President Muhammadu Buhari has just begun a four-day state visit to the United States (US) at the invitation of his American counterpart, Mr. Barack Obama. Expectedly this early diplomatic trip by the Nigerian leader has elicited a lot of interest at home. While some have welcomed it as a good omen for the much needed international support for Nigeria’s search for solution to her many economic and security challenges, others have questioned the wisdom of such a trip at a time that the new president has yet to form a proper government to run the affairs of the nation. Whatever the case, the fact is that the president is already in the US with his team.
An official statement by the presidency says that the visit will be hallmarked by discussions with the American government on how to overcome domestic terrorism, especially the Boko Haram insurgency in the northern parts of the country and other security challenges facing the country. There would also be talks on trade relations between the two nations which in the past several years have been disproportionately in favour of the US.
In truth bilateral relations between the US and Nigeria,and indeed the African continent, has not witnessed the sort of resurgence that many had expected following the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president of the US in 2008. In the more than six years that he has been US president Obama has only stepped his foot on African soil once. And during that trip which took place more than four years ago, he did not consider it necessary to visit the continent’s biggest democracy. Even though a similar invitation such as the one extended to Buhari had also been given to then President Jonathan, Nigeria’s bilateral relations with the US during Jonathan’s tenure was all but heady. The US government always found one pretext or the other to refuse sale to Nigeria of arms needed to rout the Boko Haram during the Jonathan administration. Many have attributed that largely to the Jonathan administration’s guts in enacting an anti-same sex marriage law despite enormous pressures on it by the West, spearheaded by the US and Britain.
It is for this reason that many Nigerians have expressed concern about the commitment of the United States to helping Nigeria in the fight against terrorism. The question has been: if they wouldn’t do it while Jonathan was at the helms, why would they do it now? The logical fear on the part of many Nigerians is that Buhari may come under serious arm-twisting by the Obama administration to repeal the anti-gay law, in exchange for some military and economic support. That fear was virtually confirmed last week when a top official of the US State department reportedly announced that the US would not let up pressure on Nigeria to discard the law in question.
While we wish President Buhari a fruitful US trip, we are constrained to caution him against capitulating to any pressures to tamper with a law that enjoys the massive support of Nigerians. No amount of pressure should make him accept the repeal of that law as a precondition for US assistance of any kind. Nigeria is, after all, a sovereign state and cannot allow itself to be dictated to by any other power on how to conduct its moral life. What is ‘good’ for the US may not necessarily be good for Nigeria.
All eyes are therefore on President Buhari as he dialogues with American officials during this trip. Nigerians will not only be reading his lips but also his body language. What we expect from the US is an open-minded discussion on how to help Nigeria recover funds looted by public functionaries over the decades, and to demonstrate a willingness to punish American citizens and companies who were accomplices in this crime. America’s duplicity in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria must also be halted. Trade talks must be sincere and frank. In what practical ways, for instance, can Nigeria benefit from the AGOA scheme and other trade-boosting arrangements between the two countries. These are the sort of issues we expect to dominate talks between two countries during Buhari’s visit. It is not the duty of any US government to dictate to Nigerians how to order their moral life. All said, President Buhari must realise that for lasting solution to many of Nigeria’s problems, we must look inwards. Too much should not be expected from any foreign country however influential it may be. What we need most is a willingness by our leaders to place national interest above all other considerations. Nigeria’s rich natural and human resources are enough to launch it into a world of economic power.