By Rotimi Fasan
AT about midnight on July 10, Barack Obama, arrived in Africa for his first official visit as president of the United States of America. His destination was Ghana, Nigeriaâ€™s next door, West Coast neighbour with population, a couple of millions more than that of Lagos, Nigeriaâ€™s commercial capital.
Thirty two years before, precisely, on July 3, 1977, Steven Low, the American Ambassador to Zambia met with Joseph Nanven Garba, Nigeriaâ€™s Foreign Minister immediately after the latterâ€™s meeting with President Kenneth Kaunda and Joshua Nkomo. Lowâ€™s mission was to pass across Jimmy Carterâ€™s invitation to General Olusegun Obasanjo for a state visit to America.
Carter was six months into his presidency. Obasanjo was a soldier, as was Garba and other members of the Nigerian ruling leadership.
Fast track to 1999: President-elect Olusegun Obasanjo was on his way, bowl in hand, to visit a merely tolerant President George Bush. In the eight years of his presidency, Obasanjo would make a couple more visits to America.
The reception he got diminished as the visits, apparently at his own instance, increased. As the race for the 2008 American presidential election got to the wires, Nigerians became increasingly hysterical in their support of Barack Obama; some in fact went beyond the limits of legality, raising unsolicited funds for a so-called campaign for the then Democratic Party presidential candidate who, on January 20, 2009, was inaugurated the 44th president of the US.
Many Nigerians acted as if Obamaâ€™s election was their personal victory. Which it might well be considering its implication for Africa in which Nigeria is supposed to be a giant. But about one and half years before the US elections, Nigeria had conducted her own general elections, a fraudulent charade that further sullied our reputation before the world.
Add that to the sundry disjunctions and purposelessness that has seen the country drifting from one crisis to another- armed, energy and economic etc, and you understand why Obama elected to fly over Nigeria, the so-called giant of Africa with legs of clay, on his maiden visit to the continent of his fatherâ€™s birth.
Yet, the present administration chose to make light of the whole matter, pretending that a visit from Americaâ€™s first black president was no more or, perhaps, was worth less than a jaunt to a PDP retreat in Obudu.
Nigerians know the strategic importance of such a visit and are not amused by the antics of the somnambulists in Abuja who choose to dance kalango in their waking hours while the country burns.
Rather than taking a reflective look at how Nigeria came to be the loser that it is, a big-for-nothing to be bypassed at will, Abuja has been making a virtue of necessity, playing up visits by second-rate leaders, mendicant rulers like Nigeriaâ€™s, against the Obama visit.
It is a measure of how far Nigeria has plunged in Africa, to say nothing of the rest of the world, that our rulers cannot see, not the snob as some have pointed out, but the missed opportunity of such a visit.
Nobody is asking to see Obama for the mere fun of it. He is Americaâ€™s president and, unlike our own rulers, American presidents are never known to take care of any countryâ€™s but Americaâ€™s interests.
What is more, his being Americaâ€™s president makes him the first among his peers and Nigeria can gain much mileage in political terms from such a visit.
This takes me back to the conclusion of the little anecdote with which I opened this article, which is that, three months after contact was made between Garba and Low, Obasanjo arrived in Washington on a five-day working visit. Carter would reciprocate Obasanjoâ€™s visit six months later with a four-day visit of his own and in due course a summit would be held between America and Nigeria.
Prior to Carterâ€™s visit, the only American president to have given Africa a look-in was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had a brief stopover in Liberia on a trip from Casablanca in 1943. And before Carterâ€™s 1977 visit Nigeria had on six different occasions turned down requests by Henry Kissinger, Americaâ€™s formidable and long serving Secretary of State, to visit. It was a mark of our importance then.
Yet all this happened under a dictatorship, a military government which was, nevertheless, conscious of Nigeriaâ€™s strategic role in Africa, championing what was then the major thrust of the countryâ€™s foreign policy: the liberation struggle in Angola and other parts of Southern Africa. A military government it was, but it had a sense of historic mission and leadership.
Todayâ€™s rulers trumpet a seven-point agenda, a domestic blueprint of nebulous signification but which its purveyors, nevertheless, continue to flaunt before Nigerians like a writ of approval for two years of criminal drifting.
They make Nigeria look ever so puny before supposedly small countries that continue to show us up as unworthy of our claim to the leadership of the sub-region to say nothing of Africa as a whole. Ghana has again taken the initiative, unclenched her fist and Obama has extended his hand; it has proven that big is not necessarily good.
That is what has made her our leader. It was the reason Obama would rather talk with her than with us.