By Laolu Akande/The Guardian
Goodluck Jonathan and Barack Obama
President Barack Obama’s official relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be in jeopardy, following indications that Obama’s scheduled visit to Nigeria has been suspended over the state pardon granted former Bayelsa State Governor, Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha.
It was gathered that the visit had already been agreed upon between governments of the United States and Nigeria, but has to be put on hold as a result of domestic pressure over the Boko Haram menace and Alamieyeseigha, whose corruption case has become a model for government officials in showing America’s new determination to fight kleptocracy around the world.
American generals have continued to call for increased pressure against the Boko Haram sect and other terrorist groups in Africa.
Speaking at the US Congress, the outgoing Commander of the African Command, General Carter Ham, warned that “if pressure on Boko Haram decreases, they could expand their capabilities and reach to pose a more significant threat to US interests.”
Top officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC had, a few weeks ago, hinted that a principled agreement has now been reached between Nigeria and US government on the need for Obama to visit Nigeria during his second term.
But it is believed that Obama would not want to be identified with the Nigerian president through a state visit to Abuja, if the current wave of negative feelings and impact in the US over the pardon persists.
Since the pardon was announced by the Nigerian government, western news agencies and press, including Associated Press, New York Times and local TV networks have made a big deal of the story, which sources said sent shock waves across US government circles, including State Department, Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department-all US government agencies that were involved in dealing with the US end of the Alamieyeseigha corruption case.
Reflecting what is clearly the dominant perception of Americans, the New York Times reported that “conviction for corruption by top officials in Nigeria are so rare that they are treated as national milestones. So, when the government rolled back one of the most prominent of them this week, the shock was commensurate.”
But the plans by both sides to advance the visit were already being considered with meetings set up between Nigerian officials with different US officials in Washington DC. But sources said, over the weekend, that the international shock of the Alamieyeseigha’s pardon might become a significant wheel in the clog of the progress for a US presidential visit.
Although the plans for the visit were yet to be made public, US sources said it would now require “double effort” to make it a reality with the Jonathan presidency’s decision to pardon a well-known corruption case. At least, it is believed that the planned US presidential visit would be delayed until such a time the Jonathan administration improves upon its anti-corruption records in the estimation of the international community.
On more than one occasion, the US government, specifically from the US Justice Department, has used the celebrated corruption case of D S P Alamieyeseigha as its major success story. This has involved officials as high as US Assistant Attorney-General Lanny Breuer talking about the former Governor’s case as a good showcase of America’s resolve.
Just like the US Embassy in Nigeria and the State Department have said over the weekend, the US government considers the pardon to the former governor a setback to Nigeria’s anti-corruption effort, but inside sources fear that it might affect US-Nigeria relationship, which otherwise has been on an upswing in the last three years under Nigeria’s Ambassador Ade Adefuye.
So significant is the Alamieyeseigha’s case that it is being currently used as part of a promotion for an International Financial Crime Conference and Exhibition being planned for this May in Florida by the Association of Financial Crime Specialists. The Alamieyeseigha story is currently running on the website of the association.
According to the association and also the US Justice Department, Alamieyeseigha’s case is one of the first targets of the “Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative,’ a new Justice Department unit that uses civil forfeiture laws to track and seize the US-based assets of corrupt foreign officials.
“On June 28, Alamieyeseigha became the programme’s first success story. Federal prosecutors assigned to the Initiative executed a forfeiture order on more than $400,000 the corrupt former official held at a brokerage account with Fidelity Investments, in Boston,” it was stated.
It was added that “the governor of Nigeria’s oil-rich Bayelsa State in 1999, Alamieyeseigha stole an estimated $12 million from government coffers over six years. He found a safe haven for the extortion, bribes, kickbacks and theft in US real estate and financial accounts.
In another development, the outgoing US Commander of the American Military Command in Africa, AFRICOM, General Ham has disclosed that much more pressure must be mounted by the US government against Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Ham was speaking at a hearing at the US House Armed Services Committee, where he noted that “in Nigeria, where Boko Haram is conducting a destabilising campaign of violent attacks focused on the northern part of the country, US Africa Command engages with the Nigerian Armed Forces to improve their military capabilities.”
He added that the US Africa Command is seeking “to support the development of a professional military that will support a coordinated Nigerian Government effort to address Boko Haram and provide the citizens of Nigeria with responsive governance and improved economic opportunity.”
General Ham reminded the US Congress that “Boko Haram is in contact with al-Qa’ida and recently kidnapped a French family in retaliation for French actions against AQIM in Mali.”
The US General then warned that “if pressure on the Islamic decreases, they could expand their capabilities and reach to pose a more significant threat to US interests.”
Ham explained that there are three violent extremist organizations that are of particular US concern in Africa: al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), active in northern and western Africa; Boko Haram in Nigeria; and al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Said he: “Although each organisation individually poses a threat to US interests and regional stability, the growing collaboration of these organisations heightens the danger they collectively represent.”