Bola A. Akinterinwa
The relationship between Nigeria and the United States is largely informed by a self-deceit-driven environmental conditioning in recent times. This factor of self-deceit partly explains why both countries cannot exist as mutually dependable allies. Under a normal circumstance, Nigeria and the United States ought to be the most reliable strategic allies in Africa by virtue of their shared values of presidential system of government. Both countries play host to big black populations, with Nigeria having the biggest in the whole world. There is also the factor of big democracy, and a significant Nigerian Diaspora population in the US.
In spite of this, what used to be very inspiring about the American people is now increasingly becoming very irritating. For instance, last week, former US President, Donald Trump, faced several criminal indictments: 13 charges, including racketeering, 3 counts of solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer, conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer, 2 counts of conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, 2 counts of conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, conspiracy to commit filing false documents, filing false documents, and 2 counts of false statements and writings. Additionally, on last Friday, 26th January, Trump lost his defamation case against E. Jean Carrol. A Manhattan jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3m to her for damaging her reputation when Trump publicly claimed that she had lied when Carrol accused Trump of rape (see rt.com/news/591).
In a decent and civilised society, like the United States, one cannot but expect unreserved condemnation of people like Donald Trump. America as a people, as an institution, as a government, and as a world leader, cannot afford the luxury of condoning societal indiscipline of the type of Donald Trump. Most unfortunately, American voters are not showing any concern about Trump’s indiscipline and more than 90 alleged criminal activities. What is most disturbing is his whiff of braggadocio that, even if he is convicted and elected, he will simply pardon himself. Any political system that allows for this must not be related with.
Consider the protracted Israelo-Palestinian imbroglio as another example. United States actively supports Israel. It has vetoed several anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). At the same time, it wants to be an official mediator. A mediator of any dispute must not only be acceptable to the disputants, but must not also have partisan interests. This is the stipulation of international law. United States’ role in the Israelo-Arab conflict is the first catalytic agent for the prolongation of the conflict. It is against this background that one should understand US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s visit.
Issues in Nigeria-US Relationship
At the level of security, there is the question of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM). The AFRICOM is the mechanism for engaging routinely with African governments by using diplomacy, conferences, military-to-military engagements, non-commissioned officer development, military intelligence, chaplain engagement, as well as women, peace and security initiatives. The United States has always made strenuous efforts to make Nigeria another US military base, after the one in Djibouti. Nigeria as another military base cannot but be like a triangular axis of coordination of all anti-terrorist activities in Africa.
Djibouti is located on the Horn of Africa. Its Lake Assal in the Danaki Desert is the saltiest in the world. Djibouti has only 23,200 km2 area. Its population as at 2021 was put at 1.106 million. The GDP in the same year was put at 3.483 billion USD. Though a small country with French and Arabic as official languages, the smallness of the country enables the United States to have control over the eastern and southern flanks of the African continent.
Interestingly, AFRICOM, which was founded in 2007, does not include the membership of Egypt which has been put under the responsibility of the United States Central Command. In other words, right from the eastern coastlines of Africa, from the south through Djibouti, to Egypt in the north, American security presence has been established. What appears to be left undone is US military presence in the western coastlines of Africa. The considered suitable place is the Gulf of Guinea. And true enough, the region is considered to be of strategic importance. The location is good for controlling terrorist activities in the area, meaning that Nigeria is the power to surely relate with.
It is against this background that the Washingtonian government considered the relocation of the Africa Command (AFRICOM) from Stuggart, Germany to Africa, with Nigeria in mind specifically. Nigeria, for various reasons, rejected the offer. The military wanted Nigeria to be the AFRICOM’s headquarters in Africa because of the military gains likely to accrue to Nigeria. The foreign policy elite considered the character of ex-territoriality of American security institutions the world over, especially in terms of blockade of access roads to the institutions, harassment by the US military, implications for political independence and sovereignty in rejecting the offer. The opposition to the AFRICOM was stiff to the extent that the Nigerian Government had to concede.
While the United States wants Nigeria to play host to the AFRICOM and Nigeria refused to take the offer, several smaller countries wanted to have the AFRICOM, but the United States did not want them. As a result, the US Government had to postpone the idea of relocation of the AFRICOM for ten years. The idea of relocation was initially informed by the opposition of Germans in Stuttgart. The question to address is this: would there have been a change in circumstance in the war on Boko Haram in Nigeria if the AFRICOM had settled in Nigeria? With or without the AFRICOM, why has the United States not been able to neutralise the Boko Haram, which is considered a terrible terrorist organisation by the Americans?
