Testing the US – Africa (Nigeria) Relationship – Magnus Onyibe

Testing the US – Africa (Nigeria) Relationship – Magnus Onyibe

In the run up to President Muhammadu Buhari’s official visit to the USA from 19th -22nd July, 2015, there were palpable fears amongst Nigerians that the visit was structured for President Barack Obama to arm-twist the Nigerian president into reversing the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act which Nigerian Senate passed into law last year.

U.S Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Linda Thomas Green-Field’s spirited argument that the fight for the rights of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgenders is an integral part of USA foreign policy which must be enforced globally, only helped to fuel the suspicion and put Nigerians on edge. It is perplexing that the US, a country that was partly founded by some Christian puritans who migrated from Britain owing to persecutions, have now turned 360% into a sort of Sodom and Gomorra as depicted in the biblical story. Although history is known to often repeat itself (and in this case, history is repeating its self unpleasantly), it was never envisaged that in this life, a situation would ever arise again, whereby sodomy – now disguised as LGBT – would be glamorized and glorified.


In any case, you would wonder no more about how the US descended to such horrific levels of moral decadence, when you realize that apart from the puritan Christians, there is another set of people from Britain who are also co-founding members of the US and they are basically non-conformists, who under punishment, were sent off by British authorities to the farms in the Americas where thirteen (13) states initially discovered by Spanish sailor, Christopher Columbus had become part of British colonies. Over the years, both the Puritan Christians and the law breakers who constitute the core nucleus of USA started congregating (following the declaration of independence on 4th July, 1776) under two distinctive political camps. On one side are Republicans under the auspices of the Grand Old Party, GOP dominated by the Puritans and on the other side are the Liberals of Democratic Party with a support base of the original outlaws. With the Democratic Party as the ruling party in the past eight (7) years, laissez faire attitude to issues of morality was introduced. As a result, the core Christian moral values held dearly and entrenched in US culture as encapsulated in the 1776 Declaration of Independence where God was specifically mentioned “the law of nature and of nature’s God” started being eroded. With about seven (7) years absence of the Republicans who are the standard bearers for Godly morality at the helm of America’s affairs, strong US values are now rapidly being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency by the Democratic Party. Simply put, the Democratic Party is basically whittling down US’ high moral values to make the party attractive to latter day immigrants tagged independents/swing voters – Germans, Jews, Dutch, Hispanics, Blacks, Asians – who are neither Christians nor non-conformists. The strategy behind the wooing of these new voter blocks is to pull them into the loop to facilitate the expansion of the voter base of the Democratic Party and thus guarantee her return as the ruling party in the upcoming presidential election in 2016.

The foregoing analogy may be simplistic, but how else can one explain a situation whereby a country whose currency, the dollar carries the insignia ‘In God We Trust’ (indicating the critical role of God) suddenly become a haven for practitioners of sodomy that God wiped out with fire and brimstone – Sodom and Gomorrah? Given the scenario described above, the conservative politicians in the US can be said to have been eclipsed by the liberals and that belief is affirmed by America’s Supreme Court decision upholding the controversial same sex marriage law. Were it not for the Supreme Court judgment, the freaky members of the deviant sect (LGBT) could have remained in the ‘closet’ or on the fringe where they have been since time immemorial because they are obviously in the minority which is perhaps why less than 25% of the 50 states in the U.S. had endorsed gay rights. While it is justifiable not to discriminate against gays, the elevation of gay rights from mere practice of the abnormal act to the rights to marry each other and even convert from one sex gender to the other, (as Caitlyn Jenner has done) by the highest level of the U.S. Judiciary,has now brought the sacred institution of marriage to the base and banal level. The prevailing situation in the US is even worse than the depiction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the bible because whereas in the bible,the act of sodomy was only restricted to intercourse , now it has degenerated into same sex marriage. So much so that the likes of Jenner are declaring themselves as the new ‘normal’ and the rest of the US trendsetters are acknowledging it as the existential realities of the 21st century. The implication of this is that anybody that sneers at LGBTs would now be guilty of the offense of sexism like a fascist or racist.

