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by Chido Nwangwu 

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The United States former Ambassador to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, died at 90 years on Tuesday, August 11, 2020.. 

 In the  middle  of 1993,  shortly  after  he took charge  as  U.S  chief  diplomat in the country, the  decision by Gen. Ibrahim  Babangida and all the hawks around him to  “annul ” the  June 12 election forced Nigeria  into some complicated political Iogjam and geopolitical tussle. The election of President which was adjudged to have been free and fair seemed to  have been in  the  favor  of  M.K.O Abiola. It took place under the leadership of INEC by Prof. Humphrey Nwosu.

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In December 1993, amidst the upheaval, I had the privilege of meeting him at the embassy of United States in Lagos. I had two goals for flying almost 6550 miles to Lagos from Houston, Texas — the headquarters of the multimedia networks and public policy organization, USAfrica.

First, to chat and then go on record (interview) Ambassador Carrington about the bilateral business, democratization struggles in Nigeria, and the  strategic and security interests of the U.S and Nigeria. 

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The second, to introduce and present to him and the key mission diplomats the first edition of USAfrica magazine. This was done with USAfrica Executive Directors Eni

Kanu and Christopher Chukwu

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Carrington was very cordial, encouraging and supportive. 

                                                                                                                                                                           He supported  activists for democratization  amidst the rapid  transition and power-play in Nigeria since 1993.

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The sheer  force and, in most  cases, the  dishonesty and  crudity  of the warring groups especially the  army never  made  him lose  sight  of what  he  told  me  to be  his “determination to use  my  unique  position as ambassador to encourage the  respect  of  the rights all Nigerians and foster democracy in this resourceful and endowed  country.”

On July 8, 1998 he weighed the  circumstances of  the unfortunate  and unexpected death of  Chief  Abiola on July 7, in Abuja, and asserted, pointedly, that  by keeping Abiola  as long  as  they did, the  military leaders of  Nigeria were  “accessories to  Abiola’s  death.”    

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Although  in another  breadth, Carrington commended Gen. Abubakar as  a professional  soldier  who held some promise.  He  had  known Abubakar for almost a  decade.  

Abiola’s daughter, Hafsat who appeared  on the  same program  did not share Carrington’s warm compliments  about  Abubakar. She stated  that  Gen. Abubakar’s  regime  was “responsible for  my  father’s death. I  don’t care  what  anybody  says about who Abubakar is;  he  was leading  the Nigeria  when my father  died… He  was not elected by the people.”

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Carrington was very  familiar  with  the  rough and tumble  of  Nigeria’s politics  and military harassment  having  been at  the  receiving end  of the  brutal, undiplomatic  excesses  of the Abacha  regime. 

Without surprise, Carrington’s concerns  and pan-African goodwill  fell  on the  deaf and tyrannical  ears  of  the Abacha  junta. Rather  than cooperate with  him to  move Nigeria  forward, Abacha’s zombies physically assaulted Carrington’s personal space and breached  all protocol  to intimidate him. They  misread his resolve and commitment  to  Nigeria. 

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Why? 

The  African-American diplomat  did  not consider  himself  an outsider, having also married  into  a Nigerian family and resided at different times  in three of  the  major  cities  in Nigeria since  the  late1960s. 

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Despite  Carrington’s  continued interest and effort  to  move Nigeria forward, I  still need  to  know the answer  to an issue which  I’ve been pondering, especially  while  I was travelling as  the  only African-American newspaper  publisher with  U.S  President Bill Clinton during his March  23-April  2,  1998  tour of  Africa. The issue  remains whether  the Clinton White  House  did  its very  best to  give  full support  and  backing to  Ambassador Carrington  while  he  was being maligned  and  insulted  and assaulted  by the  late  Gen. Sani  Abacha’s cronies  and goons.  I  ask  this question because when I recall President  Clinton’s  ill-advised  statement at  his  joint  presidential conference  at Tuynhuis   in CapeTown, South  Africa that  then Nigeria’s dictator Sani Abacha  can run  for president  as a  candidate in the same election he (Abacha  was  referee, score  keeper, linesman and  major domo). 

Why  did  Clinton alter U.S  policy, even with  the  full knowledge of Abacha’s  reckless, untoward, banal  and devious acts  against  the ambassador of  the  U.S in Nigeria, Carrington. 

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What  if  Abacha did  not  die “suddenly”, on June 8, 1998?  

Since he returned  to  the academic  and policy analysis  community in Boston, Carrington remained consistent  and principled in opposing  military rule  in Nigeria. He  refused  to  keep  silent on the Abiola  saga and other  issues regarding  human rights in Nigeria and parts  of  Africa. The last time I met him was at the Harvard Conference on Christopher Okigbo, almost 8 years ago. Professors Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka were there. 

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Remarkably, he wrote books, articles and notes for humanity. I like his 2010 compilation,  A Duty to Speak: Refusing to Remain Silent in a Time of Tyranny.

When I  interviewed Carrington, he was “concerned  at the abuse  of human rights, and the  unfortunate  descent of Nigeria under  the  military  into a police state. I will continue  to raise  these  issues with the  regime because Nigeria represents  many things  to  many  people whose nationality are  elsewhere.” The  latter is an  apparent reference  to  his  unique  role  as an African-American in the  most  consequential and powerful  Black-ruled country  in the  world -despite  its many hydra-headed  problems. 

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Ambassador Carrington, may your  lineage, as my Aro/Igbo elders would have  prayed, be long!  

——–
Dr. Chido Nwangwu, the Founder of USAfrica multimedia networks and public policy organization since 1992 in Houston, established the first African-owned, U.S-based newspaper published on the Internet USAfricaonline.com. He served as adviser on Africa business to the ex-Mayor of Houston, Dr. Lee P. Brown. He is the author of the November 2020 book, MLK, Mandela & Achebe: Power, Leadership and Identity. chido@usafricaonline.com   follow @Chido247

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