RUDOLF OKONKWO'S COLUMN
“Watching foreign affairs is sometimes like watching a magician; the eye is drawn to the hand performing the dramatic flourishes, leaving the other hand- the one doing the important job- unnoticed.”
David K. Shipler
uring the Gulf War, a smart journalist asked the late Islamic Scholar, Abubakar Gumi why Arab nations allowed American infidels to come into their countries for the purpose of chasing away Saddam Hussein’s soldiers out of Kuwait. Gumi gave the question a deep thought and answered the reporter with an analogy. He said that even though a Muslim is not allowed to drink alcohol, such restriction could be excused if a Muslim has a bone stuck in his throat and alcohol is known to be one substance that can soften the grip of the bone and free it for a free fall into the stomach.
There has been a quiet but consistent grumble from different quarters about the presence of American military personnel in Nigeria. Each day, the plot threatens and apostles of some conspiracy theories dig in. Today, the Americans are said to be building a base; tomorrow, they are launching an invasion. For some, there is a secret pact that Obasanjo is not telling Nigerians. The government of Obasanjo does not seem to have any success explaining why the Americans are in Nigeria. Left in limbo are American officials in Nigeria.
It is interesting that the most vocal opponents of the presence of American soldiers in Nigeria are from the North. The presence of the Americans has been added as yet another example of Obasanjo plot to westernize Nigeria. It leaves you wondering, which Obasanjo? The Alhaji Obasanjo who attended a conference of 8 Islamic countries in Egypt or is there another? Unless Obasanjo is truly a fox, as many are now saying, a member of the small specie of wild dogs, nocturnal, makes an underground den, and feeds on wide range of animals ranging from worms to rabbits. Unless that!
But if anyone should be afraid of the Americans, who should that be?
Looking back at Nigerian history, the West led by the United States and Britain had been a closer ally to the north than they were to the south. The British colonial era respected and preserved the north while in the south, it was castigation and destruction. When Yakubu Gowon planned to unilaterally withdraw the north from Nigeria, it was the Western powers that advised him not to. It was the British and the Americans who gave muscles to the northern led war against break away Biafran Republic. They have been around for years and have continued to pursue the same objective. They were the ones who compelled Babangida to proceed with the June 12th election of 1993 despite a High Court rule against holding the election. They were the ones with M. K. O. Abiola the day he died.
Nobody can claim to have a sensible understanding of the basis of Obasanjo’s foreign policy. To achieve such feat, one has to first track down where in the world Obasanjo is at any given day. He would dine with Russian President Putin today, dance with Bill Clinton tomorrow and before you look up, he is in Cuba drinking with Fidel Castro. It is a shuttle diplomacy that has no known basis and no ration. It is therefore not a surprise that the mixed messages that emanate from the government are messages that the government itself cannot explain.
Without a clear-cut and consistent foreign policy, it is difficult to know where exactly to place the presence of Americans in Nigeria. The US embassy in Nigeria is left to explain what their boys are doing in Nigeria. In their released titled “No defense pack, no base, no invasion”, the American officials say the goal was to solidify Nigeria’s democratic transition.
So what is wrong with that?
Well, the Americans are not known for their forthrightness. They are good at deceiving both their friends and their enemies. If they desire to help Nigeria solidify its democracy, why haven’t they begun such a project in Saudi Arabia and in Kuwait? Why is it important to them that Nigeria becomes a democracy and not their Arab friends? Since the business of America has always been known to be business and nothing else, what is there for them? These are some of the questions that are raising concerns in critics of such relationships.
Some critics are beginning to refer to the coming of the Americans as bordering on treason. The critics make up excuses too. They say that Nigerian soldiers have nothing to learn from the Americans, and that it is all a ploy for Americans to have access to our intelligence materials.
Don’t make me laugh!
The United States does not need to send military personnel to Nigeria in order to get whatever intelligence information they need. High-level government officials in Nigeria would easily offer such information to whoever cares at rock bottom prices. With Nigeria’s poverty level, corruption level and lack of patriotism, gathering intelligence information in Nigeria wouldn’t be a challenge to anyone. A third rated counter-intelligence operation would reveal a good number of top government officials in Nigeria who have been in the business of spying for foreign countries.
So what is the fuss about having Americans in Nigeria? Are those in opposition afraid that the Americans might truly solidify democracy in Nigeria? Can the Americans truly solidify democracy in Nigeria? Where does the myth end and where does the reality begin? What perception of America is really true- enemy of Islamic countries or enemy of an independent thinking nation? Is America interested in fostering its values or in promoting its interest? Where is America’s interest? Is it in saving the white Muslims of Kosovo or in ignoring the Christians of Rwanda? Or is it in ensuring a peaceful Europe by any means but a viable Africa with little commitment?
There are endless questions for Nigerians to answer in their relationships with nations like the United States. But none of those questions is why an agreement leads to a disagreement. Such is a standard reaction to any foreign policy initiative anywhere. The real panic will begin when America changes its policy towards Nigeria- when America supports the right for self-determination by different nationalities in Nigeria.
For now, if there is a bone stuck in the throat and alcohol is known to help, go ahead and give the son of man a shot. If he gets drunk, just don’t let him drive.