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I have a long connection to Nigeria. Not only was I Ambassador there, I have travelled to and from Nigeria for a number of years and have a deep and abiding vital emotional attachment to the Nigerian people, their magnificence, their courage, artistic brilliance, their irony, sense of humour in the face of challenges etc.
I hope that we keep that in mind when I say some things that I think are counter to what we normally say about Nigeria. I say that with all due respect to Eric Silla, who is doing a magnificent work at State Department (as Special Adviser to the Assistant Secretary of State for Africa).., because I have a feeling that we both, Nigerians and Americans, may be doing Nigeria and Nigerians no favor by stressing Nigeria’s strategic importance.
I know all the arguments: it is a major oil producer, it is the most populous country in Africa, it has made major contributions to Africa in peacekeeping, and of course, negatively, if Nigeria were to fall apart the ripple effects would be tremendous.
But I wonder if all this emphasis on Nigeria’s importance creates a tendency to inflate Nigeria’s opinion of its own invulnerability. Among much of the elite today, I have the feeling that there is a belief that Nigeria is too big to fail, too important to be ignored, and that Nigerians can go on ignoring some of the most fundamental challenges they have – many of which we have talked about: disgraceful lack of infrastructure, the growing problems of unemployment, the failure to deal with the underlying problems in the Niger Delta, the failure to consolidate democracy – and somehow will remain important to everybody because of all those reasons that are strategically important. I am not sure that that is helpful.Let me sort of deconstruct those elements of Nigeria’s importance, and ask whether they are as relevant as they have been.
We often hear that one in five Africans is a Nigerian. What does it mean? Do we ever say one in five Asians is a Chinese? Chinese power comes not just for the fact that it has a lot of people but it has harnessed the entrepreneurial talent and economic capacity and all the other talents of China to make her a major economic force and political force.Yes, Nigeria is a major oil producer, but Brazil is now launching a 10-year program that is going to make it one of the major oil producers in the world. And every other country in Africa is now beginning to produce oil.
Angola is rivalling Nigeria in oil production, and the United States has just discovered a huge gas reserve which is going to replace some of our dependence on imported energy.And what about its influence, its contributions to the continent? As our representative from the parliament talked about, there is a great history of those contributions. But that is history.Is Nigeria really playing a major role today in the crisis in Niger on its border, or in Guinea, or in Darfur, or after many, many promises making any contributions to Somalia?
The answer is no.
Nigeria is today NOT making a major impact, on its region, or on the African Union or on the big problems of Africa that it was making before. Now, of course, on the negative side, the collapse of Nigeria would be enormous, but is that a point to make Nigeria strategically important? Years ago, I worked for an Assistant Secretary of State who had the longest tenure in that job in the 1980s and I remember in one meeting a minister from a country not very friendly to the United States came in and was berating the Assistant Secretary on all the evils of the United States and all its dire plots in Africa and was going on and on, and finally the Assistant Secretary cut him off and said: “You know, the biggest danger for your relationship with the United States is not our opposition, but that we will find you irrelevant. “The point is that Nigeria can become much less relevant to the United States. We have already seen evidence of it. When President Obama went to Ghana and not to Nigeria, he was sending a message, that Ghana symbolised more of the significant trends, issues and importance that one wants to put on Africa than Nigeria.
So the handwriting may already be on the wall, and that is a sad commentary. Because what it means is that Nigeria’s most important strategic importance in the end could be that it has failed. And that is a sad, sad conclusion. It does not have to happen, but I think that we ought to stop talking about what a great country it is, and how terribly important it is to us and talk about what it would take for Nigeria to be that important and great. And that takes an enormous amount of commitment. And you don’t need saints; you don’t need leaders like Nelson Mandela in every state, because you are not going to get them. I served in South Korea in the middle of the 1960s and it was time when South Korea was poor and considered hopeless, but it was becoming to turn around, later, to become to every person’s amazement then the eleventh largest economy in the world. And I remember the economist in my mission saying, it did not bother him that the leading elites in the government of South Korea were taking 15 – 20 percent off the top of every project, as long as every project was a good one, and that was the difference. The leadership at the time was determined to solve the fundamental economic issues of South Korea economy and turn its economy around. It has not happened in Nigeria today. You don’t need saints. It needs leaders who say “You know we could be becoming irrelevant, and we (have) got to do something about it.”
•The preceding policy insight on USAfricaonline.com are excerpted from a paper presented by by Lyman at the Chinua Achebe Colloquium at Achebe’s new university of residence, Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, on December 11, 2009. He is a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria and former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. He directed the CFR–sponsored Independent Task Force that produced the report ‘More Than Humanitarianism: A Strategic U.S. Approach Toward Africa.’
USAfricaonline.com: Prosecuting corrupt ‘big men’ is good for Nigeria. By former Ambassador of the U.S, John Campbell http://www.usafricaonline.com/jcampbell-nigeria-corruption09/
Eight lessons of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. By USAfrica Publisher Chido Nwangwu http://www.usafricaonline.com/chido-8lessons-rwanda-genocide/
(Audio+Text): Nigeria, U.S. and Mutallab terrorism issues: Voice of America’s interview of USAfrica’s Publisher Chido Nwangwu
By Howard Lesser in Washington DC
January 5, 2010
Limited details have emerged in recent days about a visit to Houston, Texas by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in August, 2008. It’s not clear if U.S. investigators were tracking the suspect at the time or whether or not they failed to detect any radical ties that should have enabled them to elevate Abdulmutallab’s status on a U.S. terror watch list to strip him of his visa or place him on the critical no-fly list.
Nigerian-born journalist Chido Nwangwu publishes USAfrica’s CLASSmagazine and runs the USAfricaonline.com website from Houston, which is home to more than 100-thousand Nigerian expatriates living in the United States. He says that the man who attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 near Detroit on Christmas Day spent his time in Houston pursuing religious studies at an islamic institute there.
