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Northern Governors’ US study tour: Understanding the motif and intentions

By Leo Sobechi
23 October 2016   |   4:01 am
The recent study tour embarked upon by 10 governors from the northern part of the country brought the echoes of 1914 amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates. It was a journey planned for 19 and as a follow-up to an earlier exploratory...


The recent study tour embarked upon by 10 governors from the northern part of the country brought the echoes of 1914 amalgamation of northern and southern protectorates. It was a journey planned for 19 and as a follow-up to an earlier exploratory, cum preliminary visit in 2014, one hundred years after the amalgamation.

When the news broke that governors of all the 19 states in the north, were billed to spend quality three days in Washington, not many Nigerians remembered that prior to the divisive 2015 general election governors from the region had paid similar visit to the land of democracy and good governance.

What came readily to mind of most people was the visit of American Secretary of State, John Kerry, to the area. During his visit, Kerry had audience with President Muhammadu Buhari, before holding similar consultations with members of the Northern Governors’ Forum and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar.

The skewed diplomatic visit by Secretary Kerry drew both outrage and uproar from the mainly Christian south, especially against the background of the complaint of slant in the appointment of persons into government offices by President Buhari. By his divisive visit, Kerry seemed to refresh the religious, ethnic and social divides accentuated by the presidential election, which Buhari won.

It was therefore not unwarranted for citizens from the southern flank to become peevish and impute motives to the skewed diplomacy by the US through its secretary of state. Knowing how the American mind works, the first explanation for US sudden interest in Nigeria’s north revolves around America’s best interest. Like the Eagle, which is its national symbol, the US soars high in areas of conflict, where there is storm.
Possible Mea Culpa:

The engaging topic in the nation’s socio-economic narrative of poverty is the impact of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast. The Chibok girls have begun to return, either of rescue effort, or negotiation and compromise. Shortly after the almost 300 schoolgirls were abducted, the US made a great show of trying to offer assistance to Nigeria in rescuing the girls. But the fanfare gave way to silence.

When a similar insurrection chanced on Mali, France mobilized its forces, not only to degrade but also dismantle the Islamic fundamentalists holed up in the country’s northern mountains. That Boko Haram continued its murderous and destructive sullies for more than seven years, gave a subtle hint of the international conspiracy and political mix that condoned the terrorist insurrection.

It is not yet known how many Lorries or the nature of vehicles that carted away 296 girls from their school that April night. And for such massive number of young girls to be removed unnoticed from a state with the various democratic structures, including local and state governments in place boggles the mind.

Given Nigeria’s porous borders, such an exploit may not attract surprise. But, aided by its aerial and military power, what did US see that made it wince? No doubt, the electoral competition between the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the opposition, which was later to aggregate on a common platform known as All Progressives Congress (APC) may have denied the abduction of Chibok girls the desired collaborative rescue effort it needed.

Some commentators have alluded to the involvement of President Barack Obama’s former communication director, David Axelrod in the APC campaigns to suggest that the Obama administration actually took sides in the 2015 election, particularly the mobilization of efforts to stop President Goodluck Jonathan.

But other commentators point to Nigeria’s stand against AFRICOM, which could have granted America a base for its military outpost in the country, as part of areas of disagreement between the Jonathan administration and Obama. In addition, the Jonathan government’s affront against gay marriage was a remote put off.

On the other hand, the US government should have seen the Boko Haram as the indirect fallout from its misadventure in Libya, and therefore ought to have intervened and arrest the possible escalation of terrorism in Africa’s most populous nation. There are those who hold the extreme view that America was incensed at the former Libyan strongman, Muammar El Ghaddafi, for muting the idea of splitting Nigeria into two broad countries along religious and cultural lines.

Flowing from the foregoing, the US interest in Nigeria’s northeast could be reduced to economic and international geopolitics. Rebuilding the northeast ravaged by many years of unconscionable destruction and disruption of social life is a multi-billion dollar project. Unlike Nigeria that went to restore normalcy in Sierra Leone and Liberia without partaking in their rebuilding to recoup or reap from the rehabilitation projects, US knows that even in Freetown there is no free food. The gesture to the northern governors could be a way to expand America’s economic interest in the region.

Contemporaneously, having witnessed the danger posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), US must have moved in as a strategic step to avoid another outbreak of humanitarian crisis as witnessed in Syria.

When the Nigeria Custom and Excise stumbled on a cache of sophisticated arms and ammunition, including missiles, shipped from Iran on October 27, 2010, the local intelligence community may have treated the ugly development with the usual Nigeria culture of silence and secrecy, but the US must have decoded a possible interest of Iran to have a foothold in Nigeria or possibly destabilize the government.

