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US ambassador’s diplomatic gaffe

usLAST Sunday’s visit of the United States Ambassador to Nigeria to the International Conference Centre, in Abuja, where the collation of results for the 2015 Presidential election was taking place, was a brazen breach of diplomatic protocol. It was a visit that should be condemned for what it represents: an undue interference in a sensitive and important internal affair of this country.
James Entwistle, while at the ICC, was quoted as saying that the Permanent Voter Card employed in Nigeria’s 2015 elections, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, was of higher technological value than the one in use in his home state of Virginia in the US. “I think we need to come and study it so that we can use it in my country,” he said. Although seemingly well-intentioned and commendable on its face value, that statement, to say the least, was also patronising.

While it is sometimes permissible, and indeed acceptable, to prod a reluctant country into taking actions perceived to be beneficial to the country, there should be a time to draw the line, especially on matters that have to do with the internal affairs of a sovereign state. If there are international rules and conventions governing conduct among nation states, such should be respected and applied in all circumstances. Policy options, especially on the choice of a political, economic, social and cultural system, and the formulation of foreign policy, fall into the category of matters which each state is permitted, by the principle of State sovereignty, to decide freely. It will be unimaginable for the Nigerian ambassador in the US to behave in a similar manner during an election in his host country.

This brings to mind the ongoing spat between the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, following the latter’s recent visit to the US, on the invitation of the Congress. The visit was termed to be too close to the last Israeli election, and would be taken for an endorsement of Netanyahu by the American government, thus conferring an undue advantage on him over other candidates. For this reason, the American President, Barack Obama, had refused to accord him the courtesy of an official welcome.
Although there is no written law in America that says the president should not welcome a visiting head of government heading into a reelection battle, yet, there is a tradition to that effect, which Obama was not ready to break with – not even for the sake of an Israeli prime minister. So, if the Americans could go to such length to uphold their own tradition and convention, then they should also be able to respect the sensibilities of other people.

The use or non-use of the PVC attracted a heated debate before the election and it should not be an issue for diplomatic comments. Yet, it is obvious that the ambassador was only exploiting the weak institutions in Nigeria and the failure of governance to treat the country in such a disrespectful manner. Over the years, Nigeria has endured bad governance that has effectively retarded her growth and development. The country has been described as one with abundance of potentialities, but which have failed to translate into tangible benefits. A look at all the indices of development has seen Nigeria languishing in the lowest rungs of the ladder, contending with failed states such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Corruption has emerged as the bane of the country.

Regrettably, more than two years after some Nigerians made away with over N2 trillion in an oil subsidy scam, not one person has so far been jailed. These are some of the shortcomings that countries like the US exploit to dabble in the internal affairs of Nigeria. But it should not be so.
Not surprisingly, attempts by American “experts” to analyse events in Nigeria have almost always brought out a warped and stereotyped outcome that stands facts on their heads. Their inability, or deliberate refusal, to situate the Boko Haram insurgency as part of a global terrorist and jihadist movement typifies this.

For instance, John Campbell, a former US ambassador to Nigeria, has spent a great deal of efforts misinforming the world that Boko Haram is a product of marginalisation, poverty and lack of education, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Claiming to be an expert on Nigeria, he recently said, “Boko Haram insurgency is a direct result of chronic poor governance by Nigeria’s federal and state governments, the political marginalisation of northeastern Nigeria, and the region’s accelerating impoverishment.” He is wrong.

This is not only disingenuous, but a deliberate twisting of facts. In the first place, poverty is a common feature in almost all parts of Nigeria. Second, Boko Haram, in pursuit of its nihilistic mission like every jihadist terrorist organisation, has never mentioned economic deprivation as a grouse. Besides, in the past few years, sons of prominent Nigerians, with privileged backgrounds, have come out to openly identify with global terrorist movements, which rubbishes outright, any claims of poverty as motivation. Was it marginalisation for instance, that pushed the well educated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, son of a multimillionaire businessman, into attempting to bomb an American airliner on Christmas Day of 2009? Was it also poverty that made the son of a former Chief Justice of Nigeria to travel all the way to Syria to join forces with the Islamic State terrorists? It is also on record that Buji Foi, a commissioner in Borno State, resigned his appointment to take up leadership position in Boko Haram. That certainly does not look like an action that was driven by poverty.

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, was quoted as saying last month, “There are 3,000 Europeans in Iraq and Syria today. When you do a projection for the months to come, there could be 5,000 before summer and 10,000 before the end of the year.” Can Campbell in all honesty ascribe this to poverty and marginalisation? How come the actions of the three teenage schoolgirls that recently travelled from Britain to join ISIS were not attributed to poverty and marginalisation? Why should analyses of similar situations in different places produce different results?

False narratives such as Campbell’s explain why the US government does not consider Boko Haram terror as a security threat to Western countries. America’s position on this is summed up by the views expressed in January by James Marks, a retired major general and Executive Dean, College of Criminal Justice and Security at the University of Phoenix, who said, “The United States can do anything it needs to do to rid Nigeria of Boko Haram. It could be long term effort, but it can be done. The US has the capability, we have all the elements and power but it is not a priority.” This is regrettable.

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