In the last several decades there have been more than a few historical presidential visits. For instance, there was the Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China, John Kenney’s 1963 visit to West Berlin; and of course, there was the Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam in 2000. And very recently, even if with muted historical significance, there was the visit by Nicolas Sarkozy of France to one of its former colonies, Haiti. In contrast to Francophone Africa, France has not had much of a relationship with Haiti since the country gained flag independence through armed-struggle in1804.
Insofar as sub-Saharan Africa is concerned, there have been several historical visits within, to and from the continent. Kings and queens have visited and so have presidents and prime ministers. Nonetheless, such visits — by presidents and prime ministers and monarchs — are not very common. In the last 67 years for instance, six American Presidents have visited Africa: Roosevelt in 1943; Jimmy Cater in 1978; Herbert Bush in 1992; Bill Clinton in 1998 and again in 2000; George W Bush in 2008; and Barack Obama in 2009.
Common are visits by African heads of government seeking audience with their foreign counterparts. More common are official and private visits to such western institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and select think tanks and to the United Nations. In the case of Nigeria, more than half of her heads of government have visited the US and virtually all have visited the UK. However, none of these visits were as eagerly anticipated, scrutinized and welcomed as the recently concluded trip by Acting President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Dr. Jonathan’s visit was not even a state visit (which is generally considered the highest form of diplomatic contact between two friendly countries). He, along with four dozen or so heads of government and experts were invited by President Obama to attend the Nuclear Security Summit which took place in Washington DC, April 12th to 14th, 2010. As “ordinary” as the invitation was, the Acting President’s presence became a global event. From China to Australia, and from South Africa to India and all spots in-between, the world watched and wondered: Who is this Goodluck of a man?
Not quite a Mandela, an Obama, or a Dalai Lama, still; they watched and wondered. It’s been a while since the world wondered about an African head of government. And especially in Washington DC, he became the talk of the town: the doyen of such power houses as the Council on Foreign Relations, Corporate Council for Africa, and the World Bank. Anybody who was anybody in and around the DC area wanted to meet with him or hear him speak. He became, as is the case in popular parlance, the “talk of the town.”
The interest and curiosity of Diasporan Nigerians were also stroked. For the first time in many years, it seems as though the Nigerian community had a reason to be happy, to celebrate and to reaffirm their Nigerianness. For the first time in many years, it was nice being a Nigerian again — more so considering the events of the last six months. And frankly, the events of the last six months have not been easy on the psyche of Nigerians.
At home and abroad The Federal Republic of Nigeria was like a child without parents, a military without its commanding officer, a ship without its captain. All the while, the country was almost stagnant: unsure of what to do and how to proceed. How do you run a country without a leader? How does a supposed democracy thrive without adhering to constitutional principles? The power vacuum was getting wider and wider — almost precipitating a military and/or palace coup. And just when the country was about to cross the Rubicon and or tumble into the abyss, the National Assembly declared the Vice President the Acting President.
In the months before the monumental pronouncement by the National Assembly, the world was getting nervous. After all, Nigeria is not your average country. However goes Nigeria goes Africa. Within the continent, South Africa is rising and so is Ghana; but really, Nigeria is it. In spite of its recent foible and failings, Nigeria still matters. In those uncertain and delicate months, no one knew for certain what was going to become of Nigeria. What’s more, having an untested Vice President as the acting or substantive president was not appealing to the political calculation and sensibility of most Nigerians.
Goodluck Jonathan, in the estimation of many was totally uninspiring. He was not considered a man fit for the job. Not in the numero uno position at least. In fact, most Nigeria did not think much of the duo (Yar’Adua and Jonathan) and would rather see both men leave. On the pages of Nigerian news papers and magazines — and more so on notable and irreverent websites like SaharaReporters, NigeriansInAmerica and NigeriaVillageSquare — a good number of commentators, public intellectuals and respondents wanted Goodluck Jonathan out.
In one fell swoop, however, all that changed. Well, not quite. First, he fired some old hands and then went about to remake the ministerial pool; second, he weakened the old guards and also brought in rivals to man strategic positions; third, he engaged in some survival strategies by making political deals with noted power houses; and finally, “he took orders from some western governments.” The aforementioned stabilized his administration and the country. And now the zinger: He got invited by President Barack Obama to attend the Nuclear Security Summit. That changed everything. Everything!
The Nigerian Acting President was not only in attendance, he met with the US Vice President, the President, Pentagon and State Department officials and the unseen hands and voices in the power capital of the world. In addition, he is said to have met with members of the European Union, the United Nations and many powerful and influential individuals. According to diplomatic chatters, the Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki-moon may visit Nigeria before the end of summer. It is also expected that there will be increased activities between Abuja and several world capitals and institutions. The stated and unstated implications of these are simple and unambiguous: Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is our man!
To be sure, no one is comparing the Acting President’s trip to Nixon’s, Kennedy’s or Clinton’s trip. There is no basis for comparison; this trip simply reminds one of the excitement and euphoria that was in the air then. Nonetheless, those trips produced innumerable political capitals and gains. Decades and decades after the Nixon and Clinton trips, both countries are better off for it. John Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech laid the groundwork for the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War — both of which brought about a more peaceful and a more prosperous world.
One expects the Goodluck Jonathan’s trip to also produce immeasurable political gains, goodwill and prosperity for Nigeria. One gets the feeling that, when aggregated, the world as was present in Washington DC on April 12th through the 14th was saying to Nigerian, “We are with you….we shall see you through this difficult hours.” But Nigerians must do their part.
There is a maxim in international relations: Domestic politics have an affect on foreign politics, and vice versa. In this case, events in Nigeria galvanized the international community to act and to stand by the Acting President. It is therefore expected that he will ride the crest of global goodwill and prayers for some time to come. We also see that a sizeable number of Nigerians at home and abroad are having a change of heart and are now willing to give him a chance at governance.
Even so, there must be some great accomplishments on his part to continue in the good grace of the people. At this point in time, Nigerians do not expect t
he world of him. They just want him to be better than himself, to be better than the ordinary, and to be better than mediocre. That’s all.