Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Vanessa Obioha write that under President Donald Trump’s administration, relationship between America and Nigeria, leaves Africa’s most populous country with the short end of the stick
All eyes are on America as they head to the polls today to vote in a crucial presidential election that will set the course of their collective future and indeed many other countries in the world including Nigeria. The last four years of President Donald Trump’s administration has been a rollercoaster ride and not a few Democrats are eager to see the Republican leave the Oval Office. For these ones, this election is more than voting for Trump or Biden, it’s about restoring America’s global image and dominance, it’s about correcting wrongs alluded to Trump. It’s about making America great again (not in Trump’s way). It’s about steering the country in the right direction.
The 45th president of the United States is, arguably, the most-talked-about president (sometimes not in a good way) since he assumed office. He’s been defamed, defaced and debased more than any president in the history of the US. He’s like the bad guy in an American horror movie whose antics continue to scare the living daylight out of most American liberals.
Majority of the US mainstream media are not in his good books. He frequently labels them ‘fake news’. In the past few days, there’s been an avalanche of opinion reports, from New York Times to The Atlantic, urging citizens to vote out Trump with arguments on his poor handling of the Coronavirus pandemic which continues to ravage the US and the systemic racism that is so copious in the country among others.
Trump and his rival, the Democratic Presidential candidate, Joe Biden are like the Biblical Cain and Abel who have to appease God with their sacrifices. In this case, they have to appease the people of America. And should Biden’s vision for America please the people more, Trump is likely not to concede power easily.
Notwithstanding polls showing that Biden is leading, there is an unspoken fear or doubt that the democrat may not clinch the victory. A repeat of 2016 elections where the former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton won popular votes but lost at the Electoral College is feared.
What if that becomes the fate of Americans when the 2020 elections results come in? More importantly, what will be the fate of the world if Trump retains his presidential seat?
His popularity on the world stage is not inconspicuous. It is displayed daily on Twitter, his preferred medium of communication. It may be successfully argued that Trump has altered the modus of presidential communication, perhaps, forever. He divulges information at whim, putting the Presidential Spokesperson at the risk of struggling to defend or even understand what the president had already made public. So, a Trump win may not be particularly good news for these countries, including Nigeria which fall under the President’s ‘shit-hole’ countries.
A look at Trump’s relationship with Africa’s most populous country shows how it is fraught with dashed hopes on the path of Nigeria. From President Muhammadu Buhari to personalities like Akinwumi Adesina occupying key positions in global affairs.
On Buhari’s first visit to the White House in 2018, a convivial aura was perceived with Trump lauding Buhari’s fight against corruption and terrorism.
“I especially want to thank President Buhari for Nigeria’s partnership and leadership in the fight against terrorism. He’s been a real leader. Nigeria was one of the first African nations to join the coalition to defeat ISIS, and Nigerian forces are currently leading regional efforts against ISIS in West Africa, and doing very well, as we have,” he said, according to the transcript available on the official White House website.
President Trump also disclosed at that meeting that the US sold to Nigeria 12 U.S. A-29 Super Tucano aircraft. “It’s a great aircraft — and the first-ever [major] sale of American military equipment to Nigeria. These new aircraft will improve Nigeria’s ability to target terrorists and protect civilians.”
When queried by a journalist if he will release at least two Tucano aircraft to Nigeria before 2020 to enable the country to fight terrorism, his answer was in affirmative. He further expressed delight in visiting the country soon.
“I’d like very much to visit Nigeria. It’s an amazing country. And in certain ways, I hear from the standpoint of the beauty of a country, there’s no country more beautiful. So I would like to.”
It’s been two years since Buhari’s historic visit and Trump is yet to reciprocate that gesture of goodwill.
But shortly after that visit, Financial Times reported a derogatory remark made by Trump regarding President Buhari. The publication wrote: “The first meeting, with Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April ended with the US president telling aides he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again, according to three people familiar with the matter.”
Under Trump’s administration, the US seems at odds with Africa, withdrawing support when it is expected. A good instance was the trial of the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina.
Earlier this year, the US had a fallout with the institution over the re-election of Adesina. Adesina was accused of corruption and abuse of office by his staff prior to his re-election. According to the 20 point allegations by ‘Group of Concerned Staff Members of the AfDB’, Adesina was alleged to have used the bank’s resources for self-promotion and personal gain while also paying out huge but undeserved severance packages to staff who resigned mysteriously, and favouring his fellow Nigerians.
An internal inquiry into these allegations exonerated the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development but the US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly signed a letter to the board rejecting an internal investigation that cleared Adesina, according to a BBC report.
“We fear that the wholesale dismissal of all allegations without appropriate investigation will tarnish the reputation of this institution as one that does not uphold high standards of ethics and governance. Therefore, the United States cannot support dismissing the allegations at this stage,” Mnuchin wrote.
US backing was crucial to the acceptance of Adesina’s second bid as the country is the second-largest shareholder in the institution. By rejecting the initial review, the US painted a picture that contrasts President Trump’s lofty remark about Nigeria’s fight against corruption under Buhari’s leadership. It expressed little faith in Nigeria when it comes to financial propriety.
