TOWARDS AMERICAN POLICY ON NIGERIA
A flurry of activities went ahead last week in the international arena as the future of Nigeria came into global focus much more forcefully than before. It climaxed with an invitation by President Barack Obama to the Nigeria's Acting President Good luck Jonathan to visit the White House. As if beginning revised African Agenda, President Obama also removed Nigeria from the list of State sponsors of terrorism or rather decided that individuals rather than Nations be targeted. It is customary that the President of the United States will have a first hand feel of the man behind the Nigerian wheel. The fine-tuned African Agenda has been awaited for long to replace the persistent Bush Policy as well as earlier approaches leading to His Ghana visit. The American visit of Acting President Jonathan will serve the purpose of final information gathering and bilateral agreement about how to help Nigeria resume her leadership role in Africa.
The challenge faced by the international community about Nigeria is how to make certain that they would not act wrongly in helping a closed system There is still an information gap wide enough to delay an across the board international policy on Nigeria. As usual everyone looks up to America to take the lead and piece together a consistent agenda. The American Policy drawn and deployed by President Bush for 8 years prior to the advent of President Obama has taken root and in the absence of any researched change holds sway. Somehow various attempts by the new President to introduce changes seem to fly in the face of uncertainty even though Africa has a good portion of President Obama's heart. First was the Africa visit to Ghana, the most open democracy in Africa, which did not quite serve the purpose of mobilizing Africa. Instead of promoting Democracy, something often viewed as alien by a portion of African leaders themselves, the visit actually helped to elevate the Bush Policy which did not seem to bother about how democratic but how resource effective to America's interest. So something had to be done if President Obama would touch the heart of Africa profoundly. So how would it be? The most populous country Nigeria had become a dark veil; nothing could be predicted of the leadership and even the people. The existing international attitude has been that of evasion. Business has all but avoided any intercourse. Yet to touch Africa is to touch Nigeria not just Ghana. So a strategy has to be devised. The President sent His Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton to come and dialogue with President Yar Adua but that visit appeared to have created more misunderstanding because her frank tongue lash of the Leadership in “tough love” calling for urgent reforms created wider gulf. Soon it became clear that the Nigeria of the old extraction was appreciative of such help and despite America's promise of partnership for electoral reforms the administration carried on with business as usual.
What broke this lull was not the sceptism of people like us to the effect that partnering with this junta would not be possible and that Nigeria needed more than electoral reforms at this stage. It was because of the failed Christmas bombing by a young Nigerian within the United States Airspace. This event led to Nigeria being classified as a country of interest amongst state sponsors of terrorism. The search light also helped to fast track a nascent movement for change in Nigeria known as the “Nigerian revolution”. What the admixture of global attention did to Nigeria was to strengthen advocacy and even street protests thereby exposing the cabal leadership class in their true nature for all to see. The world learnt how the leadership could tell barefaced lies about the health status of the Nigerian President. The world saw into the so called Nigerian democracy especially how responsive to National emergency was National Assembly and finally how the supportive the 1999 constitution is to nation building efforts. The most important lesson learnt was the existence of two Nigeria s side by side.
At the stage of decision, the process of change brought more answers. Initially, the belief was that Nigeria could not realistically be one country without an arrangement for leadership rotation. Libya's President Ghadafi called for a peaceful division of Nigeria into two States, while the United States through a junior secretary of African Affairs came out to test the waters in support of the rotation agreement within PDP ruling Party. Although progress has been made it remained clear that the information gap would not allow final seal to policy so soon. The obvious unpopularity of the 2-state solution as well as the rotation policy coupled with the difficulty of documentation to make it accountable extended the policy maturity process. It was important that a cabinet was in place for the Jonathan -Obama dialogue to take off. So much depends on the outcome of this dialogue.
Whatever bilateral agreement that emerges will also determine how other countries engage Nigeria. It is important that the Nigerian think tank go to work immediately to articulate and anticipate American demands and Nigerian responses to them since this time around there will be no 'Maradona�dribbling of anybody after agreement has been reached on the agenda. It is important also to correctly articulate the Nigerian position because anything outside the popular agenda of change in Nigeria will extend the life span of the Nigerian Revolution. Only concrete assurances of change in the Present moribund system of government, of concrete constitutional review, of electoral reform and institutional rejuvenation that results from it will assuage the appetite for dissent. Nigerian youths have made it explicit they are willing to support the outcome of this bilateral dialogue so long as it guarantees a merit driven open democratic society for Nigeria.
Recent events in Nigeria though far from the change sought has ingredient of optimism about the capability of the Jonathan administration to weather the storm of difficult reform against the background of a skewed system of governance and constitution. Within months of assumption of power in acting capacity, He has quietly implemented critical aspects of the Nigerian revolution. The progress of this government is not only to be gauged by the fact that he dialogued recently with the leader of the revolution, Nobel Laurate Prof Wole Soyinka but also because he has made the passage of the Uwais electoral reform a priority. Deciding to pay university lectures long sought after emoluments and increments has given his leadership a human face with the Academia while the recent decision to allow independent candidacy for President is already a revolutionary step to ensure the continuation of the Nigerian nation with or without constitutional reform. To further relegate the constitution and prepare grounds for genuine future reforms erstwhile indicted persons have been given permission to contest future elections and the international community of Nigerians can now have more direct impact by voting in elections. To raise the literacy level of leadership, future candidates will have to have minimum qualification of the Nigerian school certificate. Although away of these leaps Nigerian youths wanted guarantees before giving their support and it is most likely these assurances will come from the dialogue in the White House.
There is no doubt that already the stakes have been raised higher for incoming ministers, even though they were selected along the cumbersome state representation system[whatever that means] the job they must do will make the weak to withdraw voluntarily to avoid public disgrace. Gone are the days when you work to accumulate contract awards for your state so that you would have capacity to 'deliver�[read rig] your state for the ruling party in elections. This time you would be accountable to the international community, The Nigerian community abroad, Save Nigeria Group and the Nigerian people at large. As the Nigerian revolution nears its climax, it is important that President Obama understands how grateful Nigerians are for his intervention. It is also important that he completes the process which will impact on his overall image in Africa. This is the time to appropriate concrete accountable assurances of processes to be put up by the Nigeria government to ensure that reforms already adopted as well as the new ones to be discussed are implementable and sustainable.
Mr. Nworisara aspired to be President of Nigeria in 1992