Tuesday, November 25, 2014 10:56 am
It was supposed to be a joke. But it turned out to be costly for him. When Sir Henry Wotton, author and British diplomat, expressed that an “ambassador is an honest man who is sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”, one of his enemies took note of it. At an opportune moment, this Wotton foe, one of the organs with which the English monarch kept his ears to the ground, acted fast. He spilled the beans on Wotton to King James 1 of England, who reacted with the speed of a rattlesnake. Wotton fruitlessly told the king that it was just a joke, James 1 did not make him ambassador again, either to Augsburg, one of the free imperial cities south of Germany where he made the expensive slip of the tongue, or elsewhere.
Harold Nicolson who, in his book, Diplomacy, uses the above illustration goes further that the ill reputes enjoyed by diplomats among the general public was not due only to such chance jests as that of Sir Henry Wotton. “More importantly it can be ascribed to the progressive identification of the theory and practice of diplomacy as with the precepts of Machiavelli,” writes Nicolson.
The essence of this anecdote is to show that when diplomats or government officials say something, there is a different or deeper meaning to the expression. I am referring to the explanation offered by the United States over its lukewarm attitude toward Nigeria in its fight against Boko Haram. It all started in Washington DC when Professor Ade Adefuye, Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States, read a speech at a meeting with US Council on Foreign Relations recently. The council is an independent, non-partisan membership body which has people like Brian Williams, Fareed Zakaria, Chuck Hage, Erin Burnet and Angelina Jolie.
Adefuye was boiling inside but he deodorised the beginning of his speech with platitudes and diplomatese, saying Nigeria and the United States have come a long way and that their relationship has its roots in the strong historical and cultural connections between their two peoples; a connection reinforced by existing economic and geo-political realities. Then the diplomat in Adefuye started to show midway into the speech. In his words, relations between the US and Nigeria are in good health, but there is room for improvement. “In the recent past, we have had cause to complain, and are still complaining, about the style, nature and manner of the implementation of some United States’ policies with particular reference to terrorism in our country,” said he.
Then like a carpenter, he hit the nail on the head, saying: “I am sad to inform you that the Nigerian leadership: military and political, and even the general populace, are not satisfied with the scope, nature and content of the United States’ support for us in our struggle against terrorists.” He said it was difficult to understand how and why, in spite of the U.S. presence in Nigeria with their sophisticated military technology, Boko Haram should be expanding and becoming more deadly. “The U.S. Government has up till today refused to grant Nigeria’s request to purchase lethal equipment that would have brought down the terrorists within a short time on the basis of the allegations that Nigeria’s defence forces have been violating human rights of Boko Haram suspects when captured or arrested.”
However, the U.S. Department of State spokesperson, Jen Paski, reacted that the American government has been supporting the Nigerian military in the area of intelligence sharing, training of soldiers and other measures in fighting Boko Haram. In her words: “Earlier this year, we denied the transfer of some Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria due to concerns about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain this type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram and ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations. We shared those concerns with Nigeria before this decision and subsequent to it.”
While Adefuye called it lethal equipment, Paski called it by its name: Cobra attack helicopters. I find it difficult to agree with Paski here that it is because Nigeria lacks the human resources to handle Cobra that America refused to sell the helicopters to us. Paski can tell that to the US Marines! Rather, the main reason could either be that America’s interest is not at stake in the North-East of Nigeria or it saw corruption here and backed off. Simple. Even other territories in Nigeria are less appealing because the US, with its shale oil, does not need our own hydrocarbon. My position here is not to blame the United States but that our diplomats and decision makers should sit down and remind themselves that the realist school of diplomacy––which states that it is the national interest that governs the action of state actors and not morality––is still at play in the world and in this circumstance and that it is high time we took our fate in our hands.
Now let us compare the assistance the US renders to Syria in the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, ISIS, an insurgency group, and Boko Haram. While America is right now helping in the Middle East, where its bread is being buttered, Nigeria’s North-East is not. In other words, it is all about national interest, which was explained by former US President Jimmy Carter and others.
According to Wikipedia, Carter on 23 January 1980 gave his State of the Union address, telling everyone who cared to listen: “The region which is now threatened by Soviet troops in Afghanistan is of great strategic importance. It contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil. The Soviet effort to dominate Afghanistan has brought Soviet military forces to within 300 miles of the Indian Ocean and close to the Strait of Hormuz, a waterway through which most of the world’s oil must flow. The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil.”
That Carter doctrine is similar to what happened on 16 February 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The defence of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defence of the United States.” That was two days after he met with Saudi Arabia’s King Ibn Saud on the Great Bitter Lake section of the Suez Canal. Saudi Arabia is not an epitome of democracy, yet it is protected by the US.
What these tell us is that the region in Nigeria plagued by Boko Haram is, to the US, a patched earth, a terra incognita, devoid of the black gold but strewn with snakes, bees, baobab, date palm, nim and many crooked trees, and rocks. So, if we are waiting for America to come and help us drive Boko Haram away from Nigeria, we would be waiting for Godot. Rather, the Nigerian government should fight corruption, equip its soldiers, boost their morale and, if possible, seek help elsewhere to, apart from increasing the cities recaptured from the insurgents, send them permanently into oblivion.