Reviewing Nigeria’s role in peace operations

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As Nigeria chokes under a heavy cost of global peace operations, President Goodluck Jonathan, recently, bemoaned the absence of a clearly defined national policy on the matter. Speaking at an international seminar on peace support operations, organised by the Ministry of Defence, Jonathan gave an assurance of a “firm defence posture.”

Though he told the participants that Nigeria would continue to play an active role in global peace and security initiatives, he added: “Our present and future participations will be guided by our national strategic interest in order to attain value for our human and material resources sacrifices.” The Minister of Defence, Prince Adetokunbo Kayode, said, “Nigeria stands to gain appreciable strategic advantage if we develop appropriate tactics for well-determined goals.”

Summing up the views of participants, the communiqué issued at the end of the two-day conference observed rightly that Nigeria participated in such operations without clear political and economic objectives. The absence of a national strategic framework, according to stakeholders, means that the country’s participation in peace support operations is not guided by any strategic direction. The country has thus not benefitted “maximally” and “this is not unconnected with the fact that Nigeria has not developed the capacity to exploit the...benefits of peace support operations,” the communiqué said.

The stakeholders’ meeting was aimed at “defining Nigeria’s strategic objectives and calculations in participation in Peace Support Operations, determining value for our human and resource sacrifices, developing framework for attainment of strategic benefits in our participation and most importantly, to develop a policy for our participation...”

But the participants’ conclusions and the emerging official position on peace support operations only affirm what has, over time, been the concern of close watchers of the nation’s foreign policy. What are the concrete gains of Nigeria’s enormous sacrifices on the international scene? Is it not unwise to continue investing in such operations without measurable goals and commensurate rewards?

No doubt, Nigeria, with its poor economic status, ought to be eager to use its massive investments in global operations to its economic advantage. Nigeria, according to official sources, is the fourth largest contributor to 40 United Nations peace support operations since 1960, having committed 250,000 men and women, losing 2,000 troops in the process and expending $10 billion.

At present, Nigeria has more than 17,000 troops serving under the world body. Since joining the UN in 1960, Nigeria has consistently committed itself to the cause of peacekeeping since sending its first troops to participate in the UN peace mission in the Congo, only days after its independence.

The nation’s contribution so far has not been based on solid economic diplomacy or direct economic reward for such efforts. There are indications that Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, feels fulfilled being perceived as the giant of Africa and the potential leader of the Black race. It appears that some of the nation’s leaders even see such deployments as routine humanitarian assistance to other countries.

Nigeria seems to have been paying lip service to its economic diplomacy initiated since 1988. Though this entails “foreign policy’s support to government’s goal of economic revival and sustainable development,” little economic gain has come from the nation’s foreign policy.

Nigeria played a critical role in restoring peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone after years of internecine wars. The adventures cost Nigeria billions of dollars. Nations that did not make such sacrifices have been busy, since the end of the wars, exploring economic opportunities in these countries.

What are the more prosperous nations doing when Nigeria, rated in the 2009 Human Development Report as one of the poorest nations in the world, is contributing the fourth largest troops to the maintenance of world peace?

It is high time Nigeria re-ordered its priorities while still participating as a responsible member of the global community. There is a need for a greater focus, particularly on internal economic and security matters. For a country whose internal security has fast degenerated through ethno-religious clashes, armed robbery, kidnapping and other forms of violent crimes, it is absurd for Nigeria to be preoccupied with restoring peace in other regions.

Nigeria should, forthwith, carefully weigh its involvement in foreign operations. The government requires a more focussed defence policy. Nigeria’s national interest and the responsiblity of the government to its own citizens override any external peace-keeping operation.

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