• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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From Ghana, Obama speaks to Nigeria



Visiting President Barack Obama has just told us the truth. Obama was guest of the government of Ghana , a small West African country that cannot on any Census day rub shoulders with Lagos and Kano , let alone Nigeria . But Obama, an African American from Kenya , chose Ghana ahead of his native Kenya and Nigeria , the acclaimed Giant of Africa. Nobody should fret over the choice of Ghana especially when the occupants of Aso Rock have said they could not be bothered. I would have been worried by Obama’s choice of Ghana as his first port of call in Sub-Sahara Africa since that historic moment when Americans freely gave him the mandate to be their ‘king’. But when I consider that Ghana , though smaller than Nigeria , is a little older than our dear country having gained Independence in 1957, I am consoled.
No doubt, Nigeria and Ghana share a common history. Both were British colonies And just as some Nationalists fought against the British to beget our sovereignty, so did the Ghanaians fight the British Army and their Danish Army allies to assert their freedom. But the similarity ends there.
Ghana had since Independence demonstrated a stronger resolve for self rule. This it had done through the rigours of democracy, though with occasional flip-flops. Ghana has shown a willingness to organise credible elections over the years. The recent election that brought John Atta Mills to power in an election that went into a run-off further attested to Ghana ‘s stability and the maturity of its democracy.
Nigeria does not enjoy such luxury and the country is paying dearly for it. In his 3,621 words speech before the Ghana Parliament, Obama told us what we know but do not like to hear. He said “governments that respect the will of their people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful than governments that do not”. Obama was pointed and blunt. He said he chose to visit Ghana because the country has shown a desire to put democracy on a firm footing, first by organising free and fair election and second by offering good governance which in itself is a catalyst for development. “Development depends on good governance”, he told the audience. Obama paid tribute to other small countries in Africa like Botswana where democracy is firming up. He carefully avoided Nigeria . But his speech was loaded with messages painstakingly couched for Nigeria . A few excerpts would suffice here.
“Development depends upon good governance. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long. That is the change that can unlock Africa’s potential. And that is a responsibility that can only be met by Africans”. Here Obama speaks about Nigeria. We lack good governance.

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“No country is going to create wealth if its leaders exploit the economy to enrich themselves, or police can be bought off by drug traffickers. No business wants to invest in a place where the government skims 20 percent off the top, or the head of the port authority is corrupt. No person wants to live in a society where the rule of law gives way to the rule of brutality and bribery. That is not democracy, that is tyranny, and now is the time for it to end”. This is the portrait of Nigeria.
“Time and again, Ghanaians have chosen Constitutional rule over autocracy, and shown a democratic spirit that allows the energy of your people to break through. We see that in leaders who accept defeat graciously, and victors who resist calls to wield power against the opposition. We see that spirit in courageous journalists like Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who risked his life to report the truth. We see it in police like Patience Quaye, who helped prosecute the first human trafficker in Ghana. We see it in the young people who are speaking up against patronage and participating in the political process”. In Nigeria, no loser accepts defeat graciously even when he knew he would never have won. The loser must look for a scapegoat to crucify for his failure. And the media? Enough said.
“Make no mistake: history is on the side of these brave Africans and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”. Obama got us here. The problem with Nigeria is that the country has a long list of strong men and very weak institutions. Olusegun Obasanjo, Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Bola Tinubu, Odimegwu Ojukwu, Asari Dokubo, Tony Anenih etc, are all strong men, but you can’t point to one strong institution.
“People everywhere should have the right to start a business or get an education without paying a bribe. We have a responsibility to support those who act responsibly and to isolate those who don’t, and that is exactly what America will do”. Obama was spot on. In Nigeria, with all the chants of anti-corruption, we bribe to get admission to high school, we ‘sort’ the teachers to get good grades and we even bribe to get a job or at least, you must know somebody who knows the man that knows the woman that gives the job.
“In Ghana, for instance, oil brings great opportunities, and you have been responsible in preparing for new revenue. But as so many Ghanaians know, oil cannot simply become the new cocoa. From South Korea to Singapore, history shows that countries thrive when they invest in their people and infrastructure; when they promote multiple export industries, develop a skilled work force and create space for small and medium-sized businesses that create jobs”. You see what I mean? In Nigeria, oil is everything. The government has stopped thinking; primary sector is dead leaving us with zero export value.
Obama may have visited Ghana. But the US President’s message from Accra was especially packaged for Abuja. The more we demonstrate our inability to ‘cast votes, count the votes and announce the results’, the more isolation we face from the global community. The Obama sermon is a wake up call but is somebody listening?