There is a subsisting euphoria in the presidency over President Buhari’s recent trip to the United States. This is understandable. It will be recalled that in the course of the four-day visit, President Buhari met with the American president, other top US functionaries and business and policy executives as well as Nigerians living in the United States.
Having played a not-so-subtle role in his electoral success, the US naturally wishes to see President Buhari succeed, and therefore wasted no time in inviting him to visit the country. Moreover, he was even encouraged to come with a ‘wish list’ of what Nigeria would want from Washington. Expectedly, he sought America’s help in his signature ‘war against corruption’. Specifically, he wanted Washington’s help as regards recovery of looted funds by past government officials. The other items on his ‘wish list’ include assistance and bilateral cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram and increased US trade and investments in Nigeria.
Beyond the cosmetics of back-slapping, camaraderie and photo-ops, it is imperative to analyse the likelihood of Nigeria’s benefits from the trip since this is not the first of such visits by a Nigerian president from which little was realised.
It is important to appreciate here that US-Nigeria relations have been fraught with tensions and ambivalence since the commencement of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1960. Nigeria, on the one hand, having been sired in the best of British capitalism, was ideologically oriented to the west and the US in particular and earnestly sought its friendship. But the US, on the other hand, treated Nigeria with indifference and indeed regarded Nigeria as a mere residue of Whitehall’s responsibility.
After the civil war, however, and with the oil boom, Nigeria came into reckoning again and the two countries became friends of sorts. This was clear from the way Nigeria cosied up to the US once more, even after the bitter experience of the former’s refusal to sell arms to Nigeria during our internecine conflict.
In truth, and against what many Nigerians like to believe, the US has never had a Nigerian policy. Even in a generic context, it has always treated and dealt with African countries as a collective entwined in adversities and not as individual social formations. Thus, what passes for US policy towards Africa is a monolithic thrust with minimal regard for the identities of these countries.
Nigeria, however, became significant to the US only after its discovery of oil and the consequent oil trade between the two countries in the seventies. Moreover, there was the consequent drive by Washington to ensure its energy security in the Gulf of Guinea. This increased interaction led to the setting up of the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission. It was through this commission that attempts were made by the US to help Nigeria tackle the issues of corruption, electoral abuse, domestic energy and agricultural problems as well as instability in the Niger-Delta region. However, with the deployment of fracking technology and the scaling up of shale oil production, oil imports from Nigeria have been stopped. Consequently, the US-inspired Gulf of Guinea security enterprise is now in jeopardy, and in the process, Nigeria’s significance to the US has been diminished, courtesy of this new oil variable.
As President Buhari may have realised during his trip, the US policies are usually built on iron-cast interests and are not subject to individual whims and caprices of leaders. So, despite Obama’s effusive praises, he may be unable to bend the stipulations of Leahy Law which disallowed the US from selling arms and ammunitions to Nigeria. These arms would have come in handy in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgents. Similarly, Obama may also be unable to get the US to begin to buy oil from Nigeria again since there is another bill in Congress which seeks to lift the ban on oil exports from the US.
We urge our leaders to stop the infantile fascination with the West and the US in particular. Our national interests should drive our foreign policies and relations with other countries. We consider Buhari’s “God made me but America made me” statement unhelpful and inimical to the pursuit of independent policies and interactions.
Nigeria cannot continue to sheepishly cosy up to the West – which has consistently refused to help us in our greatest hour of need. This attitude does not show enlightened self-interest, whereas this should be the sole motivator of foreign policy. And our own Nigeria cannot be an exception to the tested dictum in international politics which states that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.