Would Nigeria Miss Hilary Clinton? By Adagbo Onoja



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Unlike Germany which was confronting the world order in the 20th Century, America’s contemporary wars are about managing the world order in which she finds herself the sole super, super power. But, as the First World War, somehow, produced the Socialist Revolution in the defunct USSR and as the Second World War produced the Chinese and Cuban revolutions and detonated decolonization in the Third World, so also are Gulf War 1 and 11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan bound to produce global currents, starting with the present global economic crisis which could worsen especially if the wars extend to Iran. Iranians are not more armed or even better fighters as such but as a people who know their history and are proud of it, they are very likely to arrive at a strategy of tying down the world’s greatest military power and crashing the world economy.

This is where Hilary Clinton, the out-going Foreign Affairs Minister of the United States of America, comes in. But the Americans do not call that office by that name. They call it the Department of State and the occupant, the Secretary of State. Only recently I came to know why it matters, with particular reference to one of Bolaji Akinyemi’s regrets about being a Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister. Unlike the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister, the American Secretary of State is about the totality of the American State’s interaction with the rest of the world. I don’t know if other former Nigerian Foreign Affairs ministers are one with Akinyemi on this or not but what it suggests to us is that the American Secretary of State is not one to trifle with, although Hilary Clinton is not a Henry Kissinger who didn’t mind telling off a Third World colleague. This is what he did to former Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister, Gabriel Valdes who had given Richard Nixon the embarrassing details of capital flight to the United States from that region.

As reported in one of Ake’s mimeographs, Kissinger told the Minister, “Mr Minister, you made a strange speech. You come here speaking of Latin America but that is not important. Nothing can come from the South. History has never been produced in the South. The axis of history starts in Moscow, goes to Bonn, crosses over to Washington and then goes to Tokyo. What happens in the South is of no importance. You are wasting your time”

Hilary has not been associated with this sort of brinkmanship. But that does not, therefore, make her any less or fundamentally different from the archtype American Secretary of State. She is perhaps even more lethal, considering America’s many wars today as mentioned above, wars whose consequences make the United States that country which you must relate to, whether you like it or not, for better, for worse.

This is more so for a country like Nigeria for whom it has both been for better and for worse. For better, we should not be blinded by any sentiments to the enormous possibilities and even gains from a purposive relationship with the United States in medical, engineering, technological, commercial, research, agricultural, educational and cultural realms, among others. For worse, the United States once threatened military intervention if necessary regarding continued flow of oil to western countries in apparent reaction to snippets of Nigeria’s resource nationalism. Subsequently, and by its own testimony, America made up its mind about Murtala Mohammed too early in the day. Dr. George Obiozor, the realist scholar who later became Nigerian Ambassador to the US was right to refer to Nigeria-US relations as a love-hate one. If he doesn’t know, no one else would know.

So, in every sense, America is the country to watch, especially by another country called Nigeria. Exclusion of Nigeria from the list of countries to which the out going American foreign policy chief is paying farewell visit may not be something to lose a good dinner over but it is also an important message of disapproval to think about. It is right and proper nationalism to say, so what! but we can’t remain on such rhetorical high horse when we are not near any breakthrough from our confusion.  In any case, Nigeria has not been an antagonist of the United States. It may not exactly be its agent or hunting dog but between them and even more than Britain, it has been ‘always as friends’.

So much so that, around 1989, to quote Professor Asisi Asobie, a retired Nigerian ambassador and later, chief diplomat, came up with the idea of Nigerian development under the security umbrella of a major power, (the US). The proposal was that, in the twilight of the post Cold War era, Nigeria should “summon enough courage to install some safeguards to protect Nigeria’s future democratic experiments”. That is safeguards in the form of “alliances” and, if need be, “a carefully crafted mutual security system”. According to the mastermind, Nigeria’s democracy needed to be secured beyond what her own resources alone could provide. Nigeria’s fledging institutions also needed time to mature and take roots firmly. As the argument went, once Nigeria was secured, “Nigerian leaders would then have the breathing space, the peace of mind and confidence to take on such thorny, controversial and internally divisive issues which had tended to exacerbate Nigeria’s religious and ethnic differences. Moreover, Nigeria would have time to devote to the crucial issue of the stability of the Nigerian State and its related … problems of national development”

Until recently, this was basically the national security paradigm for Nigeria. The fact that Nigeria is in tatters today suggests that either the Americans have been bad godfathers or the Nigerian leaders have no strategic sense of being an American good boy. In other words, they did not learn from those who lost nothing but gained everything from playing the American game.

