This is for Bagauda Kaltho, one of the Invisibles and largely unmentioned individuals who paid the supreme sacrifice in the course of the struggle.
June 12, Nigeria’s disputed Democracy Day is over for this year. But the melody lingers. Such spillovers invariably generate memories. As I watched the face-off between the demonstrators and the security agents; I had to tell myself that, as a nation, we have been at this point before. The only difference was that this time around, compared to the Abacha years, it was like a picnic.
Memories also flooded in about the role played by global forces in Nigeria’s quest for democratization. It was a game of money in which various NGOs were formed, and were being supported by different embassies. As a public-spirited academic, I had my share of this honey-pot. But I was not carried away. Rather, on any given occasion, I always ruminated on the contradictions inherent in a situation whereby external forces seek to help in democratizing another country.
At the purely material level, it was a good venture. Plenty of money was flowing out of the embassies to the various NGOs. But the seemingly roseate situation also had its undersides. For instance, one of the Program Managers in one of the major embassies could be very rude. In conversations, she had the habit of cutting you off mid-flow. Those of us in civil society often exchanged notes, and I remember here, the vivid way in which a compatriot Olaitan Oyerinde described the situation. According to this perceptive colleague, when resources are generated in the context of inequality, this is the kind of thing that happens.
Meanwhile, we were caught between loyalty to our country which was under a jackboot, and another country that seeks to help in democratizing the country. Were we traitors? This is more so when it is appreciated that, those who claim to be your supporters in this game of democratization are only in the show for their own interests. And you do not have to think too hard to uncover these interests.
As a student of international politics, one can quickly appreciate, why democracy all of a sudden became the only game in town. In the recent past, these countries were very busy supporting various dictatorships across the African continent. And all of a sudden, they turned out to be apostles of democracy.
Why? the reader may ask. The real point was that in the context of the recession in the power-play between the two superpowers, it was time to focus on the issue: democracy in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. But the media here lost sight of this nuanced picture and proceeded to give the then American Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington a new name – Omowale. Very affectionate appellation. But unknown to them, a similar game was being played in Kenya, where all of a sudden, the US envoy to Nairobi, started harassing the Kenyan, Arap Moi. Poor Moi, he could not understand what was happening. Why would Washington repay him this way after he had stood by them during the cold war? Unknown to him, Washington was now playing the new game of democracy support.
Shortly after, Moi was to have his own moment; at least in the short run. All of a sudden, Washington needed him to give refuge to Libyan dissidents who were being pursued by Gaddafi. Washington searched for support, and ultimately, it was Arap Moi who saved the day by providing refuge for the fleeing Libyans. Significantly, at that point in time, the Americans eased their pressure on the Kenyan strongman. So ultimately, as far as democracy promotion goes, in this Kenyan instance, it was just another case of hard-headed interests.
What has been said above about Kenya and Washington was also played out here at various levels. As the civil society gained more leverage and visibility in Lagos, there were misgivings on the part of the U.S diplomats in Eleke Crescent. It was a Janus-faced situation in which, while the diplomats in the USIS located around Tafawa Balewa Square feted Nigerian journalists and Human Rights Activists, those on Eleke Crescent were out in the cold and virtually presided over the liquidation of US interests in Nigeria.
Much of the foregoing goes a long way to explain the profile of Walter Carrington’s successor. As soon as, Carrington’s tour of duty was over, he was replaced by a career diplomat. More importantly, Carrington’s successor had served previously in places like Mexico, Iran, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia-all of them, oil Producing countries.
I hope that the reader can get the drift here. It was evident that Carrington’s successor had been chosen to reverse the losses suffered by American oil companies. For as the hostility endured between Washington and Abuja, Abacha ousted them from their traditional oil interests. And these were picked up by French concerns. The reader may wish to recall here that all through the democracy game, France was largely aloof, compared to Washington. Interest was the name of the game.
Ken Saro Wiwa’s son is also in a position to speak to this contradiction, on the part of the democracy promoters.
In the wake of Ken’s execution, various forms of sanctions were imposed on Nigeria. But there was a significant exception; oil-related sanctions were excluded. The perfidy in this situation was exposed by the fact that the Americans said that they were waiting for London before oil-related sanctions can be effected. Meanwhile, and in turn, London said that it was waiting for Washington first to move on this issue. The pain and betrayal of this situation must have taken a heavy toll on Ken Saro Wiwa Jnr. But evidently, it does demonstrate the perfidy in the game of democracy support.
But as far as examples go, this is not the end of this somber game. Another interesting dimension of this situation was the absolute stance of Canada towards the Abacha regime. Lock, stock, and barrel, the country packed out of Nigeria completely, and severed relations with the junta. The revelatory dimensions of this issue were the respective reactions of an American diplomat and the director of the British Council to this Canadian position.
According to the former; “we Americans cannot leave Nigeria in this way. Our baggage is too heavy!” Similarly, the British Councilman was of the view that: Canada, can afford to stand on principles as regards Nigeria.
So taken together, what much of the immediate foregoing suggests was that Canada, being minimally exposed to Nigeria, could afford her kind of position towards Abacha’s Nigeria. Again, interest is the name of the game.
Another way of looking at the issue is the selective nature of the democracy game. With gusto, Washington imposes on say Nigeria that she should democratize. Yet, it maintains cozy relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Democracy promotion is therefore a power game in which a strong country says to the weak country, democratize or else. Such an injunction can only be given when the core interests of the powerful country are not involved.
The lesson from all these is that no country will in any sincere way, embark on democracy promotion in another country. And here, the final word must be given to our own Chinua Achebe. In one of his works, it was remarked that a man must build his own House (Obi) himself. No one should build it for him. And this is why and in a way, the face-off between the demonstrators and security forces on June 12, was a good one. It constitutes part of the pains of growth for our nation without the professed help of external do-gooders.
Professor Kayode Soremekun, the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of Federal University Oye Ekiti, is the Chairman of, Editorial Board of Business Day Newspaper.