President Buhari’s visit would be meaningless if it does not add value to Nigeria’s wobbly democracy

Less than three years in office, President Muhammadu Buhari will shake the hands of a second United States President in Washington today. His first trip was under former President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the 2015 presidential elections which ousted Dr Goodluck Jonathan. That earlier visit marked a convergence between Washington’s short term strategic goal – anybody but Jonathan- and the mood of the Nigerian electorate. The triumph of Buhari was celebrated in both Washington and Nigeria.

This week’s visit is coming under very different circumstances. After three years in office, Buhari’s performance in office may not have justified America’s overt interest in his ascendancy. A fortnight before this week’s visit, the US State Department issued a stinking indictment of the Buhari administration on virtually every aspect of its self-declared mandate: security, human rights, corruption and the economy. Abuja had the unusual common sense not to disagree openly to avoid an unnecessary storm.

At the bilateral level, there would appear to have been some improvement in relations recently, specifically in terms of the rhetoric on cooperation in anti-terrorism. While agreement on the sale of US Tucano jets to aid Nigeria’s anti-terrorism fight may reinforce the sense of improving relations, the perception lingers in Washington and major Western capitals that Nigeria’s security forces recklessly violate the rights of citizens in the process of chasing after insurgents. In a bid to consummate this sale, President Buhari has violated the elementary democratic due process requiring that such major appropriations must pass through the National Assembly.

To a great extent, Nigeria’s insurgency amplifies the problem of Islamic fundamentalism outside Europe especially in the Maghreb. But the full extent of possibilities in relations between the US and Nigeria is not exhausted by preoccupation with Boko Haram. We have a long standing relationship with the US based on serious cultural and economic interpenetrations between both countries. The Nigerian diaspora in the US is in excess of 350,000. Nigerian professionals and intellectuals occupy strategic positions in the US system. Nigerians have been repeatedly adjudged the most upwardly mobile group of immigrants in the US in terms of high education attainments.

Similarly, US companies have massive investments in Nigeria especially in the strategic oil and gas sectors. Untapped challenges in Nigeria’s bubbling information technology start-ups, power sector, alternative energy, agriculture and infrastructure sectors would do with US expertise and investment to increase opportunities for citizens of both countries. In all these areas and more, challenges abound for the deepening and widening of cooperation between both countries. We hope that the talks and consultations in Washington paid attention to the new frontiers of collaboration above and beyond the obvious.

Nigeria’s population and location make us vital to the protection of key US interests in the Gulf of Guinea and the West Atlantic corridor from Mauritania to Brazil and Argentina. There is thus a sense in which the US needs Nigeria to be stronger than it is right now if it must fulfil the role of a credible strategic partner in a geo-spatial sense.

Oil and gas supplies remain pivotal to US energy stability in the ever present event of predictable upheaval in the volatile Middle East region. Those reserves and activities are also synonymous with Nigeria’s short to medium term survival as a nation state, notwithstanding our latent divisions and the recent pressure of increasing micro nationalism. Beyond discussion on terrorism and economic cooperation, the Washington outing would be meaningless if it did not add value to Nigeria’s wobbly democratic outlook.

The US is what it is because of its adherence to the values of democracy. Leaders of emergent democracies who visit Washington, as President Buhari is doing, must therefore take away more than photo opportunities and the grandeur of state ceremonials.