Whither Nigeria On Iraq?

As the debate and the actual build-up to US-led war against Saddam Hussein of Iraq heat up, Nigeria and indeed Nigerians, both home and abroad are watching with keen interest.

Although, president Obasanjo is yet to make a distinct official statement, there is the realization that whatever happens in the United Nations; in the oval office of the White house and in the desserts of the gulf region will have tremendous effects on our country in more ways than one.

In the latest of his audio-tape messages, Osama bin Laden linked the issue of U.S. led war against Iraq to a campaign against Islam. Expectedly, he acknowledged the support of Muslim faithful in Nigeria and several Arab countries, describing such support as the great divide between Islam and those he described as the “infidels”. Particularly, bin Laden listed Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Mauritania for mention.

Quick clarification: the campaign to disarm Iraq and the United States led effort to forcibly have a regime change in that country is not necessarily connected to any real or assumed campaign against Islam. Having said that, the question that comes to mind in the light of bin Laden’s last comment about Nigeria is, where does Nigeria stand in the global debate over US led confrontation against Iraq?

Is the Obasanjo administration in support of a U.S. led war against Iraq without a United Nations’ backing? Is the administration, as suggested by the statement of Mr bin Laden, caught between its romance with the United States and the goodies that promise and the dilemma of sharia fundamentalists within the country. That also poses a danger not only for present but also for future political life of the administration as well as for national and regional stability?

In the last three weeks, I have personally witnessed anti-war rallies in Barcelona and Washington D.C., two major cities in Europe and America. These rallies were, of course, part of many that are being organised in many cities around the world in an attempt to prevent a premature and perhaps an unnecessary U.S. led war against Iraq.

It is, however, interesting that a similar initiative that was to be organised in Abuja, Nigeria, a fortnight ago was reportedly quashed by security operatives. I do not know those behind the proposed Abuja anti-war rally, only that reports said security was tripled in the city in obvious apprehension of such a rally holding in the Nigerian capital.

The question is, does this kind of reaction by the Nigerian government suggest that Nigeria is in support war in Iraq as being championed by Mr. George Bush? Maybe not! There is, however, the flip side of Nigerian government’s opposition to an anti-war rally in Nigeria. This might suggest that Mr. Obasanjo, being a Christian, is caught in the religious divide which may not exist in the reality of the Iraqi discourse but is very real to Mr bin Laden and the sharia fundamentalists in Nigeria.

Last year, I was at a Rose Garden appearance of President Obasanjo and President Bush. The latter declared that the United States would ultimately get terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan. “We’re slowly but surely tightening the net on the enemy,” Bush said. “We’re making it harder for the enemy to communicate. We’re making it harder for the enemy to protect themselves. We’re making it harder for the enemy to hide. And we’re going to get him, and them.” Speaking at a news conference at the White House after meeting with Bush, the Nigerian leader said, “People must understand that whatever faith they belong to, they are not immune to terrorism.

The Nigerian leader, despite pockets of pro-bin Laden rallies on the streets of Kano made it clear that Nigeria was behind America in the war against terrorism. Today we know that the story has changed, at least for the nature of war that Mr Bush is campaigning for, even if the terrorists are still communicating. We also know that the multilateralism that was the order of the day in the period just after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, have gradually paled into insignificance. Monroe doctrine has resurrected in the form of Bush doctrine and Unilateralism is again in vogue.

Since Mr Bush started the Iraqi war campaign the debate has changed tremendously. Whatever be the motives for wanting to go to war in Iraq – there are quite a number of them (disarmament, prevention of proliferation of nuclear arms, oil, Middle-East -reconfiguration, personal vendetta) – the reality from the latest report of Hans Blix is that Iraq has omitted vital information from it’s weapon information and has thus failed to offer full co-operation. The reality is also of some co-operation and those inspectors have found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

The debate has also progressed beyond a strict legalistic interpretation of U.N. resolution 1441 as the United States would have wanted to the broader political question of whether Iraq presents a big enough threat to collective security to warrant war. If inspectors can achieve some results as they have done recently, should they be asked to continue as a way of disarming Iraq (if disarmament is the main issue)?

With the scenario laid out as above, where does Nigeria stand today? We know that the voice of Angola, Guinea and Cameroon, the three African members of the UN Security Council may not ultimately equal the voice of Nigeria, a powerful sovereign state. So although these three representatives have said Africa believes in Multilateralism, just as France, Russian and China (three permanent members) have also said does not make it binding on Nigeria.

Although Thabo Mbeki, speaking for African Union, has affirmed Africa’s opposition to a U.S. led military confrontation with Iraq, the basis being that it threatens a repeat of escalating oil prices in the 1970s that left many African nations highly indebted, his position may not also necessarily be that of Nigeria, a major oil producing nation. There may be one African Union but with many voices just as there are many voices and positions in the European Union on the U.S. – Iraq issue.

So, whither Nigeria on Iraq? If Nigeria and particularly, the Nigerian president is really in support of the position of the African Union as presented by both Thabo Mbeki and Amara Essy, then he should say that and not prevent Nigerians who want to exercise their democratic rights and organize a peaceful rally against war from doing so in a peaceful manner.

Some may argue that it may not be good diplomatese for the Nigerian government to make a formal declaration of the country’s’ position. Maybe! However, If this is not done, and organizers of anti-war rallies are prevented from marching in Abuja, Lagos or Port-Harcourt, Mr. bin Laden will gather more disciples like those that named their children after him and also flocked to Zamfara to pick up his memorabilia last year.

If this scenario ensures, as it seem to be doing with bin Laden’s latest comment about Nigeria, the man may not only confuse issues for a large number of non-literate Nigerians of the Islamic faith. He may actually take advantage of our government’s complacency and further worsen our not so good recent religious co-existence record. So again, Whither Nigeria on Iraq!

With the scenario laid out as above, where does Nigeria stand today? We know that the voice of Angola, Guinea and Cameroon, the three African members of the UN Security Council may not ultimately equal the voice of Nigeria, a powerful sovereign state. So although these three representatives have said Africa believes in Multilateralism, just as France, Russian and China (three permanent members) have also said does not make it binding on Nigeria.

Although Thabo Mbeki, speaking for African Union, has affirmed Africa’s opposition to a U.S. led military confrontation with Iraq, the basis being that it threatens a repeat of escalating oil prices in the 1970s that left many African nations highly indebted, his position may not also necessarily be that of Nigeria, a major oil producing nation. There may be one African Union but with many voices just as there are many voices and positions in the European Union on the U.S. – Iraq issue.

So, whither Nigeria on Iraq? If Nigeria and particularly, the Nigerian president is really in support of the position of the African Union as presented by both Thabo Mbeki and Amara Essy, then he should say that and not prevent Nigerians who want to exercise their democratic rights and organize a peaceful rally against war from doing so in a peaceful manner.

Some may argue that it may not be good diplomatese for the Nigerian government to make a formal declaration of the country’s’ position. Maybe! However, If this is not done, and organizers of anti-war rallies are prevented from marching in Abuja, Lagos or Port-Harcourt, Mr. bin Laden will gather more disciples like those that named their children after him and also flocked to Zamfara to pick up his memorabilia last year.

If this scenario ensures, as it seem to be doing with bin Laden’s latest comment about Nigeria, the man may not only confuse issues for a large number of non-literate Nigerians of the Islamic faith. He may actually take advantage of our government’s complacency and further worsen our not so good recent religious co-existence record. So again, Whither Nigeria on Iraq!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*