U.S. Game in Africa: General Elections 2015 in Nigeria
In the long torrid history of the world there was such a time when it was an accepted norm that might is right. Even as man evolved socio-economically there remained that hubris in him that still held onto that norm of a bygone era. But considering the larger context of this, nations have embodied and taken this notion to new heights, and this forms some of the major factors of endemic moral corruption and stagnation which in turn sparks social unrest and conflict. We can find interference and overbearing attitudes all around us from family, friends, colleagues etc. but the most destructive of all are interference in civilizational growth and the evolution of social and political entities, the culmination of which are nations.
Tuning in on any global news network, we are bombarded with arguments on how individuals and states should behave, either regarding its gender rights, market liberalization, economic reforms, or social justice, amongst many other things. Powerful people and nations always lay out their own vision of the world along with constantly cajoling, threatening, sanctioning, and attacking individuals and nations who don’t share their values.
The most populous black nation on earth has had its many travails and few successes, and its present state of development is a testament to that fact. Though we as Nigerians from our forebears till date should carry the brunt of the blame of where we find ourselves, it is also cogent to identify and explain areas where we were seemly getting it right or about to and were derailed by big powers intervention and interference. There are many such examples in Nigerian history, from the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates into present day Nigeria (the complicity of the British is merging two socially and culturally different people commonly called the “unholy marriage”), and its name of Nigeria being a corruption of the phrase Niger area (areas around the river Niger, the biggest river in the country) by Florence Shaw, the mistress of the then governor general of the colony, the Nigerian civil war (the British and French government and media roles in setting and fanning the flames of war in the run up to that horrific event), economic and industrial sabotage such as the Ajaokuta steel rolling mill (the U.S and Soviet cold war ideological scrabble for Africa), etc. Nigeria has suffered more than its fair share of interference from big powers.
In Africa it is common parlance that socio-political and economic crises often have foreign connotations and underpinnings and those actors are thus seen as being responsible for so much pain and penury, but dwelling on the democratic interventions of the recent past in Nigeria. In the runup to the 2015 general elections, the Nigerian democratic stage was seriously charged with different political forces jostling for power. It was the culmination of a long drawn out battle against the inroads made in Nigeria by the Chinese and other powers such as Russia against the old order of dealings in the nation. The then-president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan from a southern minority ethnic group from the oil rich Niger-Delta responsible for over 90% of Nigeria’s export which is the major source of revenue and foreign exchange for the country, took a multi-vector approach to Nigerian foreign policy, expanding on the already laid down policies of his predecessor the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua, whose close affinity with China and other partners was apparent and who pushed for a closer relationship with other allies outside Nigeria’s traditional western orientation.
Thus most of his actions could be viewed as challenging the U.S-led policy of then-President Barack Obama on many issues, such as liberalization and freedom of LGBT rights around the globe. What the administration failed to acknowledge was that the ban against LGBT was a democratic expression of the general feeling of the population on the issue, thus it being codified into the constitution by the parliament was not because there was a complete absence of such behavior, but because the generally accepted socio-cultural feeling was against any such liberalization. Criticizing the president and the government who acted in line with democratic tenets and popular will of Nigerians was short sighted.
At the height of the Obama’s administration push for global acceptance of LGBT rights, especially to African countries, the Nigerian parliament then passed the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011--a law criminalizing gay marriage and other LGBT activities, punishable by a fourteen-year jail term (https://bit.ly/2jGNgzV). It was not an executive sponsored bill sent from the presidency but was signed into law by the then-President Goodluck Jonathan as it cleared all the hurdles of parliament. The U.S response was beyond the normal protest statement by the State Department but also a sanction on the sales of weaponry to the Nigerian security services, especially the army, for what they termed human rights abuses by the army in its fight against Boko Haram in the northeast of the country.
