Barack Obama is not stopping over in Nigeria to meet Umaru Yar'Adua in July
In our series of weekly viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers US President Barack Obama's forthcoming visit to Ghana in a letter from Lagos:
Last weekend a recently retired senior Nigerian diplomat sat virtually alone at a bar in his club contemplating rather than drinking the glass of soda water on the coffee table before him.
After watching him for some time I approached to cheer him up.
He was not interested in any subject but the impending one-day visit of Africa's own president of the United States to the continent.
"This cannot happen," he said.
"What cannot happen?" I asked. "This is not the first time the most powerful man in the world would be visiting the continent of the dark man."
"Sola," he answered with a dry smile. "In my time in the foreign service, all of us in our missions in Europe and America would have been mobilised to ensure that President Obama would make at least an airport stop-over in Nigeria next door.
"We would persuade the White House that a touchdown in Nigeria would serve our mutual interests."
'Giant of Africa'
As the discussion or, more appropriately, the lecture went on, I found that the former career diplomat's discomfiture was caused, not by the apparent snub of "the Giant of Africa", as Nigerians love to describe their country, but by what he concluded was the death of Nigeria's foreign service.
As far as my respected friend was concerned the government had declared the foreign service redundant.
Nigeria has intervened in regional conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia
"That cannot be the case," I said. "Remember that Foreign Minister Ojo Madueke declared long ago that Nigeria's foreign policy was 'Citizens' Diplomacy'"
That is, the government would do whatever was necessary to protect Nigerians everywhere in the world, including applying tit-for-tat actions when a Nigerian was maltreated abroad.
"That was a hollow statement meant for newspaper readers," the diplomat replied.
In fact, he said, Nigeria began practising citizens' diplomacy under military rule: Lawyers were recruited into the foreign service, trained in diplomacy and posted to key missions abroad to advise Nigerians.
When necessary those lawyers attended court hearings to keep a watching brief for Nigerians.
In time, according to him, every government knew that if they maltreated innocent Nigerians in their country, their own citizens in Nigeria would not be left untouched.
Also, he said Nigeria became active in the international institutions set up to formulate a global immigrant policy, given the large numbers of Nigerians in Europe and America.
Olusegun Obasanjo threw his weight around when he was president
Nigeria's clout as "Big Brother" was well established in Africa, especially in the western sub-region, so, no serious international discussion on Africa would be held without the participation of Nigeria.
"What has brought about the change," I asked.
He did not mince words:
• Perceived systemic corruption has led to distrust in important circles
• The economic downturn has meant that the government can no longer back its diplomacy with funds
• Lastly President Umaru Yar'Adua, unlike former President Olusegun Obasanjo, has not been seen to demonstrate any serious interest in matters beyond Nigeria's shores.
It is not only President Obama who is perceived by Nigerians to have snubbed their country, even small African nations now behave with little consideration for what the reaction of Nigeria might be.
A selection of your comments:
This has always been an idiotic obsession of the ruling elite and their minions in the foreign service and the domestic media. Ordinary Nigerians, on the contrary, realise that you can't have a "foreign policy" without an economy, and that you can't have an economy without infrastructure or effective public institutions.
AKPAN, Canterbury, UK/Nigeria
Yes indeed Nigeria is the giant of Africa but has she demonstrated that politically? No. This giant is asleep and until he can wake up and demonstrate to the world how to conduct a free and fair election without the baggage that comes with it, Nigeria will be known to have a democracy with a small (d) - while Ghana will demonstrate her Democratic process is more viable.
Trokon Guar,Minnesota USA.
I don't really know what the fuss is all about Obama not visiting Nigeria. I think the American president made the best choice in selecting Ghana. If anything, I had expected Kenyans to be upset on Obama's decision. Even countries like Sierra Leone, Benin and South Africa would have made a better choice than Nigeria. Yes, Nigeria has the largest population in Africa and produces more oil than any other country on the continent. But are these enough reasons for Obama to come to Nigeria? The country can't even organize free and fair elections! As we speak, kidnappers are prowling the streets ready to snatch even babies for a paltry ransom. And what about electricity and corruption, sea piracy and the Niger Delta? I think Nigerians should be more concerned about fixing their country than fret over Obama's visit to Africa.
Charles Brown, Rio, Brazil
Nigeria for the past decade has been playing the role of brotherhood thereby helping oust military junta governments in both Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nonetheless in the process of doing so they had an unbelievable criminal reputation in both Sierra Leone and Libera. However, there are hundreds of thousands of nice and honest Nigerian people. Those in the 419 business have damaged their image around the world in a way that even world presidents may think if they were to visit Nigeria they could be scammed.
