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Re: Ambassador Lyman’s Nigeria becoming irrelevant in the world

By John Moyibi Amoda

There are two appreciations of Nigeria that are suggested by Ambassador Princeton Lyman’s appreciation of Nigeria, namely:

“The thesis that Nigeria is becoming irrelevant to the United States of America and “Nigeria is becoming irrelevant in the world.”

The two are different, even in times like this when Princeton Lyman may be tempted especially when discussing Africa, to equate the two. Although the collapse of the Soviet Union introduced the transition of a US-Unipolar World, the world recovering from the global economic crisis will be increasingly multi-polar; new relations of shared responsibility for the world are being negotiated. It is no longer safe or prudent to subsume Nigerian place in the world under America’s appreciation of Nigeria’s importance to it.

We must be clear about this point from the start in this response to the trenchantly argued “call to order” made by the former American Ambassador to Nigeria.

*The Ambassador presents himself as a friend of Nigeria and that his appreciation of the progress of the country is within-family hard to talk.

*He proceeds on the assumption that the governing elite in Nigeria have blinded themselves to the consequences of their profligacy, hiding, as it were, behind a reputation of importance and relevance that are new brittle and may crumble in the hand of hard and objective review.

*He shows through implied comparison of Nigeria to Korea, that deleterious as the facts of corruption are, they are not the major explanation of the erosion of Nigeria’s global relevance. We quote the Ambassador.

“I served in South Korea in the middle of the 1960’s and it was the time when South Korea was poor and considered hopeless. But she was turning around, later to become, to every person’s amazement, then the eleventh largest economy in the world.

“I remember the economist in my mission saying, it did not bother him that the lending elite in the government of South Korea was taking 15 to 20 percent off the top of every project, as long as every project was a good one.”
That was the difference.

The leadership at the time was determined to solve the fundamental economic issues of South Korea and turn her economy around. It has not happened in Nigeria today. You don’t need saints. It needs leaders who say, “You know we could be becoming irrelevant, and we got to do something about it”.

In this last sentence, we see why this response began with noting the fact that a difference exists between the facts that an American Assistant Secretary of State could say “You know, the biggest danger for your relationship with the United States is not our opposition but that we will find you irrelevant” and the fact that the world may agree with the position of the State Department or disagree.

Nigeria doesn’t see herself with American eyes
Nigeria has shown in the past that she does not see herself with American eyes; that she has her own point of view and knows that America, great as it is, is not the world but only an important part of the world.

Let us therefore assume that Lyman is addressing a value more fundamental and strategic, namely Nigeria’s relevance in world affairs, and not the narrower and parochial value championed by that long serving Assistant Secretary of State.

*Princeton Lyman has concluded that Nigeria is becoming irrelevant in the world, and his essay is his argument. He borrows from President Barack Obama by stating the Nigeria’s credentials that have become devalued in his own eyes:

“I know all the arguments. It is a major oil producer, it is the most populous country in Africa, it has made major contributions to Africa in peace-keeping and of course, negatively if Nigeria were to fall apart, the ripple effects would be tremendous, etc.

But, I wonder if all this emphasis on Nigeria importance creates a tendency to inflate Nigeria’s opinion of its own invulnerability.

Among much of the elite today, I have the feeling there is a belief that Nigeria is too big to fail, too important to be ignored, and that Nigerians can go on ignoring some of the most fundamental challenges they have, many of which we have talked about, disgraceful lack of infrastructure, the growing problem of unemployment, the failure to deal with the underlying problems in the Niger Delta, the failure to consolidate democracy; and somehow feel will remain important to everybody because of all those reasons that are strategically important. I am not sure that is helpful”.

Problem with Princeton Lyman’s Critique
The problem with Princeton Lyman’s Critique is in the type of argument he makes. No country ever begins or ends its national security planning and management with the aim of being relevant to the world or to its neighbour.

A government may argue for preference on the basis of indicators similar to those enumerate by Lyman as ground justifying its claim for certain preferences, power or authority. But such arguments are not arguments before an external jury for right to its existence, or its solvency as an independent political entity.

Princeton Lyman does not seem to respect this distinction between argument for conferment of honour and argument predicting the doom of a country. I can read between the lines.

Clearly, the Ambassador is telling the government ahead of time that if and when Nigeria will make its claim for a permanent seat on the Security Council that decision makers in the State Department may not buy into arguments based on indicators that he is evaluating in this piece.

It is important to know this ahead of time. But it will be ahistorical and simplistic to premise Nigeria’s continued existence on being a permanent member of the Security Council.

Mainland China established the basis of its present standing while Taiwan was conferred with the honour of permanent membership of the Security Council. We can, therefore, look beyond the interesting but presently irrelevant proposition of how the US may vote on the matter of the reform of the United Nations.

Poser for the Ambassador

We can ask and should ask the Ambassador the question; Is Nigeria’s continued existence contingent upon providing solutions to the challenges enumerated by him?

This question is provoked by his apparent verdict about Nigeria’s present and future solvency. “So the handwriting may already be on the wall, and that is a sad commentary. What it means is that Nigeria’s most important strategic importance in the end could be that it has failed.”

In the above we can see a wish and a policy that Nigeria fails and a policy that Nigeria should be made to fail. Both the wish and policy can be determinative of Nigeria’s prospect if it were a ward, a colony or a dependency.

