US-Nige­ria talks: Spring of hope or win­ter of de­spair?

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE -

There was an aw­ful lot for the two pres­i­dents, Muham­madu Buhari and Barack Obama, to dis­cuss last week when the Niger ia n head of s t at e vi s i t e d Washington DC.

From democ­racy to ter­ror­ism, crude oil to gay mar­riage, the two heads of state had many top­ics on the ros­ter, not all of them com­ple­men­tary or – par­tic­u­larly in the case of gay mar­riage – ar­eas of agree­ment.

Nige­rian views on the trip and its re­sults have var­ied widely. Yes, it ’s a point of pride that Buhari should visit Washington and the leader of the world’s big­gest econ­omy, so soon af­ter his elec­tion, but then Good­luck Jonathan also vis­ited DC and look how that turned out.

Some Nige­ri­ans wanted Buhari to en­cour­age Obama to give more help tack­ling Boko Haram; oth­ers wanted con­fir­ma­tion that the US would be sup­ply­ing more arms, as well as more money.

Then there were those who wanted Buhari to take on many Nige­ri­ans’ big­gest com­plaint of all – visas. Could the Nige­rian pres­i­dent con­vince the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent to soften t he immigration stance on Nige­ria and per­haps ex­er­cise a freer hand with the green cards?

When the state­ment came from the two lead­ers, it was, as you might ex­pect, rather an­o­dyne and not re­plete with hard news, but it was clear the two men were think­ing one thing along the same lines: se­cu­rity, se­cu­rity, se­cu­rity.

In­ter­est­ingly, Obama st ressed Buhari’s “very clear agenda” on tack­ling both Nige­ria’s se­cu­rity chal­lenges and its hor­ren­dous record for cor­rup­tion. These aren’t agen­das Nige­ri­ans have yet seen from their slow-mov­ing leader, much less that they con­sider ev­i­dent. It’s true to say Buhari has a very clear man­date, but the sug­ges­tion of an agenda is a sug­ges­tion of a plan. The sug­ges­tion of a plan is a hint that there may be more co­op­er­a­tion to come be­tween the US and Nige­ria.

It would be a stretch given all we (don’t) know about Buhari’s plans to sug­gest he’s been wait­ing for the Washington trip be­fore re­turn­ing home and an­nounc­ing com­plete and con­sid­ered mil­i­tary pro­pos­als. But with the state of the oil price and the coun­try’s cof­fers, help from the US would be welcome, espe­cia ll y a f ter t he pe­riod when diplo­matic co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two coun­tries had cooled sig­nif­i­cantly.

Buhari called the US out on this last week, say­ing Amer­ica had aided and abet­ted the in­sur­gents in re­cent times in its re­fusal to sell arms to Nige­ria. The US at­trib­uted that de­ci­sion to the Nige­rian army’s ques­tion­able hu­man rights record.

Last month Amer­ica gave Nige­ria $5m (R63m) to f ight Boko Haram in a sign of im­prov­ing re­la­tions. But rel­a­tive to the scale of the prob­lem, the re­con­struc­tion ef­forts nec­es­sary in the stricken north­east and the in­sur­gents’ re­cent al­liance with Is­lamic State, this is the clichéd drop in the ocean.

Nige­ria needs more f unds, more train­ing and more equip­ment if it is to de­feat Boko Haram, and that’s not cash swill­ing around at home. The coun­try waits with in­ter­est to see the fruits of the very clear agenda, and the US’s part in it.

Nige­rian pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari shakes hands with US pres­i­dent Barack Obama dur­ing a meet­ing in the Oval Of­fice of the White House in Washington, DC on 20 July.

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