The African Giant and Mali

In the fourth of the series “Abuja Debates” the study “The Role of Nigeria in Regional Security Policy by Prof. Warisu Oyensina Alli was publicly presented for the first time. The ensuing discussion among experts on the panel and guests from the audience made apparent that dissenting opinions about the role of Nigeria in the region exist. That notwithstanding, it is likely that ECOWAS’ efforts in Mali will also reflect on Nigeria and her aspirations as a regional leader. So, can Nigeria be conceived of as the regional hegemon in West Africa?

"Nigeria is key to ECOWAS security policy and can play a more crucial role in the future", was the overall conclusion of Prof. Alli, Professor for International Relations, University of Jos. The estimation that Nigeria had a leading role to play in ECOWAS institutions in terms of financial and operational capacity was shared by Mr. Armstrong, Programme Officer at the ECOWAS Commission in the Department of Political Affairs, Peace and Regional Security (DPAPRS). According to Mr. Armstrong, ECOWAS member states, are even reluctant to contribute, because they are confident of Nigeria’s strong commitment when it came to actual operations. Having a more sceptical view on Nigeria’s leadership, Prof. William Fawole, Professor for International Realations at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife, stated that the concept of Nigeria as a hegemon was actually "overused". However, he acknowledged Nigeria’s crucial role in the region, while Ambassador Abdul bin Rimdap held the view that Nigeria’s self-conception of leadership derived from its geographical position and economic strength. Furthermore, Nigeria’s involvement in ECOWAS operations was a direct result of protecting Nigerians who were living in ECOWAS member states.

Bad domestic performance hampering Nigeria’s foreign engagement

One of the issues raised during the discussion was the overweight of military performance of Nigeria in the region, thus neglecting her capacity for civil conflict resolution. Additionally, contradiction between massive military spending and high internal poverty rate exists. Besides bad leadership at home, an imbalance among ECOWAS member states could be observed, resulting in unequal burden sharing in terms of financial and technical contributions. Despite these more critical aspects of Nigeria’s role on the domestic and regional levels, the audience agreed on the importance of the country in the region as a consequence of her financial and intellectual capacity.

Will an ECOWAS intervention in Mali lead to a "Nigerian Vietnam"?

Reflecting the contributions of the discussants, it seems that current debates on the role of Nigeria in regional policy can’t blind out the Malian crisis and the situation in the Sahel. As the international community urges to launch an operation to restore peace in Northern Mali, but only assisting logistically, the role of Nigeria as regional player become even more crucial. The audience widely agreed that if ECOWAS was intervening, Nigeria needs to be on board. However, scenarios drawn by the panelists on that particular issue varied. Prof. Alli argues for mediation and negotiation as he doubts a successful intervention by the Nigerian army in the desert. Both Mr. Armstrong and Ambassador Rimdap raised the issue of Responsibility to Protect which left no other way than military intervention in Mali. Prof. Fawole, in contrast, advised caution due to possible negative domestic consequences. Furthermore, he underlined that a strong commitment of Nigeria in a potential ECOWAS operation in Mali would put Nigeria in a similar position as the US was and is facing in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan

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