Analogies in Nigeria-Liberia Relations

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Presidents Sirleaf and Buhari hold si.jpg

Introduction
When United States President Woodrow Wilson devised the ‘Hundred Days’ concept to assess his administration’s achievements, it was not apparent that this would later be a powerful yardstick for measuring and forecasting the policies and practices of new governments worldwide.

President Muhammadu Buhari clocked 100 days as Nigeria’s fourth president in its Fourth Republic on September 5, 2015. Being an influential and powerful African nation with strong ties with Liberia, it’s important to examine specifically what implications the signals of the relatively young government may have for Liberia-Nigeria relations. In doing this, one is reminded of President Obama’s aphorism that “it is only when Nigeria gets it right that Africa will get it right.” In other words, Nigeria’s domestic and foreign policy directions can affect the behavior of her fraternal African states.

And so it is with Nigeria and Liberia, ECOWAS Members States which share similar problems and aspirations and have reciprocated in each other’s bilateral relations for over a century. For example, by virtue of its nineteenth century founding, Liberia supported Nigeria in its quest for independence, and worked for peace during the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70. Nigeria and Liberia were part of the Monrovia group of African nations that helped found the Organization of African Unity (now African Union) in 1963. Nigeria reciprocated by playing a pivotal role in restoring peace and democratic rule in Liberia respectively during and after the Liberian civil war of 1989-2003.

In this context, it was unsurprising that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf led a high power delegation to participate in President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015 at the Eagle Square in Abuja. It was a reassurance on the part of the Liberian Leader to her new Nigerian counterpart that the long, bilateral ties between the two nations would be sustained.

Foreign Policy
Just as Liberians wished President Sirleaf gravitas in repairing Liberia’s battered international image exacerbated by protracted conflict when she assumed power in 2005, so are Nigerians expectant of President Buhari’s restoration of the global reputation of their once proud nation when he was sworn-in in May 2015.

President Buhari assumes the presidency with a lot of international goodwill that is beginning to pay off. Between the 3rd and the 13th of June, few days after his inauguration, he visited neighboring countries. As he promised in his May 29th inaugural address that tackling the Boko Haram insurgency would be prioritized by his administration, he took less than a week to begin rallying the leaders of Nigeria’s immediate neighbors to support counter insurgency in the Lake Chad Basin Region. Consequently, Niger, Chad and Cameroon agreed to deploy a Joint Multinational Task Force to battle the six-year’s insurgency.

He subsequently visited Europe, South Africa and the United States. In his maiden United States visit in July, President Barrack Obama said Buhari came onto his job “with reputation of integrity and a clear-cut agenda.” He subsequently participated in the G7 Summit, a platform he shared with President Sirleaf and other global leaders in Germany. He revealed his policy priorities of security, economy and anti-corruption. Subsequently, he attended the AU Summit in South Africa, where he again shared the stage with President Sirleaf, and held a tete-a tete with her on bilateral and global matters of mutual interest.

One of Buhari’s first foreign policy gambits was to reassess Nigeria’s foreign missions. After a recent meeting with the Permanent Secretary and senior staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was revealed that that there were 119 Nigerian embassies around world. Maintaining them costs Naira 34billion (aboutUS$170 million). Following this revelation, the new president directed that a committee be set up to assess the number of missions because there was no point in Nigeria operating missions all over the world “with dilapidated facilities and demoralized staff,” and when the need for some of the missions was questionable.“Let’s keep only what we can manage. Something has to be done so that we can get back our respectability as a country… We can’t afford much for now. There’s no point in pretending,” Buhari bluntly stated.

Another foreign policy matter he addressed was the use of Nigerian passports by erstwhile government officials. Former governors, ministers, senators, members of the House of Representatives, and members of state Houses of Assembly were still carrying diplomatic and official passports. The president directed the Nigerian Immigration Service (which issues passports in Nigeria, unlike the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Liberia) to immediately request the former officials to surrender passports issued to them while they were in office.

