Against my well-considered advice, President Muhammadu Buhari travelled to the United States of America on July 20, on a three-day official visit full of hopes and expectations. I had advised him in an article titled: “Redemption Lies Within, and Not in America”, a few weeks before his trip. I tried to draw his attention to a Middle-east scholar, Bernard Lewis’ perfect depiction of America as “… harmless as an enemy, (but) treacherous as a friend” to lower his expectations of America’s support in overcoming our country’s current challenges. I predicted then that nothing tangible would come out of the visit, and that he should rather look inwards for solutions. I suggested that the entire gamut of Nigeria’s security architecture should be reviewed with a view to reviving the military industrial complex and focus on local manufacture of most of the country’s military needs. Well, he has gone to America where he got a full dose of lavish praises from President Barack Obama. If the success of the trip is measured by the amount of praise he received from his host, and the fact that President Obama was “magnanimous and gracious” enough to let our president stay in the much hyped “historic” Blair House, then Buhari’s trip to the US was a resounding success. But if it is measured by concrete and verifiable benefits to this country, then that trip could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be called a success, as many would want us to believe. Anyway, given the unpreparedness of our president before embarking on the trip, it would have been a miracle if anything concrete had come out of it.
But let me quickly point out here that there was one small spark of light from Buhari’s US visit – that moment of self-assertion – where our president did us proud: the craze for unnatural same-sex unions that has become an obsession with the West, which they eagerly wanted to export to Nigeria and Africa, was finally shot down with an air of finality. With some measure of gusto despite his age, he told the Americans to their face that our laws, culture and traditions were against it. I felt a surge of excitement, and I was happy our president did not cave in to the new abhorrent campaign led by the “leader of the free world” to have two men, or two women become husband and wife. As far as I can tell, it was our president’s best accomplishment (if it bears any whiff of that) during that visit.
But beyond that, Obama’s invitation to Buhari must be situated where it truly belonged. Obama baited our president, who fell for it just as many Nigerians – who were too excited to see beyond the “bribe”- and what it was really meant to achieve, which was to massage our president’s ego and give Nigerians a false sense of importance. All that could have been accomplished with a simple press statement from the White House spokesman without the necessity of piling thousands of air miles on a trip to America that he was neither prepared for nor was it even necessary in the first place. The truth is that Obama was looking for a way out not to visit Nigeria on his third trip to Africa. Knowing very well that leaving the world’s most populous black country out of his African visit yet again would make his disdain for Nigeria and perhaps, the way we conduct our affairs too obvious, he offered to host Buhari on a three-day visit in the “historic Blair House”. This was celebrated by many Nigerians of the Facebook and Twitter generation as a measure of how highly the US regarded Nigeria. It was not. Rather, it was a clever way to silence any criticism of his snub of Nigeria on his third visit to the continent. Buhari had hardly left America when Obama travelled out to his father’s native Kenya from where he travelled to Ethiopia to address the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa. I doubt if after the initial welcome to the White House where he showered praises on Buhari for his anti-corruption stance and the photo ops, if he had any further audience with him to discuss any economic or bilateral agreement. If he did, then the public is unaware of it.
The first shocker Buhari must have received was the calibre of persons sent by Obama to receive him at the St Andrews Air Force base. That delegation was led by the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and the US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle. Where was the Vice-President Joe Biden? Where was the Secretary of State, John Kerry? I think the president of Nigeria deserved far more respect than what Buhari was accorded by Obama; forget all the shower of praises on Buhari. If the US truly respects Nigeria, it will be obvious from the way our president is received and treated when on a state visit. Imagine if it were Obama who visited Nigeria, how would it appear if Nigeria were to send its ambassador to America and a diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive the president of the United States at the airport? But I am as sure as the sun rises from the east that our president would have been driven to the airport with the vice-president and all his ministers in tow, in the rain or in the sun to welcome Obama to Nigeria.
It is a shame that we hardly know how to carry ourselves or even attach any self-worth to ourselves anymore. So, when indignity is meted out to us by America and its allies, our response is annoyingly ineffectual and even wimpish. It is a crying shame that most of us have conditioned ourselves to being inferior to the Western world – and we now accept nearly everything dished out by them as commands that must be obeyed.
I felt numb with shock reading a very silly comment recently by a very ridiculous individual who tried to advertise knowledge but ended up exhibiting stupidity and slavish mentality – that “the West owns us”. I felt sick to my stomach at the complete self-denigration in that mindset. Filled with righteous indignation, I was flabbergasted by how deep-rooted and far off-track we have derailed as a people. This mentality was taken to an unbelievable extreme by Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State – who on his return from the US printed billboards of himself shaking hands with Obama (he still owes workers’ salaries while wasting the state’s resources) and positioned them at strategic locations all over the state.