At the level of enhancement of trade, the United States established the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) through a legislation on 18 May 2000. The cardinal objective was to bolster economic growth, political reform and ensure better economic relations with Africa. More than 6,700 products are covered under the AGOA on the basis of the HTS-8 tariff classification. The HTS is the US ‘Harmonised Tariff System’ nomenclature,’ which is based ‘up to the 6th digit on the internationally-standardised “Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System,” managed by the World Customs Organisation.’
Nigeria is a beneficiary of the AGOA. The extent of Nigeria’s gains from the AGOA is a matter of debate. According to the AGOA.info, Nigeria’s economic background was not good enough, in spite of Nigeria’s perception as Africa’s largest economy. Even though the banking sector reportedly recapitalised after the 2008-2009 global financial crises, ‘since then Nigeria’s economic growth has been driven by growth in agriculture, telecommunications, and services. Economic diversification and strong growth have not translated into a significant decline in poverty levels. Over 62% of Nigeria’s over 180 million people still live in extreme poverty.’
More disturbingly, AGOA.com also had it that Nigeria was ‘hobbled by inadequate power supply, lack of infrastructure, delays in the passage of legislative reforms, an inefficient property registration system, restrictive trade policies, an inconsistent regulatory environment, a slow and ineffective judicial system, unreliable dispute resolution mechanisms, insecurity, and pervasive corruption. Regulatory constraints and security risks have limited new investments in oil and natural gas.’ This was the background to, and problem during, AGOA processes. What really has the AGOA contributed to growth and development of Nigeria?
Brill.com noted in its “Benefits of Nigeria’s Participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act,’ published in The African Review, that, from 2001 to 2022, ‘the lofty provisions of AGOA are laudable, even though unworkable, and given the environments within which the provisions of the trade policy were drafted and enacted, the subscription was carried out, and the implementation is pursued. AGOA helps to entrench Nigeria in its peripheral position of world economy…’ The conclusion of Brill.com is noteworthy: ‘rather than continuing to perform its historic economic rituals to global democratic capitalism Nigeria needs emancipation from the stranglehold of unremunerated primary exports or insolvency would scuttle it irretrievably into an ungovernable chaotic territorial entity.’
Most unfortunately, however, rather than having emancipation from unremunerated primary exports and non-dependence on foreign countries for economic survival, efforts are being strenuously made to use PBAT as a proxy ally in the execution of NATO’s security agenda. Some suggestions have it that Ivorian President intervened to ensure the appointment of PBAT as ECOWAS Chairman with the ultimate objective of using him to compel the release of the ousted President Bazoum of Niger Republic. Whatever is the case, and in light of the foregoing, of what use is the visit of the US Secretary of State?
4-Ds Diplomacy and Blinken’s Visit
Nigeria’s foreign policy attitude under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, what we have referred to as Tinubuplomacy, is largely predicated on what Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Tuggar, has called the doctrine of the 4-Ds: Democracy, Development, Demography, and Diaspora. None of the 4-Ds, with the exception of ‘development,’ is an objective, speaking stricto sensu. They are all instruments for achieving development. When the 4-Ds are interrogated in the context of the US foreign policy attitude, there is conflict of interest from which the argument of self-deceit is derived.
First, regardless of who the United States has as President, US foreign policy attitude remains the same. Promotion and protection of democracy remains a constant. The sermons of democracies not going to war with one another are often preached. So are protection of human rights. What is noteworthy in this case is that the rules of democratic games varies from one democracy to another. The emphases placed on them also varies. In fact, the conduct and management of democracy is another kettle of fish entirely.
President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden are only different in mania of approach in foreign policy calculations. Their core mandate of defending US foreign policy interests is first priority. While Donald Trump does not bother much about diplomatic protocols and niceties, carelessly talking about Africa of shit-holes, always talking arrogantly with little or no regard to people with dark skin, and telling the world the bitter truth of what the United States stands for, President Joe Biden simply reflects the opposite.
Donald Trump talks about US foreign policy of ‘America First.’ It is also “America First” for Joe Biden, even if he does not openly mention it. He underscores ‘America First’ in many different ways. For example, Joe Biden made it clear to all countries of the world, and particularly, to African leaders, that the United States would severely sanction any country that votes against US foreign policy interest. He gave this warning when several African countries refrained from voting at the UN General Assembly to condemn Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Biden expected African support but many African countries have been deepening their ties with both the Chinese and the Russians.
In terms of policy of self-deceit, Joe Biden cannot but be deceiving himself and the United States to expect that Africa will endlessly be aligned to the West to the detriment of Africa’s interest. Although Nigeria voted to condemn Russia but to the detriment of Nigeria’s national interest, the likelihood of permanently voting in line with the direction of US foreign policy interest is not sustainable simply because of Nigeria’s own definition of non-alignment policy.
