By Editorial Board
The son of a canoe maker of old currently calls the shot in Nigeria. Surely, he must know a thing or two about canoes, and paddling them on rivers rough or still. To stretch the analogy, if Nigeria were a canoe on treacherous waters it was pushed into since 1960 at Independence, or shall we even say since the 1914 Amalgamation, this canoe is currently at a bend in the river where it faces its most perilous dangers since its journey began. Amid the fright-induced hysteria of all in the beleaguered boat, the son of that one-time canoe maker remains at the paddle, albeit assailed on the job by a cacophonous din of plenty praises and perfect punches from co-travellers in his own vessel and those in other craft far and near, all coursing down our common, craggy existential course. Will he paddle out to open sea, or come unstruck at a cruel crag? Only time will tell, for history to hold forever.
However, we are also Nigerians and on-board this boat. We take in the serene scenery when the ride is smooth. And for all the worth of allegiance, we are not expected to jump ship when the waters become perfidious, lest we go down in infamy as fair weather drifters. As the Nigerian ship is buffeted by the ill-wind of insecurity primarily from the North-East, the government and the governed in the country have had to pay more than the usual attention to that besieged part of our country. As a nation, we have also be forced to expend huge emotional and material resources on the problem. The eyes of the free world are also fixed on us concerning this, with quite a significant number of countries offering to help Nigeria pull out of our quagmire. Home-grown terrorism and allied acts of insurgency is a road Nigeria has never travelled before. Our nearest drift to mass fratricide on home soil since Independence was the unfortunate 30-month Civil War of 1967-1970. The World waded in on that civil war, choosing to keep Nigeria one, indivisible entity. Millions of nationalistic Nigerians are still grateful for that global intervention. And when help came, still, from friends of Nigeria from around the World towards tackling the raging insurgency in the North-East, Nigerians were elated.
However, the euphoria from that freely offered helping hand in the wake of the abduction of nearly 300 Chibok school girls in Borno State appears to have fizzled out, as days became weeks and weeks became months without freedom for the kidnapped girls. Then news of $15 million (about N2 billion) reportedly meant to buy arms in South Africa for the use of the Nigerian Military, which was confiscated by the authorities of that country – and later returned to the Nigerian Government – broke out, revealing hitherto secret undercurrents of events relating to the on-going war against the insurgency in the North-East. Now we know that Nigeria has of recent found it difficult to procure arms and munitions from its age-long countries-source. Now we know that the Federal Government has been forced to look beyond its traditional weapons nations-supplier like the United States (U.S.). Now we know that the U.S. has stopped selling ammunition and military hardware to Nigeria. And now we know that the U.S. has on at least one occasion stopped a third-party reseller – Israel – from selling sorely needed American-made fighter jets to Nigeria. And, the insurgency rages on in the North-East, claiming the lives of innocent Nigerians and those of combatants on both sides.
While the U.S. has not announced a disengagement from the rescue operations to bring back the Chibok girls, its Envoy to Nigeria, Ambassador James F. Entwistle, disclosed recently that his country had stopped selling arms to Nigeria. “The U.S. government is against human rights abuse by any country in the world. So it will be ungodly for the U.S. to sell arms to Nigeria, a country that its military is notoriously known for human rights abuse. We cannot sell our arms to a country that will use our technology which is meant for defence of the people to harass the helpless citizens”, Ambassador Entwistle was widely reported to have said. He also added: “In the past six months it is very clear, with the manner Boko Haram is getting stronger, that there is internal sabotage. The deadly gang has efficient military operations, the way they operate is clear that they receive military training based on the tactics they employ to operate.”
It served little comfort that Ambassador Entwistle added that the U.S. government had been training Nigerian military personnel in different fields, including war tactics, to improve their productivity. Of what use is a first-rate military training if the trained personnel have no weapons to fight with?
There is no denying the U.S. track record in standing for the helpless around the World. It is a fine principle of the country deeply ingrained in the American psyche and traceable to the circumstance of the country’s birth and the great men who midwifed the United States into being – “the founding fathers.” However, in spite of the grave allegation of human rights abuse Ambassador Entwistle levelled against the Nigerian Military, we find the U.S. decision to stop selling arms to Nigeria directly, blocking third-party sale of U.S.-made weapons to our country and using America’s undeniable influence on the global stage to muzzle Nigeria out of legitimate arms deals, in the middle of our ranging insurgency, antithetical to the U.S. age-long commitment to helping the helpless, and unacceptable in these trying times for our country.
