Nigeria: A declining regional power?

By Lord Aikins Adusei Is Nigeria declining as a regional power in West Africa? This paper analysis Nigeria’s role in key events in the sub-region including the ongoing insurgency in Mali, and concludes that the nation’s role as the policeman of West Africa has not been felt. Undoubtedly Nigeria is the only regional power in West Africa. Its economy of US$337.9 billion (2010 estimate) is the biggest in West Africa and second in Africa after South Africa. Her more than 150 million people plus more than 36 billion barrels of untapped crude oil, in addition to huge deposit of natural gas estimated to be about 120 trillion cubic feet (tcf) or about 3% of the world's total, make Nigeria a key economic power. With a defense budget of about US$2.2 billion (348 billion naira-2011 budget) and a total active manpower of more than 80,000 soldiers, Nigeria's military is not only the biggest and best funded in West Africa but also the most powerful in the sub-region. In the 1990s the country's pivotal role in ending the brutal and bloody civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone that killed hundreds of thousands of people won her approbation regionally and beyond. A declining regional power? However, many who have watched Nigeria since the late-1990s are feeling unease about her declining status, power, influence and direction. For example the 2012 Mo Ibrahim Index of good governance placed the country 13 out of 15 best governed countries in West Africa and 43 out of 52 in Africa. In the West African sub-region only Guinea Bissau and Ivory Coast have worst governance situation than Nigeria. In the last six years for example, the annual Failed States Index which is jointly published by the Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy magazine has consistently named Nigeria among the top 20 most failed states on the planet along side Somalia, DR Congo, Sudan, Chad, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, Iraq, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Guinea and Pakistan. The import of both Indexes is that bad leadership, insecurity, bad governance, poverty and underdevelopment continue to inflict serious damages on the country's forward march with the Nigerian state unable to perform the most basic of its functions including providing security, and ensuring the safety of its citizens. In the ongoing war in Mali, Nigeria the dominant power in West Africa has been missing in action. Although President Goodluck Jonathan pledged the largest troop numbers as part of the ECOWAS multinational force, Nigeria could not mobilize its military capabilities and assets or that of ECOWAS' countries to lead the assault against Tuareg and Al Qaeda fighters. France, a regional great power (not a global power) sitting thousands of kilometers in Europe demonstrated that it is still a force when it comes to African affairs. In less than 30 days French forces succeeded not only in halting the militants' advance to Bamako but successfully pushed them out of the cities and towns they had occupied for nearly a year. As France's hi-tech rafale fighter jets and helicopter gunships bombed and drove the militants out of their hideouts in northern Mali, Malian women and children in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu—in appreciation of the French effort—began singing praises to France describing French soldiers as agents of God and mocking Nigeria, and other ECOWAS states for their ineffective leadership and dithering. On January 27 this year Yayi Boni, Africa Union chairman and president of Benin Republic, indicted the Africa Union, his own leadership and that of Nigeria, the regional power. He

praised France for her timely leadership role and military intervention, saying this is what "we should have done a long time ago to defend a member country". But Nigeria's poor show in the ongoing crisis in Mali is nothing new. During the 2011 post-election violence in Ivory Coast, which saw another intervention by France, Nigeria's leadership was conspicuously missing. Though Nigeria supported military action against Gbagbo, it could not translate the rhetoric into effective action. In the Gulf of Guinea for example, West Africa criminal gangs, Asia and South American drug cartels, European and Asian fishing and chemical companies and Al Qaeda backed militants are slowly turning the region into a haven for international narcotics and human trafficking, weapons proliferation, terrorism, maritime piracy, cyber fraud, illegal fishing, dumping ground for industrial waste, and other transnational criminal activities. Nigeria's ostrich approach to these problems has been uncharacteristic of a regional power. In fact many of the pirates' attacks against oil tankers and cargo ships have emanated from within Nigeria itself. Last month, January 16, 2013 pirates seized a Nigerian-owned cargo ship in Abidjan and successfully carried away the 5000 tons of oil it was carrying worth $5 million. On Sunday (February, 3, 2013) a French-owned tanker was seized in the same Abidjan area by Nigeria pirates. Commenting on the seizure of ships in Abidjan, Noel Choong who heads the Piracy Reporting office of the Malaysian based International Maritime Bureau noted that: “It appears that the Nigerian pirates are spreading. All of these vessels were tankers carrying gas oil. They are all taken back to Nigeria to siphon off the oil, and then the crews are freed”. According to Timothy Walker of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, in 2011 a total of 49 pirates' attacks were recorded in Gulf of Guinea. This increased to 58 in 2012. The increase in piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is indicative of how the internal security challenges in Nigeria are undermining regional security and stability which in turn is providing the criminals with ammunitions to expend. In northern Nigeria more than 1500 people have died since the uprising by the Boko Haram terror group began in 2009. In fact a large part of northern Nigeria is technically under the control of Boko Haram and Ansaru which continue to terrorize citizens and foreign workers with impunity. In the middle belt and in the Niger Delta region armed robbers, kidnapers, hostage-takers, oil smugglers, communal, ethnic and tribal conflict and tension continue to make life difficult for millions of people and businesses. The December 2012 kidnapping of the mother of Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the February 2013 kidnapping of seven foreigners working for a Lebanese firm in addition to seven French citizens kidnapped in Cameroon and brought to Nigeria indicate how Nigeria's internal security challenges are undermining its status as a regional bulwark and how its weakness and fragility is affecting the security of her neighbors. The use of smart weapons by France and its victory over the rebels illustrate the need for Nigeria to have the weapons that will enable her to achieve air superiority and establish herself as West Africa's true naval power. The 2012 publication of Nigeria's military assets by the Military Technology journal offers a glimpse as to why the armed forces have not been able to bring stability to the country and the region. It shows that despite being a very rich country, the Navy does not have a single submarine to beef up its coastal defenses and police the crime infested waters of West Africa. The authors observed that “many ships are in very poor conditions due to lack of maintenance”. They further added that for the air force the “serviceability of most of the aircraft…is very low, and many airframes are stored in non-flyable conditions…while others have

