High-Wire Diplomacy?

Ms. Fatou Bensouda, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands, in the run up to the 2015 elections, cautioned Nigerian politicians against inciting acts of violence. In an unprecedented move she issued what was a thinly veiled threat against perpetrators of crimes under the Rome Statue, which her establishment has jurisdiction over.

President Obama, on his part, sent an address to all Nigerians in which he made the case for peaceful elections, reminding all of the need to keep Nigeria one. Whilst votes were being collated, the UK Foreign Secretary and US Secretary of State issued a joint statement, which read in part as follows, “So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process. But there are disturbing indications that the collation process – where the votes are finally counted – may be subject to deliberate political interference. This would contravene the letter and spirit of the Abuja Accord, to which both major parties committed themselves.” The statement went on to underscore that their governments would be “very concerned” by any attempts to undermine INEC or its Chairman or in any way distort the expressed will of the people of Nigeria.

June 12, 2015, His Excellency, Andrew Pocock, British High Commissioner to Nigeria paid a courtesy call on Senator Saraki and congratulated him on his successful election, in a move, which was seen by many onlookers as truncating the debate that was raging between the different factions in the Senate, and between the positions of the APC leadership and the President. The meeting went on to discuss matters of mutual interest, but it is the timing of this visit that seemed to make an impression on the media, and Mr. Saraki too, it would seem, more than the actual content of what was discussed. The new Senate President reportedly remarked, “I am very delighted to receive Your Excellency in my office barely 48 hours of my resumption in office. This shows the level of commitment the British government has towards the course of Nigeria. We look forward to a very good working relationship in order to move our dear country forward. Nigerians deserve the best of governance.”

Mr. Pocock, on his part, also reportedly remarked to the newsmen that, “We are not going to get drawn into discussions of party affairs. What we want to do is to talk to the President of the Nigerian Senate about how we can work with him individually, with the institution, to strengthen the bilateral relationship but also to move forward mutual agenda and a whole range of issues. So we are not here to play politics. We are here to do substantive business.”

Are these international interventions mere coincidences or part of a planned diplomatic response to the Nigerian situation? Is Nigeria starting to see a new brand of high-wire diplomacy? Are international powers nervous that if Nigeria were not “helped” at appropriate times, the new momentum might just flounder? If so, at what point does the fear of Nigeria returning to the international basket case it was become the driver for a new brand of diplomatic intervention? Does the continuing flood of migrants (a good number of whom are Nigerians) to Europe through Libya drive these interventions? How much of this is to stem the southward flow of Jihadists and the attendant humanitarian disaster that would result if Boko Haram were not contained? Many of the European States, including the UK, are unwilling to take in the migrants but all seem to agree that the solution must include stopping the flow at source. The root cause of the migration seems to be bad governance and/or conflict, so more interventionist diplomacy is perhaps called for at this time in a place like Nigeria to ensure it does turn the corner for good.

To help Nigeria succeed seems to be a task that must be done, and where necessary friendly governments and their institutions appear to be intervening to ensure this is so. The legitimisation of Bukola Saraki’s election by the well timed visit of the British High Commissioner saved Nigerians unproductive governance time that the politicians could have spent bickering; but having truncated this process, have we merely papered over the cracks? By intervening now, are we setting ourselves up for the inevitability of further interventions down the line? But at what point does it cease to be seen as helpful intervention from concerned international stakeholders (the likes of which we are told encouraged Goodluck Jonathan to concede defeat ahead of the final count of votes – together with the great trauma it saved the people of Nigeria)? At what point will it harden the politicians till such friends get accused of unacceptable meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state?

So far, the interventions have been timely, helpful and priceless; however, how do these interventions serve the strategic and long term interests of Nigeria? How does this emerging diplomatic pattern affect the power equations in the polity, especially old alliances between the West and local power blocs? Great care needs to be made not to inadvertently tame Syria but gain an ISIS; tame a Gadaffi to get a migration problem; or tame a Saddam to inherit an unstable middle East. Personally, I prefer quiet, shuttle diplomacy to the high-wire brand, but then again, who am I in the grand scheme of things?

About Author: marho

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