Things have changed or are about to change. Obasanjo, whom every American president when he was in power, Carter or Clinton visited, had moved on. Although Umaru Yar’Adua couldn’t help verbalizing his enthrallment with America, he was the one who declined playing America’s AFRICOM game. By the time Obama landed in Black Africa in 2009, it was to Ghana he headed, not Nigeria, a clear message of disapproval or frosty relationship. Otherwise, Nigeria is still where to send a message to Africa from because there are more Africans concentrated there under one government than any other place in the world.

And when Hilary surfaced in Nigeria in August 2009, two months after Obama’s Ghana yoyo, it was to praise Nigeria’s interventions around West Africa but to knock the government on the head on two points: corruption and deeply flawed elections. That she has completely cut Nigeria out of her farewell tour of Africa is to suggest that she is still in foul mood over the same snags. So, there is, perhaps for once, what looks like a correspondence between the American government and the Nigerians, all against the Nigerian authorities.

If this convergence were to provoke a great debate in Nigeria about what the United States of America should mean to us, that would be excellent. As things are today, Nigeria does not have a policy on the United States just as the Americans do not have one on Nigeria either, beyond concerns with guarantee of oil flow. Where are the Nigerian Journals of American Studies in Nigeria? Where are the researchers and experts on the United States of America in Nigerian universities and research institutions? Apart from under the IBB regime, how many of these researchers or experts are ever consulted?

Under Bolaji Akinyemi, the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, (NIIA) performed those roles. Every year then, the NIIA published its calendar of activities where one always saw series of inter-country dialogue, not just with the Americans but other countries on the major issues in debate. Under Dr Sunday Ochoche, this was also the case with the Abuja based Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution. Not only were the institutions proactive, the intelligentsia were all over the place from radio and television houses to the pages of newspapers, seminars and symposia and rallies, problematising Nigeria in an informed and critical manner, patriotically. Anybody who never read Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s review of Henry Kissinger’s memoirs, The White House Years in those years has not read anything. Today, there is utter silence. And even the most tricky public issue is reduced to metaphysical discourses and common sense theorizing.

So, a bulk of the citizens of Nigeria habour abiding love for the United States as much a great percentage habour a great disdain for the Satan’s heartland. Out of this, the giant of Africa cannot make a strategic sense of it. So, when a Clinton honours us with his presence, we cheer and say he is the first African-American president of the United States of America. But when an Obama snubs us, we deny him what he is and nurse a deep psychological injury. Come on, giant! Be true to thyself!

If anyone asks me, I would say the United States does not know what it wants in Nigeria. In their celebrated 1983 essay on instability in Nigeria, Professors Terisa Turner and Pade Badru averred that traders, contractors, smugglers, commission takers, currency dealers and their accountants, lawyers, front men and hangers-on run Nigeria. They held that the upshot is primitive accumulation for middlemen and profit realization by international capital while “the political corollary is instability which in turn disrupts trade and makes local production impossible”. Those who don’t understand the Nigerian crisis from this dimension or who do not agree that this dimension is its most important dimension will keep on shouting for true federalism, unbundling, anti-corruption wars, anti-rigging campaigns or put themselves in permanent constitutional amendment process but they will never make progress.

The United States does not need to join this crowd in impotently shouting at corruption and at rigging but ignite a process of rapidly industrializing Nigeria. This would not be a charity adventure but a strategic one in the sense that Nigeria of today is of no economic importance to the United States or just about any other industrialised nation. What is the economic importance of a country of nearly two hundred million citizens but out of which only about 10 percent can purchase American goods and services, the remaining 90 percent subsisting on less than a dollar a day?

Is it the case that the Americans have seen through the Nigerian elite? Otherwise, why should the US be engineering the IMF and the World Bank and their financial NGOs to be pushing the nonsensical type of reforms going on in Abuja? Why is the US not interested in nudging Nigeria to replicate South Korea in Africa but minus the military bases oh!

Onoja, a columnist with Abuja based Blueprint newspaper, can be reached via [email protected]


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