“Freedom, Sartre insisted, is ‘at the origin’ of writing, since ‘no one is obliged to choose himself as a writer.’ Writing, therefore, ‘is a certain way of wanting freedom. Once you have begun, you are committed.” (Writers and Missionaries: Essays on the Radical Imagination by Adam Shatz).
Epictetus was right. No one can bend your will without your consent. Your will is yours to do with as you please. Almost everything else is outside your control. We find ourselves being forced to live with a choice that the majority of Nigerians did not want.
Our collective will might seem to have been usurped. But only with our permission will that be so. We can maintain the necessary courtesy with one another while still being grossly at odds. My will, your will, our will; it is an internal domain.
An exclusive and absolute personal majesty, the will is. I am committed. Within law and right, I am. Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s new president, emerged in such a controversial way to the highest office in our land, that to support him would be utterly demeaning. By all means, let those who want to, do so. Not me. Never.
To the issue at hand. As Nigerians, we will be affected by the history of our country’s new president. For those that have travelled abroad most recently (I have not), you are already witnesses to the shameful conversations about our dear country. They already called Nigeria many bad names before now. But it was still possible to defend the country then. Now, there is not much that you can say.
If they say Nigerians are drug-dealers, what can you say in response now? What? Is Mr Tinubu, Nigeria’s president, a suspected drug-trafficker? What is your defense to that? When countries like Colombia, Guatemala, even Brazil, are mentioned, what immediately comes to mind? Not the beautiful women, carnivals, or coffee, for sure. The drug trade is what you instinctively remember.
Yes, we know there is more to those countries. But the drug trade is what you first recall about them. In Asia, Nigerians hitherto suffered extraordinary body searches at international airports on suspicion of drug-trafficking. There used to still be the presumption of innocence.
I don’t think we will have that privilege anymore. It will now be guilty until proven innocent. A country whose political systems a suspected drug-trafficker successfully overwhelmed to clinch its presidency cannot be defended.
Yes, our international partners will continue to do business with us. We are, after all, the world’s largest black population in a single country. The Nigerian economy is also Africa’s largest. Nigeria is important. So, no matter who becomes our president, the world will work with us.
But it will be with palpable disdain. We will be taken advantage of as a people, and our current leaders, who will be just too glad that a country, any country, is happy to do business with them, will probably not be able to act in our best interests in global affairs.
That is, even in the unlikely possibility that they desire what is best for us. An African leader’s reputation is often the only bulwark against his country’s statutorily weak negotiating position in the international arena.
Our most important foreign development partner, in my view, remains the United States. With American help, we have been able to deal with the insecurity in the northeastern part of the country. They have music concerts in Maiduguri now, I gather.
Yes, there is now a serious banditry problem in northwestern Nigeria. But I doubt very much that anyone thinks we will not be able to deal with that problem too in due course. Thankfully, the United States is handling our great matter with a finesse that is quite encouraging.
Yes, the 2023 presidential election was allegedly rigged. Yes, the courts may yet void the electoral heist in due course. Still, what should be the course of action of our international partners? An outright snub is impractical.
There are more effective ways to show disapproval and incentivise corrective action in international affairs, as the literature and practice of diplomacy and statecraft, which date back centuries, show. America has announced visa bans on those who were identified to have undermined the democratic process during the 2023 general elections.
They have documented their displeasure to the Nigerian authorities, and are watching the election petition process very closely. These are appropriately measured steps of engagement and prodding. Still, this engagement is not tantamount to approval, as the case of Panama’s Noriega shows, nor will it obviate a potential change of tact in the event of a new administration in the White House.
Simply put, Mr Tinubu’s America’s suspected drug-trafficking past is a national security risk, moreso now that he is the president.