President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on an active foreign policy during his first year in office. Nigeria’s new head of state has had a busy overseas itinerary, adopting an aggressive diplomatic agenda in pursuit of key policy aims laid out in his 2015 election campaign. The policy has reaped some rewards for Abuja’s security and economic goals.
It is perhaps unsurprising that in July 2015, just 8 weeks after taking office, Buhari travelled to Washington DC. Nigeria has long held strong strategic and military ties with the US. Furthermore, while the country is no longer a large market for Nigerian crude, the US, along with the EU, accounts for more than 60% of foreign direct investment in the West African nation.
Buhari’s trip, the first of three to the US during his first year in office, showcased the importance of these bilateral relations and offered a strong endorsement of his new administration’s agenda.
Barack Obama, president of the US, told the press, “President Buhari comes into office with a reputation for integrity and a very clear agenda, and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety and security and peace to his country.” This was an important message, given that relations between the two countries had become strained under the previous administration. Disagreements over corruption and human rights in Nigeria, as well as limited US military aid, caused tension. This was evident at the end of 2014 when the Nigerian military cancelled joint exercises with its US counterpart because of US reticence in providing military helicopters to the Nigerian Armed Forces.
Buhari’s visit, therefore, had important symbolic value. However, it also has reaped certain concrete benefits. Following his election victory, the US announced that it would contribute $5m to a new multinational task force fighting against Boko Haram, as well as provide military trainers to help the Nigerian military in its struggle against the Islamist insurgents.
The US is not the only global power with which the current administration has been trying to cement ties. Indeed, between his inauguration at the end of May 2015 and early April 2016, Buhari had been on 26 international trips, including one in April 2016 to China where the two governments signed an infrastructure loan deal and other cooperation agreements. The loan deal, worth a substantial $6bn, was viewed as a major success for Buhari and his struggling economy. The funds are not tied to specific projects and can be used as and when the country identifies new infrastructure needs.
This is just the latest sign of burgeoning bilateral relations with China. The Asian giant has already played a key role in transport infrastructure projects in the country through state-owned banks and construction firms. Trade relations between the two countries have also grown robustly in the last decade. Bilateral trade increased from $2.8bn in 2005 to $14.9bn in 2015. Nigeria accounts for 8.3% of Chinese trade with Africa and 42% of Chinese trade with the ECOWAS bloc as a whole.
In The Gulf
Buhari has also spent significant time on official visits throughout the Middle East, conducting negotiations with the Gulf’s large-scale oil producers. While the current global oil glut and the concomitant price slump have dominated these discussions, other important issues have been broached. For example, the president concluded a wide range of agreements with the UAE, which included deals on double taxation and trade.
However, perhaps the most important agreement concerned the repatriation of stolen funds and the extradition of suspects in these money laundering cases. The deal is crucial step forward for the president’s anti-corruption agenda. Local press reports estimate that upwards of $200bn stolen by former government officials from the country’s Treasury is parked in banks or properties in Gulf countries.
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