ON October 10, 2014, the Nigerian Media reported the visit of the American Ambassador in Nigeria to the American University in Yola, Adamawa State. It was not the meeting with the proprietor of the university, a former vice president and a presidential aspirant under the opposition All Progressives Congress during the visit that made the headlines and raised eyebrows but the denigrating comment of the envoy on that occasion. Ambassador James Entwistle, it was reported, had explained that the United States refusal to sell highly needed weaponry to Nigeria in her war against terror and insurgency in the North East of the country was because “the Nigerian Military is notoriously known for human rights abuses”.
Such tactless and undiplomatic language of the American Ambassador should surprise no one. For years now and against diplomatic norms, it has become the hallmark of American envoys in Nigeria to utilize various public platform provided by unsuspecting Nigerians to lecture and disparage the country, its leaders and institutions.
While its diplomats are busy doing their best to create rupture in relations between the two countries, they are complimented by their bosses in Washington who constantly invite Nigerian leaders, including some past leaders who regrettably use the occasions to demean, discredit and disparage President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration.
In the wake of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, America in its usual razzmatazz had announced to the whole world that it was sending some special service men and aircraft to help the search for the missing Chibok girls. Weeks and months later all that was heard of America’s involvement and effort was again a disparaging statement that the Americans would not share any intelligence with the Nigerian military because of its corrupt tendencies.
With such statements from American envoys in Nigeria and those from highly placed American officials in Washington, in and out of the Obama administration and the United States congress, it is only fair to question the sincere commitment of the American government to the corporate existence of Nigeria.
This is because the American government, according to official sources, has not only constantly turned down Nigeria’s request for valuable support, in terms of superior weapons to fight the insurgents in the North East, but has successfully blocked Nigeria from purchasing the necessary arms, ammunition and military hardware from other sources. Against this backdrop, explaining or understanding American behaviour and attitude towards Nigeria, which includes humiliating and disparaging the country, its leadership and institutions, becomes very difficult.
This is because for years and in recent times, the American government not only proclaimed and often reiterated its strategic relationship with Nigeria but openly and publically profess its readiness to assist the country and its military in the fight against Boko Haram. Yet when the opportunities presented themselves for America to demonstrate the true essence of strategic relationship and help a friend in dire need, it chooses a different path all together. Equally no Nigerian should be impressed, misled or fooled by American excuses.
There are credible evidence, from available official US records, indicating that the United States has, over the years, executed some of the biggest arms shipments, running into several billions of dollars, to countries with abysmal human rights records, including brutal suppression of democratic dissents. A number of countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Africa, including one which recent history we all know too well, are beneficiaries of American military support.
Besides, even if we stretch the human rights violations a little, it is not America, whose Military and security agencies have had their own share of abysmal records in almost all their operations outside the US, that should openly criticize the Nigerian military the way it does. Rather, the United States can and should show more consideration and understanding as to why military personnel, especially soldiers, misbehave as they often do in war.
For a country often condemned and accused of hypocrisy in its handling of human rights issues by among others, Amnesty International, it would appear that the US government, irrespective of the misbehaviour of its military in war times, operates a double faced sense of propriety where the definition of right and wrong is solely determined by what suits the narrow interest of the American government.
What is more worrisome is that America’s postures against Nigeria, that is facing its worst security challenges since the end of the country’s civil war in the 1970s, comes in the face of American intelligence community’s prediction that the country could break up by 2015 and one is thus left to wonder whether the US attitude is to hasten the fulfillment of that predication. In comparison, the United States is currently mobilizing global support and spending billions of tax payers’ money in humanitarian and military support to prevent the total disintegration of a region it helped to destabilize.
While the Nigerian government needs to be more strategic in its engagement of the United States, it should make it clear to the Americans and their local collaborators that this country will not collapse and is not about to disintegrate. Nigeria will overcome its security challenges with or without American guns or boots on the ground in Nigeria and would emerge stronger.
This is why it is imperative for all Nigerians, on the issue of terrorism and insurgency in the North East, to stand together and support the government and the military. In our unity lies our strength and an unmistakable message is sent to friends and foes alike that, whether they assist us or not, we will survive and emerge a more unified nation.
Ambassador Joe Keshi, a career diplomat, was Consul – General of Nigeria, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.