Though the army’s record was less than to be desired in their human relations with the communities of the region, backed by a transparency international report on extra-judicial killings by the army, for many analysts and social commentators it’s akin to killing a fly with a sledge hammer. Though the army was culpable in some regards, shutting off critical supplies of weapons and intelligence for the war effort, it was not just a double standard for the leader of the global war on terror but a destabilizing act that impeded the efficacy of the Nigerian military, thus the string of defeats along with loss of territory, suffered by the army in its war against the insurgent group.
Hence in that challenging time the Nigerian government turned to other willing partners, including the weapons black-market and Russia, for some of its military needs and much needed counter insurgency training. Where Russia with its own scar of the Chechen and Caucasus anti-terror operations had lessons it could teach its Nigerian counterparts, that undoubtedly drew the ire of the U.S because at a time when everything Russian is termed evil that act was an affront too far (https://bit.ly/2F22JDy, https://bit.ly/2VW4mJZ).
As China’s trade volumes in Africa increase, it has a direct relationship with reductions in trade volumes of the Western world led by the U.S. The story is the same in Nigeria.Tthe reasons are simple and quite clear. Before the advent of Chinese telecommunications products for example, mobile phones costs were in the stratosphere. Phones from the U.S or Europe were beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. Presently the Nigerian telecommunications scene has over a hundred million active subscribers which translates to roughly the same number of phones amongst so many products and services in so many areas of economic cooperation, usually at a fraction of the price that the same product from Europe or America would cost. Being mostly poor and in desperate need of such products the choice is go Chinese. This definitely added to the tensions in Nigerian-U.S relations.
President Goodluck Jonathan, being from the oil producing Niger-Delta, pushed for and attempted the reform of the oil industry from which the people of the Niger-Delta benefit so little. There are a multitude of problems in the region (poverty, dilapidated or absent critical infrastructure, etc.) of which Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil were a part In 2013, a Dutch court ruled that Shell pay damages fr an oil spillage to its host communities in Nigeria (https://bit.ly/2u5Rq8r). Add to that that oil mining licenses were up for renewal and with such a rap-sheet against American interests, it was risky for American oil business in Nigeria to have an independent policy minded president. Nigeria was clearly drifting out of the U.S orbit and had to be reigned in. The expected outcome was the same but the approach differed from what was normally applicable to smaller states. As a standard approach, there was social pressure being applied on the government through damaging NGO reports, constant negativity in news coverage of the president and his activities, making the Nigerian leader and government toxic on the world scene, seen as incompetent, corrupt, lacking vision etc. (though the president had many faults and defects, correcting or helping him in critical aspects of security was bad for the U.S’s continued push to brand him as incompetent).
Nigeria was marked for regime change and the first clear shot came from the refusal of the then-Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Nigeria instead of visiting Ghana. This was preceded by an earlier snub by Obama when he visited Africa. What’s the best way to depose President Goodluck Jonathan? The forthcoming elections of 2015 where he was seeking re-election--thus a democratic intervention was initiated.
As the elections drew closer, negative reporting increased. Along with negative coverage of the country, there was strategic support by the U.S to the newly-formed opposition which was blessed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the most internationally recognized Nigerian, who long fell out with the president and had joined the critical band wagon. Having a Nigerian former leader, tolerated and to some extent respected by the West, disparage the sitting president piled up pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan.
All the while encouraged by the Western elites who sometimes provided platforms for former President Obasanjo, (a summary of attacks by president Obasanjo against president Goodluck: http://bit.ly/2Hgdwh9), aligning with the opposition who, deep into the lead-up to the election were joined by President Obama’s strategist in his 2008 presidential bid (David Plouffe) as a consultant, in fact the campaign mantra of the then opposition APC (All Progressives Congress) was same as Obama’s “CHANGE.” One can only imagine what other forms of support the opposition enjoyed from the Obama administration. A few weeks out from the elections proper, President Obama refused to grant audience to President Goodluck Jonathan in Washington DC, and instead directed him to the King of Morocco. But the Nigerian president would only be met by another snub from his northern neighbour monarch.
So all that was set and in motion played out in the defeat of Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 polls. Not everything has yet been heard about all that transpired in the final days of the election and the processes on the day of election, the post-election events, and the 2019 elections which just ended. Stay tuned…