Sunday, 13 November 2016

Nigeria-US relations and Donald Trump by Reuben Abati

I do not share the view of those who assume that by some kind of
miracle, in the shape of electoral-college defections, Hillary Clinton
would still, on the strength of winning the popular vote, supplant
Donald Trump as US 2016 President-elect.

We might as well begin to live with the reality of a Trump Presidency,
sad and traumatic as that outcome may be. And coming to terms with that,
despite our disappointment, calls for a forward-looking approach on the
part of the Nigerian government.

The United States remains Nigeria’s most strategic
partner. More than one million Nigerians live in the United States and a
significant percentage of that immigrant population has distinguished
itself in academia, the health sector, public service, and other aspects
of American life. Nigerians are perhaps the most visible and the most
influential set of immigrant Africans living in the United States today.
It is indeed possible to argue that there is no neighbourhood or
community in Nigeria today that does not have at least one
representative in America.

      I know many families who have
never been to Abuja but who talk about America with such frightening
familiarity without ever seeing the inside of an aircraft. Their claim
to such glory is the presence of a cousin, a son, a daughter, an in-law
or other relatives, in the United States - it doesn’t matter if the
fellow is a failed husband or wife, or he or she is washing plates, or
doing security guard work, a jail term, or struggling to survive as a
human being, or he or she is permanently trapped in America because
coming home could be a vote for shame.

      Nigerians love
America, thus. The British colonized our country and Britain still
remains a second home of choice for many middle class Nigerians, but
America holds more than a special attraction for many wannabe Nigerians.
America is Nigeria’s land of golden dreams, the country that our youths
want to flock to. Many of our politicians have Americans passports.
The only Nobel Laureate that we have also holds an American Green card.
Churches and mosques across Nigeria hold special prayer sessions for
that Green card and when you have a child living in America, you are
free to assume that the Living God has answered your prayers.

In terms of trade, Nigeria is America’s foremost partner in Africa. The
United States through the auspices of the Nigeria-US Bilateral National
Commission and similar diplomatic commitments in the African Union and
ECOWAS and through other international protocols is actively involved in
Nigeria’s health, security, agriculture, financial and human rights
sectors. We are in addition, a big market for America’s exports in
Africa and a stabilizing force for global security within the region and
the continent. Where the problem lies and where a foreign policy
challenge needs to be addressed, is the emergence right now, of an
incoming President who has expressly declared that African Presidents
are thieves and that Nigeria is particularly a problem, because its
leadership is both “corrupt and insensible”.

Person-to-person diplomacy is perhaps more relevant than
government-to-government relations because the former impacts greatly on
the latter, and any student of international relations can only ignore
this at great cost. We have, despite our cultural, diplomatic and trade
relations with the United States, an in-coming American President who
hates immigrants, Muslims, and who considers Nigerians a threat to the
US working population.

    Whatever the situation might be,
Nigeria has a duty and a responsibility to defend the interest of
Nigerians doing business with the United States in one form or the
other. Our residual interest in American politics and its outcomes
should go beyond individual interests, and political emotions and rest
on Nigeria’s corporate interest. Strategically, what does Donald Trump’s
victory mean to us? What are the implications for Nigeria’s
relationship with the United States? What are the plans in place or in
process, to protect Nigerians and Nigerian Americans who may suddenly
find themselves in a threat situation under a racist and isolationist
American Presidency? What can or should the Nigerian government do to
protect Nigerians in the US diaspora from the uncertainties of America’s

      I have seen a couple of congratulatory
messages here and there and a lot of casual commentaries on the subject,
but what we need is far more strategic thinking at the Federal Ministry
of Foreign Affairs. The officials should wake up and realize that it
may no longer be business as usual with Washington. Our last ambassador
to Washington DC, Professor Ade Adefuye was a well-educated diplomat and
scholar with vast international exposure and a robust, aggressive
personality. He brought that to bear on his job, and he achieved
results. Right now, we don’t even have someone of his rank and stature
in Washington. The Senate is busy still staring at the list of
ambassadorial appointees, and no one knows when many of the critical
vacancies will be filled. We need a man or woman in Washington
post-haste: an ambassador who can represent Nigeria’s interest, and who
can settle down, even without presenting letters of credence, long
before Donald Trump’s inauguration, and who must be the right man or
woman for the job. The Trump Presidency is interested in America only;
every other diplomatic post in that country must look out for its own
interest. America is too important to the world, too tied to the global
network of interests to be allowed to disconnect.