E.A. Ifidom, has noted in his “Nigeria’s Policy of Non-Alignment and Voting in the United Nations General Assembly, 1960-1965,” (vide Journal of History and Diplomatic Studies, Vol. 8, 2011), that ‘two traditions of analysis exist with regard to the nature and expression of non-alignment in Nigeria’s foreign policy between 1960 and 1965. The tradition that dates from the early 1960s concludes that Nigeria’s foreign policy towards the Cold War was independent and non-aligned, and the post-war tradition is that Nigeria was ‘aligned. Both traditions adduce as evidence for their opposing verdicts Nigeria’s voting pattern in the United Nations General Assembly between 1960 and 1965.’
In the same vein, Douglas G. Anglin has observed that Nigeria is politically non-aligned, but economically aligned (See his “Nigeria: Political Non-Alignment and Economic Alignment,” Journal of Modern African Studies, Volume 2, Number 2, July 1964, pp 247-263; also in https://www.jstor’org) stable).
These observations cannot be faulted because the conception of Nigeria’s non-alignment policy was never meant to be unidirectional in support of, or against, any bloc. It was never meant to be the friend of one and the enemy of the other. The main dynamic of what attitude to adopt in voting to align or not to align is Nigeria’s national interest. If the interest dictates voting in favour of any bloc, so should it be and vice and versa. In the words of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, ‘we shall not blindly follow the lead of anyone; so far as is possible, the policy on each occasion will be selected with a proper independent objectivity in Nigeria’s national interest. We consider it wrong for the Federal Government to associate itself as a matter of routine with any of the power blocs.’ (vide House of Representatives Debates, 20th August 1960, Lagos). The operational words in the statement are ‘not blindly follow; objection to alignment as a matter of routine; aligning based on independent objectivity; and perhaps most importantly, national interest as the main dynamic of every decision to align or not to align.
It is important to underscore this factor of national interest. This is necessary because of the postulation of Douglas Anglin that Nigeria was aligned politically and non-aligned economically and also because of the assertion of Ifidom’s belief that Nigeria was not aligned from 1960 to 1965 but aligned thereafter. If Nigeria’s national interest is factored into both analyses, it cannot but be rightly posited that national interest dictated Nigeria’s attitudinal positions in all the voting schedules at the UN General Assembly.
When considering this issue of non-alignment in the context of Tinubuplomacy’s 4-Ds, and particularly US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s visit, the evidence of self-deceit is also manifest. At the level of insecurity in Nigeria, there is no disputing the fact that the United States had provided security aid in weapons and equipment worth more than $2 billion in the period from 2000 to 2022. As explained by the Brown University’s Centre for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, the US also carried out more than 41,000 training courses for Nigerian military personnel.
And true again, the United States delivered twelve Super Tucano warplanes as part of the $593 million package approved by the State Department in 2017. The politics surrounding the Super Tucano warplanes gave the unnecessary impression that, with the Tucano, the Boko Haram extremists would be quickly neutralised. This has not been so at all. The fundamental question is this: to what extent has the security aid given to Nigeria in the past decade helped to neutralise the boko haramists? It should be recalled here that one major factor that largely explains the forced departure of France from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger Republic is the recidivist Tuareg insurrection in the Sahel. Since 2013 when the French military troops came in to help, the offer of help has not been useful beyond what the opponents have called exploitative help. The people believe that the French were more interested in exploitation of mineral resources rather than containing the terrorists.
Grosso modo, any visit in diplomatic practice, be it official, officious, or unofficial, there is always a declared or undeclared objective. Even when the objective is declared, there is still nothing to suggest that the truth is being told. In the context of Blinken’s official visit to Nigeria, there are some critical environmental factors that appeared to have prompted the visit. It is quite arguable that there is any developed country that truly wants Nigeria to become a major power like them. The United States does not want a Nigeria that will be powerful enough to challenge it in international relations. Nigeria is actually the de facto world headquarters of the black people in Diaspora. The United States’ leadership of the world is being challenged by the Chinese, apart from their trade war. Russia has fallen out of possible Russo-Western strategy for the conduct and management of global questions. The implication of this is the likely frequent use of US veto and Russian veto at the UN Security Council. France has lost her privileged influence and preferential treatment in many Francophone African countries. The most shameful case is that of the saga of unconstitutional change of government in Niger Republic. Africa’s current coups are no longer by the military but by the people. Most unfortunately for both the French and the Americans, their arch enemies are readily giving support to the African countries. The United States does not want Nigeria to accept Chinasation. What is Nigeria going to do with US offer of $45m for security assistance? This is self-deceit and most unserious. To what extent can the diplomacy of the 4-Ds be helpful? There is the need for more seriousness of purpose at the forthcoming March 2024 Binational Commission meeting which is expected to hold at the summitry level. Self-help is what is needed now, and not any international aid.