Proponents of gay marriage law in the western world of which the US is now a leading light have a compelling argument that gay right is a human right that must be enforced. That may be logically fair, but so also is polygamy a human right that should be enforced but the USA and most part of the western world forbid their citizens from engaging in polygamy. So the question is: how come the US constitution does not recognize the rights of many Americans who in the bid to avoid violating laws of the country, are being compelled to migrate to Mexico where polygamy is not criminalized? That logic can also be stretched further by inferring that the right to remain alive (as opposed to dying from hunger) is also human right but people are dying on the streets of Darfur, South Sudan owing to starvation (a fallout of a perennial war and famine) without the US’  intervention in the manner she has vigorously hounded African countries like Uganda, Nigeria and others that passed anti-gay laws. In that regard, can a rich country like the US not be said to be vicariously culpable for allowing starving people die when she can afford to save them by feeding and making efforts to end the conflict? It is double standards like these that are triggering and sustaining crisis worldwide.
While advocacy for conformity in anti corruption or anti terrorism war is understandable because they are mutually beneficial as we are all interconnected in a global village, but crusade for universal practice of same sex marriage and prohibition of polygamy appears to me like an exclusive US affair which she is trying to shove down the throat of Africans.

Can you imagine, the Arabs, Persians or Africans who practice polygamy insisting that polygamy should be accepted as a way of life in western countries like USA, UK, France or Germany? Such thoughts cannot even be contemplated, yet that is exactly the expectations of USA and the rest of the advanced western societies from African countries with respect to gay rights. Ever wondered why the UK and USA also actively engaged in the Arab and Persian world’s like Saudi Arabia and Iran, yet they don’t try to strip those allies of their culture and religion by imposing their alien cultures and values like they do in Africa? Those Arab countries are not poverty stricken like African countries so they dictate the basis of their relationships – culture and trade – with the western world.

In Africa’s relationship with the industrialized western world, the continent is the junior partner hence the imposition of values that sometimes manifest as bullying. Coated with the veneer of aids, which in reality is disguised bribe, some western countries funded Non-Governmental Organizations, NGOs or civil society/liberties/charitable organizations influence Africans from Kampala to Kigali, Cape to Cairo into accepting perverted westernized ways of life such as the practice of LGBT which amounts to robbing Africans of their culture. The audacity of brow beating African countries into accepting imposition of alien cultures such as LGBT is a naked expression of the oppression of the poor,(so called third world countries) by the rich industrialized economies. For the aids that they extend to us through the good works of the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates foundation that is currently pursuing the eradication of the scourge of polio and malaria in Africa via funding of the critically important research and testing of much needed anti malaria vaccine, Africa cannot afford to appear to be ungrateful to charity organizations. Nevertheless, the western world’s abiding desire to continue lord it over the third world smacks of the white man’s assumed superiority over the black man which has continued to play out even on the streets of the United States of America with white police officers preying on black people by brutally murdering them on flimsy excuses like traffic light offense, many years after slavery was abolished and the infamous Ku Klux Klan, KKK was outlawed.

Although, the US fought a civil war to end slavery via the 13th amendment in 1865, it was only fifteen (15) years ago that the US started ‘thumping its nose’ at modern day slavery, a scourge that has been thriving even in the US till date as currently being chronicled by the cable news network, CNN. Skeptics believe the recent stepping up of focus on modern day slavery by the US through Secretary of State, John Kerry’s naming and shaming of guilty countries while rewarding compliant ones is a smokescreen for her present push against anti gay laws in Africa. That allegation may be debatable but Africans are tired of wool being pulled over their eyes hence president, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya politely informed visiting U.S. president , Barack Obama that gay rights is not Kenya’s priority so, if the U.S. does not mind, he would like to excuse Kenya from the conversation.


