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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

From Britain’s Cash Cow to Africa’s Big Brother


280212T.Obafemi-Awolowo.jpg - 280212T.Obafemi-Awolowo.jpg
Obafemi Awolowo

Demola Ojo
Despite clocking 100 years as a geographical entity, Nigeria’s foreign policy can be said to have kicked off in earnest after independence in 1960. Prior to then, the interests of the British colonialists held sway and Nigeria’s foreign policy was in effect an extension of British foreign policy.
One of many examples where the interests of Britain superseded that of Nigeria was in agriculture where the establishment of British colonial administration brought the introduction of a cash crops economy to Nigeria. Through a deliberate policy of discouraging food crop cultivation, many communities were gradually rid of food supplies in favour of the cultivation of cash crops needed by British industries.
The raw materials Britain needed were cotton for British textile factories, rubber for tyres and other products, palm oil and kernel for soap and margarine, groundnut for manufacturing oil, hides and skins for leather products, timber for furniture as well as tin and coal.
Britain maintained a firm control over the Nigerian market due to favorable policies of the colonial government in Nigeria. In 1917, for instance, the colonial government imposed a total ban on the export of palm oil from Nigeria, except to the U.K. Between 1919 and 1922, she also imposed highly discriminative duties on palm kernel from Nigeria, with the intention of emphasizing the 1917 ban. In essence then, Britain was at the centre of pre-independence Nigerian economic and by extension, foreign policy.
Fast forward to 1960 and the dawn of independence. Nigeria’s foreign policy switched focus to Africa and the promotion of African unity and independence. The country set about promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and regional economic cooperation and development.
In carrying out these principles, Nigeria was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now known as the African Union and has been at the forefront of regional cooperative efforts in West Africa, functioning as standard-bearer for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and ECOMOG, economic and military organisations respectively .
Nigeria has played a central role in the ECOWAS efforts to end the civil war in Liberia and contributed the bulk of the ECOWAS peacekeeping forces sent there in 1990. Nigeria also provided the bulk of troops for ECOMOG forces in Sierra Leone.
The idea of Africa as the centre piece of Nigerian foreign policy is premised on the understanding that Nigeria’s engagement in the international system will be looked at through the binoculars of Africa. Nigeria’s first external affairs minister, Aja Wachukwu, harped on the imperative of an Afrocentric policy. “Charity begins at home and therefore any Nigerian foreign policy that does not take into consideration the peculiar position of Africa is unrealistic.”
Thus, the liberation of other African countries has been of the highest importance to Nigeria. Nigeria committed itself to opposition of white minority governments in other parts of Africa. The country frequently backed the African National Congress (ANC) by taking a committed tough line with regard to the South African government and their military actions in southern Africa.
More examples abound. When civil war broke out in Angola in 1975 after the country had gained independence from Portugal, Nigeria, a member of the English Commonwealth of Nations, mobilised its diplomatic influence in Africa in support of the MPLA. That support helped tipped the balance in their favour, which led to OAU recognition of the MPLA over UNITA.
Nigeria extended diplomatic support to another socialist cause, this time in Namibia, to stall the apartheid South African installed government. In 1977, the General Olusegun Obasanjo military regime made a donation of $20 million to the Zimbabwean movement against the government of Rhodesia. Nigeria also sent military equipment to Mozambique to help the new independent country suppress the South African backed RENAMO guerrillas.
Although officially denied by the Nigerian government, Nigeria is believed to have also provided secret military training and provided other material support to Robert Mugabe’s guerrilla forces during the Rhodesian Bush War(Renamed Zimbabwe in 1979) against white minority rule of Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith which was backed by the government in South Africa.
To demonstrate its seriousness against multi-national companies in Nigeria that violated the economic/trade embargo on the South African regime, the local operations of Barclays Bank was nationalised after that bank ignored the strong protests by Nigeria urging it not to buy the South African government bond. Nigeria also nationalised the British Petroleum (BP) for supplying oil to South Africa.
In the process of all these, Nigeria earned for itself the appellation a ‘frontline nation’, even though she was geographically far removed from the struggles in the Southern African region.
Nigeria is a member of the following international organisations: United Nations and several of its special and related agencies, Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Organisation of African Unity (OAU) - now African Union AU, Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), Commonwealth, Non-Aligned Movement and several other West African bodies.
It is renowned for its world acknowledged peacekeeping expertise, and in terms of proactive engagement with major socio-political and economic issues of continental importance since its own independence, Nigeria towers above any other African country.
For these reasons, Nigeria has been described as the ‘Big Brother’ of Africa. The country has over the years tended towards aiding other African nations in need and in most, if not all cases, it did that without any economic benefit to itself.

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