By SKC Ogbonnia
President Muhammadu Buhari will be the guest of President Barack Obama of the United States of America on July 20, 2015. This visit is uniquely different. First, Nigeria no longer commands the respect and confidence it once did during the oil boom where the United States was competing to remain the top importer of Nigeria’s crude. Second, for no fault of his own, Buhari is going to America on a precarious perch to plead for Uncle Sam’s help. But before then, here is a necessary mock to consider.
Insecurity, particularly Boko Haram, is expected to top the agenda. However, it has become apparent that something else will dominate the august meeting.
Of course, President Buhari will have the opportunity to appeal for additional US aid in combating the terrorist group, among other issues. But his request will meet wide-opened-eyes blaring with teetering suspicions.
Obama’s view of Nigeria is an open book. When compared to the era of George W. Bush, the first African American President has been less charitable to Africa, particularly Nigeria because of the endemic corruption that continues to ravage our nation. He is not alone. People with common sense are mystified of how and why Nigerian leaders have been so ruthless in squandering the future of the country through brazen corruption.
To that end, Obama is acutely aware that past efforts on Boko Haram were not hampered because of lack of funds or lack of human resources. He is keenly aware that the failure is squarely tied to corruption in the security services. The American President, no doubt, will remind President Buhari that his pledge of eradicating systemic corruption in the African country was the main reason the masses as well as the international community rooted for a change. But the ovation on the pledge will not last up to a second. Some historians in the audience will be quick to quip that the relationship between Hausa and koboko did not start today.
The point is that Buhari is not the first Nigerian leader to have assumed power with best intentions and visited America to shore up support. His immediate predecessors, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan both paid similar visits to the United States with high hopes after being inaugurated presidents. They also preached reforms, adherence to rule of law, and commitment to wage war against corruption. However, rather than fight corruption, Yar’Adua and Jonathan went on to institutionalize corruption in high places. Patrons and other big wigs of the ruling party who were under investigation for stealing billions of public funds were being eulogized and padded into cabinet and other highly visible political appointments and party positions. We are all witnesses to the outcome. Next…
President Muhammadu Buhari is in a very delicate predicament. Unlike his predecessors, he will be arriving White on a shaky ground. As a candidate for the presidency, Buhari had endeared himself to the world with the solemn vow that, if elected president, the APC central government will not appoint corrupt persons or people with pending cases at the anti-corruption agency.
Thus far, Buhari has recorded some measurable success in the war against corruption. For the first time in a long time, the anti-corruption agency has shown some muscle by investigating corrupt practices and detaining powerful suspects across the political spectrum. Further, he is taking his time to ensure that people appointed to the executive cabinet are of impeccable character. At the same time, the legislature under the APC administration is polar opposite to any idea of war against graft. In fact, the world view is simply that leadership of the Nigeria’s highest law making body, the 8th Senate, is too corrupt, selfish, and untoward to advance positive change.
Not only is the very leadership of the upper chamber a hybrid of the comatose Senate that combined to ruin President Jonathan’s administration, it is a carbon copy of the same characters that Nigerian masses roundly rejected on March 28. The fact that the opposition, the very enemies of change—instead of the ruling party—has suddenly become the most vocal cheerleaders of the Senate leadership is sufficient to alert Buhari of a hidden agenda.
An attempt will be made by the Nigerian delegation to the White House to invoke the reigning glib of separation of power among the three arms of government, but their host will push back. Preaching separation of power to the Americans for lack of action will be viewed as a moral equivalence of a son boasting of begetting a male child before his father.
President Buhari will be reminded that a government in a presidential democracy actually includes the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Put differently, the APC government headed by Muhammadu Buhari includes the presidency, the National Assembly, and the Courts. Even before jetting all the way to Washington DC, Buhari can easily pick the brains of the US Consular-General in Nigeria who will readily agree that Rep Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader in the US Congress, will step down if she loses the confidence of the leader of her party, President Obama. True.
The common rap across the globe is that Buhari is boxed to a corner. It is believed he is hesitant to ruffle corrupt people who are some of the biggest campaign contributors to the change movement that brought him to power. But Buhari must not allow recent history to repeat itself. No single individual or group of individuals, no matter how highly placed, should constitute a roadblock to common good. The March 28 mandate is not the province of loquacious opportunists but a global coalition of progressive elements from different walks of life who sacrificed, and must continue to sacrifice, for the success of the change.
Some pundits can also argue that some of the Senate leaders being fingered for corruption should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, the nation is in crisis; this is not an ideal time to experiment with politicians with tarnished image.
All told, there is hope at end of the tunnel. Buhari’s enviable pedigree is still potent. The American visit is a golden opportunity to reassert himself. It is time to reassure the Nigerian masses as well as the international community that he truly belongs to nobody. Obama will like to find out from Buhari on one-on-one basis the specific action plan to influence immediate changes to the leadership of Nigeria’s highest law-making body – the Senate. For perception is everything in politics, and no one needs to be told that the corrupt image of Nigeria’s Senate leadership puts a big question mark on the war against corruption.
Finally, granted that recent shale oil boom in the United States has compelled the country to scale back in crude imports, yet there are many ways President Obama can still reignite interest in Nigerian oil and gas sector. But he is understandably very reluctant.
The gospel truth is that the world is tired of Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Apart from the dizzying corruption within the state oil company, President Obama in particular is very frustrated with the advanced-fee fraud letters that originate from Nigeria, most of which are linked to NNPC, a concern he raised in a campaign speech in 2008. Not only has this scam devastated many Americans, it has also contributed to Nigeria’s bad image in the United States and elsewhere.
To restore America’s confidence and genuine investment in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector, President Buhari must resolve to make NNPC more transparent and accountable. Besides the much-needed overhaul of the oil giant, one simple way to improve its image is to secure an office for NNPC in the United States—with immediate effect. It is mind boggling that Nigeria is the only major oil producing nation that does not boast of an office dedicated to its oil and gas interests in Houston, Texas, the Oil and Gas capital of the world. NNPC office in Houston will offer prospective foreign investors the opportunity to conduct business inquiries or the necessary due diligence on various offers with Nigerian addresses.
*Ogbonnia, a leadership scholar, is the Executive Chairman of First Texas Energy Corporation, Houston, Texas.
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