U.S. / NIGERIA RELATIONS: NEED FOR CAUTION
Since the listing of the country into the United States' black book, Nigerian travellers have suffered varied degrees of intense searching and even harassment at various airports across the world, especially the United States. Happily, the situation seems to have improved – particularly after the visit of President Goodluck Jonathan to the United States.
Naturally, the listing of Nigeria as a terrorism-sponsoring state came to many Nigerians like a thunderbolt from the blue. This is because no Nigerian, before the December 23, 2010 incident, had ever been involved in any serious act of terrorism against Nigeria, let alone the United States. I stated this much in an article I wrote in this column immediately after the botched attempt to blow up the American airliner. I wish to restate that Nigerians are peace-loving, hardworking and humane people. They are also very hospitable. These make it almost impossible for them to plan or collaborate with anybody to sabotage another country.
Nigerians' reactions to the incident were natural, human and expected.
But what many of us never envisaged was the negative criticisms it could elicit from some concerned persons and groups. I must confess that since the clamping down on Nigeria by the United States Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security respectively, there have been scathing criticisms of this policy by some aggrieved Nigerians. Intriguingly, some enemies of progress and mischief-makers have made efforts to hijack the situation to foment trouble and promote their narrow, parochial interests. Some of them have even taken up issues with the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms Rene Sanders, as a way of registering their displeasure.
I have followed all the developments very calmly and calculatedly and wish to state, without any equivocation, that the fuss over the matter is uncalled for. I was the first to condemn the slamming of Nigeria by the United States. This I did purely out of sheer patriotism. I had argued then that the action was hasty and too harsh. But as a careful follower of relations between Nigeria and the United States over the years, I have since realized the reason behind the action. The action of the United States, in all intents and purposes, was never intended as a punitive measure. Rather, it was taken in the best interest of our country, more so since we occupy a strategic place in global politics - especially Africa.
The foreign policy of the United States in Africa over the years has been built around Nigeria, which has played a pivotal role in strengthening the bond of friendship between Africa and the rest of the world. Its role in peace-keeping operations in Africa, coupled with its contributions to global peace and security, has increased the interest of the United States in Nigeria. Even at that, trade between Nigeria and the United States has continued to grow in Arithmetic proportion. Mention should also be made of the investments of the United States in Nigeria, which have spanned over 50 years. There are as many as 25,000 Americans resident and doing business in Nigeria, while over one million Nigerians live, do business or teach in American universities.
In fact, the point I am trying to drive home is that America has a huge stake in Nigeria, and therefore, will not allow the country to sink into a crisis of worrisome dimension. The unfortunate civil of 1967-1970 set Nigeria many years back and created undue clannishness among the various ethnic groups in the country. It is a repeat of this senseless war that the United States is trying to nip at the bud.
I wonder how many Nigerians have weighed the consequences of war at this time of our national development. Do not forget that Negroponte, an American, predicted that Nigeria would break up in 2015. It is in appreciation of the emerging and perilous signs that characterise our national life at this time that has prompted the United States to have a more than passing interest in Nigeria. Contrary to the erroneous impression being created in some quarters that the United States is unduly interfering in the domestic affairs of Nigeria, the United States is only being cautious and proactive.
The carnage that took place in some African countries, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of Congo, and the attendant human problems they created are some of the things that make the United States take more than a cursory look at the affairs in our country.
The truth has to be told that any civil war that erupts in Nigeria will lead to colossal human and material losses. In fact, the refugee problems will be too much for its neighbours, including Chad, Benin Republic, Ghana, Cameroun and Liberia to contain.
It may be right to cast our minds back to what happened in the relations between Nigeria and the United States, especially after the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections believed to have been won by the late Chief Moshood Kashimao Abiola and the various failed attempts to return the country to civil rule. The annulment of the election provoked the United States to impose a number of sanctions on Nigeria to force the junta at that time to embark on democratisation. Incidentally, the death of General Sani Abacha and the emergence of General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar, who embarked on a serious transition programme, made the United States to remove some of the sanctions, such as visa restrictions, increased high-level visits by U.S. officials, future assistance, and the granting of Vital National Interest Certification on counter-narcotics, which took effect in March 1999, and which led to the re-establishment of closer ties between the U.S. and Nigeria. The emergence of a full civilian administration in 1999 led to improved bilateral relations between Nigeria and Washington.
