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Friday, July 12, 2024

Opinion: Dear Buhari, Redemption Lies Within Not In America

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by Shaka Momodu

The news about town is that President Muhammadu Buhari is going to America on the invitation of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, whose election as the first black president of America was as profoundly momentous as it can get. I have no idea why such an invite was extended to Buhari or why it is even necessary for him to visit America in the first place. Neither do I know what the agenda of the visit entails.

But here is what I do know: President Obama should have no reason whatsoever to invite our president to his country – America – a country that has not proved a worthy friend and partner to Nigeria in many instances; rather it has proved itself an unreliable and undependable ally in the many challenges bedevilling this country.

Severally, America’s actions towards Nigeria appear to confirm the Mid-east scholar Bernard Lewis’ definition of that country’s relation with its friends and allies around the world: “America is harmless as an enemy, (but) treacherous as a friend.” What more can one say about a country that is so obsessed with spying on even the leaders of its Western partners? It particularly feels so when we consider how so often our leaders defer to America on practically everything on the global stage, and how so very little benefits have accrued to Nigeria in return. I must state here that for a moment following Obama’s election, it looked like all black people were truly free at last! However, his presidency has turned out to be very disappointing for Africa, particularly Nigeria. The frenzied hopes invested in Candidate Obama by Nigerians in the run-up to his election have yielded next to nothing for our country, even though the symbolism of his election remains undeniably soothing to all black people everywhere they might be.

But here is the first black president of the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world, unfortunately, who for whatever reason has repeatedly snubbed Nigeria – the largest concentration of black people on planet Earth – in its moments of need. As a matter of fact, Nigeria does not feature in Obama’s radar – to the extent that he ignored Nigeria on two previous African tours. But far beyond his snub, two challenges our country has faced – one of which, it is still facing have more than anything else, revealed to Nigerians – that America is not Nigeria’s friend – and that if it was an enemy, it would have been easier to deal with than its acclaimed friendship. And the sooner our extremely naïve leaders come to terms with this reality, the better for our country.

At the height of the Ebola threat to the health of our citizenry, Obama refused the request of Nigeria for help with America’s lifesaving drug — ZMapp — an experimental drug used to treat two American missionary workers who were infected with the Ebola virus on the pretext that it was not available. However the drug was quickly made available to Spain and Britain to treat their nationals who were infected with the disease in West Africa.

America was to much later, avail Liberia — one of the theatres of the monstrous disease — that was claiming lives in the thousands, the drug to tackle the deadly virus. Luckily, Nigeria looked inward, tapping into the professionalism and competence of its medical corps around the world, and by rolling out a contact-tracing plan that was laudable, our caregivers were able to overcome the dreaded disease. That was one rare good moment in the sun for all Nigerians – as our government proved decisive in its response and won global applause.

This US behaviour towards Nigeria has followed a familiar pattern in most recent times owing to the naivety of our leaders who kowtow to it on every issue on the global arena, they are yet to see America for what it truly is. But Nigeria sadly gets rebuffed when it makes demands of the supposedly friendly relationship even when its national security is under threat.

This brings one to the US refusal to sell arms to Nigeria to fight the deadly satanic sect, Boko Haram, that has wreaked so much havoc on lives and destroyed infrastructure worth billions of dollars. America justifies its refusal to sell arms to us on the grounds of alleged human rights abuses/violations committed by our military.

It hides under the protection of “the Leahy Law” — a US human rights law that prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. To implement this law, US embassies and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour and the appropriate regional bureau of the US Department of State vet potential recipients of security assistance. If a unit is found to have been credibly implicated in serious abuse of human rights, assistance is denied until the host nation government takes effective steps to bring the responsible persons within the unit to justice. While the US Government does not publicly report on foreign armed force units it has cut off from receiving assistance, press reports have indicated that security force units in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan have been denied assistance due to the “Leahy Law”. But Israel which has been accused several times of human right abuses and war crimes against the Palestinians is conspicuously missing from this list – as America still provides all its defence needs.

Only recently, the US Department of State spokesperson, Jen Paski, went on the record to justify why the US refused to sell Cobra attack helicopters, which we badly needed to turn the tide against the sect, that has recorded a string of successes in its campaign of terror to Nigeria. Paski explained that the US refused to sell the Cobra attack helicopters to the Nigerian Armed Forces early this year, “because it was concerned the military has no capacity to operate and maintain them”. Really? What a ridiculous statement! She forgot to tell the world that maintenance terms are usually worked in as part of the purchase agreement. Paski went further to add — the now familiar refrain that there were also concerns over the protection of civilians during military operations. This is the same US that pledged all forms of military assistance in the wake of the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok.

