Opinion: President Buhari and our American frenemies
The Goodluck Jonathan years marked the lowest ebb in our relations. In 2013 the Americans, partly for strategic reasons and partly on account of their own shale oil, took a unilateral decision to stop buying Nigerian oil while Saudi Arabia, with the same light crude as ours, continues to sell millions of barrels in the US market.
When the eminent American political scientist James Coleman was about to embark on his doctoral work at Harvard in the 1950s, he sought advice from his tutor Rupert Emerson. A general in that field, Emerson counselled the young graduate student to focus on Nigeria. He prophesied that Nigeria is destined to be the most important country in Africa and a world power in the future. Coleman’s mammoth doctoral dissertation was later published as, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (University of California Press, 1963). It is widely regarded as one of the classic works of political science scholarship.
President Muhammadu Buhari was in Washington on Monday July 20 and met with Barack Obama and his deputy Joe Biden. Nigeria and America have had a long and complicated relationship over the decades. We are purported friends and partners. But we are also rivals on the African continent, if truth be told.
Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa made the first ever state visit by a Nigerian leader in July 1961. He and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy seemed to have gotten along rather well. With the discovery of oil in Nigeria, our commercial relations with America continued to grow from strength to strength. The political crisis that led to the assassination of Balewa and his political colleagues brought the army into the political arena. Our country was soon plunged into civil war. The United States, Britain and the defunct USSR all joined hands in supporting the Gowon administration to save our union. During the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, when the Arabs imposed a unilateral oil boycott on the United States, Nigeria was the sole Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) member to continue supplying the Americans with petroleum. And this on generous terms.
With the intensification of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa, Nigeria became the leader of the “frontline nations”. The famous speech by General Murtala Mohammed at the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Summit in Addis Ababa in January 1976 changed the course of history. We not only called the bluff of Henry Kissinger, we swayed Africa decisively in favour of the progressive forces of liberation. I would date the roots of the “misunderstanding” between our two nations from that epoch.
Murtala Ramat Mohammed was rewarded for his patriotism with an assassin’s bullet. General Olusegun Obasanjo succeeded him from 1976 until his historic hand-over to the democratically elected government of Shehu Shagari in 1979. During the second military interregnum, General Muhammadu Buhari emerged as the head of the High Magistracy from December 1983 until his unceremonial overthrow in August 1985 by the most retrograde drug-baronish forces in Nigerian history. The years 1985 to 1999 witnessed the descent of our country into the status of a corrupt banana republic. The only area where we scored some good points was in the area of regional peacekeeping in the war-torn countries of Liberia and Sierra. Even on that issue, America was not very comfortable. Our repositioning as a country that could call the ultimate shots in military terms on the continent did not sit well with strategic planners in the Pentagon.
Strangely enough, for more than a decade, US policy think tanks have been releasing studies prophesying that Nigeria would disintegrate in 2015. Nefarious shadowy foreign vultures did their damnedest to foment unrest in the Niger Delta to ensure the eventual disintegration of our country. They failed woefully. This House Has Fallen, they said. They created the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) as an instrument for fast and effective military action to ostensibly pre-empt the consequences of state collapse in countries such as ours. Washington was incensed when Nigeria rebuffed AFRICOM and ensured they never had a base in West Africa.
The Goodluck Jonathan years marked the lowest ebb in our relations. In 2013 the Americans, partly for strategic reasons and partly on account of their own shale oil, took a unilateral decision to stop buying Nigerian oil while Saudi Arabia, with the same light crude as ours, continues to sell millions of barrels in the US market. America had accounted for a quarter of our total oil exports. Today, it is zero. Our trade balance with America has plummeted from a surplus of $28 billion in 2011 to a deficit of $3 billion in 2014.
It is a well-known fact that America relates to our country purely on the basis of a naked power calculus and barely concealed contempt. I have been a diligent student of what the Germans call the machstaat. A rising continental power like ours will never be loved by those who regard themselves as the masters of the universe, for whom our beloved Africa has been a backyard and imperial playing field for the better part of a millennium. “Delenda est Carthago”, as the Roman nobleman and Senator used to proclaim! Throughout Europe and the West where my feet have taken me, I have sensed nothing but schadenfreude towards Nigeria and our Boko Haram predicament. Somebody somewhere wants to bring our great country to its knees. It is a conspiracy of global proportions.
A recent BBC world opinion poll found that 69 percent of Nigerians approve of the United States and its policies. Nigerians – this writer included – feel nothing but love and goodwill towards America. But I doubt if the sentiments are mutual. Lest we forget: President Jimmy Carter was and is, a good friend of Nigeria; so have been Bill Clinton and the younger Bush. It is an irony of history that the first Black President, whose election was celebrated with wild euphoria throughout our benighted continent, may go down in history as the worst as far as we are concerned.
Apart from his whirlwind visits to Ghana and Tanzania where he doled out patronising lectures on “good governance” and “democracy”, Africa has benefitted little from Obama’s presidency. The paltry $3 billion he announced to support his Africa Power Initiative is less than what Israel receives annually. The Obama era has coincided with the emergence of Ebola in West Africa, state collapse in Libya and the Sahel, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. He has put the power of his exalted office behind the ignoble gospel of sodomy and same-sex marriage; an affront to African spirituality and the sacred values of civilisation as handed down to us by our venerable ancestors. In America, racism has increased and black people are being killed by police and bombed in churches as never before. Obama may have saved American capitalism, but his impact on Africa and the black race has been altogether negative.
From the revelations in the infamous Wikileaks, we would be fools to regard America as a friend. They have been training hordes of mercenaries in military camps in some of our neighbouring countries for whatever purposes. Some of the weapons being used by Boko Haram are American in provenance. Instead of helping, America has been complaining of alleged human rights abuses by the Nigerian army. Some of their most eminent scholars have resorted to Jesuitical casuistry in regard to classification of Boko Haram as a terrorist organisation, an evil band of murderers that have killed more than 20,000 of our people – more than the Taliban, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda and the Islamic State ever have done in their despicable careers.
When our man in Washington, Ade Adefuye, lamented that we have been “abandoned” by America, he became a de facto diplomatic pariah in Washington. White House Protocol are insisting that they do not want Ambassador Adefuye in attendance during Buhari’s visit. I knew Adefuye from the time he was Deputy High Commissioner in London to his time as Senior Political Adviser to Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku at the Commonwealth Secretariat. He is indubitably one of our brightest and best – a gentleman, scholar and diplomat of distinction. The response to his mild-mannered lament says much about America in the age of Obama.