by Chido Nwangwu
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.
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.
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
Carrington was very cordial, encouraging and supportive.
He supported activists for democratization amidst the rapid transition and power-play in Nigeria since 1993.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. email@example.com follow @Chido247