Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nigeria and Obama’s visit to Africa

In and out of government in Nigeria, there is considerable disquiet over the exclusion of Abuja from the itinerary of the visit of United States President, Mr. Barack Obama, to West Africa. A press release from the White House, stating that the American leader would be discussing “a range of bilateral and regional issues with Ghanaian President Mills,” conveys a sense of diminution of stature on a Nigerian community accustomed to viewing itself as undisputed powerhouse of the West African sub-region and the entire continent.

Nigerians, no doubt, know what it means to the countries of Europe, North and South America, as well as Asia, to be chosen as first for an official visit by the American leader. They, therefore, easily grasp what is implied in the expressed preference for the Republic of Ghana as first and only destination for President Obama when he comes to West Africa in July.

What has therefore elevated Ghana in global reckoning, well above Nigeria, as to command endorsement by the White House as “one of our most trusted partners in sub-Saharan Africa”? America reckons that the West African nation is worthy of its association because it has evolved orderly political succession, a vibrant democratic culture and appreciable economic performance for over a decade. The Obama government also believes that Ghana is the appropriate reference point for a discussion of “the critical role that sound governance and civil society play in promoting lasting development.”

The world’s leading democracy and sole military super power is pointing to Ghana as a more deserving partner in her policy of constructive engagement with Africa and the rest of the world.

It has to be emphasised, however, that what is at play is the dynamics of international relations which, as the nations of the world know, is constantly under evaluation and subject to change as circumstances might dictate. That should be comforting to the government and people of Nigeria, as it leaves room for a reassessment of the country’s credentials and warmer, mutually beneficial relations with the outside world.

Nigeria has done so much at enormous human and material cost to advance the cause of peace, racial harmony and integration, democracy and socio-economic development in Africa and elsewhere. In years past, the country had been widely applauded and respected by the international community for its sacrifices. That, however, has not blinded the outside world to the nation’s gross underperformance in economic management, democratic practice, human rights, and governance, generally.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was unequivocal when, in clarifying matters relating to President Obama’s proposed visit to Africa, she spelt out the criteria for warm relations with countries – good governance and social inclusion; transparency in government; acceptance of a vibrant opposition and zero tolerance for corruption.

A critical self-assessment would show that Nigeria is crying for improvement in all those areas. A government machinery-executive and legislative- dominated by persons of questionable character, with manifest disinclination to constitutionalism and transparency in the management of national affairs, is likely to be ostracised by progressive countries. That is the clear message from Washington.

Social inclusion needs to be pursued as a cardinal policy in the country’s striving for national reinvention and acceptance in the comity of nations. For too long, from independence till date, the ruling elite have been preoccupied with political and economic schemes that create wide disparities in the distribution of wealth and in access to the means of social mobility.

The Yar’Adua administration should take Obama’s visit to Ghana as a wake-up call to revamp the weak democratic process and failing state institutions. There are acceptable international standards of good governance to which the nation must conform if it desires to be reckoned with in the comity of civilized nations.

Nigeria has a right to dismiss the views of other nations on matters of governance, but the many deficits in our national life – an unbroken history of electoral anarchy and imposition of political leaders; pervasive corruption in all tiers of government; collapse of basic infrastructure and social services; mass poverty; high crime rate; mass emigration of citizens, etc. – remain challenges that must be addressed if our country is to court the friendship of progressive nations.