At the onset of the presidential debates between the Republicans and Democrats, I found most Nigerians still making the same mistakes we made in 2008, when the enigma that was Obama reared its enigmatic head. The prospect of a black man becoming the president of the United States was a phenomenon that the world found a little bit too exciting to ignore. It had never happened before and we all wanted to be part of history.
But at that time, I did not share in the euphoria nor did I get tipsy at the prospect that a black man was going to occupy the White House. And my reason for not participating in getting drunk on the Obama palm wine was first of all predicated on an earlier visit to Nigeria by an American president who was as loved as Obama was loved. That time, we thought that that visit was going to be the silver bullet to all of our problems as a nation. However, that was not to be because a Susan Rice was to warn us that we should not expect any change in American policy towards us, and went on to make a statement that I found to be the supreme example of the paradox that Nigeria really is – Rice said that Nigeria was too rich to be poor and too poor to be rich. And back then, the import of that statement did not really strike home, that is, until I travelled to Germany in 2008 for a training programme. While there, the Obama enigma caught the whole of Europe like a spell, to the extent that Europe shut down to come hear this black man who had so captured the curiosity and imagination of the world. I was there as well. I saw the enigma in Berlin with helicopters standing to attention for him in the air. And you know what? I felt good that a man with the colour of my own skin could actually establish the fact that America was indeed a land that so enabled you to be whatever it is you wanted to be, even to aspire to be president of the United States.
But my effusion was soon deflated, fortunately for me. As I was strutting and swaggering home after the Obama speech in Berlin, a fellow accosted me, and the following conversation ensued:
Fellow: Hey, you must be feeling very good hey? That’s a black man like you…!
Me: Yes, yes…that’s a black man like me…!
Fellow: …and this black man, you think he’s going to help your people out of your many problems, hey…?
Me: … (a bit hesitant now and aghast at the import of this suggestion) Yes, he will support us…he will help us…he’s a black man like me…!
Fellow: Sorry but don’t count on his help. The man may be black, but he’s an American. He will not help you unless there’s something in it for him…all the people that will surround him will make sure that he will pursue the interest of his country first…you people don’t count…we Germans don’t count too…!
There was finality about this fellow’s cocksureness that stopped me in my exuberant tracks.
So when I got back home to find that our people were contributing money to support Barack Obama’s campaign to be president, I tried as best as I could to be that fellow who opened my eyes to a fuller understanding of Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream speech, especially that portion where we should not judge a man by the colour of his skin, and the folly of putting our hopes on a man just because of the colour of his skin. Nobody took me any seriously. When he eventually won that election, the cold reality of basing ours hopes and support on the colour of a man’s skin and ignoring that part of the I-Have-A-Dream speech, seemed to have hit us hard when the man we all giddily supported and expected to be a Moses or Messiah for Africa, turned his back on us. He didn’t even stop at that, but when he visited other African nations, he berated and lectured us into the bargain, that we put our hopes too much in personalities instead of building strong institutions. For me, I didn’t feel insulted the way everyone else was. The only thing that I expected was that if that black man thought that we put our hopes too much on personalities, shouldn’t he have come here to tell us so?
So when the debates between the Republicans and the Democrats were on, I unexpectedly found our people still supporting Obama the Democrat. Guess why? He’s a black man up against a white man. Well, at least, that’s the way I have read the mood of those close to me who supported Obama.
But what is it that an Obama government really means to Nigeria? What lessons have we not learnt?
One of them is this: whether Obama wins or not, we stand to gain nothing, absolutely nothing. In fact, if the historical antecedents of our relationship with the Americans will be anything to go by, we stood to gain more if a Mit Romney won instead of an Obama. And this is because, the United States does not really care a hoot about us and we do not still get. All they ever want with us is our oil. To them, we are just a petrol station and their relationship with us is the relationship anyone would have with a petrol station.
Two, (and this should be a lesson to our leaders) governments the world over aren’t really interested in helping other governments if there isn’t something to gain. It’s underpinned under a yet-to-be-outdated theory that in international diplomacy, there are no permanent friends but permanent interests. We still have not understood that countries do not make alliances with you just because of the colour of our skin. And just so that we understand the thinking of the Americans from one of ours, Philip Emeagwali, to wit, that those who rule the world tomorrow are not those with oil or money or guns but those with ideas. The world sees our leaders and followers as bereft of ideas and that’s why they ignore us. So now that Obama won, what did it translate to for us?