Nigerians seldom have any reason to be thankful for how Abuja runs their lives. Foreign Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, recently gave me two reasons to be thankful. As soon as I heard that he was in Washington for the inauguration of Barack Obama, I began to scour Nigerian news sites for details of his entourage. Surely, Mr. Maduekwe would lead a 200-man Federal Government delegation comprising Aso Rock officials, Ministers of and Ministers for, Governors, Deputy Governors, Senators, Reps, party chieftains, current national stakeholders, recycled national stakeholders, traditional rulers, religious leaders, special assistants, senior special assistants, special advisers, special advisors, senior special advisers, and senior special advisors.
This delegation would arrive a week to the inauguration and leave two weeks later, time enough for accompanying girlfriends and concubines to do some shopping paid for by the Nigerian people. The Minister would present a check in the region of two million dollars as Nigeria’s token donation to Obama’s inauguration committee – we recently donated five Toyota Hilux vans to Ghana and five hundred thousand dollars to the discredited military junta in Myanmar. Had all these happened, I would have been in familiar territory. The Minister disappointed me and I was thankful. There was no such delegation. I told a friend that Mr. Maduekwe might receive a query from Aso Rock for not travelling to Washington with two plane loads of Nigerian officials in order to showcase our status as the “giant of Africa.”
I soon had a second occasion to be thankful. The Minister published an essay, “Old Ties in New Times: Nigeria and the Obama Administration”. It was his vision for Nigeria and Africa in the age of Obama. That’s another thing Nigeria’s culture of power has conditioned me not to expect: a big man submitting his views to the Nigerian people for scrutiny. There is so much mystification of power in Nigeria that anybody who is ‘awarded’ even the most inconsequential political office immediately feels too big for the Nigerian people. He promptly alienates the people with a retinue of aides and other ostentatious symbologies of power. The crooked road taken to the Aso Rock Villa also means that no Chief Occupant of that building has ever been beholden to the Nigerian people. It was therefore heartening to have Mr. Maduekwe engage in that cerebral public exercise.
I should have left things at my superficial contemplation of the Minister’s act. While the act of writing the essay is commendable, the content is frightening. An awful mendicant philosophy runs through it, pegging Nigeria’s and Africa’s salvation on Obama’s willingness to facilitate what Mr. Maduekwe calls a “global aid architecture”. Now, that’s a fascinating construction that I can appreciate as a Professor of English!
In the Minister’s estimation, Nigeria will rely on this American-driven aid regime in the following areas: infrastructure, education, capacity building, agriculture, environment, and community development. We are lucky that Mr. Maduekwe isn’t expecting President Obama to do laundry and grocery for Nigerians and Africans. The Minister also dwells on the strategic importance of Nigeria’s oil to America’s national security interests; a situation he hopes would accord us a special place in the community of beggarly and aid-dependent African nations. In essence, a Federal Minister believes, in 2009, that Nigeria’s salvation lies in foreign benevolence.
The Minister’s brandishing of oil as Nigeria’s trump card in Africa’s competition for American aid is troubling. Obama got elected partly because of his campaign to aggressively promote alternative energy and wean America of its dependence on oil. What part of the global drift towards a post-oil economy do the Nigerian authorities not understand? How could the Minister possibly have missed the fact that America’s national security philosophy is shifting from pampering sources of oil to gaining independence from oil? It’s easy to see that the post-oil global order will catch Nigeria pants down. Abuja simply has no post-oil vision.
Abuja is excited about the $16 billion Niger Delta infrastructural development contract they signed recently with Dubai World Corporation. It hasn’t occurred to them that Dubai World Corporation is central to the post-oil philosophy of the visionary leaders of Dubai. The UAE is preparing for the end of oil, hence the massive global financial diversification drive of Dubai World Corporation. Fate always mocks Nigerians. Part of Dubai’s post-oil strategy is to make a buck or two – if the $16 billion doesn’t migrate to Swiss accounts – from Nigeria’s oasis of oil-induced poverty: the Niger Delta!