Likewise do we find objectionable South Africa’s handling of Nigeria’s legitimate efforts to buy arms in that country, which, in essence, blew open an otherwise covert transaction as is, most times, the norm in the global arms trade among sovereign States. Pretoria’s exposure in the global media of Nigeria’s bid to purchase arms in South Africa and Ambassador Entwistle’s official imprimatur on his country’s stoppage of weapons sale to Nigeria have, in our opinion, further exposed Nigeria and helpless Nigerians to aggravated security risk, inadvertently but effectively informing those out to carve out “an axis of evil” in the North East that they should strike while the iron is hot, as the Nigerian State is low on arms and ammunitions to defend its citizens.
Could this be the basis for the immediate surge in insurgent attacks to grab Mubi, Michika and other territories in Adamawa State following the botched arms deal news?
South Africa’s behaviour in the arms purchase saga hardly makes for good African brotherhood or Pan-Africanism as the continent aims for, way back from the seminal ideas of such great sons of Africa as Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Léopold Senghor and even the Madiba, Dr. Nelson Mandela, all of blessed memory. Surely, South Africa has the diplomatic channels to ask questions on the purpose of the whole $15 million seized from Nigeria’s emissaries on the two trips to buy arms in their country, rather than arriving at the hasty conclusion that it has a money laundering situation on its hand. If the first seizure of $9.3 million was an inevitable systemic failure to manage information, what about the second seizure of $5.7 million?
Some prominent political actors in Nigeria have made good political capital out of their personal relationships with the high and mighty in South Africa, including President Jacob Zuma. Of course that is not a crime, for a man or woman has every right to choose who to be friends with. However, there is no stopping Nigerians from impugning political undertones to South Africa’s rush to the media to announce the seizure of the arms funds. In fact, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital was immediately flooded with colour posters of President Zuma purportedly standing with former Nigeria’s Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former Lagos State Governor, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, both of whom are chieftains of the All Progressive Congress (APC), Nigeria’s mega-opposition party. This poster had an ingenuous caption brazenly linking these prominent Nigerians with South Africa’s seizure of the arms funds, and artlessly asserting that both gentlemen were working against Nigeria’s onslaught on the insurgency, treasonable felony in fact! The aim of the faceless poster makers was clearly to discredit Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Tinubu. In Nigeria’s acrimonious political landscape, to be so discredited could carry far much consequences than merely losing an election or your political clout. Such campaigns of calumny could take on a combustible life of their own, leading to widespread violence against the political and economic interest of the discredited individual, even his personal safety and those of his family members and associates. It could also snowballed into an ethno-religious clashes. And of course if President Goodluck Jonathan were to be a paranoid, vindictive dictator like some leaders Nigeria, unfortunately, had sometimes in the past, it would have been an propitious opportunity to persecute Alhaji Atiku and Asiwaju Tinubu via some phantom charges of treasonable felony, and generally kill off opposition politics in Nigeria. Thankfully though, the fire those faceless poster makers aimed to light never ignited.
While Nigerians are indeed grateful to all countries on alert against money laundering, especially looking out for illegal funds transfer from Nigeria, we enjoin South Africa, and the rest of the world to be sure of the facts of such criminal transaction before a public disclosure, in order to prevent a global ridicule of our country in the manner of the botched arms deal in South Africa, or worst still, give Nigeria’s weapons purchase secrets, and by implication the country’s military plans, to insurgents who lay siege still on the North East and threaten the rest of the country.
To be sure, Ambassador Entwistle’s yet unsubstantiated allegation of human rights abuse against the Federal Government as the latter prosecutes the war against terror is serious and should be of concern to all. The Federal Government will do well to launch a transparent official probe of the allegations and make its findings available to the public without further delay. In our opinion, however, it is a weak, even spurious, ground for the U.S. to stop selling weapons to Nigeria directly and block the Federal Government’s bid to buy U.S.-made fighter jets from Israel as widely reported. Could South Africa’s undiplomatic handling of Nigeria’s arms deal have been aided and abetted by the U.S. via subtle pressure on Pretoria? Perhaps other countries have also come under U.S. pressure to refuse to sell munitions to Nigeria, or how else can one explain media reports that Nigeria has been forced to resort to the black market to buy the much needed weaponries to fight the deadly insurgency in the country?