At the risk of being accused of being adversarial to the super powers of the west, the evidence of continuous efforts by the western powers at holding Africa hostage is legendary and self evident and its origin is in the infamous Berlin, Germany Conference of 1822 where Africa was first partitioned  amongst Europeans. Nobody captures the tragedy of the black man in the hands of the white man better than the irrepressible, Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. According to the renowned cleric and activist: in the beginning, the white man came to us (Africans) with the bible: he asked us to close our eyes for prayers and we did. When we opened our eyes, the white man had our land (resources) and we had the bible (religion). Although Tutu’s hyperbolic analogy maybe cryptic, it nevertheless pretty much captured the narrative of the African malady.  To put the matter in proper perspective, let us refresh our memories a bit: the first platform the white man used to sneak into Africa to fleece her is through missionaries. Having gained some foothold, they transited to the obnoxious slave trade that robbed Africans of enormous human resources estimated to be over one million people as most of the continent’s able bodied men and women were sold, bought and shipped off to plantations in the Americas. Subsequently, there was progression to colonialism whereby African traditional system of governance was undermined as kings and monarchs were subjugated and sometimes banished (Oba of Benin imprisoned in Calabar) with white colonial administrators replacing traditional rulers solely with the intention of supervising the pillaging of the continent’s abundant natural resources. Thereafter, independence was granted in the early 1950-60s to a handful of African countries (Ghana and Nigeria 1957-1960). Independence was followed by neocolonialism that saw western countries continuously stripping Africans of precious mineral and agricultural resources (carted away as raw materials) to keep the industrial machines in the western world churning. Till date, the exploitation of Africa (economic imperialism) whereby perpetual servitude to Europe, the Americas and Asia have remained (although to a lesser degree), with the United Nations,UN , the Brenton wood institutions like the world bank, International Monetary Fund, IMF and World Trade Organization,WTO as facilitators of the perfidy.

Just as Africans were about to heave a sigh of relief that their beloved continent was free at last and dignity is being restored, in fulfillment of the dreams of African nationalists of yore (Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, Leopord Senghor of Senegal etc),cultural colonialism seem to be the next gambit of the western powers, who appear to be hell bent on having a vice grip on Africa.  Regretfully, the mechanism and strategy of subjugation has been changing from slavery (plundering of human resources) to colonialism (indirect rule/extraction of natural resources) then to economic imperialism (unfair trade) and now cultural colonialism reflected in the culture of LGBT which they want to achieve more or less by brainwashing and striping converts of their African values and heritage. Luckily, in the midst of all these doom and gloom, Africa has managed to export to the USA, the first black president, Barrack Obama whose roots sprout from Kenya where Americans had gone in search of coffee-their favorite beverage. There is joke in some quarters that as a trade-off for the white man’s plundering of the black man’s natural resources, Africa also succeeded in producing a president for the USA.

This novelty is currently being celebrated in Kenya as president Obama made his third visit to Africa and his maiden visit to the land of his paternal progenitor. To the best of my knowledge, there has been USA presidents of English, Dutch and Irish origins but none yet of Asian or Arab descent. So producing a US president of African extraction is a big deal. Jokes aside, the beguiling of Africans that the white man started through religion later transformed into trade via companies like Royal Niger Company which morphed into United African Company (UAC) and finally NGOs and civil liberties/societies/charities with a variety of names prancing around parroting their masters’ interests without compunction. Don’t get me wrong by assuming that l abhor the activities of all civil liberty and charitable organizations operating in Africa. On the contrary, I support some but just as there are businesses with altruistic motives and others that have sinister intentions, I’m of the view that some charity extended to us in Africa from the western world are ‘Greek Gifts’ with questionable objectives while only a handful are positively useful.

Let me cite a quaint example (this is a case study in a course towards earning a Masters’ degree in International Relations at the Fletcher school of law and diplomacy) Japan, the second richest country in the world before being overtaken by China in the last decade, offers inducement to less resourced African countries to garner their support towards sustaining the practice of fishing of sharks which the Japanese use for their favorite delicacy – shark fin soup – which other superpower members of the United Nations, UN desire to be abolished in the interest of conservation of the endangered species. The logic here is that as long as the Japanese love for shark fin soup delicacy remains undying, she is ready to continue to induce poor African countries with the finances they require to survive poverty. In return, they vote for Japan against their western antagonists. Ironically, the poverty ravaging the African countries that are induced with crumbs from the tables of the wealthy are more often than not brought about by unfair trade by the industrialized world which take away commodities/ raw materials from Africa and return same as finished products as demonstrated by the shipment of cocoa seed purchased cheaply from Africa and shipped to Europe then converted into chocolate bars and shipped back to Africa for purchase at much higher price.

