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On Brink of Joining BRICS

 Many Nigerians were expressing what they called “worry” and “sadness” that Nigeria was not admitted into BRICS, the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa that just ended its summit meeting in Johannesburg. One writer even described it as “Nigeria’s biggest foreign policy humiliation” that six other countries were invited to join the group from January 1, next year and we were not among them. It could not be because of economic size, because Nigeria’s economy is larger than South Africa’s, not to mention Egypt’s or Ethiopia’s, though South Africa’s economy is more industrially advanced than our own.

But wait a minute. How can you be admitted into a place when you did not apply for admission into it in the first place? However good your grades are, which school in Nigeria will admit you if you did not apply for admission? Vice President Kashim Shettima, who represented President Bola Tinubu as an observer at the meeting, said Nigeria did not apply to join the group. One “fact checking” site however quoted a South African minister as having said while on a visit to India last year that the group was planning to expand and she mentioned Nigeria, Mexico and some other countries as potential members. On that basis alone, this “fact checker” concluded that Nigeria must have applied. I think this fact checker needs a fact check of his own.

Some years ago, one Nigerian writer wished that BRICS will become BRINCS with Nigeria’s entry. It is not clear what the name will be from January when Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates [UAE] formally join the group. There is a local adage here that you can tell who a person is by the kind of company he keeps. Looking at the expanded BRICS membership, it is very difficult indeed to definitively say what kind of person this organization will be.

Clearly it is not a First World entity such as European Union [EU] or OECD. With the mass admission of Eastern European nations, EU too is now a mix of First and Second World nations. BRICS can be called a union of Third World nations on the basis of GDP per capita, though not quite, because Russia was once categorized as a Second World nation and China and India today are more powerful overall than most First World nations, even with lesser GDPs per capita.

BRICS started with a mildly anti-Western flavour, a desire to strike an independent economic course almost along the lines of the “New World Order” of the 1980s. Nigeria’s foreign policy has never been distinctly anti-Western. The only five flashes of Nigerian foreign policy independence, by my count, were in the 1960s when the Tafawa Balewa government opposed French nuclear tests in the Sahara; in 1973 when General Gowon broke relations with Israel in compliance with an OAU decision because it occupied the territory of Egypt, an OAU member state; in 1975 when General Murtala Mohammed rejected a circular sent by from US President Gerald Ford to all African rulers and recognized Angola’s MPLA; in 1982 when President Shehu Shagari, after initial hesitation, went to Tripoli to attend an OAU Summit despite Western orders not to please Muammar Gaddafi; and then in 1984 when the Buhari military regime recognized Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic [SADR] and snubbed Morocco.

All the current BRICS member states have a mild to hard anti-Western foreign policy stance. South Africa’s ruling ANC has an instinctive hostility to the West driven by bitter historical experience, when the Western powers stood akimbo while Apartheid rule raged in the country and only East Bloc nations, Cuba, China and radical African countries offered support to the anti-Apartheid struggle. Nigeria however did its little bit; in the 1970s we declared ourselves to be a “Frontline State” alongside Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania.

The most defining matter today in defining a country’s stance on the international alliance equilibrium is the war in Ukraine, with both Russia and the West pushing smaller nations to support their side of the conflict. Although the Vice President represented Nigeria at the recent Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg, we don’t appear to have a desire to support Russia’s side, OPEC Plus amity notwithstanding. Things are really complicated; in the 1960s the old Soviet Union aided the Federal Government of Nigeria to put down Biafran secession, but Russia now wants our support to dismember.

The new BRICS members will complicate matters even further, with respect to both democracy and foreign policy tilts. Saudi Arabia and UAE are Western-lauded absolute monarchies, a misnomer if ever there is one. In the 1990s when Western powers were putting pressure on African nations to democratize, I asked the Political Affairs Counselor in the British High Commission in Abuja why they were not asking Saudi Arabia to democratise. He said, “Saudi Arabia is ok as it is,” meaning it serves the West’s oil-guzzling purposes just fine. In BRICS we would also have been sitting next to Egypt. With the benefit of hindsight from what is happening in Sudan, we Africans applaud Field Marshal Al-Sisi for preventing Egypt from going that way a decade ago, coup against an elected president notwithstanding.

As for international alliances, Saudi Arabia and UAE are firmly in the Western camp, though the former has recently improved ties with China. And with Iran, its biggest regional foe, with whom the two nations have fought a most brutal proxy war in Yemen. Now they will sit side by side in the new BRICS. Egypt however is one of the biggest recipients of American military aid since 1978, when it signed the Camp David Accords with Israel. It is a bribe, if you like, for it not to deploy its huge army against Israel, and without Egypt, Arab nations can hardly exert military pressure on Israel.

More recently, there is much talk in BRICS of inter-trading in local currencies, with a medium- and long-term goal of dislodging the US dollar as the world’s top reserve currency. Well, it is good to try, because the dollar’s dominant position in international commerce is a bigger pillar of American imperialism than even its military power. One snag in the drive to have a common currency is that it will require having a common central bank. Adopting the euro by European nations, for example, necessitated having a European Central Bank. ECOWAS member states’ now paused drive to have a single regional currency also needed a common central bank, and they didn’t appear ready to have one.

Vice President Kashim Shettima said Nigeria did not apply to join BRICS because President Tinubu is a democrat who must consult widely with Federal Executive Council, his economic advisory team and the National Assembly in order to build national consensus first. Remember that when Babangida’s regime joined the Organisation of Islamic Conference [OIC] in 1986, there was no consensus even in the Armed Forces Ruling Council, much less in the country, leading to Chief of General Staff Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe telling reporters that he was not aware of the entry, which in turn led to his sack.

The Tinubu Administration must have learnt lessons from that episode and the recent Niger Republic saga, when it rushed to talk to ECOWAS before it exhausted discussions at home. ECOWAS launched a diplomatic initiative backed by military threats before Nigerians were consulted. National Assembly, whose approval is essential, indicated that it will not welcome the idea.

While contemplating the idea of applying to join BRICS, we need to do a census of the international organisations we have joined since 1960, whether we reaped any dividends from joining them, which ones have since disappeared with time, which ones are still relevant and we should stay in, which ones we should exit, and which ones we ought to dine with a long spoon. I understand that the Frontline States ended when South Africa became free of Apartheid in 1994, but where is the Non-Aligned Movement? When next we meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a BRICS summit, we should ask him whether, in Jawaharlal Nehru’s will, he told him to abandon the Non-Aligned Movement and create BRICS instead.

We should not be in a hurry to apply to join BRICS. As the VP said, build national consensus first, otherwise one day, someone will apply for us to join NATO before the National Assembly hears of it.

21st Century Chronicle

The views in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of InfoBRICS.

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