Paski failed to state that the first battalion in the history of the Nigerian military to rebel against constituted authority was trained by America. That Special Forces unit trained to fight the terrorists has remained the most undisciplined in our military’s history – it once attacked its General Officer Commanding (GOC) in Maiduguri, Borno State. Investigations reveal that right from the day America handed them over to the military authorities, the battalion has been so rebellious, disobeying some legitimate orders and giving conditions before obeying orders. According to reports, when they were to be deployed, they said they were not going unless they were given A, B, C and D – which was clearly alien to the philosophy of the military of “obey before complaint”. It was unheard of in the military.

Let us not forget how America came here; flying several military surveillance missions or sorties over our airspace, under the guise of helping us trace and locate the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, but ended up spying and gathering crucial intelligence on our military capability. Yet, the very objective of allowing them into our airspace was never achieved.

Shockingly, all that intelligence was passed on to our neighbours to further undermine our national security. And acting on that intelligence received, Cameroun’s Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, directed all army commanders to withhold crucial information about the terrorists’ activities from Nigeria.

In a circular with Decree number G/D/MINATD, titled: “Strong Message”, he made it clear to the commander of Cameroun’s Rapid Intervention Brigade – that the country did not want the grave security situation in Nigeria to spill over to his country. While the terrorists were ravaging our country, Cameroun looked the other way and was probably enjoying our misfortune. It was not until the terror group turned its attention on it – that it woke up to the reality of its own vulnerability and stupidity in thinking that it was Nigeria’s problem alone.

America’s refusal to sell weapons to Nigeria to prosecute the war on terror, I dare say, may not be unconnected with its desire to see its wicked prophecy about Nigeria’s disintegration in 2015 come true.

Some people are understandably happy that Obama will be receiving Buhari in the White House. It would have made some sense if anything tangible will come out of that meeting beyond the usual courtesies and grace of a diplomatic handshake, smiles for the camera and photo oops.

For those already making such a big deal out of the visit, my advice to them is to learn from history. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was accorded similar courtesy in 2010 when he honoured Obama’s invitation, and it was played up by the media as evidence of US support and backing. But what happened after? It all came to naught when it mattered most – Jonathan’s visit didn’t change America’s attitude towards our dear Nigeria. Now, we are at that moment again when we think Buhari’s visit to the White House will change our situation. It will not!

And as he did on his recent visit to the G7 summit in Germany, the president would probably have drawn up a wish list of demands – military and economic to make of Obama. I wish him luck. But I can assure him here that his wish list will remain just what it is – a wish list, because America won’t provide us the help we need to turn our situation around. It may give us very limited assistance – that will make little or no impact on the war on terror. It will come more out of pity than any committed desire to help. So let no one be deluded with expectations about this visit.

But instead of going round cap in hand begging America and its Western allies for help that won’t come, President Buhari should sit down at home and look inwards for solutions to our problems. (In case he does not know, Boko Haram has stepped up its killing spree.) All that is required is a visionary leadership to steer the ship of the state away from the brink – one who will harness the tremendous resources that abound in our land to transform our society, energise, and inspire faith in our ability to achieve anything under the sun. We really don’t need help from the US and its allies to make things work here. Our successful handling of the Ebola crisis when the US turned its back on us should be the launch pad to challenge the can-do-it-yourself spirit in us.

Nigeria needs to urgently re-evaluate its national defence architecture and strategy to be self-providing rather than help-dependent. We cannot entirely depend on purchases from other countries for our defence and protection – we must look inwards. To this end, we need to revive our Defence Industry Corporation and vigorously pursue a new military doctrine anchored on a massive reinvigoration of the military industrial complex. Nigeria can manufacture its military needs; the time to start is now. Doubtless to say achieving success will be like climbing Mt. Everest, given where we are at the moment. But we can start now.

Indeed, Nigeria as the biggest economy on the African continent and the largest black nation in the world with a population well over 170 million cannot project influence and power in global affairs if it does not have a well-equipped and powerful military to match its economic status. This is precisely why America wields enormous influence and power around the world.

But a string of bad leaders, massive corruption, ethnicity, religion and lack of vision have all conspired to stunt our rise since independence. Therefore, the much talked about change should include repositioning our country as the new frontier of power and influence in world affairs. In the words of Michael De Saintamo: “When two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as he wants to be seen, and each man as he really is.” I agree. Increasingly, many Nigerians now see America as it really is, and also, an embodiment of Bernard Lewis’ immortal and succinct depiction: “… harmless as an enemy, (but) treacherous as a friend.” What about how Nigeria really is? It is its own worst enemy – with a docile citizenry governed by clueless, corrupt and inept leaders whom the people need to free themselves from.

The author Shaka Momodu is a columnist with Thisday newspapers where this article was first published.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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