Thankfully, Nigeria, being the leader of Africa that led the charge in the dismantling of apartheid in Southern African region and saw to it that every African country is completely liberated from white colonialism, guards her sovereignty very jealously. That’s why  I’m not surprised that contrary to the fear that President Obama and US law makers ,would bamboozle president Buhari, our newly minted president did not buckle under the pressure of American legislators to extract a promise to repeal the anti same sex marriage law in Nigeria which has become an irritant to USA . Incidentally, President Buhari as military head of state some thirty (30) years ago carried on with the policy of liberating Africa which was started by leaders who struggled for and achieved Nigeria’s independence in 1960 like Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo amongst others.  It may be recalled that the fire of liberating the black man which was ignited in the ships conveying black slaves from the continent to plantations in the Americas by the likes of Marcus Garvey in the Americas and stoked in Africa by the pan Africanist politicians (Nkrumah, Azikiwe et al) earlier mentioned was kept aglow successively by military heads of state ranging from Yakubu Gowon, Muritala Muhamed, Olusegun Obasanjo and eventually Muhamadu Buhari who ousted Shehu Shagari in December of 1983.


So going to the USA on 19th July, 2015, President Buhari was on a familiar terrain and therefore knew exactly what to give away and what to take away which international relations or diplomacy is all about. Perhaps Emeka Anyaoku, former commonwealth Secretary General, who visited President Buhari before he embarked on the trip to USA refreshed President Buhari’s memory. Pressed by the USA congress to reverse the anti-same sex law in Nigeria, President Buhari reportedly responded by telling his hosts that sodomy is a taboo in Africa and outlawed in Nigeria because over 80% of Nigerians are against it (Pew Report actually puts the figure at 98%). By so doing, Buhari smartly and commendably justified his objection to their demand by using one of the cardinal principles of democracy -majority carries the vote – a tenet the U.S covets as the objective principle for his position. Not done, he turned the table against the USA by reminding them that by denying Nigeria of the much needed arms and ammunition like Apache choppers required to combat terrorism based on unsubstantiated claims of human rights abuse (Leahy law forbids USA from selling arms to countries whose armies have poor human rights records ), America has been inadvertently helping foster Boko Haram terrorism in Nigeria and indeed the Gulf of Guinea and therefore vicariously guilty of the avoidable human carnage. The frustration expressed by President Buhari was supposed to prick the conscience of USA law makers and it has done exactly that.

Senator Patrick Leahy the promoter of the law has responded to President Buhari. In his view “President Buhari ignored the undisputed fact that most Nigerian army units have been approved, under the Leahy law, for US training and equipment. Only those particular units against which there is credible evidence of the most heinous crimes are ineligible for US aid. And even those units can again become eligible if the Nigerian government takes effective steps to bring the responsible individuals to justice.”  The above clarification in my view is good news because it reveals that, at last, a Nigerian leader’s voice is being heard and discussed in the top echelon of US political establishment. My excitement about that positive development reached the highest crescendo when Senator Leahy concluded his response by saying, “I strongly agree with President Buhari about the need to defeat Boko Haram, and l have supported tens of millions of dollars in US aid to Nigeria for that purpose.” This suggests that the window for negotiation is still wide open and Nigeria only need to push harder by doing the needful (punishing officers found guilty and instituting internal anti human rights abuse mechanism in the armed forces) to get the much sought military hardware from the US to defeat Boko Haram. For sure Nigeria is not the first nation to be denied access to weapons by the USA under Leahy amendment to the law. Pakistan, Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia and Bangladesh as well as Bolivia and Colombia are some of the countries that fell short of the Leahy law threshold and were denied sale of weapons.

