By Obi Nwakanma
I confess to a frequent feeling of ennui and a sense of futility about Nigeria and Nigerian affairs arising, I daresay, from the large and gnarled picture of its undertaking.
Here is a country cast adrift, it seems, by its own very history. It is an orphan child – no one fully claims it, yet it is the errand boy on whom we assert all our cruel instincts. It is a strange country – its own political, intellectual and economic leadership are paid agents of other nations.
It is the strangest sort of thing when one is paid or lured by any kind of abstraction to undermine one’s own greatest self-interest: the security – the physical and material security of a nation. At the very core of the meaning of nation is the concept of sovereignty – self determination; self ownership; the very meaning of being free to determine the destiny of an organized and allied people.
In the current global situation, this question has been taken far too for granted. In fact it is now argued in many centers of ideas that the idea of sovereignty connected to the ideas of nations, nationality, and nationalism is no longer valid in the current era of globalization.
To be a nationalist in certain quarters now is to be a bad thing. The nationalist is a dirty word. For instance, Americans deplore nationalism; it is a bad word. It connotes a certain kind of close-minded extremism. Americans are not nationalists – we are Americans – patriots. The Brits are not nationalists; they are good old Brits.
Nigerians should not be “nationalists” because a Nigerian nationalist orientation would prove particularly dangerous to the external interests that control or compete with it. But of course, it is easier for nations who have trans-border interests to seek to assimilate and control the sovereignty of weaker nations.
I mean, as all who pay particular attention to such questions know, the highest goal of nations is transcendence. When the key stakeholders of a particular nation gain advantage over the interest of another nation, one becomes proxy or minion to the other. You pay tributes.
The capacity and will to act in one’s self-interest becomes limited. Nations – including powerful, imperial nations – in fact, especially, powerful imperial nations – deal in subterfuge.
Secrets are the raw material of international diplomacy, and the international system, as my late friend, the diplomat Leslie Harriman once told me is a zoo. When one nation gains entry into the secrets and workings of another, they control it absolutely.
They determine its sovereign will. That is why a great wit once said, knowledge is a privilege. Information is power. Powerful nations and serious economic interests pay enormously for information to help them in anticipating their adversaries and their competitors in the complex affairs of the world and the system that men have put in place to determine the affairs of the world. Powerful nations protect their information gathering systems and also their secrets for very apparent reasons. Sometimes they kill for it. Strategic information gathering is the province of the National Intelligence System.
It is also its charge to prevent the trading of strategic national information that may harm the interests of nations. All these are the hornet’s nest that Wikileak stirred these past weeks with its release of US diplomatic cables to a wider audience.
The Igbo have a saying: when the wind blows, we see the anus of the hen. Well, indeed, Wikileaks have shown us a good part of the international anus, and much of it is not pretty; yet much of it is pretty much well known, and much in fact in the American cables is unlikely to surprise anyone who trawls the internet, or who reads newspapers, or who observes people, and who reads books.
There’s only a confirmation of the Harriman axiom for me, which is that the diplomatic service is a zoo. Much more is that statesmen are full of shit. But even that is an open secret. Yet, American reactions to the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables do show the United States of America at work. The US is a state system built on pragmatic cynicism. America promotes democracy and capitalism and anti-corruption and probity and transparency.
But the cables paint a different picture of America’s manipulative overreach – it can feed the terrible hounds of tyranny if its interest is at stake. As US official reaction to Wikileak is also telling us, there is no such thing as Freedom of Information.
It is all a ruse. Nigerian journalists and NGOs have been funded to campaign for the Freedom of Information to allow for access to Nigeria’s state secret; to open up the business of government. It is all a ruse. But Wikileaks documents regarding Nigeria provide Nigerian journalists a great opportunity and a great example. Government secrets, once sealed in hard classified folders, are now one button away.
Welcome to the new information world order. Fifteen years old, in a quiet room somewhere in the backwoods of the country, and only with a laptop can hack into any system – not to talk of well trained journalists.
This is what Assange and his Wikileak is telling us. But let us in fact look at what Wikileaks reveals about Nigeria from the cables. Among the most damaging is how, in the crucial weeks following the late President Yar’Adua’s coma, American diplomatic officials literally took over Nigeria’s state administration as advisers to the then acting President Jonathan Goodluck; helping to navigate and steady his hands.
The question simply is, in what other country, with a self-respecting state service, and an efficient civil service, could this happen – the infiltration of a nation by a foreign government? Perhaps the more damaging of the Wikileak cables is the revelation by Shell’s Ann Pritchard to US diplomatic sources that Shell has massively infiltrated the Nigerian system at every crucial level and basically controls it. This is the nightmare of nations.
The infiltration of a national political system by a foreign government, or powerful local or international business interest with the aim of controlling it through its agents and proxies is the reason governments create national security infrastructure to prevent this: to protect the institution of government from falling into hostile hands. What Wikileaks tells us is that Nigeria’s national system has suffered a terrible security failure. No wonder Nigeria is in such trouble.
It has no will of its own. But, of course, this is an open secret. Nigerians know that they’ve been had at all levels for a long time. But while newspapers and broadcast enterprises everywhere else in the world are sifting through the Wikileaks papers, and documenting and interpreting it for the public, the Nigerian media is quiet.
They are busy celebrating Christmas; newspaper offices – which should be rational spaces – have turned into crusade grounds and cathedrals of religious zeal and fundamentalism. God himself sighs at our innocence.