“He attended an Islamic education program at the Al Maghrib Institute in Houston. That is the only knowledge of public information that we all have of his reasons for visiting here,” he said.
U.S. officials have confirmed they are looking into Abdulmutallab’s travels since the June 2008 visa he was issued, but the FBI has refused comment. Publisher Nwangwu says he was unable to confirm whether investigators were on the suspect’s trail almost one and a half years ago. He claims no insight into whether those who may have been tracking the Nigerian had cause to tie him to radical influences that could have raised his profile to refuse entry into the United States the following year.
In addition, Nwangwu says there were no signs if a recent police tip by Abdulmutallab’s Nigerian father, former First Bank of Nigeria chairman Umaru Abdul Mutallab, had been heeded by security officials in Houston. The senior Abdul Mutallab has been widely praised for his courage in coming forward to sound an alert to U.S. officials. He is expected to travel to the United States this week to attend his son’s arraignment, likely on January 8 in Detroit, Michigan
Body scanner at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport demonstrates stepped up security check since the December 25, 2009 attempted bombing
“Of course there were the ties with Al Maghrib Institute, which has offices in London and Canada. My office, USAfrica, also attempted to speak with the other branches of Al Maghrib in order to understand why the young man did not do his studies in London. I (would have) asked about Houston, who paid or who registered him for the courses. There are so many questions. Who facilitated his movements? Who picked him up from his hotel? Who dropped him off? Where did he have his lunch during the training?” asked Nwangwu.
On Monday, U.S. officials placed tighter new security measures on air travelers from 14 countries considered to be added security risks. Nwangwu admits the guidelines are adding concern among Nigerians in his community who frequently travel back and forth to Africa. He says they are disappointed that the acts of one reckless individual can slur the international image of an entire nation. But he understands the need for U.S. officials to do all they can to protect the security of Americans.
“It will not be unrealistic, but it would be unfair to group the whole community. The community abhors such violence. The community abhors what I call mechanized bigotry. And it’s understandable to look for those who make trouble or seek to inflict terror, to kill people of all faiths, of all communities. The point also is that if he had unleashed a plot that was concluded successfully, Nigerians on that flight would have also been killed,” noted Nwangwu.
One official trying to get to the bottom of the investigation is one of two Houston African-American members of the U.S. Congress. Nwangwu says that Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who chairs the Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection, shares concerns for the safety of all Americans, including the thousands of foreign-born people living and working in the Houston area. Nwangwu also plans to meet Tuesday with Houston’s other African-American U.S. congressman, Rep. Al Green.
“On an intellectual level, it is very wrong to engage in group profiling or to band everybody in one basket,” he says.
“In terms of the operational reality of saying that if a flight or certain travelers are coming from any place where there is potential danger, they should take a second look for the safety of everyone — that is not too much to ask. It is an entirely different matter. I vehemently oppose anyone saying that Nigerians are terrorists. No, Nigerians are not,” he observed.
Although Umar Abdulmutallab’s mission originated in Ghana, Ghana was not among the countries cited Monday as U.S. security risks. Journalist Nwangwu acknowledges that flying from Ghana to Nigeria reduced Abdulmutallab’s holdover at Lagos’ Murtalla Muhammed Airport from two hours to a 30-minute holdover and suggests that other countries outside this week’s U.S. restrictions also pose threats of international terrorism to American cities.
“Egypt holds a significant number of radical Islamic zealots. (Ayman) Al-Zawahiri, one of the twin leaders of al-Qaida, is an Egyptian. There are radical elements in Egypt. They were not listed. So the Obama administration needs to look a little further. I know they are being sensitive to the fact that the young man was in a transition movement,” he explained.
To counter tighter restrictions, Nwangwu points out that what he calls “evil geniuses” will continue to devise creative, innovative ways to get around the regulations. The Houston journalist says he supports international efforts to plug the loopholes. But also recalling that the September, 2001 attacks all originated within the United States, he contends that there is no substitute for stepped-up vigilance on all possible front.
See USAfricaonline.com news feature: The Mutallabs: terror-bound son Farouk and business mogul father Umar. http://www.usafricaonline.com/mutallabs-chido-usafrica/
USAfrica: The News & Opinion Leader for Africans and Americans
wireless: 832-45-CHIDO (24436). Chido@USAfricaonline.com
Chido Nwangwu, former member of the editorial board of the Daily Times of Nigeria (1989-1990), is the Founder & Publisher of first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com; The Black Business Journal, CLASSmagazine, PhotoWorks.TV, AchebeBooks.com, USAfrica.TV and several blogs. He served on Houston former Mayor Lee Brown’s international business advisory board (Africa), appears as an analyst on CNN, VOA, SABC, NBCNews, CBSNews, ABCNews FOXNews affiliates and honored by the Washington-D.C.-based National Immigration Forum for utilizing multimedia to fight authoritarianism and foster freedom of expression; served on the board of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., the NAACP (Houston); publicity committee of the Holocaust Museum, Houston; recipient of an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree in May 2009.
Obama confirms Mutallab trained by al Qaeda; Republicans attack Obama for “slow response” By Chido Nwangwu via USAfricaNewswire, Jan 2, 2010
Nwangwu speaks to Houston Chronicle
FULL commentary at USAfricaonline.com http://www.usafricaonline.com/mutallabs-chido-usafrica
USAfrica and USAfricaonline.com (characterized by The New York
Times as the most influential African-owned, U.S-based multimedia
networks) established May 1992, our first edition of USAfrica magazine
was published August 1993; USAfrica The Newspaper on May 11, 1994;
CLASSmagazine on May 2, 2003; www.PhotoWorks.TV in 2005