Curiously, close USA allies in the Middle East such as Israel and Egypt whose armies have abysmal human rights records appear to be exempted from strict application of the Leahy law as US appears look the other way when human rights organizations point fingers at them. Why can’t Nigeria strive to be in the league of the privileged US allies like Israel and Egypt? In any case, I have always argued that the failure of Goodluck Jonathan’s government to convince USA to sell the required military armaments to Nigeria that would have enabled her nip Boko Haram insurgency in the bud was a failure of diplomacy. While amorphous lobby groups supporting terrorism have been very active in Washington, D.C with the sole aim of convincing lawmakers that Nigeria was guilty of human rights abuses and therefore ineligible for arms purchase from USA, our diplomats were flat footed hence they were outflanked and as it were, caught pants down. This also explains why it is only in 2013 that Boko Haram was declared a terrorist group by the USA. I have no idea if attempts were made to convince previous Nigerian government authorities to procure the services of powerful lobby groups in Washington DC like Black Congressional Congress or Corporate Council on Africa to counter the unsubstantiated claim of human rights abuse by Nigerian soldiers. However, the singular effort of nipping such negative sentiments in the bud through counter efforts of lobbyists (before the negative ideas are sown so that they don’t grow into the oak trees that they have now become) would have saved Nigeria, the region and indeed the entire world the current avoidable human catastrophe created by Boko Haram terrorists.
I need to reiterate that the power of lobby in Washington is not a myth. This is why Israel with manifest evidence of human rights abuse in Palestine still receives military support from the USA in spite of the much vaunted Leahy law and enjoys estimated $3 billion ‘aids and support’ from USA annually. Such is the power of Jewish lobby. Similarly, Egypt whose current military leadership under General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recently arbitrarily toppled the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi has been accused of massive human rights abuse by Amnesty International, the same agency that made similar allegations against Nigerian army, yet Egypt still enjoys American patronage reflected in annual ‘aids and support’ to the tune of about a billion dollars.  Just as there are Jewish and Arab Americans in congress, there are many African-American congress men and women to fight Africa’s and indeed Nigeria’s cause, if Nigeria solicits their support.

It may be argued that both Israel and Egypt are enjoying US special privileges because they are their  strategic partners in the Middle East that have helped in no small measure to facilitate and maintain the relative peace in the zone, Nigeria could also form a similar strategic alliance with the US. Given Nigeria’s role as the foremost peace keeper in Africa with respect to guaranteeing security and safety in the Gulf of Guinea, helping the US intervene in conflicts around the continent and by virtue of the preeminent size of Nigeria’s economy as the biggest and the sheer population size which is also the largest in Africa, she qualifies for such special privilege. Similarly, the concept of allowing the US station her proposed military base for Africa, AFRICOM (now temporarily located in Germany) in Nigeria could also be a beneficial trade-off that could permanently hinge Nigeria to the US as it is with Germany and South Korea where there are American military bases.

Relying on the conventional wisdom in Nigeria which indicates that when your residence is located close to a police or army barracks, there is less tendency for armed robbers to invade, most Nigerians would testify to the efficacy of the formula or potential benefits of situating AFRICOM in Nigeria, which may have its down sides, but the gains accruable could be manifold. Over all, it is my view that President Buhari’s performance in the Oval Office of the White House on 20th July with Obama complements his performance in British Chatham House on 26 February where he made a presentation to the British intelligentsia.

As a farmer, President Buhari has sown the seed of friendship and cooperation between Nigeria and the industrialized world represented by the USA, UK and the other members of the G-7 countries like Germany. It is now left to Nigerian government to (as a good farmer would), patiently and diligently nurture and harness the goodwill derivable from President Buhari’s historic trips to the UK, Germany and USA in the spirit of shuttle diplomacy.

As President Obama told his audience at the ongoing African Union conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Africa is a beautiful bride to be wooed. As Africa and indeed Nigeria basks in global spotlight, it’s left to her to present herself with dignity and for the rest of the world to approach Africa with the respect and care that she deserves. The undisputed economic and political leader of the world, President Obama of the US has assured all that he is charmed by Africa’s potentials and so should the rest of the world.

Magnus Onyibe, a former commissioner in delta state government, development strategist and futurologist is an alumnus of Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy.


The opinions expressed in this piece entirely those of the writer.


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