Continuous optimism is the phrase that best describes the attitude of foreign policy analysts and diplomats who watched President Muhammadu Buhari’s four-day visit to Washington where he met with his United States (US) counter part, Mr. Barack Obama. It was the first step aimed at normalizing the frosty relations between Nigeria and the US under the presidency of the first black man to occupy the White House.
There been so much hype about the Buhari visit to America which is not a state visit. It can be best described as a semi-official, exploratory visit. But members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have capitalized on the opportunity to rev up the image of the Buhari presidency which has been in office for almost two months without visible signs of the direction of the government. Expectedly, there have been debates on the rationality of a 33-man team for mere exploratory visit.
But beyond the concerns, the meeting between Buhari and Obama was successful and provided the opportunity to examine key issues of the Boko Haram insurgency, corruption and promotion of investments in Nigeria.
Buhari held meetings with America’s military establishment on areas of co-operation and collaboration. There were also meetings with the American business community and Nigerians in the Diaspora.
Obama was full of praises for his guest whom he described as man of integrity, honest and disciplined. The Americans could not hide their fact that they overtly wanted to get the PDP out of power. The U.S political establishment welcomed Buhari as a breathe of fresh air and seemed prepared to support him all the way to tackle the problems of Boko Haram, the war against corruption and promotion of investments in Nigeria.
The issue now is how far both sides can go without retching up the old wound? The Jonathan administration was said to have fallen out with Washington when it allowed the Chinese to acquire some oil fields in Bayelsa State. The second sin was the signing of the Same Sex Prohibition Act by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Obama carried the burden of over stepping his bounds to express his dissatisfaction with the administration of Jonathan. Relations between Nigeria and the US nose dived in 2015, shortly after the second meeting of the Bi-National Commission which saw both countries outlining several areas of collaboration, notably in agriculture, energy and power sector.
Nigeria’s ambassador to the U.S , Prof Ade Adefuye, told Vanguard that there was no fundamental disappointment in the Nigerian – U.S relationship but that some civil society groups in America played the role of fifth columnists during the Jonathan administration which they grossly misrepresented to the U.S government and American people.
The envoy had cause to voice out his frustration with the U.S government in November, 2014, to the U.S Council on Foreign Relations which he pointedly told was hypocritical and contradictory, as the global police on the war against terrorism, to deny the sale of weapons to Nigeria. The U.S had denied the sale of attack helicopters, under the Leahy Law, to enable the Nigerian military effectively tackle Boko Haram insurgents.
A PRESIDENT’S DIPLOMACY
Buhari now faces the dilemma of asking the U.S to sell weapons to Nigeria when the same Leahy Law and the reasons cited for using that law remain.
The president was quoted as pleading with Obama to get the U.S Congress to soft pedal on applying the Leahy Law on the grounds that Boko Haram is seen by Americans more like a local insurgency group. Ambassador Joe Keshi disagrees with the reasons given by the U.S for invoking this law because Nigeria is engaged in an asymmetric war with a radical group that is affiliated to the IS (Islamic State) and has been so brutal in its dealing with victims. The ambassador argues that Boko Haram is not different from other Islamic jihadist groups like Haqqanni, Al Shabaah, among others.
The same US, which refused to sell weapons to Nigeria, recently announced that it was lifting the suspension on the supply of military hardware to Egypt, which was frozen when the military took power in Cairo nearly two years ago. Since the end of the Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Egypt has faced turmoil resulting in the crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Just like Nigeria, Egypt, is a regional hegemony in the Middle East and has worked with the US to maintain elusive stability in Middle East. In the case of Nigeria, it has been involved in resolving several international and regional conflicts, including in neighboring West African states of Mali, Chad, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Nigeria is at the receiving end of the crises in the Middle East countries of Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, where radical IS militants that are opposed to Western civilisation and liberal values have emerged.
The point here is to expose the contradiction inherent in the US diplomacy. A former Nigerian Ambassador to Geneva, Umunna Orjiakor, argues that the Federal Government needs the collaboration of the U.S. to find lasting solution to the prevailing security challenges in the country rather than merely seeking for assistance.
In the same vein, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Joe Keshi, told Sunday Vanguard, at the weekend, that the U.S and its allies must do more than declarations that they will support Nigeria to recover stolen public funds from Nigeria because they have the capability to trace the money. He said that since the U.S has been tracking funds used to sponsor terrorism, it cannot claim to be unaware of the billions of looted funds that found their way into its economy.
According to Keshi, what has happened, over the years, is that American law penalizes innocent people and rewards criminals. “When people travel to the U.S and declare their currencies, their law enforcement agents become cagey and snoopy, but those companies and organizations that participate in laundering stolen wealth from Africa are only once in a while investigated and brought to justice”, the ambassador stated. He explained that for the war against corruption to be won, there must be the realization that there is no safe haven for illicit funds.
Beyond the feel good factor and the hysteria of the supporters of the ruling APC, there is a need to assess the benefits of this exploratory visit alongside some strategic geopolitical interests between Nigeria and the US taking the example of Egypt as a take-off point. Our diplomacy must transcend asking for assistance in the areas of constructive partnership and engagements that go beyond oil diplomacy.