It is our considered opinion that the U.S. embargo on arms sale to Nigeria isn’t a well thought out decision and the American Government should lift that sanction, today. Although Ambassador Entwistle explained that the U.S. took this big, game-changing decision because “we (the U.S)cannot sell our arms to a country that will use our technology, which is meant for defence of the people, to harass its helpless citizens,” the arms sales embargo can only help the cause of the insurgents, who, as we have seen of late, continue to build a large armoury of sophisticated weapons through only God knows what channels or black market and are launching more daring attacks to grab wider territories in Nigeria, harassing and killing many more innocent “helpless citizens,” who the U.S. says it is protecting by not selling munitions to Nigeria.
In International Relations, diplomats are taught to immerse themselves in the cultures of their host countries. If Ambassador Entwistle has engaged in a bit of acculturation in Nigeria, he must by now know one or two of our proverbs or wisecracks by heart. One of such indigenous sayings is instructive in the matter at hand. The Yoruba of South West Nigeria say “we must first chase away the fox, before scolding mother hen for exposing her chicks to danger.” If the Americans are indeed here to help Nigeria overcome our insecurity challenges as they have claimed in several fora, the U.S. must first see to it that Nigeria defeats the deadly insurgency in the North East, and later ask questions of anyone’s illegal conduct in the war against terror at the global forum set up to address human rights abuses as the U,S. has alleged – the International Court of Justice at the Hague . The U.S. must not constrain the Federal Government’s capacity to defend Nigerians and our country’s territorial integrity with an arms embargo when our enemies do not have such constraints and when, according to Ambassador Entwistle himself, they are “getting stronger…there is internal sabotage. The deadly gang has efficient military operations, the way they operate is clear that they receive military training based on the tactics they employ to operate.”
If President Barrack Obama and the American people must know, The U.S. arms embargo on Nigeria – that is what it is, really, if stripped of all constructive ambiguities and loaded omissions diplomats like Ambassador Entwistle are taught and skilled to speak in – has added fuel to the fire lit by conspiracy theorists about insurgency in the North East, to wit, that Boko Haram has the implicit backing of the U.S. so that the much-circulated, America-originated ‘prophecy’ of Nigeria’s break-up by 2015 comes to pass. While we may dismiss this as hogwash, this particular conspiracy theory has gain traction among many Nigerians, who usually cite the hydra-headed monster Boko Haram has become in the country despite all efforts to rein in the insurgency. The conspiracy theorists also like to refer to U.S. records of direct and circumspect interference in other parts of the World from the Cold War era till date, notably the U.S. role in the break-up of the Soviet Union, regime change in many Latin America countries and the ever-volatile events in the Middle East cum the Arab World. What’s more, these conspiracy theorists have a knack for throwing your counter-arguments in your face and take the wind out of your sail using evidence provided by the U.S. government itself, specifically de-classified documents statutorily released for public consumption from time to time by U.S. authorities!
There is also the conspiracy theory that the U.S. is holding back from helping Nigeria defeat the insurgents because Washington wants to bring us to our knees in order to achieve its age-long aim of setting up a formal security outpost on African soil or in the continent’s territorial waters – the United States Africa Command, AFRICOM – which Nigeria has allegedly resisted. Currently headquartered in Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart Germany, AFRICOM’s stated mission statement is that, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, it conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programmes, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.
However, conspiracy theorists allege that AFRICOM is the U.S. blueprint to check China’s incursion into Africa and to install U.S.-compliant leaders at the helms of affairs of all African countries. These puppets-leaders in Africa will be kept in line through AFRICOM, or kicked out of power by the same organ if they dare go against U.S. interests, even if the Americans’ interests harm Africans. The argument, according to the conspiracy theorists, is that by the time Nigeria is overwhelmed by the prevailing spate of insecurity, our country shall, with our tails between our legs, run to the U.S. and other western powers for help to flush out insurgents from Nigeria, who by then would have much of Nigeria’s territory under their control. As a condition for that future United Nations (UN)-backed international military operations, say the conspiracy theorists, the U.S. and other western powers will demand that AFRICOM forces be stationed in Africa, permanently.
While we do not have a shred of evidence in support of these conspiracy theories, we are also cautious to dismiss them offhand. We can only urge the U.S. and other vested foreign interests to up the ante on their collaboration with the Government and People of Nigeria to end the current insecurity challenges in our country, without any Catch 22 Situation or disintegration of Nigeria, effectively putting a lie to all conspiracy theories flying around the country about their alleged ulterior intents. The consequences of a contrary endgame to the current insurgency in Nigeria is too grave to contemplate for continental and regional stability, even world peace!