THE AMERICA-NIGERIA MARRIAGE I SEEK
Ordinarily, the United States of America is the biggest diplomatic partner of Nigeria, the economic powerhouse of the African continent. They have been allies for so long. However, the realities of these times have made a diplomatic marriage and a further bilateral bond somewhat necessary and inevitable.
For Nigeria, this season is not ordinary. A season with seeming limitless challenges. From economic downturn, political conundrum, to insecurity challenges. Within the last few years, terrorism has persistently been a major challenge in Nigeria. Particularly in the North-East zone of the country. The Boko Haram sect are responsible for the murder of over 13,000 civilians between 2009 and 2015, Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan once admitted.
Though, terrorism is a threat to international peace and stability, it appears to have lingered on even after the inauguration, on 29th of May- 2015, of Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari. The President, a retired major-general and former Head of State, had made security, plus others, the top agenda in the presidential campaign that made him defeat a sitting President, Goodluck Jonathan in the tension-soaked March 28 presidential election held in Nigeria.
Therefore, it is a widely held belief amongst Nigeria that the President has the required experience and political will to considerably curb insecurity in the country.
In June, when the news filtered in that President Barrack Obama would host President Buhari at the White House on Monday, July 20. It was a soothing balm of relieve to majority of Nigerians. At least, it raised hopes and re-assured Nigerians that our international partner has not dumped us and something concrete is being done to solve the Nigeria’s litany of challenges, insecurity in particular, by the Nigerian Government. Surprisingly and understandably, the news item attracted a fair share of criticisms from Nigerians who felt home-grown solutions should be deployed to solve Nigeria’s local and internal problems. Is terrorism a local problem? The answer is NO.
Anyway, according to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 59% of Nigerians view U.S. influence positively, with 29% expressing a negative view. Likewise, according to a 2014 Global Opinion Poll, 69% of Nigerians view the U.S. favourably. That is good enough.
A statement from the White House on the invite underscore the United states “long-standing friendship with Nigeria, our commitment to strengthening and expanding our partnership with Nigeria's new government, and our support for the Nigerian people following their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power”.
It stresses, according to news report, that President Obama looks forward to discussing with President Buhari the two countries' many shared priorities including U.S.-Nigeria cooperation to advance a holistic, regional approach to combating Boko Haram, as well as Nigeria's efforts to advance important economic and political reforms that will help unlock its full potential as a regional and global leader.
The bilateral bond between the United States and Nigeria underscores the fact that an estimated one million Nigerians and Nigerian Americans live, study, and work in the United States, while over 25,000 Americans live and work in Nigeria. This seeming fraternal bond is not without challenges and troubles, history has shown.
The annulment of Nigeria’s June 12,1993, presidential election, the attendant reports of human rights abuses, and with the failed democratic transition, the U.S. was forced, by circumstances, to impose numerous harsh sanctions on Nigeria.
Again, on the Ist of December 2014, the Nigerian Government under the leadership of Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan cancelled a plan to train a battalion of the Nigerian army by the United States military in order to confront the extremist Boko Haram sect.
“At the request of the Nigerian government, the United States will discontinue its training of a Nigerian Army battalion,” the U.S. government, through its embassy in Abuja, said in a statement.
That was the apogee of the strained relationship that existed between both governments over issues of alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian military and failure of Ex-President Jonathan to curb corruption.
However, the bilateral bond is one with mutual respect and benefit. In 2001, record has it that the Nigerian Government led by Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo gave strong diplomatic support to the U.S. Government counter-terrorism efforts aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Aside this, the Nigerian Government also supported military action against the Taliban and Al Qaida.
The pivotal role the U.S. Government played to ensure a smooth democratic transition in Nigeria is quite commendable. I understand that majority of Nigerians would be eternally grateful for those interventions.
During the days preceding the March 28 presidential election, Ex-President Jonathan, who was a sitting president and seeking re-election, must have felt threatened and worried by the seeming support President Buhari enjoyed from the U.S. Government. Ex-President Jonathan, through his Campaign Spokesman, Mr Femi Fani-Kayode, had alleged that President Buhari “was prepared to repeal the anti-gay laws in Nigeria” in return for endorsement, support and funding from the U.S. Government.
An unsubstantiated allegation viewed by many Nigerians as a mere attempt to cause discord and disagreement between the U.S. Government and Nigeria’s now governing party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Personally, the resolve or threat by the U.S Government to subject Nigerian politicians who promote violence, to visa sanctions and restrictions amongst other factors saved Nigeria’s democracy.
The U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, on the 25th of January – 2015, at a news conference in Lagos, Nigeria after a closed-door meeting with both Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammad Buhari, stated, “we want to say that any Nigerian who promotes any form of violence during the elections remains ineligible for U.S. Visa”.
The Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also wrote in a widely circulated article: “anyone found to have incited violence or interfered with electoral processes will be unwelcome in the United States and subject to visa sanctions”.
The Nigeria’s ruling class know what it means to be subjected to U.S. Visa sanctions. Even Ex-President Jonathan knows.
