Monday, August 17, 2009

In 'Soiled hands & Strategy: What Nigeria Says About Democracy,' I observed that despite the flawed Nigerian presidential elections in 2007, the world was willing to look the other way and welcome Yar'Adua with open arms. Those elections were considered by all observers, domestic and foreign, to be fraudulent. At the time, many countries and individuals made strong public statements in reaction. Nevertheless, the U.S. and many other global powers were quick to send dignitaries to attend the inauguration of Umar Yar'Adua, despite how he came to power. Then, as now, Nigeria's oil speaks volumes and the world, including the United States, is forced to listen attentively. And, Nigerian officials continue to make basic mistakes that are capable of jeopardizing the possibility of peace in the country.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adu
(Sunday Alamba/AP)
So, it was no surprise that during Hillary Clinton's recent trip to Abuja, Nigeria, she failed to be as 'forceful' as many in the Western media claimed she would be on corruption. Still, many news outlets claim that she 'chide' or 'condemned' the Nigerian government on corruption and the need for electoral reforms, but such adjectives are seemingly being used to save face because none of what she said is new or stringent enough to be considered 'tough'. Clinton went as far as stating that "The lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the ­government."While this is a clear truism, it ignores the fact that many in Nigeria's leadership are not concerned by issues of legitimacy as long as they can benefit from their position and amass incredible wealth.

If Clinton, and by implication, the United States sought to truly chide, condemn or rebuke the Nigerian government, a simple commitment to reveal the names of the Nigerian individuals involved in the Halliburton scandal. The Nigerian government insists it is waiting for the U.S. Department of Justice to share valuable information before it can publicly declare those names, so help in that regard would be appreciated. Or, the individual (former Vice President Atiku) who bribed the recently convicted former Congressman Jefferson, would have sufficed. Or, the U.S. government can actually chastise the stalemate of the legal case against James Ibori who bribed Nuhu Ribadu with $15 million in cash. But, then again, to do so would be to go against the American interest in energy security and as such, although Obama gave a lofty speech in Ghana about partnering with Africa to fight corruption, the act of true partnership is still a long way off. The reality, and Nigerians know the reality, is that now that Clinton ends her Africa trip, things will fall back to normal in Nigeria. And, by normal, I simply mean stay the way they are.

According to Clinton, Nigeria's Minister of Defense, offered "specific suggestions"on how the American military could assist in stabilizing the Niger Delta region. Clinton stated that both countries will discuss the matter.

But, why would Nigeria seek military assistance from a foreign country during a period of amnesty that was extended to militants as a sign of goodwill and a serious intention of working towards peace in the region? This act by the Yar'Adua administration can be interpreted as an indication that the government is insincere in its proclaimed quest for peace. That the Minister of Defense would see help in such a public forum, whereby Clinton could speak of it freely, defeats the purpose of an amnesty by breaching the sense of goodwill. Besides, it is never advisory for any sovereign nation to give another sovereign nation to have military access. That was part of the reason so many Nigerians not only balked at the offers by the US to host AFRICOM but reacted most negatively to the 2008 military aid offers by Gordon Brown to help tackle "lawlessness" in Niger Delta. Also,

Ms. Clinton has been accused of a blunder while answering questions in the Congo when she clarified that she, and not her husband was Secretary of State. It appears the American press believes she committed another gaffe when during a townhall meeting in Nigeria, she admitted that democracy in America is equally evolving and pointed to the 2000 presidential elections which boiled down to a state governed by a candidate's brother (Florida) and eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court (Bush v. Gore).

While many criticize her statement, the reality is that Clinton simply admitted the imperfection in American democracy to offer some guidance and hope to listeners who were impatient with the corrupt and violent nature of Nigerian democracy. Her statement that for democracy to develop, the eventual winners must learn to bow out gracefully is nothing but the truth. However, it overlooks the fact that in Nigeria, the losers can opt not to bow out gracefully when the 'winners' steal the vote. Nevertheless, such admissions of imperfection and the frank discussion she had merely endeared her to those in attendance, leaving some to explain on Twitter that she had given them food for thought on how to improve their own nation. That, if nothing else at all, was a benefit to Nigerians.

There are many views on Hillary Clinton's visit to Nigeria. Some even go as far as to assert that her visit validated the current administration and a President who came to power through a corrupt election. Others feel that Clinton's visit was to appease the discontent created when Obama visited neighboring Ghana instead. At the end of the day, the average Nigerian could probably not any personal benefit to having the U.S. Secretary of State visit their country. Nonetheless, for those who were able to take something good away from her visit, it is clear that Clinton's trip was not a complete waste.

From The Archives:
- Hillary Clinton & Nigeria
- The Glaring Omission

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3 Curiosities. Add Yours.:

Dro Ameh said...


N.I.M.M.O said...

Lessons learnt by who? Nigerian government? I can assure you there were none.

Rather, they started abusing the woman AFTER she left Nigeria.

I thought Atiku was cleared in the Congressman Jefferson scandal by the Court or was he? said...

Equating what happened in the US 2000 presidential elections (Bush v. Gore) to Nigeria's enthrenced corrupt and illegitimate democratic process is just plain stupidity!

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