For Nigeria, a deluge of expectations from Obama

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Thursday, January 29, 2009   


For Nigeria, a deluge of expectations from Obama
By Oghogho Obayuwana, just back from Washington

The world practically stood still during the inauguration of the first African-American, Barack Obama, as the 44th President of the United States (US). But for Nigeria it was an event correctly interpreted well beyond the euphoria of the moment.

As Washington DC became a Mecca of sorts, at the inaugural ceremony of President Barack Obama last week, a compact Nigerian agenda through which the expected gains of new time could be maximized, was timely presented to those who run America from the inside and flanks of the White House and Capitol.

Through its eleven-man high powered delegation made of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe and some of the most accomplished of the nation’s serving and retired diplomats, Nigeria somewhat succeeded in making the point that the new era, calls for a shift from the usual to the more inclusive business in terms of trade and grants.

On this special mission were former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former ambassador to the U.S,-* Professor George Obiozor, former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Jibril Chinade, Ambassadors Dapo Fafowora and Eneh Onobu as well as Professor Bola Akinterinwa.

Some state governors were also in Washington, ostensibly to take advantage of the influx of leading captains of industry and influential politicians to try and swing investments to their states. These included Gabriel Suswan (Benue), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Chief Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa), Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers) and Godswill Apkabio (Akwa Ibom). There was a two-some representation by members of the House of Representatives Committee on Diaspora led by Hon Muhammad Sani Ibrahim who was supported by committee Oscar Chukwuma Okoro.

The consultations and high stake meetings were plethoric. So too were the caliber of hosts and respondents. The first brave push was a forum held at the Nigerian chancery on The New Terms of Engagement for the Obama Administration. Here the respected former African-American presidential hopeful the Rev Jesse Jackson made very insightful comments. Moderated by the former U.S ambassador to Nigeria, Howard Jeter, it was a rich blend of views, throwing up issues that can help to refocus the terms of cooperation with the U.S by African states.

Members of the panel also included high flying intellectuals such as Dr. Pearl Alice- Merd, Dr. Sulayman Nyang, ambassador Princeton Lyman, Dr. Gwendolyn Mikell ,Dr. Whitney Schneidman and Hon Gary Loster.

These friends of Africa called for a second White House conference on Africa as well as the revitalization of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA)

According to the panelists, what is preferable in the new time brought about by the coming to power of Barack Obama is “genuine trade and partnership” as opposed to “mere grants and hand outs”.

Amid thundering applause, the Rev Jesse Jackson said “Africa must now be taken seriously. Africa is now the creditor and the US debtor. We hope that Obama becomes the greatest president ever. This is the time for the greatest push in Africa-US relations. This is time for more constructive engagement”

According to the now ageing Jackson, the talk about a White House conference on Africa has become real given the fact the there is a realistic chance now that Africa has a listening ear in the White House.

“We are Africa. We are the world. I can assure you that the stage is now set for truly brotherly, beneficial relations with Africa. God bless us all”. He said.

The case for a revitalized AGOA was well laid on the table by Ambassador Princeton. He said “We need a new trade agreement with Africa in the WTO at the end of eight years of Obama presidency. We see leaders in Africa that can fulfill the hope. A decision must be taken to restructure the AGOA. As has been said this evening, a country like Nigeria with all its human and natural potentials had not in the past been able to use up 20 percent of the quota it was granted under the AGOA terms. Surely, there must be something missing. We have to be prevailing on the congressional caucus to push this cause in congress. AGOA needs to be reworked, reframed and its regulations simplified. That’s the only way we can get the best from countries like Nigeria”

Pertinent questions were raised by the other panelists: What is Africa trying to achieve now? What can America to achieve with an African son at the helms? Where is the nexus of sentiments and realistic engagement with Africa. The climate change issue and the desire for the U.S not to rely too much on external sources of power also came up for scrutiny.

It was demonstrated with some degree of clarity that there will be efforts to revitalize AGOA in the new administration: “We will seek the new U.S government’s understanding and action on this. It is up to us to keep our feet in the fire and maintain the engagement and to link our common humanity with Africa”

On the second White House conference as being proposed after what reigned in the 1940s, Dr. Whitney Schneidman said: “Yes we are all in agreement that it is time for Africa to have a second conference on Africa. The details of the new issues and the platform of exertions will be unfolded here in the US. This will be passed to the conscience of that once dark Continent. There is the strong desire to get the sensible leaders in Africa involved in this too”

For Dr. Pearl Alice-Merd: “There is going back on the need to examine transformational foreign policy to Africa. What Africa should look like if the Diaspora takes a look, then we may begin to see what happened in the 40s. “the Challenges for Obama is that he is driven by passion. In the US we have seen a society that gives opportunities to all citizens to excel”

A strong opposition was however taken on the AFRICOM when a member of the federal government delegation Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora vehemently opposed it based on his experiences at the UN and the American foreign policy to Africa when apartheid raged in South Africa.

“They cannot impose it on us. We are opposed to this because it means entering into a formal military alliance with the US which is incompatible with Nigeria’s foreign policy from 1960, we have refused to be aligned. I don’t see the need now. I am quite persuaded that president Obama will discontinue with it. It is not in Nigeria’s National interest as well as that Africa’s strategic long term interest ” he added.