But beyond how America and its Western allies treat us, is how we want to be treated or respected. Buhari travelled to America with a 33-man entourage on a supposed state visit on July 20, over 50 days after his assumption of office, but without the full complement of a cabinet – no Minister of Foreign Affairs, no Minister of Finance, no Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, no Minister of Economic Planning and such other important cabinet officials who should have accompanied him on that trip. They could have – perhaps, nearly measured up to their US counterparts and articulated our position in discussions on a more balanced level. Instead, he carried opportunistic governors, an ex-governor, permanent secretaries, and other officials who lacked the requisite stature, confidence, experience and exposure to interact with the US cabinet officials, but were only too happy to go to America on the president’s entourage. At the end of the visit, Nigeria came out short-changed by its own lacklustre and lackadaisical attitude to everything that requires meticulous planning. By that alone, our country demonstrated weakness, not strength, while America reinforced its stereotype about us as an unserious set of people, unwilling or perhaps, unable to show movement towards change that ennobles. Yet, that was supposed to be a pivotal trip going by the way it was hyped in the media.
It was shameful the way the president tried to justify his inability to put his cabinet together in an article in The Washington Post – on the grounds that even President Obama did not have his full cabinet in place for months after he took office. Whoever included that line in that article did our president a great disservice.
For far too long, Africa has waited on Nigeria to redeem itself and the black race. It is blessed with abundant natural and human resources to do so, but has failed woefully to command respect from within and outside the continent. This is essentially because its leaders not only lack the confidence and self-esteem to engage, they are too timid and too preoccupied with the primitive accumulation of wealth than to bother themselves with the rigorous and onerous task of developing a broad “progressive vision” for uplifting the continent out of poverty and disease.
Now, let’s address the more fundamental aspect of the entire visit. What was achieved during the so-called state visit? The president’s party and spin doctors want us to believe the trip was a huge success. Well, they have the right to indulge themselves with such claims. But such claims and assumptions must be subjected to interrogation of evidence.
In this, I find it curious that neither a bilateral trade agreement nor a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed during Buhari’s state visit – at least not to the knowledge of the public; no new economic proposals were initiated or pending ones finally sealed during the visit; no state dinner; no joint press conference was held by the two leaders to announce landmark deals reached on trade, easing of visa challenges for citizens of both countries, review of the extradition treaty between both countries.
To make matters worse, the most pressing aspects of our president’s wish list — the purchase of military hardware from the US to aid our country in its raging war against the terrorists in the North-east — were rebuffed by the Obama administration, citing the Leahy Law. All he got was promise of intelligence and training. Buhari later gave full vent to his feelings, expressing his frustration with the US arms embargo on Nigeria in his speech at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP). He said: “Regrettably, the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the United States on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations levelled against our forces has denied us access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war against the insurgents.
“Unwittingly, and I dare say, unintentionally, the application of the Leahy Law amendment by the US government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorist group…” This presentation provoked the ire of Senator Patrick Leahy himself – the man behind the law. He pointedly told our president off, advising him to face up to his own responsibility of tackling Boko Haram. He described our soldiers as murderers and rapists. Interestingly, our president tried to retract his presentation, apparently not to hurt “almighty” America. It was a tragic about-face for our president. That singular climb-down on a well stated fact further weakened Nigeria’s position, thereby playing into America’s strategic objective of having a weak Nigeria bogged down in internal security challenges. Oh, yes – a weak Nigeria will be unable to mobilise Africa to speak with one voice to challenge America’s foray into the continent. America is not going to sell strategic weapons to Nigeria to help it defeat Boko Haram. Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, cannot project power on the world stage with a pathetically weak military and a corruption-riddled way of life. For the umpteenth time, I repeat: redemption lies within not in America.
America and the United Kingdom didn’t achieve greatness by going cap in hand begging other nations for help. Germany and Japan rose to superpower status once again, awash with economic prosperity from the ashes of defeat in World War II. Brazil, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore are doing extremely well because their leaders are dreamers with visions, and doers who have lifted their societies high among nations. But here, we have treasury-looters whose only motivation for seeking power is self-enrichment at the expense of the collective.
It is instructive that Buhari is only now calling on our military chiefs to draw a plan for the local manufacture of weapons after America and its allies rebuffed his request to buy arms from them. This should have been his first act from day one of taking office. But it is soothing that he is finally looking inwards.
It is a pity that Nigeria, once a country that held great promise, has sadly become a beggarly nation wallowing in self-pity. Our visionless leaders over the years have brought the country so low – that it is now a shadow of its once glorious and confident self; a nation begging for mercy and help from a reluctant superpower and its allies. Our president goes about with a wish list begging the West for weapons – first was to the G7 nations. And what did they tell him? They just tossed him around with the false promise to look into it. Who does not know that, that is just a diplomatic way of saying no?
It was Khali Gibran, a Lebanese-American, who wrote the poem, “Pity the Nation” in 1984. It is a poem that tells the story of Nigeria so perfectly that you would think he had Nigeria in mind when he wrote it nearly 30 years ago. It goes thus: “Pity the nation that is full of beliefs, and empty of religion.
“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.
“Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as hero, and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful. Pity a nation that despises a passion in its dream, yet submits in its awakening.
“Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it walks in a funeral, boasts not except among in its ruins, and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block. Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking.
“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting, and farewells him with hooting, only to welcome another with trumpeting again. Pity the nation whose sages are dumb with years and whose strong men are yet in the cradle. Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment deeming itself a nation.” Need I say more?