Against that background, America must have taken a proactive step to avert the humanitarian crisis that a possible replication of Arabic spring could unleash on the continent, in the light of Nigeria’s huge population. A key element of the socio-economic situation of the northeast is the endemic poverty and displacement.

US must have fallen back on the famous indirect rule system of the British to reach out to the masses through the governors. A staff of USAID said the perception about Nigeria is that; it is peopled by badly behaved children from north to south, allover. “So, what the US government was doing in taking the governors to America is to put them before a head teacher to school them on the basics of responsible governance,” she stated.

The path to recovery and rehabilitation of the north lies through education and gender inclusion. Although the Jonathan administration made efforts to drive the transformation agenda through expanded access to education, religion and culture did not allow much to be done in the area of gender mainstreaming. It could be that the US seeks to plug that loophole through synergy with the Northern Governors’ Forum.

During the 2014 visit, the governors consulted with representatives of governments of Norway, Denmark before the meeting in the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and the State Department in Washington DC. Waving the banner of massive destruction by Boko Haram, the governors sought for investments in their region to lift education and economic opportunities. And with the American exposure the governors would come to the inevitable realization that proper education can wean young people away from violence and crimes.

Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum (NGF), Governor Kashim Shettima noted in his remarks that “Our visit to Washington is an opportunity to re-engage with our American partners on the most vital issues that can help us to quickly make transition from volatility to a phase of peace and development in the Northern States of Nigeria.”

But even as the Borno governor rightly pointed out that “over the past few years, we have realised that the indices of development in our region have not only been some of the most damning in our country, they have also been the background against which the problems in our region have manifested,” they would discover that the knee jerk approach may not be far-reaching.

The US has always found the north a weak link in the Nigeria project to exert its influence on the country and by extension to the West African sub-region. USIP Advisors and former Ambassadors, Princeton Lyman and Johnnie Carson, echoed that sentiment during a media briefing. They explained that the institute’s Northern Governors’ symposium was designed to strengthen Nigeria’s commanding stature in Sub-Saharan Africa by addressing causes of instability and seeking opportunities for durable peace in the north.

While noting that Nigeria’s position in Africa contrasts with those of India and Brazil in Asia and South America, respectively, Carson concluded that Nigeria became one of the world’s premier democracies through the epochal 2015 election.

But it was Lyman that subtly revealed US’ covert strategy when he disclosed that Boko Haram insurgency opened new frontiers for engagement and opportunity to address the disconnect between political power and development in northern Nigeria. The election of Buhari as Nigeria’s president was like a reprieve for the west, which found Jonathan not so accommodating for their double standards.

For instance, when US vacillated to sell arms to the country, Jonathan looked farther east to China and Russia, thus enervating the US, that was losing out in the new geopolitics. Just like US accuses Russia of taking more than a passing interest in its presidential election, it is still open to conjecture whether the US did not interfere in the 2015 presidential election.

That may explain the scramble to receive the president even before his inauguration. And without understanding the tongue in cheek stratagem of the west, President Buhari looked up to them as the bulwark he needed to succeed. But a renowned German newspaper in its editorial had the boldness to describe the president thus: “When it comes to world issues the former general has little knowledge of events of the moment and hardly articulates. The more you listen to him, the dumber you become.”

Politics Of Internal Desegregation

From the public pronouncements of former US Ambassadors, particularly Carson, the whole scheme of masking American real intentions through the nobility of humanitarian intervention in Northeast comes apart. There is no doubt that the US finds the north very pliable and malleable. Added to that is the bourgeoning population of barely literate youth population that could be unleashed by opinion leaders during elections. The US therefore wants to maintain close tab on political leaders from the north, knowing that the region is more compact politically than the South, where division and ethnic rivalry are well defined.

Or could it be that the US is using the politics of desegregation to frustrate the peaceful division of the country? US seem to acknowledge the precarious nature of Nigeria, where most of the weapons from Libya ended up, especially with the pledge of allegiance by Boko Haram to ISIS. And in the thinking of America, the north lies as a hotbed.

But without a simultaneous gesture of engagement with the Southern states, the US partnership suggests division. There are socio-economic challenges in the South, including dearth of critical infrastructure, militancy, kidnapping and graduate unemployment. Some argue that if US was as altruistic as its current partnership with the North suggests, it could have taken steps to reach out to the South, where a section is agitating for secession.

There are those who express the sentiment that some high-ranking officials in the US secretly worry about the situation in Syria, which it failed to manage. Within that prism it becomes obvious that a new scramble for the aggregation of African states is ongoing with US, Russia and China as the predators.

Whatever may be its short-term gain, America may have unwittingly sown a seed of discord in the country. However, just as the Borno State governor stated, the implementation of the outcomes of the partnership depends on what happens in America on November 9, 2016.