Before Obama Returns…

  • Nigeria

This article was initially written and published on November 11, 2009, and is replicated here verbatim because the conditions that warranted it haven’t changed and it’s message rings true, 26 months after.

Not too long ago, the world stood still. Journalists jostled for space. Cameras clicked furiously. Statesmen surreptitiously sought audience. The media was uncharacteristically awake to every comment that passed. The high and lofty claimed to have been brazenly ignored by the most powerful man in the world. Fangs were bared, egos were dented, hopes were dashed, but what was the cause of the fuss? Obama was coming to town!

Nobody likes to be ignored, not if they claim to be the most important nation in the continent of the blessed. After all, Obama is a noble son of this continent and cannot feign ignorance of the pivotal role we have played in the collective survival of the continent. What with our numerous peacekeeping missions to nations that were boiling over (probably including his native Kenya), or our big-brother status that saw us loan millions of dollars to economically crippled Islands like Sao Tome and Principe (even though we had to borrow $500million from bigger donors). It did not matter if our peacekeeping missions came in the heat of the Niger-Delta crisis or the Boko Haram debacle, what mattered was that we are Nigeria, the giant of Africa and for that, we deserve respect. 

Obama probably wasn’t aware that on the 29th of May 2007, we witnessed the first civilian-to-civilian transition in the chequered history of our beleaguered existence. To those who are not aware, that was a big deal because Nelson Mandela had not democratically transferred power to Thabo Mbeki, nor had John Rawlings handed over to John Kuffour without the rancour and bloodshed that accompanied our celebrated civilian-to-civilian transition. Obama probably had not noticed the huge debt pardons we received from our creditors world over even though huge projects like the 6000MW power generation target and the Heart of Africa project still command billions unaccounted for. 
If Obama had not noticed all these, what exactly had he been looking at? What, apart from governing America, had caught his attention? With what we know of Barack Obama, he isn’t so insensitive as to forget the continent of his fathers to embrace the white man’s land without looking back, or had he forgotten that without the support of Africans, nay Nigerians, he would probably never have ascended to the American throne? Obviously, Obama was not idling away at the White House; he was paying close attention to Africa but with a clear focus. He was looking out for certain things in certain places and it appears he was getting results in unconventional places. 
Nigeria is truly a giant in Africa but not THE giant of Africa because that will place her shoulder above other countries in all ramifications and that will be too generous, if not deceptive. On his first visit to sub-saharan Africa, Obama sought a giant in matters pertaining to democracy and good governance to establish his base but sadly, found none in Nigeria, but neighbouring Ghana. Ghana indeed has proven herself as a force in such matters, admirably imitating the American style of democratic transition from a ruling party to an opposition party as evidenced in Rawlings-Kuffour and Kuffor-Mills. Again, Ghana has proven to be a shining example to the rest of the continent in delivering dividends of democracy and not a few people felt defeated when the Aelex Law firm invited the Ghanaian Energy Minister to lecture Nigerians on ‘How Ghana Kept The Lights On’. What a shame!

It is no surprise therefore that President Barack Obama found an immediate ally in Ghana, not minding whose ox was gored across the continent. Nigerians raised the highest dust over the apparent snub but the arguments were lame and their premises inconsequential. Why were we so bothered that Obama chose Ghana ahead of us? After all, we’ve played host to his predecessors in the past, not to mention the numerous world leaders who have all graced our soil in spite of our inadequacies, but Obama’s coming meant more than all these. His coming was prophetic; indicative of a paradigm shift, a change in the modus operandi. America will no longer endorse nations that fail to ‘get it’. 

The message from Washington to Africa and the rest of the world is clear, ‘Democracy and Good Governance’, whether delivered by Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy or any other of the patriots gone before. America will no longer tolerate strong men who end up richer than their countries because they are the ones skilled in the game of politics, neither will they flirt with dictators who hold their people hostage with unpredictable tenures like Robert Mugabe, Muammar Ghadaffi and Mahmadou Tandja are doing. There is a changing world order, a revolution of politics for progress and Obama’s government is at the head of it. 

Obama’s visit to Ghana was not his first voyage of that sort, he had delivered a speech to the Islamic world in Egypt weeks before, but that was seen as a modest visit. His second coming was designed specifically to endorse an African country that was seen as perfecting the art of democracy and that was where we failed to make the mark. Rather than mourn endlessly, it is time to pick ourselves up again as a country and strive for the mark in the pursuit of true democracy. Actually, an Obama visit is not the reason President Yar’Adua and his team should govern this country with the fear of God, governance is not about perks and endorsements, it is about satisfying the people to whom one is responsible. The Nigerian government is not answerable to Obama and his country but to Nigerians who entrusted this nation into their hands. However, since our mentality of servitude has led us to view the visit of an American president as a mark of progress, we have to do all it takes to ensure that we get our visit at the right time. Obama will surely visit Africa again; but when he does, how prepared will we be? 

Before Obama returns, we have to ensure that our polling booths no longer serve as slaughter slabs or battlefields, we have to find a solution to the perennial industrial actions that bring our country to her knees, and we have to ensure that security of lives and property are guaranteed as much as possible. Whatever needs to be done to create an enabling environment for industrialists and entrepreneurs has to be done, education must be at the forefront of our agenda, health reforms, land reforms, food security and other such national challenges must become forgone issues. Obama’s return draws nearer, but how prepared will we be? Think on these things and act accordingly.

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