Despite its insistence that an independent panel review the case, Adesina still emerged innocent and succeeded in his second bid as president of the bank.
Again, the recent race to occupy the World Trade Organisation (WTO) headship cast an all-revealing searchlight on the waning relationship between the US and Nigeria. Former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had emerged as one of the candidates to occupy the seat of the organisation’s Director-General following the resignation of Roberto Azevedo. On October 28, Okonjo-Iweala was selected as the preferred candidate to lead the organisation, having been backed by countries from Europe, Asia and Africa but the US kicked vigorously against it, stating that it would not join in endorsing the former minister on November 9. They argued that Okonjo-Iweala lacked the necessary experience to lead the organisation which core objective is to ensure that rules of trade between member countries are respected and that trade was peaceful. Financial Times reports that a statement signed by the US trade representative’s office confirmed US support for Okonjo-Iweala’s rival South Korea’s Yoo Myung-hee whom they described as a bonafide trade expert and WTO needs to be “led by someone with real, hands-on experience in the field.”
Other deductions have been made regarding US opposition, including that by the former Abia state gubernatorial candidate Alex Otti who in an article argued that the plausible reason for the country’s stance was President Trump’s fight with China. In his words, it is a battle between globalisation and protectionism.
It is no news that there is no love lost between China and the US since President Trump assumed office. From trade policies to Coronavirus, there’s been heated exchange by the two countries in their fight for global power. Thus, kicking against Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy is not surprising.
But the news of her candidacy is a soothing elixir to Nigerians who have been barrelled with loss and grief in the past days that they are not willing to let America have the final say. If Okonjo-Iweala is endorsed on November 9 when she will head to the General Council, she will not only become the first female DG of WTO but also the first African to achieve that feat.
To show the support for the candidate, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagum reportedly stated that “Nigeria is currently reaching out to all members of the WTO including the United States of America and South Korea to overcome the impasse as well as persuade the United States to join the consensus in adopting the recommendation of the appointment of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as DG-WTO,” read a statement by Katagum.
On October 30, President Muhammadu Buhari tweeted that he just held a video conference with the President of the European Council, Mr Charles Michel.
“I thanked the Council for its support for @NOIweala, Nigeria’s candidate for the position of Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. We will not relent until the goal is achieved,” read his tweet. It should be noted that Washington’s objection to Okonjo-Iweala’s candidacy is part of a series of opposition America has against WTO. The US rejected the organisation’s designation of China as a developing country and blocked the appointment of new judges to the organisation’s Appellate Body.
Irrespective of the seeming friction between the two countries, quite a few Nigerians are praying for Trump’s re-election. This group of people admire Trump’s bluntness and the Christians among them hail him for his support of Israel, the destined and beloved country of the Supreme One. Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem — a city which ownership has deepened the rift between Israel and Palestine — as the capital city of Israel positions him as a true and loyal servant of God sent to redeem the image of Israel. In the eyes of these Nigerians, Trump’s racial slurs against Africa is insignificant. Hence, they are praying fervently that the president wins the election. Moreover, the reported statement by President Buhari that Trump asked him about Christians being killed in Nigeria, is a sign that the president has good intentions for Christians.
These sentiments do not hold water for those who are against Trump’s presidency. They are of the view that his racist opinion of Africa and anti-immigration policies are worrisome and challenging to the continent.
Last January, Trump included Nigeria in the list of countries that the US will not issue visas that will lead to permanent residency in the country. It announced then that temporary visas for tourists, business people, students and workers will not be affected. In 2019, the United States embassy announced the indefinite suspension of interview waivers known as ‘drop box’ for visa renewals for applicants in Nigeria. What this meant was that regular visitors can no longer submit their passport and documents for review but have to go through an in-person interview.
As if there is an unseen supernatural cord that binds Nigeria and the US, an American farmer who was kidnapped in Niger Republic was ferried across the border into Nigeria and held against his will by the captors. This prompted a commando style rescue by the elite American Navy Seal corps. This heroic feat recorded just a few days has further strengthened the stance of Nigerians who Trump as a strong leader that cares for Americans, wherever they may find themselves under difficult circumstances.
THISDAY America-based columnist, Dr. Chido Nwangwu who is an avowed Democrat revealed that he had voted early. He also hinted at the increasing influence of Nigerians in America. According to him, “I count among the binary demographics of recent immigrants known as Nigerian Americans. It is the same set of immigrants famously ranked at the top by the research on Academic qualifications by the respected Rice University, located in Houston, Texas.”
Albeit, the 2020 election is a do or die affair for Americans. One thing is certain, the outcome of this election will open a new chapter in America’s history. It will either record her continued dominance or insignificance on the world stage, and that includes whether many Nigerians will continue to see God’s own country.
What will be the fate of the world if Trump retains his presidential seat? His popularity on the world stage is not inconspicuous. It is displayed daily on Twitter, his preferred medium of communication. It may be successfully argued that Trump has altered the modus of presidential communication, perhaps, forever. He divulges information at whim, putting the Presidential Spokesperson at the wrist of struggling to defend or even understand what the president had already made public. So, a Trump win may not be particularly good news for these countries, including Nigeria which fall under the President’s ‘shit-hole’ countries