“Some had threatened that he would end up like Cote d'Ivoire's Laurent Gbagbo. He proved to be a much better student of history. They promised that if his electoral defeat which they had dictated as an inevitability did not come to pass, they will instigate chaos and confusion, form a parallel government and make Nigeria ungovernable, hang it all on his head and send him to the International Criminal Court. In the end, he short-circuited their conspiracy, and showed that he belongs to a global hall of honour, not infamy”, excerpt of an article written shortly after the election by Ex-President Jonathan's media aide, Reuben Abati
The above quote suggests that, perhaps, Ex-President Jonathan’s historic and timely decision to concede victory to President Buhari before the final tally of the 2015 Presidential election was informed by an underlining fear of the possibility of being banned from entering the U.S. should violence erupt after the declaration of results of the 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria.
It is now apparent that it should interest the U.S Government and President Barrack Obama to support President Buhari’s programmes. This support should come with respect for Nigeria’s Laws and the beliefs of Nigerians. For if Nigeria’s President falls short of success, the U.S. Government might not be pardoned by many Nigerians.
Back home in Nigeria, many Nigerians are somewhat cheerful, with reports, that their President and his entourage will be housed in Blair House, the U.S. president's guest house for visiting foreign leaders. They are overjoyed about the honour done to President Buhari and Nigeria by the U.S Government.
For me, that is not the honour I crave for. As deserving as the honour seems, that is not what Nigerians desire. The honour Nigeria desperately needs is the positive outcome of the America-Nigeria renewed collaboration in curbing global terrorism and curtailment of Boko Haram insurgency. I have no doubt about the Political Will of the U.S Government, it has shown financial commitments in this regard. A $5 million contribution to the Multinational Joint Task Force to boost the military operation against the Boko Haram insurgency was, in June, announced by Linda Thomas-Greenfield on behalf of the U.S Government.
Though, much more is expected in the area of capacity building, military training and intelligence gathering.
Another honour Nigeria desires is in the area of international asset recovery. It is on record that past public officials have looted Nigeria’s treasury to a “virtually empty” state. President Buhari recently expressed his sadness about this.
Chapter V of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (2003) states clear that Asset Recovery is an international priority in the fight against corruption. Looted monies in bank accounts, proceeds of corruption invested in real estate and other investments outside Nigeria’s boundaries should be repatriated back to Nigeria.
The Energy sector is also an area of possible bilateral collaboration. Nigeria currently has installed capacity to generate about 6, 000 megawatts of electricity of which only about 4, 900 megawatts is actually generated (for a population of over 158,259,000). It compares, very poorly and badly too, with the United States' 1, 010,172 megawatts (for a population of 310,571,000). These are areas the Nigerian Government should explore partnership with its counterpart, the U.S. Government to build improved capacity for power generation and distribution.
As at 2014, the U.S Government generated electricity from sources like: coal (39%), natural gas (27%), nuclear (19%), Hydro (6%), and other renewables (7%). A Collaboration in this regard will certainly change the economic fortune of Nigeria for better.
Meanwhile, there won’t appear to be any meaningful political and economic reforms in Nigeria if Nigeria’s Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) still contains 11 aircraft. According to Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Nigeria’s government spends an estimated N9.08billion annually on the PAF. There is rarely no justification for such luxury and wastages in the face of harsh economic realities. And it should interest everyone to note that the British Prime Minister has no presidential aircraft.
However, in America, a Senator earns 174,000 US dollars and in the UK, a Member of parliament about 64,000 US dollars a year. Quite outrageous, in Nigeria, a senator earns 240 million naira (about 1.7 million US dollars) in salaries and allowances and a member of the House of Representatives earns 204 million naira (about 1.45million US dollars) per annum, according to Professor Itse Sagay, a legal luminary.
This trend of extravagance and wastages must be discontinued if Nigeria is sincere about political reforms. That amounts to a major reason why the ongoing efforts of Senator Bukola Saraki, the President of Nigerian Senate, to reduce the budget of the National Assembly should be supported by stakeholders, at least, to reduce cost of governance and enthrone transparency in the financial activities of Nigeria’s lawmakers.
Recently, President Barrack Obama had through Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that his administration would continue to pressure Nigeria until it legalises same-sex marriage.
The U.S. Government claimed to have adopted the protection of the rights of same-sex people as part of its foreign policies.
With deserving respect for the existing America-Nigeria bilateral bond and respect for the views and policy statements of the U.S. Government, the anti-gay laws in Nigeria remain effective. An offender, if convicted, risks a sentence of 14 years in jail. The laws are acceptable to vast majority of Nigerians
Irrespective of President Buhari’s personal belief, there is obviously little he can do about the anti-gay laws in Nigeria. The President himself is a product of Law and has constitutional mandate to respect, promote and protect Nigeria’s Laws.
In facts and practices, repealing anti-gay laws in Nigeria would amount to an abuse of the fundamental human rights of vast majority of Nigerians who support anti-gay laws. The same human rights that the U.S. Government seeks to protect.
If the U.S. Government is so sincere about the “protection of the rights of same-sex people”, it is my considered opinion that its Visa policies should be relaxed for same-sex people so that homosexuals who find laws of other countries, like Nigeria, harsh and unacceptable can fly to the United States where they can be treated with royal reception.
The America-Nigeria Marriage I seek is that which respects the laws of both countries not that which attempts to impose alien practices and culture on any of both countries. The committal to this diplomatic marriage is more urgent than ever.
***Kayode Fakuyi is a reporter, publisher and campaigner for good governance.