Monday, April 14, 2014

Nigeria's Geostrategic Blind Spots

Nigeria’s most pressing national security concerns are of transnational dimensions. They range from the resilience of the terrorist insurgency in her northeastern frontier, a long neglected region vulnerable to subversive currents from the Sahel and the Maghreb to endemic oil theft and piracy in her southern coastal waters now ranked the world’s second most dangerous maritime sector after the Gulf of Aden and with the potential to disrupt the broader maritime economy in the Gulf of Guinea; and the influx of Sahelian pastoralists displaced by climate change, and in search of wetlands, a migration that is fueling conflict between farmers and herders over scarce land.

Against this backdrop, we have to rethink our foreign policy architecture which has been in stasis for some decades. Foreign policy thought has not significantly progressed from the buoyant days of Jaja Nwachukwu, Joseph Garba and Bolaji Akinyemi. From the 1960s to the 1980s, these foreign affairs ministers essentially based foreign policy on the doctrine of Nigerian primacy in Africa and defined her role as the chief opponent of neocolonialism and apartheid. However, since the collapse of apartheid in South Africa, Nigeria has not reinvented this role. Afrocentric activism is still a nominal pillar of our foreign policy but this has also been supplanted by a less confident, more beggarly comportment in the international space – a tragic reflection of the domestic lack of elite consensus and internal coherence.

Admirably, Nigeria has continued to contribute significantly to peacekeeping efforts in West Africa, and also under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations. But these commitments seem to be pursued independent of any overarching foreign policy framework. The closest to a unified field theory to explain our human and material investments in the Africa is that they demonstrate our role as a “big brother”. Yet, uncritical beneficence is hardly the stuff of serious foreign policy.     

Revising our foreign policy calls for a decolonization of intra-African diplomatic relations. Many African countries are diplomatically closer to their former colonizers than to each other. Britain and Spain are thousands of miles away but we are far more familiar with them than with their erstwhile colonies, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea which are in our neighbourhood. One consequence of this dynamic is the perception of Foreign Service postings to Washington D.C. or to the Court of Saint James as being more important than those to “backwater” nations in our region. But in national security terms, our contiguous neighbours like Niger and Chad are far more important than say Canada or Italy. Equatorial Guinea, with which we share a maritime border, is more important than Spain. Instability in our neighbours immediately impacts millions of Nigerians far more than trends in Britain and the US.

A realistic ranking of nations in a hierarchy of strategic value would prioritize, in descending order, our contiguous neighbours, our major trading partners and nations that are home to Nigerians in diaspora who constitute a vital national resource. Thus far, West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea have been in our geostrategic blind spot but they actually constitute Nigeria’s near abroad – a zone over which she must act as regional gatekeeper. The sovereignty-deficits of our northern and southern neighbours mean that Nigeria cannot comprehensively deal with her national security challenges without projecting influence in her near abroad.

Nigeria is an Anglophone giant surrounded by francophone states of varying degrees of institutional fragility; a weak state surrounded by even weaker states. Economic troubles have forced France to slash military spending and curb her appetite for interventionism in Africa. France led a brief and measured NATO-supported intervention in Mali two years ago but has shown scant inclination to similarly intervene in the Central African Republic, a country where it has a long history of involvement. Decreasing French support leaves our francophone neighbours reeling from an influence vacuum. Nigeria’s main foreign policy challenge is to fill that vacuum. As a regional powerhouse, she is eminently positioned to do so. Given her transnational security challenges, it is absolutely imperative that she does so. An activist engagement in our sphere of influence would involve creating a common security umbrella with countries equally afflicted by non-state actors, deepening our intelligence infrastructure in the regional neighbourhood and working towards mutual economic prosperity.   


The campaign for permanent membership of the UN Security Council strikes nationalistic chords at home but it is even more important to reinvigorate our membership of apparently unglamourous bodies like the Gulf of Guinea Commission and the Niger River Basin Authority. The latter, for example, oversees transnational water resources in nine member countries. It approves dam projects that could have consequences for food security and the national economies in the Sahelian region as well as adversely impact Nigeria’s hydroelectric power capacity. Given the effect of climate change, the management of diminishing transnational water resources such as the River Niger and Lake Chad will be matters of increasing international disputation in the coming years. The Gulf of Guinea’s hydrocarbon riches have made it an area of interest to global actors. Its security challenges make it imperative for Nigeria to develop blue water naval capabilities to secure its maritime interests. Nigeria must also lead the international effort to impose law and order in the Gulf.

Ultimately, Africa needs Nigeria to assume her rightful role of leadership. The country’s search for internal coherence will have to proceed quickly. The security of an entire continent may well depend on it. 

(All images sourced online)  


  1. Dear Chris Ngwodo,

    Nice and detailed narrative you have done to the subject matter,Nigeria's Geostrategic Blind Spots. I will like to access more of your material on this subject for Research and academic purposes, please.

    Thank You