What Nigerians Want From Obama
THERE are indications that President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to the United States may precipitate a visit by President Obama to Nigeria.
According to a White House statement: “On Monday, July 20, President Obama will host Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the White House. The visit will underscore the United States’ longstanding friendship with Nigeria, our commitment to strengthening and expanding our partnership with Nigeria’s new government, and our support for the Nigerian people following their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power.
“President Obama looks forward to discussing with President Buhari our many shared priorities including U.S.-Nigeria cooperation to advance a holistic, regional approach to combating Boko Haram, as well as Nigeria’s efforts to advance important economic and political reforms that will help unlock its full potential as a regional and global leader.
“In addition to hosting President Buhari at the White House, the United States will welcome President Buhari’s senior advisors for consultations with U.S. counterparts and other events aimed at building on the strong U.S.-Nigeria relationship.”
Less than a week to the trip, Buhari had dealt what some observers described as a masterful stroke by sacking the Service Chiefs and the National Security Adviser he inherited from his predecessor.
According to insiders in the U.S. government, “It was smart that Buhari changed the Service Chiefs and the NSA before he went for the meeting,” adding: “The U.S. had been discontented with the Chiefs, especially the NSA.”
The U.S. last year cancelled the training of Nigerian troops following disagreement between its Generals and their Nigerian counterparts. There was also the issue of human rights abuses raised against the Nigerian military by the U.S. government.
But with a new government in place, sources say there is likelihood of a new window open to U.S. policy makers who can now make the argument that there is a new government and new military chiefs in place.
“Obama is now willing to visit Nigeria before he leaves office,” a source, close to the White House said, adding: “The tone and outcome of this trip will be the final decider.”
It said going forward, Nigeria must engage directly U.S. policymakers who will carry out whatever agreement Obama and Buhari reaches.
A review of the sale of Cobra helicopters and other military hardware may be discussed at the meeting, alongside training for Nigerian troops. More drones may also be deployed through Chad and Niger in the fight against Boko Haram insurgents.
Contrary to rumours making the rounds that Obama might put pressure on Buhari to soften Nigeria’s hard stance on gay marriage, the source noted: “Not directly because of the sensitive nature of the matter. Obama will certainly not bring it up directly, except in general terms.
While a United States’ Supreme Court ruling last month legalized gay marriage, persons convicted for the same in Nigeria face a 14-year jail term, what some observers have termed “the hardest legislation on the gay community.”
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has urged the U.S. government to pressure Buhari on observance of democratic tenets.
Speaking to The Guardian, yesterday, the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, said President Buhari’s US trip is of no absolute concern of the party, and as such is strictly an affair of state.
“Our concern, however, is that there should be democracy in this country. We are concerned that the inalienable rights of Nigerians are being trampled upon by the actions of agents of the government. We are concerned that the President has not called them to order.
“We are concerned that people are being treated like they are guilty until they have to prove themselves that they are innocent. We are concerned that there is gradual recourse to draconian rules. We are concerned that people are being treated without respect for their rights, freedom, liberty and right of association. We are concerned about acts of impunity at the highest level. Our worry is about the survival of democracy and development of democracy,” said Metuh.
The PDP added that that not much may be achieved from the trip. According to Metuh: “He is the President of Nigeria and he knows the issues; he knows what his priorities should be, in the absence of a cabinet to work with him. He alone, as the all-knowing President, knows what is important for him. We believe that since he alone knows what is important, he would be in the best position to tell the nation what he is taking to the Americans.
“What we are concerned with is the fact that the United States of America should prevail upon him to allow democracy to reign; that the principles and tenets of democracy should be observed in Nigeria. We expect the American government to tell him that. That is what is important to us.
“When a President does not have a Chief of Staff, does not have a Secretary to the Government, does not have Ministers and orders Permanent Secretaries in the ministries to report to him, and also directs all heads of agencies to report directly to him…I don’t know if he works 24 hours every day. I don’t understand how Mr. President can handle the affairs of the state absolutely. I really don’t understand that. He must really be the all-knowing Mr. President.
“For us, we believe that the government has no sense of direction. The only direction of the government is its so-called fight against corruption marked by kidnappings or arresting of people, and that’s all. There is nothing else. There is no policy direction; there is no policy thrust, and there is nothing you can point to on ground. There are no plans on how to improve the economy. There are no plans on how to improve the body-polity. No programme. There is total absence of programme.”
But reacting to concerns raised by the PDP over alleged undemocratic practices of the Buhari-led administration, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, said: “If anyone feel slighted or that his or her rights as a citizen is being trampled upon, such individual can easily avail himself or herself constitutionally through our courts of law.
“In any case, who are these people whose rights are being trampled upon? If we are talking about those being called to account for alleged financial misconduct, we all know they cut across political parties. There are PDP members just as there are APC members.
“The government will not interfere in the activities of any of the anti-corruption agencies. If anyone is disturbed, they should go and address the agencies concerned. I’m sure they should have explanations for their actions.”
Muhammed also discountenanced impressions that the American government would prevail on President Buhari to be more tolerant on same-sex unions.
“America is not the only country that is same-sex friendly. Would we be entertaining such fears each time the President embarks on trips to any of such countries?” he asked.
The APC National Publicity Secretary added that it is disgraceful to expect another nation to tell Nigeria when and when not to appoint a cabinet.
“Where is it written in our constitution that the President must appoint a Chief of Staff? These are not serious issues that we should be decapitating energies on,” he said.
Mohammed added: “Very soon, they are going to ask America to tell him who he should or should not appoint. A man who is in government is the only one that understands the level of things he has to clear. This government is not sleeping; it is deliberate.”
Presidential spokesperson, Mr. Shehu Garba, declined comment on top issues for discussions during the trip, stressing that Obama and Buhari would not like such to become the subject of media scrutiny before the commencement of talks.
Statement by the Press Secretary on the Visit of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria
Buhari leaves for Washington today on a four-day visit, his first as a democratically elected President. He is expected to hold talks with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden; Secretary of State, John Kerry; U.S. Attorney General; Deputy Secretary of Defence; U.S. military establishment; Congressional leaders; and various interests groups.