Nigeria: Presidential Candidates and Their Global Outlook

American democracy has popularised the phrase; “All politics is local”. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. the former Democratic Speaker of the United States House from Massachusetts is generally closely associated with this phrase. The American received wisdom is premised on the assumption that “a politician’s success is directly tied to the person’s ability to understand and influence the issues of their constituents”. It is already an open knowledge that Nigeria almost by route copies American democracy.

The Americanization of Nigerian democracy ran full recently when Monsieur John Kerry, the American Secretary of States, broke all diplomatic protocols, came calling in Lagos urging both President Goodluck Jonathan and his principal political rival, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), to respect the results of next month’s presidential vote and discourage their supporters from violence. Witness him: “It is imperative that these elections happen on time, as scheduled, and that they are an improvement over past elections,” Kerry said in a news conference at the end of his visit here.

With that singular unprecedented (un) democratic matching orders of Secretary Kerry on Nigerian presidential candidates, certainly Nigerian politics is far from being local. Of course, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had since announced that the polls would be put back from 14 February to 28 March, after security officials said the military had too much on its plate with the militant group Boko Haram to be able to police a ballot. True to expectation, America is among the global powers that have dammed the postponement. Washington promptly warned that the government should not use precarious security as a reason for stalling on democracy. Again according to Kerry, the US secretary of state said America was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, adding that “It is critical that the government not use security concerns as a pretext for impeding the democratic process. The international community will be watching closely as the Nigerian government prepares for elections on the newly scheduled dates.”

Philip Hammond, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, expressed similar concern. He said: “The security situation should not be used as a reason to deny the Nigerian people from exercising their democratic rights. It is vital that the elections are kept on track and held as soon as possible.” It may well be through that all politics was local in the 70s and late 80s when Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. presided in American House. In the current age of globalization, all politics is as local no less it is global.

The question is what is the global outlook of both presidential candidates Jonathan and Buhari? Whence their foreign policies for modern democratic Nigeria? So far the campaigns have been sufficiently local from the most “simple and mundane” such as “cluelessness” and “certificate-gate” to big issues and ideas such as fighting corruption and guaranteeing security. However, without appropriate appreciation of Nigerian position in the global arena by all candidates, local issues cannot be sustainably addressed. In fact, the fact that the global powers are concerned about the transparency and integrity of our democratic transition shows that we must interrogate the world outlook of the presidential candidates.

With almost 70 million registered voters, (almost the population of Egypt!); the outcome of Nigerian elections has implication for the West African sub region and indeed Africa as a whole. As the 2014 concluded national conference rightly identified, there is a strong nexus between domestic and foreign policies. What happens in the country affects its ability to carry out an effective foreign policy and achieve the objectives it sets itself. The conclusion of the conference is clear; “Nigeria’ foreign policy must be built on a solid domestic foundation that engenders wealth, security, good governance, rule of law and in which there is a large buy-in by all segments of the Nigerian society at home and abroad. Some of the other suggested recommendations of the national conference must task the imagination of the presidential candidates.

They include the following: “Nigeria should see her membership of international organisations as a foreign policy tool which, she should use, at all times, to maximum advantage; Nigeria must calibrate her interests by developing a short, medium and long term agenda in the West Africa sub-region, the African continent and the world. She must begin by sharpening her role in all the organisations she belongs to; Nigeria should intensify efforts to get Nigerians appointed or elected to positions in international organisations and support them once appointed or elected to ensure that they perform well and uplift the image of the country; Nigeria should create strategic alliances across Africa with a few countries of like mind and interest with which she could work to promote their interests and the unity of the continent.

An informal mechanism for consultation between the countries at the level of ambassadors, foreign ministers and heads of state and governments should be established. So far, the campaign issues have been largely insular for a country that faces challenges with global ramifications such as the Boko Haram insurgency. Even some pressing local issues such as rebuilding railways, roads and electrification of the country must task the imagination of all aspirants on how to mobilise international resources to complement limited local resources. The point cannot be overstated. All presidential candidates must think global and act a local for a democratic Nigeria. There was once a Nigeria (apology to Chinua Achebe!) with statesmen who genuinely acted local with their sharp eyes on continental and global issues too.

The author is the Secretary General, Alumni Association of the National Institute (AANI).