Domestic Policy
Like the huge socio-economic challenges inherited by President Sirleaf in 2005, President Buhari faced tremendous odds when he took over Africa’s biggest economy on May 29, 2015. Nonetheless, his first hundred days have fared well so far, judging from the restoration of basic utility services, especially increased power generation and distribution. There are concerns in some quarters about his slowness in appointing his cabinet ministers, but his government has been running smoothly since he took over without ministers. One of the reasons for this feat is the continuity in Nigeria’s public administration system were Permanent Secretaries from the civil service run the day to day affairs of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The new President has used his time so far getting detailed briefings from the Permanent Secretaries of the MDAs. And he seems content with their performance because of his belief that they work harder than ministers, who are political appointees. The President has however promised to appoint his ministers before September ending in keeping with Nigeria’s Constitution.

Meanwhile, his administration has scored some successes. There is nearly 10 percent increase in the economy of the country said to be the continent’s largest, which the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) credited to the President’s efforts of blocking economic leakages. In early July, the country’s foreign reserve surged from US$29 billion to US$31. He approved 700 billion Naira (US$3.5 million) in July to settle unpaid salaries of federal and state civil servants. At the beginning of August, he directed the CBN to set up of a Treasury Single Account (TSA). This would recover almost Naira 1.3 trillion (US6.5billion) from disparate accounts held by the MDAs in various commercial banks across the country. Citizens and international partners have hailed the measure for ensuring transparency in with the provisions in the nation’s 1999 Constitution. The CBN also directed commercial banks to avoid accepting deposits of foreign currency in domiciliary accounts in an apparent move to curb money laundering and illicit financial flows.

To implement his campaign promise of reducing the cost of governance, President Buhari and his Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, declared their assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). The CCB revealed that the net bank worth of President Buhari was Naira 30 million (US$150,000). He had only one bank account, and owed no foreign account, factory and enterprises prior to his inauguration. Vice President Osinbajo’s bank balances were about Naira 94 million (US$470,000) and US$900,000. Both men not only gave up half of their salaries, but also approved the reduction of funding lines to their official homes and offices.
The President, for example, turned down a proposal to purchase five customized armored Mercedes Benz S-600 cars valued at Naira 400 million (US$2 million) but continues using the vehicles he inherited from former President Goodluck Jonathan.

President Buhari also fulfilled his campaign promise to fight corruption by establishing the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption. Composed of top-notched academics and other professionals, the charge of the Committee is to advise his administration on a feasible strategy of combating corruption and reform the country’s criminal justice system.

Conclusion
President Muhammadu Buhari’s hundred days in power has made significant foreign and domestic policy achievements that have implications for Liberia. Liberia has stood by Nigeria from the latter’s colonial days to its independence. Nigeria has reciprocated this goodwill by helping to bring peace and development to Liberia. The Sirleaf Administration signaled the continuation of strong Liberia-Nigeria relations by her presence at the inauguration of the new Nigerian President in Abuja. She has subsequently shared the international stage with him at a number of strategic meetings to foster similar aspirations for sustainable development goals.

The activities and policies of President Buhari’s first hundred days at the helm of Nigeria, which undoubtedly is the Giant of Africa, have implications and analogies to President Sirleaf’s challenges and programs. By attacking corruption, stabilizing electricity, and devising a regional strategy to halt the Boko Haram insurgency, the Buhari administration has initiated a masterstroke in his domestic and foreign policy that will reverberate in Africa.

This change would certainly form the reference point for strengthening Nigeria-Liberia relations. And Nigeria’s recent foreign policy accomplishments under Buhari, in a relatively short period of hundred days, has signaled its readiness to shoulder Africa’s global aspirations and goals as a serious contender for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.

The Author
Nat Bayjay is Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia in Abuja. He can be reached at [email protected] or +234 8089390973.

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