      At other
levels, Nigeria must seek more active cooperation and collaboration with
the United States. We need not be told that Nigerians living in the
United States today are just as anxious as the Mexicans. There is no
gainsaying the fact that the incoming American President considers
Nigerians a terrible set of immigrants. He has in the course of the
campaigns shown a capacity to seek out groups and peoples and demonize
them. In the interest of those vulnerable Nigerians (because no matter
what, some Nigerians are linked to the US forever), and all the other
strategic interests between our two countries, the Nigerian government
must engage the emerging Trump establishment in Washington DC,
proactively. It is not enough to just send a rhetorical congratulatory
message. That is mere routine. But it is worse that President-elect
Donald Trump has not deemed it necessary to call any African leader on
phone. African leaders must learn to stand up for themselves but what
measure of respect should we expect with the kind of leaders we have
across Africa? And what quality of respect should any of our leaders
give to a man who said this, referring to Nigeria:

sensible President continuously travels round the globe while his
country Nigeria is in terrible hardship and economic mess. It can only
happen in Nigeria where all that matters to the President is the full
introduction of Islam, the annihilation of his political opponents and
absolute extermination of the old Eastern Nigeria. Buhari, prior to his
questionable victory at the polls as the President of Nigeria made lots
of promises which he obviously failed to keep and in most cases denied.”

There are usually consequences for this kind of effrontery in
diplomatic relations. If Donald Trump ever offers to visit Nigeria,
President Buhari must snub him. Donald Trump also said:

“Look at
African countries like Nigeria or Kenya for instance, those people are
stealing from their own government and go to invest the money in foreign
countries. From the government to the opposition they qualify only to
be used as a case study whenever bad examples are required.

“How do you trust even those who have run away to hide in the United
States, hiding behind education? I hear they abuse me in their blogs but
I don’t care because even the internet they are using is ours and we
can decide to switch it off from this side. These are people who import
everything including matchsticks.

    “In my opinion, most of
these African countries (like Nigeria) ought to be recolonized again for
another 100 years because they know nothing about leadership and

        The man who would be sworn in, January
20, 2017, as President of the most powerful country in the world also
said: “To make our country big and powerful again, we have to get rid of
Muslims, Mexicans and Africans, and in particular of Nigerians. They
take us away from our work, job places intended for honest diligent
Americans. When we don’t give them jobs, these Muslims arrange terrorist

    “We have to move Africans. Nigerians are
everywhere now. I was at the meeting in Alaska and only Africans were
everywhere. How do you think where they are from? From Nigeria! I saw
them in each state where they got a job. Why can’t they find a job in
the hometown in their native country?’ I know, because corruption reigns
in their country. Their government plunders people. Therefore, they
come here and take us away from our work.

    “When I become a
President, we will send all of them home. We will construct a wall along
the Atlantic coast. We will colonize them, because probably, they
haven’t felt what is it from (the) British.”

      Nigeria and
Donald Trump! It is left to the Nigerian government not to behave as if
these statements do not matter. The typical response could be that these
declarations are true and they may well be, but in diplomatic
relations, such aggressive conduct, carried through in formal
situations, would be considered consequential. In view of what and who
Trump is however, Nigeria needs to fashion out a new policy towards the
United States in line with our foreign policy objectives. One point is
that President Trump may not necessarily be the Trump of the campaigns.
But knowing his mindset, we should build our defences. Our foreign
policy team working on Nigeria-US Bilateral National Commission should
see the urgent need to define and protect Nigeria’s strategic interest
as the United States goes through an uncommon transition between now and
January 2017.

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