By Obi Nwakanma
The playwright Ola Rotimi was very prescient in his play, Holding Talks, written in the absurdist style to reflect on the stultifying inaction of official talks in the Nigerian situation. Talks that trail into absurd directions. Meaningless talks. Talks that are rather busy but they do nothing. Talks that hover around ways and means without actual ways or means.
Such talks are ignitions but they fall flat because their engines are dead, and so they sputter lifelessly. That’s the kind of talk which the press reported two weeks ago as taking place in London between Nigerian politicians.
Now, most Nigerians have asked: why go to discuss Nigeria in London, Paris, Dubai, and Ankara (Turkey)? What this really signify? What are its implications for Nigeria which these politicians are angling on governing? Critical Nigerians with very deep foreign service experiences have responded very vehemently to this affair, and I will channel my own perspective from the critical issues they have raised which seem to me very germane to the question of national prosperity, national security, and Nigerian sovereignty.
First, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Foreign Minister for Nigeria, and president and trustee of the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Academy, speaking on behalf of former Foreign Ministers and top Diplomats of the Nigerian Foreign Service, described these meetings held outside Nigeria as “clownish” and “ludicrous.”
Furthermore: “Consequently, and because of their Neo-colonial mentality which blinded them from seeing and appreciating the goodwill and resilience of Nigerians, they preferred savoury Western atmosphere. The implication of which is the exposure of Nigeria directly or indirectly to unwarranted Western influence, particularly as they were perceived to be washing our dirty linens in the full glare of the world.” This is a powerful statement and an indictment of these “clownish” politicians by men who have operated in the sometimes shadowy, cloak-and-dagger situation in Foreign Affairs.
They know want they are talking about. Particularly that bit about these politicians coming under deleterious “Western influence.” But let us be clear, that concern about “Western Influence” by these heavyweight wonks of the Nigerian Foreign Service, who were the literal heads of Nigeria’s Foreign Intelligence operations, and know how these games are played, is already water under the bridge.
That is, it is coming a little too late, because thorough background checks should have been conducted on these political leaders, by Nigeria’s own National Intelligence Services long before their emergence, to determine the extent of any deleterious, subversive foreign entanglement.
But that does not obviate their concerns. It is a concern which still haunts Nigeria with the situation of its current president.
Many people say they do not recognize the Buhari of the pre- 2015 election. Something changed about him. Street talk in Nigeria is brutal. But too many Nigerians still believe that the current president Muhammadu Buhari was “re-engineered” and turned into a “Manchurian candidate” by key local and international interests. The talk is the stuff of which action thriller movies are made. But many Nigerans take it very seriously.
As a newspaper columnist, I hear this very often in the conversation between Nigerians who seriously think that Buhari was “captured” and “turned.” Stuff of thrillers. But it is also so much so that such speculations expose the limitations of the Nigerian National Security system to anticipate and prevent state capture of Nigeria by an adversarial political or economic interest, using the cipher of “captured” candidates under undue influences – either through blackmail or by psych-control.
Maybe, I too have read too many spy novels by the likes of Le Carre, but when serious men like Bolaji Akinyemi and other former key operators begin to voice concerns and objections around these questions, it is time to perk up. And perk up we must, because such weighty public statements by weighty, public Nigerians are kites that fly.
Take for instance the case of Buhari: in 2015 he was taken to London, and following that it seemed, the light died in his eyes. Before then, he was all brass and conviction.
Well, so it seemed, to his hoodwinked admirers. Then he was taken to London, the old imperial capital that continues, many Nigerians say, to exact pounds and pounds of flesh from Nigeria, shepherded by Kayode Fayemi, Rotimi Amaechi, Bola Tinubu, Ibikunle Amosun, Bukola Saraki, and Olusegun Obasanjo to meet with the British establishment; folks like Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.
These in hindsight, were Buhari’s undertakers. They also shepherded him through the talks at Chatham House where he laid bare, before a “foreign” audience, his plans to govern Nigeria.
The question in most critical tongues in those days, mine included was, what is the business of a largely British audience in Chatham House on Buhari’s domestic and foreign policies and plans to govern a sovereign people? Who was he campaigning to? It remains a valid question.
Moreso because, you would expect that a man seeking the presidency of Nigeria would address these issues at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos; the Arewa House in Kaduna, or the Lions Building in Enugu the proposed site for the Zik Center; rather than at Chatham House.
But this has always been the mindset of the Nigerian political class who provide political leadership to befuddled Nigerians. We now know what a disaster Buhari became.
So, no surprises there. However, this question raises its head again in the meetings reported of the politicians who were conducting negotiations and horse trading in these foreign capitals.
Nyesom Wike leading his political “homies” – Ortom, Ikpeazu and Makinde, junketing at public expense to Ankara, and London; while Tinubu and his folks dug in in Paris, and from where they all converged in London; as did Atiku Abubakar and his own gang, who have made Dubai their political headquarters, while Abuja is a mere annex.
They all met with Obasanjo and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, who was detouring in London on his way to the United States and Canada, where he was going to meet with the Nigerian Diaspora. The question raised by Bolaji Akinyemi and co are valid. It was amplified by Mr. Joe Chiedu Keshi, career diplomat, former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and onetime Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States: what are these men doing, meeting in these foreign capitals? No doubt, these places are well-governed, well-appointed, and properly sanitized, but all these make Nigeria a laughing stock among nations.
Just imagine those who propose to govern Nigeria dissing Nigeria and Nigerans. There is no example of equivalent meetings of any foreign political leadership, strategizing for political power, or control of their nations, meeting outside of their own countries or domains.
None has certainly ever met in Nigeria. The leadership of a nation such as Nigeria must not be second-rate in thought and action. It must learn to be sovereign in order to protect and secure the sovereign interest of Nigeria. But above all, the leaders of Nigeria must not be subject to “foreign influence” because these are nightmare situations that are very real. Nigerian politicians engage in conducts with international interests which compromise the welfare, security, and strategic interests of nation.
President Buhari is a current example of such a possible situation. Because, it is rather obvious that Buhari’s failure, given all the advantages he had getting into the office which he drained cannot be very easily explained by Nigerians, except by those who tend to think, and in fact say, that anyone who controls a man’s life and his stomach, owns him.
Buhari as president of Nigeria is in the medical care of a foreign country. He has been a National Security risk. His loyalty to Nigeria is in question because he has entrusted his life and well-being to a foreign interest. It is imperative therefore that a newly elected National Assembly, after this compromised and Idiot Assembly, and acting within its constitutional power, must open an investigation to determine to what extent President Buhari was compromised by these foreign interests, and if the state capture of Nigeria was responsible for the dismal failure of his presidency which has set Nigeria back by another half a century.
Then laws must be put in place to anticipate and foreclose this possibility of state capture of the head of the Nigerian government by an adversarial state or private interest. This is also at the base of all the hoopla around Peter Obi’s Diaspora campaign fund.
It is right to raise all the questions asked about Obi’s Campaign Fund. Politicians must hold talks. But if such talks are to be held, Obudu, Jos, Oguta, Kainji, or some private lodges in an off-grid location on the Adamawa ranges can serve well enough. That is, if the luxurious private homes of these politicians in Abuja, Lagos and the various capital cities of Nigeria, and the sumptuous country homes of these politicians feel too open for them to talk. Enough of this already.