Ike Nwachukwu, Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, discussed ‘Political Prospects and Democratic Challenges in Nigeria’ at SAIS yesterday. Nwachukwu has had a distinguished career as a general in the Nigerian army, a military governor, later as a democratically elected senator, and at the pinnacle of his career, served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs under the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida.
The first half of Nwachukwu’s opening remarks were basically a primer on Nigerian history over the past 60 years (or as he put it, “an attempt to trace the journey to democratization”). Nwachukwu remarked that modern day Nigeria emerged in 1914 as a British protectorate and that 2014 brings 100 years of attempts to build Nigerian national unity. The speaker is a stalwart of the PDP (the governing party) and as such, noted that the PDP policy of nominating presidential candidates on a rotational basis by region is needed for stability in the present moment.
He sounded many notes that resembled a World Bank manifesto – the need for a stronger opposition (heavily emphasized, although the PDP was cited as a ‘bulwark’ of democracy), religious tolerance (though he stated that Shariah law confirmed ‘segregation’), women’s rights, and social justice.
Things picked up at the end of the talk and during the Q&A. Nwachukwu stressed that contributions to human capacity development would have a more positive impact than infrastructure development (what would Todd Moss say to that?) and spoke of an “appalling health care situation” in Nigeria.
In response to a question on the lingering role of retired military generals in Nigerian politics, Nwachukwu appeared to evince little concern, suggesting that that they have just as much right as anyone to enter the political arena once they have retired from active duty. He also remarked (jokingly) that the current President had probably never even passed by a military barracks.
His most compelling remarks came on foreign policy. Nwachukwu suggested that a trio of Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt (once the latter ‘gets their act together’) could play a leading role in continental leadership. He added that he was ‘pained’ by the perception of Nigeria in South Africa today given the prominent role Nigeria played in undermining apartheid. The blame for this was initially placed on the senior leadership of the ANC; however in a second question, Nwachukwu wondered rhetorically if this could be attributed to shortcomings in Nigerian foreign policy. Nevertheless, Nwachukwu believes that Nigeria’s accomplishments warrant a place for it as the sole African nation on a revised security council, a development that he argues is sorely needed.
Finally, on the matter of ECOWAS, he indicated that Nigeria had not been able to take a more prominent leadership role in the region as a result of French interests in its former colonies.
SAIS’ Nigeria exploration continues today with a talk by the Governor of Abia State.