The relations between Nigeria and the U.S. reached an all-time high in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the U.S. Apart from vehemently condemning the attack on the U.S., Nigeria also supported military action against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Nigeria also played a useful role in forging an anti-terrorism consensus among states in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The visit of the late President Umar Musa Yar'Adua to the United States on December 13, 2007 was the icing on the cake in the relations between the two nations.
The major plank of the U.S. foreign assistance priority in Nigeria is: Investing in people.' If this is so why then antagonize it for taking measures that will further the collective interest of Nigerians?
It may also be important to take a look at the humanitarian activities of the United States in Nigeria in recent times. It has assisted Nigeria in such areas as public health, good governance, societal stability, and economic growth. It is on record that Nigeria ranks as the country with the second-highest maternal mortality rate in the world with the onslaught by malaria that causes the death of over 300,000 children and 7,000 women annually. Added to this is the frightening prevalence of tuberculosis in Nigeria, which makes it the fourth highest globally, low contraceptive prevalence rate of 8.9 percent and high fertility rate of 5.7 children per woman per annum. To tackle these endemic problems the United States has increased support in the areas of immunization, polio eradication, birth preparedness and maternal services. It has also provided insecticide-treated nets and treatments kits, and therapeutic and preventive treatment of pregnant women to reduce deaths and disability. Its sustainable efforts aimed at reducing the scourge of HIV/AIDS are quite commendable.
The United States also supports efforts aimed at strengthening the democratic institutions and civil societies in Nigeria to contribute more significantly to national development and the stabilization of democracy. It also promotes the enforcement of human rights, civil liberty, peace and security. These are evident in its support for peace-keeping operations and simulation centres at the Armed Forces Staff College, capacity building through the activities of the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS), and such other activities as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Let me ask: How many other countries in Africa can boast of these goodies from any foreign country?
From every indication, Nigeria is blessed to have a super-power like the United States standing by it, particularly in perilous circumstances. This is why I am worried by the new wave of negative media attacks on the United States. Those who fan the embers of hate and clannish hegemony against the United States may not understand the huge harm they are doing to Nigeria.
If the United States allows Nigeria to degenerate into anarchy then it will be putting all its investments in Africa in peril. This is so because what affects Nigeria will have ripple effects on other countries in Africa. This is the danger the United States wants to cut off before it catapults into a continental catastrophe.
I do not subscribe to the idea of some persons engaging in acts inimical to our collective interest in the name of patriotism. Patriotism is propelled by truth and social justice and the undying urge to place one's nation's interest over those of other countries. But this should be done with common sense, candour and altruism.
The fight against terrorism is a global war that must be fought with all the vigour that can be mustered. If terrorism is allowed to blossom, then all of mankind will be imperilled. The danger in terrorism is that nobody is immune from its impact. What is happening in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan is sufficient to arouse the consciousness of the world to the need to fight the pandemic more realistically and forcefully. Our poor security consciousness and the unavailability of sophisticated equipment to detect dangerous substances and arms make Nigeria very vulnerable to terrorism attacks. Working in concert with the United States and other European countries is the only option left for Nigeria if it is to survive the impending cataclysm.
I wish to urge President Goodluck Jonathan to sustain the gains of his recent visit to the United States. He must avoid undue sentimentalism and focus attention on how to strengthen the indices that foster stronger ties with the United States.
I have immense confidence that Jonathan would sustain the enormous goodwill the late President Yar'Adua garnered for Nigeria during his short tenure, despite the devious but abortive effort of young AbdulMuttalab to fritter away all of it.
On the part of the United States, it should not be deterred by the malicious machinations of some persons whose main objective is to place a wedge in the relations between it and Nigeria. Nigeria remains a reliable ally to the United States as it works to make the world a safer place.