Beware of Americans, even if they bear gifts, By Owei Lakemfa

Beware of Americans, even if they bear gifts, By Owei Lakemfa

Tuesday, August 30, 2016 9:17 am

Owei Lakemfa

Owei Lakemfa

American Secretary of State John Kerry paced through Nigeria August 23-24  talking counter-terrorism, economy, anti-corruption and human rights. I watched to see if the unipolar world power has had a change of heart towards us. If it had, I wondered at what point.


Just a few years ago, when the terrorist Boko Haram Sect held us by the jugular, the Americans  blocked our attempts to buy arms and  fight the violent extremists. In desperation, Government turned to private  arms  dealers in South Africa only to have our money seized.


We also turned to the Americans when 217 Chibok school girls were abducted by Boko Haram. We were promised assistance to bring back the girls. But the follow-up message we got from the Americans sounded like a kindergarten rhyme: ‘We have satellite. We have satellite. We know where the girls are. We won’t tell you. Telling you’ll compromise security. We won’t rescue the girls because they’ll be endangered. We know where the girls are. We won’t tell you”


Perhaps its attitude to Nigeria then was in line with its diplomats scientific prophesy that Nigeria will disintegrate not later than 2015.


This time, it was a State Visit and Mr. Kerry had Bilateral Talks  with President Muhammadu Buhari and audience with a group of school girls who are working to change the perception of girls; all these seem normal. But what I am still trying to understand are his two other engagements. Understanding them might reveal America’s policy towards Nigeria.


The  issues he came to discuss in Nigeria are national ones affecting all Nigerians including those paying the supreme price for our overall safety. Also, Nigeria, like America, is a multi-national and  multi-cultural country. In fact it has a more complex mix than Nigeria because it is also multi-racial. So the Americans are expected to understand the politics of such a diverse country.  So what is the message  Kerry is sending by  meeting state governors from one part of the country?


The primary reason why Kerry  came, the  theme of his engagements and  focus of his speeches was the Boko Haram insurgency and the need to defeat the terrorists. He said in his main public speech; “the terrorist group Boko Haram has killed more than 20,000 people, displaced  more than two million, and flung some seven million Nigerians into hunger,  thirst, and desperate need” This is true; what is also true is that the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency is in the North East; almost all its victims including those killed, abducted and displaced, the property and farmlands destroyed  are in that region. I am therefore wondering what  his rational is in going in the opposite direction; the North West, to deliver his powerful speech. I thought if Kerry  were to visit any part of the country outside Abuja, over the Boko Haram devastation, it will be the region it is taking place. It is like the Nigerian Foreign Minister on a State Visit to America over some devastation in Mississippi  delivering his message in California.


Kerry as American Secretary of State on a State Visit to Nigeria, cannot be right when he told his audience “you all are already under the leadership of the governor and the sultan” The Sokoto  State governor is one of 36 in the country, and the respected Sultan has limited area of jurisdiction; all Nigerians are under the leadership of President Buhari.


We had the British as colonialists who although practiced divide-and-rule politics in Nigeria, still, regarded the country as a unified one. The body language of Kerry and especially his long speech in Sokoto which was full of praises for particular leaders, will not advance the cause of Nigerian unity. When Kerry quoted  a claimed discussion between the late Premier of the old North, Sir Ahmadu Bello and his late counterpart in the East, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe on the future unity of Nigeria, it was not to show the unity of the country, rather, it was to emphasize its diversity and claimed separateness. America will allow no such thing  from a visiting foreign guest.


It can be argued that his visit to the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III   was in the latter’s capacity as the leader of Muslims in  the country. This can be valid if the issues at stake were religious.


I agree with Kerry that Sokoto “is a very special region” but which region in Nigeria is not special; the West, North East, Middle Belt, East or Niger Delta?  America has no business treating Nigeria like a coalition of lose entities or like a father with favorite kids.  States and non-state actors do not run foreign policy in Nigeria; it is the Federal Government that does. Generally, we need to discourage states from running their own foreign relations like entering into educational, agricultural or cultural agreements with other countries or foreign institutions or taking foreign loans without leave of the Federal Government.


Kerry made a special mention of somebody he called Saied – he did not say if this is the first name or surname – whom he said provided microloans to assist women start their own businesses, educated youths on reproductive health and is today leading  public campaigns to empower tax payers monitor fraud. I waited for Kerry’s catch on the story; it was that the gentleman did not do these by accident but with help from American agencies.


The Americans mentioned a lot of areas they are interested in assisting Nigeria including health, education, the girl-child and  human rights. For these, they are willing to invest $600,000  in 2016.  There is a saying that you “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. So we need to thank the Americans for this gesture; but they know it is chicken feed.


Generally, I will suggest we be critical of the moves and actions of America towards Nigeria. In his book AENEID written between 29 and 19 BC, Virgil wrote “Beware of Greeks even when they bear gifts” I will paraphrase this by telling my fellow Nigerians and Africans: Beware of Americans, even if they bear gifts.



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