It is such a wish and policy that show that Lyman is not presenting a consultant analysis of the Nigeria condition or situation, even when he softens his post mortem with:
“It is a sad, sad conclusion. It does not have to happen, but I think that we ought to stop talking about what a great country it is, and how terribly important it is to us, and talk about what it would take for Nigeria to be important and great.”

Why can’t we talk about Nigeria’s greatness?

Why can’t we talk about what a great country Nigeria is and what it would take for Nigeria to be more important and greater? Why must we throw away the facts of the great things Nigeria has already done, which the Obama Presidency may wish to devalue, and begin right at the bottom as if today is January 1960, not January 2010?

Nigeria’s peacekeeping efforts

ECOMOG is a great achievement; at great sacrifice to the country in blood and dollar Nigeria did what the US, the UN and the EU could not do; Nigeria preserved the existence of Liberia as a society, what the UN cannot do in Somalia.
Nigeria is the lead country both in ECOWAS and in the AU. Nigeria produced the Force Commander in Darfur. The Naira is an ECOWAS currency. All these are facts that do not banish the fact that:
— Nigeria infrastructure is truly disgraceful and its unemployment problems are a national security risk?
—But Nigeria is not a “big for nothing country.” If it were so, why is the United States and the UN putting pressure on Nigeria to do another ECOMOG in Somalia? Under General Babangida, Nigeria brought North and South Sudan to a peacemaking table in Abuja-Can Lyman claim to be ignorant of this fact.

Only Nigeria can decide her fate

The problem with Lyman’s appreciation is precisely his ambivalence, he wishes Nigeria well on the one hand and wishes it dead on the other hand. He wishes Nigeria would rise to its potential on the one hand and on the other, he portrays Nigeria in beggarly term. The point is that Nigeria may be characterized by the problems enumerated by the Ambassador and yet experience “a turn around” no different from that of South Korea

The truth is that only Nigerians can determine whether to break apart or remain together; outsiders may have a vested interest in the matter but they cannot determine the outcome.

What an American can do is to undertake a regime change invasion; it cannot without colonization undertake a regime replacement intervention.

Iraq and Afghanistan are cases showing the limit of America’s power. So Nigerians and only Nigerians can determine whether that Nigerian elite fail or succeed in country formation. This is the project to form a country. It is not a one generation task.

America is today more of one country than it was in 1857 when the Supreme Court stated that Africans whether enslaved or free could never be citizens of United States.

USA, a state of two societies
Even now, the USA is a state of two societies, the society of Settlers and Immigrants and the society of the Pre-Columbus Amerindian Population.

The United Kingdom is still multi-national country. Belgium is still divided. There are still irridentist separatists in France and Spain.

Country formation is not a project outsider whether friends or foes can do as proxy-undertakings. What the West in general and the United States in particular have been unwilling to bring to the attention of Africa’s post colonial elites is what their history teaches namely:

That a state is not a government;     That no country has ever been established without the agency of the state.
When Nigeria became independent of the colonial Administration of the UK, its elite had these two problems in their hands (a) how were they going to decide who ruled the new country and (b) how was this rule to be secured internally and externally?

How long did it take the United States when it achieved its independence through war from England in 1776 to resolve these twin projects? Establishing rulership and securing it internally and externally are not governance matters, they are state making matters. They are not Constitutional matters but state power matters.
America was independent in 1776 but had to pass through the Confederation to the Federation between 1776 and 1789.

It took the civil war to establish Constitutional Governance in the United States. Yet between 1776 and 1865 societies existed within the federating states. Let us call a spade a spade.

Nigeria’s skill to date is how it has prevented a second civil war and continues to amble along the road full of mines. In it, all the UN, AU, the Commonwealth and ECOWAS continue to make demands upon Nigeria for Good Samaritan Investments.

Nigerians do not define themselves internally by size of their population but do argue about the census, for upon it is based allocation criteria. They do argue about resource control, because they seek to maintain or reform existing arrangements. Resource control assumes a decision to remain as one Nigeria.

Nigeria is still involved in collective security peacemaking in Africa even when its citizen cannot understand why so much should we spent on foreign matters? Yes the economy is critical issue of governance in Nigeria, but the need exist for distinguishing Nigeria as a sector of the global economy and the Nigerian economy.

The global economy represented by the oil and gas sector is the context of the Nigerian economy addressing the subsistence and well-being of Nigerians. This is where a formal comparison between South Korea and Nigeria breaks down.

The Korean Peninsula is still a Cold-War Front. American troops are still in South Korea; What the United States was prepared to do to ensure the solvency and political development of South Korea took precedence over its interest in the development of democracy and democratic government in South Korea.

America’s interest in democracy and democratic government in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are subordinate to its interest in the safety of the United State Hegemony in those countries.

Electoral parties and state power parties
As it is for United States so it is for Nigeria’s elite; state power security issues take precedence over intra-party and inter-party democracy and democratic government. It is important also for the difference between electoral parties and state power parties to be recognised.

State power parties define the context and condition of the existence and relevance of electoral parties. The Talibans of Pakistan and Afghanistan are state power parties. The State Department, the US Congress and the Defence Department know this. President Obama knows this differences.

As Commander-in-Chief he makes decisions that strengthen the US allies in these regime change region. He knows that both regime change and regime replacement politics are not electoral politics.

Africa is in transition
Let the United States know that Africa is in the transition between the change of the colonial regimes and then replacement with post colonial regimes. This transition is long and difficult and needs the development of strategic statecraft and not Sunday school moralistic scoldings.


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