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Buhari’s difficult engagement with the Americans

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Tuesday’s virtual meeting of United States Secretary of State, Tony Blinken with President Muhammadu Buhari should have extensively reshaped the relationship between Nigeria and the United States.

However, there are fears everywhere, that it may not.

Cast against the dodgy, if not arrogant posture of the Barack Obama government towards Nigeria, the expectation from everywhere is that the new democratic government would have out of experience learnt how to deal with the Nigerian situation.

The lessons to be learnt are, however, not only on the American side.
Nigeria also has its lessons to learn.

When in 2007, the President George Bush administration finally resolved to establish an African Command, the Nigerian government at that time still adept with the professionalism of its military was very hostile to the concept.

It was perhaps partly due to the success of Nigerian diplomacy that no African territory was found fitting enough or willing to host the African Command.

Eventually, it had to be located in Stuttgart, Germany, outside the continent!

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At that time, the Nigeria government and the military thought it an embarrassment that America would hold a foothold on the country or the continent.

Fifteen years on, and in the tenure of a retired general and after progressive humiliation in the hands of a rag-tag Boko Haram army and bandits everywhere, Nigeria has come full circle.

When President Buhari had his virtual meeting with Blinken on Tuesday, the Nigerian leader almost like a whisper was practically begging for the Americans to relocate the African Command to the continent. If not for pride, Buhari would not have even minded ceding Sambisa Forest to the Americans to locate their base.

As the president said: “The support of important and strategic partners like United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.”

However, as almost all diplomats say, Nigeria is too important to be allowed to slip into anarchy and that may have explained the fact that President Biden, unlike Obama decided not to boycott the country in his first international engagements in Africa.

However, the question that is open to many is whether the Nigerian government is willing to be helped.

That question comes in the face of the images and assertions of the Buhari government.

On matters of human rights, anti-corruption and, yes, America’s unwavering stance on terrorism, the Buhari administration has many issues to contend with in winning American consideration.

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It is telling that Mr. Blinken had his engagement with Buhari at a time that the Dr. Isa Pantami issue was still unfolding.

President Buhari perhaps would have forgotten that a Nigerian youngster, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was sentenced to four life terms and 50 years jail without parole for his failed attempt at carrying out a terrorist attack.

However, even without investigation, the Buhari administration rushed to exonerate Pantami on the excuse that he was a much younger man and had been converted since.

To the embarrassment of those who found some soft spots for the minister, more vitriolic videos of the minister came out after he was exonerated without investigation in which he vowed to personally lead a jihad against his fellow citizens.

Had Pantami been in the United States it would have been unimaginable that he would not have been questioned, to wit, to find out his role in the reported sabotage allegations made against the Nigerian military in their combat against the Boko Haram insurgents. He certainly would not have remained in the government.

So, going on, the Americans would be at their wit end to open up to the Buhari administration given fears that a terrorist sympathizer is entrenched within the inner circles of the administration.

The Buhari administration needs to be told that terrorism is now no longer a local crime. It is an international crime. Not only has Pantami thrown sympathy to our local Boko Haram enemies, but has also sympathized with Al Qaeda, America’s mortal enemy.

Shamima Begum who was born in the United Kingdom was 15 years old and of a lesser age than Pantami when she sought cohabitation with ISIS in Syria.

She was promptly cut off from her UK citizenship and has now been left to wallow in the state of misery. No one has defended Ms. Begum, now 21 of being too young at 15 when she like Pantami, sided with terrorism.

Beyond Pantami, the Americans would also want to see a more robust fight against terrorism. Presently, there seems to be no articulated state policy on what is terrorism.

Lamentably, much of the focus seems to be on Nigeria’s governors who are constitutionally incapacitated in addressing the issue of terrorism.

Pity the lot of Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna State, one of the few governors who has been able to make his declaration known and live by it in refusing to engage the terrorists.

For many in the land who six years ago believed that the body language of Buhari would end terrorism, we are still asking, what happened? It is a question that sometimes spins the unimaginable conspiracies of a mole in the villa!

Vanguard News Nigeria

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