been effectively abandoned due to lack of maintenance”. The non-serviceability of most of the country's planes partly underscores why Nigeria cannot project power in the region and explains why Germany and Britain had to step in to volunteer to transport ECOWAS forces to Mali. Among the global power elite, policy-makers and scholars, Nigeria's decline is a worrying problem. This is because in a rough neighborhood and conflict ridden environment like that of West Africa there is always the need for a regional power to maintain stability. But with Nigeria's inability to maintain security and stability both at home and in the region and with no viable candidate in the region to replace her, the future stability, security, peace and development of Nigeria and the region is in doubt. In fact Robert D. Kaplan's prediction of a “coming anarchy” in the region may not be far from reality. Consequences of the Decline One of the consequences of Nigeria's inability to solve its internal problems or provide leadership in the subregion is that the political and economic integration of ECOWAS as a regional block has stalled. This becomes clearer when ECOWAS is compared with other regional groupings such as ASEAN, SADC, and the EU, and the key role individual regional powers are playing in them. For example the SADC region is considered the most progressive region in Africa courtesy South Africa. South Africa is frequently cited as a rising power with substantial growing economic, political, diplomatic and military power of which she is aggressively using to reshape the international order to its advantage. South Africa is also cited as providing leadership, mobilizing, organizing, and building coalition on key regional issues with the countries in SADC. South Africa is counted among global elite groups such as G20, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) with influence and power to reshape the current global development. Meanwhile Nigeria continues to find herself in the club of G77. Another consequence is that Nigeria's decline has led to greater instability and insecurity in the subregion as can be seen in Ivory Coast, Mali, Guinea and the narco state of Guinea Bissau. In fact a power vacuum has been created which is increasingly being filled by criminal gangs and hegemonic external powers notably France, the United States and Britain. As I write Mali's future is being decided in Brussels far away from Nigeria the regional power. If the power vacuum continues it will have strategic consequences not only for Nigeria but also for the entire region. Reviving Nigeria The question is: What can be done to turn Nigeria around? First and foremost the Nigerian state must recognize that its decline is self inflicted even if external forces and events have played a role in it. At the heart of the problem is the neo-patrimonial power system that serves only the interest of the few and which has led to what Patrick Chabal of Kings College-London has termed elite “enrichment without development”. The elite capture politics with its concomitant by-product of extreme poverty, inequality, conflict, terrorism, armed robbery, kidnapping, violence, cyber fraud and corruption ought to be dismantled. The question is: How can such a system be dismantled? I suggest this could come in a form of a very broad comprehensive reform to be carried out in all the institutions and sectors of the state: from the security establishment, to the presidency, the judiciary, legislature, to the civil service, and the private sector. The reform should aim at not only undoing the opportunistic manipulation, neo-patrimonial and vertical power structures that have been constructed by the political elite but

to allow for a more active role by the civil society and the marginalized citizens to ensure greater democratic accountability, good governance, human security, and inclusive development in the country. The problem though is who will carry out the reform and how. With so many entrenched interests in the country it is difficult to think about reform or successfully implementing one from the top. In this regard a reform engineered from the bottom up by civil society cum the masses might be the only viable option available to kick start the change badly needed to revitalize the country. Nevertheless Nigeria's power holders need to realize that the country's position in the world is dependent on what it does first at home, second in West Africa and third in Africa. But what it does at home is also linked to a successful reform that will rescue the country from the grips of the few home-grown oligarchs and external parasites that have since independence being milking and paralyzing the country and preventing it from strongly playing its role as a true regional power. Any delay in carrying out a reform will not only make the 'paper tiger' and 'sleeping giant' stories that have long been associated with the country a reality but will also make the nosediving decline of the country very hard to reverse. Lord Aikins Adusei politicalthinker1@yahoo.com (February 12, 2013)