Revisiting Hilary Clinton's Trip to Nigeria

by Bayo Olupohunda

Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States of America Secretary of State’s made a dramatic visit to Nigeria in August. Her stay was brief, lasting only a few hours! The trip, which ended as soon as it began, saw Mrs. Clinton breeze in into the country and disappearing like a whiff of smoke- a stopover in diplomatic terms. Her coming to Nigeria, which was part of a 10-nation valedictory tour of Africa, was initially uncertain. Will she or will she not come? Before the visit, President Jonathan’s trip to the Caribbean had heightened the speculations that Mrs. Clinton had expunged Nigeria from her itinerary. The President’s Jamaica trip was initially thought to have been timed to surreptitiously avoid discussing proposals surrounding the militant Boko Haram insurgency. But at last, a diplomatic “abracadabra” was performed by Nigeria’s foreign team and the most travelled US Secretary of State in history miraculously materialized in Abuja. But her schedule was conducted under the threatening shadows of the insecurity constituted by Boko Haram. Nothing was left to chance. Nigeria’s seat of power suddenly became a fortress even when Mrs. Clinton was neither visiting Afghanistan nor Syria. According to newspaper reports, heavily armed security agents were deployed in many parts of the Federal Capital City. Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport and Umaru Yar’Adua Way were manned by soldiers and policemen as part of security measures. Soldiers were said to have cordoned off the Federal Secretariat and the Central Business District. Roads leading to the Presidential Villa and the Federal Secretariat and the Central Business District were heavily fortified. Mrs. Clinton itinerary was disrupted because of security concern. Her usual meeting of United Sates Embassy staff was shelved. She could also not meet with NGOs and civil rights campaigners which would have afforded her the opportunity to feel the reality on ground as she did during her last visit.

The Secretary of State was reported to have held a close door session with President Jonathan and members of the National Security Council. She later met with the press where she expressed US support for Nigeria’s security problems. President Goodluck Jonathan lauded the US in his characteristics manner. He thanked Obama for his support in what he called “Nigeria’s turbulent times (an allusion to late Yar’dua illness and US insistence that Jonathan as vice must been sworn in after Yardua’s demise). After all the rushed speeches, closed door meetings and diplomatic smiles and backslappings, Mrs. Clinton left for Ghana in a huff. That visit marked her last official trip to Nigeria as a high ranking US official. Her visit to Nigeria was the second since being appointed US Secretary of State by President Barack Obama. She last visited during the presidency of Umaru Yar’dua.

But what really is the significance of these visits in the context of the prevailing situation in our country? Why go through all the troubles to have Mrs. Clinton visit Nigeria for five hours just to make speeches affirming US support for Nigeria? Has she not done this before? What has changed since the last time she visited Nigeria? Is Mrs. Clinton visiting not just a diplomatic ego trip by this government to feel important? Her last visit to Nigeria ended on a sour note. She stopped short of ridiculing the late Yardua government’s lip service to the fight against corruption. Has the situation changed since that last visit? Mrs. Clinton had hardly left the country then when she was abused by late Umaru Yardua henchmen (no disrespect to his gentle soul) for not minding her business and for dabbling in the affairs of a sovereign nation. Her offence was in calling a spade by its name. This angered the Yar’dua government. But Jonathan was the Vice President at the time. What has suddenly now made her a beautiful bride of this government?

Let it be on record that all the ills Mrs. Clinton spoke about during her last visit are still very much with us. In fact, they have become hydra-headed. They are the reasons why our country is fast becoming a failed state. The security situation has worsened. Boko Haram, which was just another sect confined to Maiduguri during Madam Clinton’s first coming has become a global terrorist organization in the mold of Al Qaeda. Corruption, which she bluntly spoke against, has become deep-rooted even in government circles. So what has changed? In 2010, Mrs. Clinton stayed in Nigeria for two days. In 2012, she barely stayed a few hours! What does that tell us? Our country is on a downward slide. Mrs. Clinton may have spoken about US support. She may have met high ranking security officials. She may have had a closed door meeting with the President. One thing is certain; our destiny still lies in our hands. Mrs. Clinton is not the President. President Obama is facing his own demons. President Jonathan still has to take decisions for the safety and prosperity of Nigerians. Her visit will not end corruption. Her visit will not end insecurity. It is time this government stopped chasing shadows. It is time the Jonathan government stopped kowtowing to visiting world leaders. This government must get down to work and resolve the fundamental and structural defects in the country. The government is living in denial. No amount of military assistance to fight Boko Haram will work. The government must face up to the reasons why ethnic compositions across Nigeria have taken up arms against one another. Will the US stop the massive corruption perpetuated by elected government officials? Will the US come to Nigeria to prosecute corrupt governors who have been left to enjoy their loot? A fundamental restructuring of the country to address the lopsided federalism we practice will put a stop to all the sufferings facing ordinary Nigerians. One troubling situation is the manner in which Nigerian leaders court foreign governments as if they possess the magic wand to end our problems. Has it occurred to them that Clinton’s visit is in recognition of Nigeria’s economic importance to US interest? After all, we are the fifth largest exporter of oil to their country. So a few hours in Abuja will not do any harm. Technical assistance is good. But we also need homegrown solutions to our problems. Till date, the Jonathan administration has claimed to know the sponsors of Boko Haram. Nothing is being done to bring them to book. The current problems facing the country are symptoms of underlying crises bordering on a warped federal structure and greed of the elite. Yet the ruling elite have consistently spurn calls for a conference that will determine Nigeria’s future. It is good to note that Mrs. Clinton has called on the President to take “tough decisions to harness our country’s limitless potentials”. She was right. President Jonathan’s failure to show the visionary and strong leadership required in tackling the problems facing us as a nation is the reason why we are currently hanging on the precipice. While it is true that the world is a global village and no country can exist in isolation, the solutions to our problems are here with us. President Jonathan must demonstrate the needed leadership to save our country from the bleak future it faces.

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1 comment

Tinu September 8, 2012 - 12:00 pm

Good piece Bayo. Hilary’s visit was timed to shore up Jonathan’s waning and battered reputation. Unfortunately, it did not help.


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