Citing a lack of conceptual clarity surrounding the United States African Command (AFRICOM), Nigeria maintained that it will be in the long term strategic interest of Nigeria and America, if the new administration of Barack Obama gives a firm backing to the idea of an African Standby Forces (ASF) being put together by the African Union (AU) to deal with burgeoning political crisis on the continent.

In fact, Maduekwe who was guest lecturer, eloquently articulated Nigeria position. He said there is a need for Africa’s ownership of the process of conflict resolution stating that “the challenge now is to encourage the cultural capacity of Africans to resolve our own conflicts. This is one of our expectations of the Obama presidency”

This according to the minister is a more potent way to give life to President Barack Obama’s inaugural statement on putting aside childish things.

Maduekwe noted “the African standby forces have not been receiving the support that we envisaged from our development partners like the US. So we can intervene, move in whenever democracy is under siege. (Former president) Obasanjo did that in Sao Tome and Principe. The Obasanjo model may not be followed now because unlike Sao Tome, Guinea Conakry is far from Nigeria. But with a stand by force, the African army can move in. It will be indigenous, not seen as imperialistic as AFRICOM is being perceived now. With it, we have to agree that there is a conceptual clarity that breeds suspicion. Nigeria remains very muscular in engaging the problem of Zimbabwe. Our presence in Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, now Darfur is a testimony to our capacity… We are looking at Somalia now.”

Responding to the request by the Director, Africa Programme of the CSIS, Jennifer Cooke for a frank dialogue between Nigeria and the U.S, Maduekwe said: “Before today, there have been series of memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and your country. There have been past agreements covering almost all the sectors but nothing happened.”

“No, the era of you digging the oil, count the money and give it to us, will not work in 2009. U.S Oil companies in Nigeria are creating jobs for their nationals and other citizens far away instead of in Nigeria. And we are now asking: What kind of tax rebate does the US companies require to get into that, to get into genuine partnership with Nigeria? These are the issues,” he posited.

“In moving from generalities to specifics, There must be an abiding commitment to partnership. Unless there is a deep infrastructural push in Nigeria in the area of power, we will still remain talkers in this new era. For instance, the GEC (General Electric Company) must look at Nigeria, invest in its power and also make money, then we are in business” He added.

The Minister continued: “For the government of Nigeria, lets put aside childish things means that the US must engage Africa as partners. Must not talk down to us, should treat us in the true sense of partnership…of course we have to also start thinking strategically. We believe that the US needs Africa just Africa needs the US. We believe that issues that have long been agreed upon must now derive a new momentum. A new implementation. A new sense of detail as to what should be done, how , when to do it and by who, so that the entire continent of Africa would join the global economy and make the long awaited leap to make poverty history”

Maduekwe continued:”The Obama election has completely taken away from us the political elite of Africa our continuing to find excuses for failures. A son of an Africa immigrant can come to the United States and become the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, the continent of his father in a philosophical, spiritual sense, is better position to put its own house in order…We believe that the Obama election is an extraordinarily powerful new window of engagement. We are tired of excuses. Colonialism, neo colonialism, imperialism, unequal playing ground in the area of trade. Now, there is no limit to excuses. Yes We Can, for us, it is creating the enabling environment for competition, rule of law. Those mere lectures on democratic tenets will not work with us. We must get down to specifics”

Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Ambassador George Obiozor told The Guardian that Nigeria must never allow the Obama momentum to slip by. They also spoke on what should be done to realize this.

Anyaoku said: “First, what is happening here is a triumph for democracy. Triumph for the system which allows the best candidate to become the president of his country. For our country, Nigeria, I think we still need to learn the lessons of putting forward our best people to run for governance and help lift the country upwards”

Anyaoku is hoping that President Barack Obama will take a critical look at the current relations between the U.S and Africa.

“I hope that the Obama administration will look seriously at Africa in terms of not just how Africa can cope with the challenge of HIV/ AIDS and how to handle other diseases such as malaria. I hope he will not only sustain these efforts, but go beyond by helping the NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) programmes which are all embedded to enhance the rate of development in Africa and enhance Africa’s capacity to resolve its own problems. I hope he can encourage U.S institutions and the private sector in pushing and advancing the cause of Africa’s development”

Obiozor who was also a one time envoy to Israel said:”Consultations will have to be deepened now. And we have made this point known. The out-going President Bush started well with Nigeria and Africa. Our expectation is that Obama will continue and then improve on that line”

“What we love to see in the days ahead? The demonstration and emphasis on mutual interest of Africa and the U.S. But Nigerian politicians must be mindful of transitional politics. We should give expression to politics without bitterness. It must not be a do or die affair. All that we say and act in Nigeria must be in the national interest or nothing “

Although not part of the federal government delegation, former Senate President Ken Nnamani was at the Nigeria House in Washington. He added his voice: “It is high time we put our house in order. We politicians in Nigeria must learn to put our best legs forward, then ensure that elections are truly free”

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