By Ikem Okuhu
I am not an expert in international diplomacy but my experience in Public Relations practice tells me that President Muhammadu Buhari’s appeal on April 27, 2021 for the United States to relocate its AFRICOM command headquarters from Germany to Africa was a diplomatic disaster and something the American government would very likely exploit to squeeze the last drop of blood in the pitiably gaunt frame of Nigeria’s fast-fading dignity. Since the virtual bilateral exchange between President Buhari and Antony Blinken, diplomatic hazard lights have been blinking endlessly with news and rumours of how President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been avoiding overtures to hold conversations with the Nigerian leader.
If information from the Council on Foreign Relations, a United States nonprofit think tank specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs, is anything to go by, the US will not only not heed Buhari’s call; but might likely watch as the country is pushed deeper into the already intractable security mire. In an article published on May 3 on the Council’s website, www.cfr.org, John Campbell refreshed the minds of the global community of the hostile role Nigeria had played in frustrating the efforts to establish the AFRICOM command in Africa when the idea was being incubated in 2005.
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Campbell who also referenced the impossibility of undertaking the relocation of the AFRICOM base, with all its logistics challenges, also hinted on the failure of the Nigerian military to cooperate with the US over the years as a stumbling block.
Hear him: “In addition to opposing AFRICOM in the first place, the Nigerian military authorities have been largely uncooperative with the U.S. military. Hence, U.S. military involvement in Nigeria beyond limited training operations is minimal, and the country does not host any American defense installations. Successive Nigerian governments have wanted to purchase sophisticated American military equipment but have rejected U.S. oversight. In fact, Nigerian purchases of U.S. military material have been rare, despite their high-profile, ultimately successful purchase of twelve A-29 Super Tucanos—sophisticated aircraft.”
Reading Campbell’s article is like reading America’s mind and I would have thought that, but for our peculiar forms of amnesia those driving Nigeria’s diplomatic tugboat should have known better than allow our president engage in such futile grovel. It seems that the voracious larvae that have eaten the nation’s military capabilities have also been gnawing away at our diplomatic foliage. If not, someone would have remembered that we once described AFRICOM as “neocolonialist” and even went on to lead the African resistance against it.
Nigeria is a very important country to the United States and will remain strategic for at least another 20 years when the oil economy is projected to yield grounds for cleaner energy. I suspect we might remain relevant even beyond that period. Our population counts for a lot and with our gas reserves still among the vastest in the world, the United States would still want to do business with us. I suspect they would want to be doing this business with a United Nigeria than with a fragmentation that could yield an unpredictable number of nationalities. This would however depend on whether the business they want to do with the country is the one of selling arms and military equipment to rebel and militia groups or strengthening federalist interests desirous of sustaining the now hugely challenged unity of the country.
The long-term cost benefit and other opportunity cost factors is most likely going to sway the US to think towards keeping Nigeria united but might push for a significant departure from the present system that is federal on paper but unitary in practice.
Nigeria needs to restructure. Given the cacophonous clamour for the balkanization of the country of recent, the parameters for reorganizing Nigeria might be difficult. In many parts of the north such as Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna and Taraba, religion might be a major factor. In the southeast and south-south, harmonizing interests in assets are also clear and present challenges. The same applies to the southwest where an elite, whose bread are better buttered along the lines of the present structure, might also push for the maintenance of the status quo.
The country NEEDS this restructuring now. It is the only middle point between internecine violent partitioning and the current dysfunctional aberration called a federation.
Equally important is the need to reestablish the factors that made the Nigerian security forces excel in the past. Reading news of the fallen “morale” in the military and the dearth of equipment can be heartbreaking. Those interested in keeping Nigeria as one should rally to quickly effect changes and that should start with making past officers account for various monies invested in strengthening the military.
On December 14, 2017, governors of Nigeria’s 36 states approved the allocation of $1 billion from the country’s Excess Crude Oil Account to equip the military in fighting Boko Haram. Four years and a cobweb of other security challenges later, questions have arisen as to what use such a huge sum was put into.
Perhaps in an effort to pamper them away from military takeovers, the Nigerian political elite appear to have developed a penchant to allocating humongous resources to the military. This, many believe, is not so much about strengthening the military as it is about creating enough opportunities for enrichment by the top brass, ensuring maximum comfort for the political class in their business of resource (mis)management.
The case of the Nigerian Police is even more pathetic. The average Nigerian policeman has low self-esteem and is soaked in the culture of extracting rewards from the public rather than the Force. They are wired to have their eyes so trained on people’s pockets they don’t ever think of training for the task of proper securities management. That is why police stations, hitherto regarded as fortresses, have been picked off like soft targets by criminals mostly referred to as “unknown gunmen” in the media.
The police need a remake. But just before anyone goes off with heaping all the blame on these officers and men who are themselves, victims of a system that promotes mediocrity, Nigeria needs a total leadership rebirth. So long as the dregs of our society are allowed to rise to leadership positions, so long will the lines of national fracture continue its destabilizing stretch.
We cannot afford to let this continue.
Okuhu, a former Special Assistant to Governor Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, is a journalist, author, farm entrepreneur, whose most recent book is ‘Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths’