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‘Biden’s administration will help shape Nigeria-US relations’

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Akinterinwa


Former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and the President/Director General of Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI on the last United States (US) election imbroglio and the lessons for Africa.

At 78, do you think Biden has something to offer America?
Biden has a lot to offer the people of America in light of his experiential knowledge in the governance of the country. He was formerly a Vice President and senator.

The bastardised international image of the country under the making of ‘America Great’ has become a major burden to be carried by Biden. In this regard, he must give a new meaning to the reunification of all Americans; that will be a good New Year gift to the people.

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Without doubt, reunification is a very daunting challenge, because the people of America have been sharply divided along racialist lines and colour. Many, if not most of those who voted for Trump, can be considered as those who share his view of how to govern America, how to sustain white supremacy and how to deal with relationships with the other non-white Americans. White supremacists operate along ideological lines, and therefore, may not be easily convinced, unless they are first de-ideologised.

Apart from that, Biden will need to review the irritants in US-China ties, because the emerging new Cold War is essentially going to be between the US and China.

Additionally, the US needs a special entente with Africa to be able to contain or manage China’s influence in Africa. The increasing animosities for the US in international relations, especially in light of its foreign policy hostility to many international agreements, are areas of expected contributions to political stability. What is particularly expected as an offer to the people of America is how to make America respected internationally again.

At 78, he can begin to lay the foundation for it. For as long as a president remains mentally alert and physically fit to carry on state duties, the factor of age may be irrelevant. What is generally required is to have a good governance entourage around the President.

Is performance as a President about age or integrity or wisdom?
Performance is always a functional resultant from many factors, including old age, integrity, knowledge and understanding, as well as wisdom. While the factors of age, wisdom, knowledge, etc, pertain to an individual, the individual cannot perform well if the geo-political environment is not conducive.

Performance is also a function of good plan and good health. And perhaps most importantly, the quality of support from staff goes a long way in the determination of performance, good or bad.

Consequently, performance of any president can always be affected by factors of age, integrity and wisdom, and particularly by institutional mechanisms that help to ensure checks and balances of a given individual, as we have just seen in the case of Trump.

What do you think Nigeria stands to gain under Biden’s administration?
Many things! The need for both strong leaders and strong institutions is one area from which we can gain and learn lessons. If not because there are very strong institutions in the US, Trump would have had his way. It is, therefore, not sufficient to have a bold and good leader; what will be enough is to also have strong institutions to help balance the equation.

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The 2020 US election has clearly shown that democracy has to be properly nurtured to evolve an enduring civilised democratic culture. If the over 200-years-old democracy in the US could be made nonsense of by only one President, then Nigeria’s democracy cannot but have much to learn from the US under Biden as president. This cannot but be so, because Biden is most likely to be compelled to deal with how Trump was able to sponsor domestic terrorist attacks on the Capitol Hill.

Apart from democratic lessons, the mere fact that Americans, with Nigerian origin in the Biden administration, cannot but be helpful to the shaping of Nigeria-US foreign policy relations. It is not only Nigeria that would gain from the would-be relationship; the US would also gain from it, especially in the areas of how to manage Chinese presence in Nigeria. The Chinese factor is likely to be a major foreign policy issue under Biden.

When you talk about a good president, is it more about party manifestoes or about individuals?
The goodness of any President has nothing to do with political manifestoes per se. The nexus between the goodness of a president and a manifesto is largely determined by the extent of capability to translate the manifesto into an action plan.

This means that the factor of goodness is more about the individual. Party manifestoes are theoretical action plans and can be good or bad, in terms of being actionable or not. When they are not actionable, the character and integrity of a president may not affect his goodness as a person.

What is therefore of interest to note is that for any president to be considered good, he/she must be faithful to his/her election promises, particularly to his/her party manifestoes. A good president must always be all ears and tolerant, able to provide good leadership by example.

Honesty and objectivity of purpose is an attribute of a good president, so is fairness and justice in political governance. A good president must not seek to destroy his own country in the manner of Trump; a good president should not be seen to be consciously promoting nepotism in political governance.

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And perhaps more significantly, the goodness of a president is also a matter of perception. But in all cases, I will say that a good president is more about individual persons than it is about party manifestoes.

I also want to posit that a good president must be wise. And for a good president to be wise, he/she must be wise before acting on manifestoes and not after. Implementation of manifestoes necessarily requires a cool, calm and collected mind, as well as good knowledge and understanding and Solomonic wisdom.

What lessons can we learn from Trump’s situation?
That election victory must never be acquired by manu militari and must never be a do-or- die affair. Nigerian leaders must eschew being a fool à la Nicolas Boileaux, who noted in his L’Art Poétique that ‘a fool always finds a greater fool to admire him.’

Trump has not befittingly acted like a President of a First World; he has been impeached for the second time within one year. Nigerian politicians must learn how not to always overdo certain things. In fact, without gainsaying, Trump now clearly belongs to a Fourth World category of leaders.

On the issue of national security, what can we expect from the Biden administration?
I am not left in any shadow of doubt that Biden cannot afford the luxury of not giving priority to regional security in his foreign policy calculations. The US, under various administrations in the past, had recognised that its security is necessarily tied to that of many other allies.

In Africa, for example, the US is particularly much concerned about the Gulf of Guinea, especially in terms of how to control terrorism and piracy, as well as oil vessels in the region. It is for this main reason that it did consider to move the headquarters of its Africa Command from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa.

In 2015, some countries showed interest in playing host to the Command, but it actually targeted Nigeria, in the belief that it is the only country in the region that has the capacity and capability to fight terror effectively.

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However, the security elite in Nigeria then was very hostile to the location of the Command in the country. Since Nigeria was the country the US actually wanted, but which was not friendly to the idea, it decided to suspend the relocation of the headquarters for 10 years.

Consequently, the era of Biden cannot but be a living time of new reality. The US under him has the potential to renew efforts to have Nigeria accept to host the Africa Command headquarters.

Besides, there is the issue of fighter planes for which Nigeria already placed an order and which are still being manufactured in the US and expected to be delivered in 2023 or 2024. Since the US has a policy of no compromise with terrorism and its interests in Nigeria can be easily attacked if Nigeria is too weak to defeat the use of terror in Africa, Biden can be expected to seek a better understanding with and active support for Nigeria by ensuring prompt delivery of the planes. This cannot but be so in light of the deepening insecurity in Nigeria.

More interestingly too, there are many security agreements, bilateral and multilateral, that create obligations for both the US and Nigeria that have the potential to bring both countries closer to work together.

In essence, it is useful to note that Nigeria’s relationship with the US under Biden will be largely defined by factors of mutual dependency, particularly in the security sector.

In your own opinion, why did Donald Trump fail as a United States (US) President?
Donald Trump has failed as an American President because he is not well educated in the business of political governance, especially in terms of the need to respect international protocols. He myopically believes that business of profit seeking is what is required in the business of political governance.

He came up with a foreign policy of ‘America First,’ ‘Make America Great,’ and then ‘Make America Great Again.’ If you espy the first pillar of ‘America First,’ for example, the immediate implication is that American interest must never be subjected to any other national interest.

International relations is largely predicated on compromise-seeking and promotion of shared interest. It is managed on the basis of principles of sovereign equality and peaceful coexistence.

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There is no disputing the fact that international politics is a system of conflicting interests. If any country wants to preach, and is actually preaching, the gospel of ‘me-first,’ that can only be made possible through imposition, and such an imposition must be a reflection of capacity to do so.

Most unfortunately, the US used to be the primus inter pares, that is, ‘’first among equals,’’ before 2016 when Trump was elected. Today, it is a different kettle of fish, as many countries are currently competing with the US for global leadership. The Peoples Republic of China is one of them.

More significantly, Trump’s failure is best explained by the adoption of a holier-than-thou attitudinal disposition in the governance of the US. He behaved as if he had a more sagacious mind than all American minds put together. He tried to cover the eyes of everyone with US national flag and block their eardrums with the US national anthem in the expectation that his American compatriots would not see what he does or hear about his political recklessness.

Perhaps most importantly, Trump is, at best, a racist of the first order. The American society today is necessarily multiracial. The white supremacist agenda, the trumpet of which Trump was or is forcefully trying to blow, is seriously being challenged by other multiracial groups. It has become a situation of order and counter-order amounting, not only to failure, but also to disorder. The pro-Trump terrorist protest and attack on the Capitol Hill is one illustration of this observation.

Trump seems not to like blacks, particularly Nigerians. Why?
Hatred can be inane and can be environmentally induced. When hatred is inane, there is nothing much that can be done to eliminate it from being a part of one’s life. In such a situation, hatred can be controlled by law, but does not serve as a permanent antidote to it.

In the absence of law, hatred can become fanatical in manifestation. In the context of Trump, it is more about hatred driven by fanaticism. He hates black people because they are specially created and physically endowed to cope with changing climatic conditions.

In terms of strategic calculations, if Africa is loved and allowed by the white people to acquire economic power, to become a continent of powerful great nations, particularly with enormous undeveloped mineral resources, such a status and feat can only be to the detriment of the First World.

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This is one major rationale for the sustained exploitation of Africa’s economic resources, which Dr. Okoi Arikpo, a former commissioner for External Affairs under Gen. Yakubu Gowon, was much against and said Nigeria would never condoned as a matter of policy.

Thus, in the context of Trump, who is a major apostle of white supremacy school, it cannot be in his interest to hear about any black person being considered his equal. That many Nigerians are doing well in the US and elsewhere in the world, and are accepted in their societies, is nothing more than tolerance.

Again, among white people, there is hatred and envy. Even among Africans, the hatred is more pronounced. In fact, where is it in the African continent that it can be said that Nigerians are truly liked? If there is hatred in Africa and even among black people, Trump’s hatred for black people cannot be a big deal.

Black people in the US, particularly Nigerians in the Diaspora, are simply lucky that Trump has not succeeded in upturning the election results. If not, his second coming would have witnessed unprecedented brutality for them. If Trump could violently sponsor his supporters to brutalise the Capitol Hill, and people died in the process, nothing can stop him from doing worse to Nigerians if the opportunity arises.

Do you believe the US presidential election was not free and fair?
Yes, I do and no, I do not. Yes, I did believe ab initio, even though I knew that Trump was, and still is, a pathological liar. The mere fact that someone has been honest for more than 95 per cent does not necessarily mean that he cannot still change by force majeure in the last five per cent of time that remains.

For instance, there might have been truly an electronic miscalculation of the votes, since the functional rule of in ICT computing is garbage in, and garbage out. In other words, my initial belief was as a result of benefit of doubt, and therefore, wait and see.

I refused to believe when Trump made very strenuous efforts to compel a change in the election results to favour him. Unfortunately for him, all the institutions relevant to his complaint of electoral fraud consistently, one after the other, indicated that there was no iota of fraud. Many courts dismissed his allegations of election fraud. The Electoral College cleared Joe Biden as President-elect. The Congress did the same thing.

All these great institutions could not have been all wrong. They are institutions of great people, of great patriots and with great knowledge. In light of the insistence of these institutions that there is absolutely no truth in Trump’s allegations, I was convinced he is never capable of telling any truth to anyone, except to his sycophants. The US presidential election was free and fair by all standards.

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Then why is Trump complaining?
What do you want Trump to do? Where have you seen in any competitive engagement a loser readily accepts to rejoice? Even when someone loses gallantly in a sporting competition, which a political election also is, and shows courage by congratulating the winner, that does not mean that the bitterness of losing is still not there. If there is room to complain in order to review the victory in his favour, he will surely lodge a complaint.

One truth about Trump’s consistent complaint is that one lie-telling requires thousands of other lies to sustain the initial lie. For example, if he did posit initially that there was an electoral fraud and he suddenly midway changes his rhetorical argument; he knows he would be seen as a chronic liar. Consequently, he must continue to complain, knowing well that he had truly lost to Biden.

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In fact, Trump was full of himself before the election, boasting and insulting Biden. He underrated him mentally and made nonsense of his physical fitness and gave the impression that he would be a sleeping president if elected. In spite of his criticisms, not less than 78 million people voted for Biden. With this development, Trump’s earlier braggadocio cannot but come to nothing. If Trump continues to complain, it is nothing more than to save his face, and that is no more attractive.

More important, he is only complaining to give impression that he would still be relevant in the future, especially in the context of the next 2024 presidential elections. Most unfortunately, however, he has acquired a new and beautiful title, first US President to be impeached twice during his tenure, a new title that puts an end to whatever political calculations he may be contemplating.

In essence, there is absolutely nothing wrong with complaining. However, when complaining is not predicated on truth, it becomes a problem that should not be condoned in whatever form it takes.

As it is today, Trump’s complaints have all failed in their design and outcome. They have only ridiculed him and presented the US in bad light in international relations. Trump has only made America Great in self-destruction, which is most unfortunate.

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