical geopolitical concern in 2021. Their labelling of Nigeria as a failed state was premised on the apparent loss of control, state failure and the inability of the government to address the menace of wanton destructions and fatalities caused by the notorious Boko Haram insurgents and armed bandits. Perhaps this label of a failed state validates an earlier description of Nigeria as a ‘crippled giant’ by Professor Eghosa Osaghae in 1998. Rotbell and Campbell’s assertion is indisputable given the extent to which state failure and the loss of control have emboldened Boko Haram’s deployment of terror and rascality that led to the death of 350,000 persons (36,000 from direct causes and 314,000 from indirect causes) and the rendering of three million Nigerians as internally displaced persons and refugees.
The decline of Nigeria’s regional leadership and global image is due to indisputable leadership deficits, crimes, endemic political corruption, bad governance, governmental ineptitude and state failure in addressing several challenges that have led to a continuous nosedive of its hegemonic clout on the continent. Unsurprisingly, Nigeria continues to rank poorly on all the global indexes, such as the Corruption Perception Index, Global Poverty Index, the Global Terrorism Index, the Global Peace Index, and the Corruption Perception Index. The involvement of Nigerians abroad in cyber frauds and drug-related crimes and the poor rating of the Nigerian passport have also dented Nigeria’s global image and exposed citizens travelling with the ordinary green passport to harassment by the gatekeepers of countries across the world.
WHAT SHOULD THE NEW PRESIDENT DO TO FIX THE MESS?
President Tinubu must first acknowledge that he will govern a Nigeria that is more intensely divided along ethnoreligious lines than before the 2023 general elections. As ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’, President Tinubu should understand how ungovernable Nigeria could be if the raging post-election agitations are not doused. Beyond the rhetoric, the new government should adopt pragmatic approaches in addressing ethnic division, extending the olive branch to the candidates of the opposition party and aggrieved party members, and dousing the tensions caused by the politicization of ethnicity in the 2023 general elections. President Tinubu should be reminded that the type of governance that fosters development and a good reputation can only occur if the centrifugal forces of ethnicity, political marginalization, and the dominance of an ethnic group in the politics and governance of Nigeria are finally nipped in the bud.
More importantly, President Tinubu should be adept at deploying the use of smart power strategies and emerging technologies in neutralizing the ferocious bandits, Boko Haram insurgents, and militants. He should be smart in deploying soft and non-coercive means in addressing the agitation of the Indigenous People of Biafra secessionist movement. The nefarious activities of these groups in the form of armed violence, attacks, wanton killings and destruction have done more harm than good to the global image of Nigeria, where armed groups continue to kill and dismember victims amidst governmental ineptitude and an apparent loss of control.
Apart from employing the strategic deployment of its smart power capabilities in this regard, the Tinubu administration must ensure a thorough mapping of Nigeria’s formal and informal borders and invest in the use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, drones, satellites, robotics and other border control technologies to monitor and censor the illegal entry routes into Nigeria pending when the government is able to erect fences and security presence across all entry routes. This will undoubtedly stem the tides of the influx of foreign armed groups crisscrossing Nigeria to commit crimes and exit at will. The ungoverned and under-governed spaces across the North East and North West occupied by the armed sects should be made to feel a governmental presence in terms of the provision of security and development. Similarly, ECOWAS protocols on the free movement of persons should be revisited, and the 90-day condition stipulated by the treaty should be enforced. Nationals of ECOWAS member states without valid passports should be penalized and deported henceforth. Lastly, the illegal trek routes scattered across the North East and North West should be appropriately monitored and secured.
Lastly, fixing Nigeria begins with making the Nigerian federal system work and promoting political accountability and inclusive governance. The new president should promote true federalism, a merit system and respect for Nigeria’s federal character without compromising meritocracy. More important is the need to fix Nigeria’s epileptic electricity sector. A stable electricity supply will contribute to stemming the tide of unemployment by boosting the efficiency of businesses crippled by the denting cost of running on generators amidst fuel price hikes.
The new president should intentionally fund and promote quality education, agriculture and industrialization. His administration should promote a strong link between the research (higher education), agriculture and industrial worlds. He should invest massively in the technological and human capital development of the citizenry and their wellbeing. These propositions will undoubtedly contribute to reducing the vices accruable from the high level of unemployment and poverty that make people amenable to criminal activities.
OF REGISTERED DRUG TRAFFICKERS AND SPONSORS OF TERRORISM
One very perturbing issue about the President Tinubu and his vice president, Kashim Shettima is the allegation of their association with several acts that clearly undermine their public image and detract from the public credentials expected of persons who were sworn into the offices of the president and vice president of Africa’s most populous state. Just as Nigeria is plagued with a demeaning image crisis, the new president has been under the public gaze of astute Nigerian netizens probing his public and personal life over, for instance, the forfeiture of $460,000 to the government of the United States, alleged to be the proceed of drug trafficking in 1993.
Hence, critics have linked President Tinubu with the drug trafficking business and labelled him a documented drug trafficker in the United States and a drug lord. If this allegation of drug trafficking is true, Tinubu’s occupancy of the office of Nigeria’s president could further the nosedive of Nigeria’s hegemonic clout. It could also consolidate the demeaning perception and stereotyping of Nigeria, Nigerians in the diaspora and Nigerians travelling abroad for legitimate businesses.
Another major stain on the public image of the new president is the 2019 Bullion Van saga. Two bullion vans that entered Tinubu’s Bourdillon residence in Lagos on the eve of the 2019 presidential election have raised speculation among Nigerians of President Tinubu partaking in vote buying activities. Undoubtedly, these allegations of drug trafficking and corruption stain the public image of the new president and challenge his moral rectitude for fighting corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes identified that foster Nigeria’s image crisis globally.
On the other hand, the new vice president’s public image is stained by allegations of sponsoring and funding terrorism. The former director of the Presidential Campaign Council of the ruling APC, Hajia Naja’atu Mohammed, left the party claiming she was dissatisfied with the emergence ‘of a virtually senile and another person that has been associated on several occasions with funding terrorism. That is Kashim Shettima’. She stated further that contrary to the refutation of her allegations, ‘we should not forget Kabiru Sokoto, one of the most wanted terrorists, was found and arrested in his (Shettima) house’.
Evidently, given the poor image of the new president and his vice president for drug and terrorism-related allegations, Nigeria’s global image will continue to nosedive. This will undoubtedly portend for declines in the global image of Nigeria, Nigerians in the diaspora and Nigerian visa applicants, who will be subjected to intense scrutiny by the immigration of different countries. It could also hike the visa refusal rate experienced by Nigerians applying to relocate abroad for legitimate ventures such as tourism, work, and study.
Arguably, the image crisis of President Tinubu and Shettima could impede their ability to challenge the crimes and vices contributing to Nigeria’s demeaning and stereotypical construction and depiction. Thus, can a leadership stained with the allegation of drug trafficking and the sponsorship of terrorism sanitize and redeem Nigeria’s negative global image? Nigerians and global audiences can only ascertain the answer to this question at the expiration of the Tinubu-Shettima administration in 2027⎈
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