Jack, a Sierra Leonean in Boston
Why should Nigerians worry about Obama not visiting Nigeria rather than Ghana? Obama knows why he has chosen Ghana over Nigeria and if I am not wrong diplomacy is all about self-interest and doing everything possible to achieve it. Obama knows clearly that when it comes to achieving America's objectives in Africa Ghana is a soft target. There is every indication that the previous government in Ghana was sympathetic to America's desire to establish a military base in Africa and possibly Ghana whereas Nigeria is not. Faced with such a situation where will Obama choose to go? Ghana and nowhere else. Nigerians must be proud for opposing the establishment of an American military base in Africa. Well done President Umaru Yar'Adua.
Kwabena Ohemeng, London
I can understand the frustration of that diplomat. The role of Nigeria in the world politics is great. Unfortunate, the country has not being living to expectation. Many a time I ask the question, where did we get things wrong in that country? Things were not as bad it is today. The schools system was fine, economy beautiful and every Nigeria is proud of the country. All these have changed nothing to write home about education, hospital and there is frustration written on people's fore head.
Tayo, Tallahassee FL
You are right in your report. Nigerians including the president are not protecting their citizens. We are corrupt to our bones. Rich people continue to be richer and poor continue to be poorer. If President Obama ignores us, he is right. This may serve as a deterrent to us.
TONY ETIM, SMITH. USA
Obama's first visit to Africa and his first stop is Ghana, I believe that the visits has some economics undertone, with the discovery of oil in Ghana and they want to have their share and control some of this resources. America already has interest and investment in Nigeria oil fields, when it time for proper visits he might make touch down in Nigeria or Kenya his ancestral home.
Fatai Yussuff, Belfast
Ridiculous, Nigerians for some vain reason sees themselves as the big man of Africa. It takes more than a big population and some lucky oil to be a giant. Nigeria is not and has never been a giant of anywhere. It's just plain inflated ego. They should clean up if they want to be taken seriously.
The facts stated in your story are undeniable but the gist of the matter is "What is Nigeria doing about it?" Methinks an uncharacteristic disregard for world events and taking the place of pride as Africa's giant should be discarded for a thorough reworking of Nigeria in the 21st century. When this new Nigeria is achieved, all the countries of the world, including the US of A would come calling. And President Umaru Yar'Adua would not need to declare a sad day at not being invited to the G20 meeting. Bashir Evbogame, Lagos, NIgera
Snubbing Nigeria is okay. It is a wake up call for those who drag Nigeria by the nose. With the blatant corruption that has engorge the Nigerian government, any patriotic citizen would appreciate the fact that at last the outside world has become uncomfortable with the stench emanating from the so call Nigerian leaders. President Obama snubbing? I hope, that he is in reality doing just that, with a much hope for follow ups by other progressive leaders of the world. ADEBAYO, Niles ,IL -USA
President Barak Obama is a world phenomenon and in him lies the ethos of True Democracy a sharp contrast to what is happening in Nigeria, where corruption of un-mitigated proportion has been the main stream of our body polity. Obama should not be seen to associates with rulers who rig themselves into office.
Jacob Ekele, Kogi State, Nigeria
Well if that's the case, then we should accept it in good faith, after all, everything that has a begin must surely have an end. For us here in Nigeria being the giant of Africa is not such a big deal other than; stable power supply, water, up grading the standard of educational, checking our standard of living-in terms of food, health care and security will matter to an average Nigerian than being called the giant of Africa
Ogbaji Odey Cyrus, Calabar & Nigeria
This is quiet interesting. The reasons why President Obama is visiting Ghana instead of Nigeria are not far fetched. Democratically, Ghana has out performed Nigeria. From the recent election in Ghana to the economy, Ghana has demonstrated great improvement. As for Nigeria, we are still stagnant. Corruption is endemic, crime is on the high side, No solution to the Niger Delta crisis and our inability to conduct elections devoid of ringing, confrontations and intimidation and assassinations. In this day and age, Nigeria cannot boast of light for 24hrs, go good roads, our youths are migrating out of the country in large numbers due to unforeseeable future, no good healthcare system to mention but a few. After ten years of democracy, there is nothing to write home about democracy in Nigeria. How is Nigeria 'the giant of Africa' when despite the abundance of human and natural resources, nothing to show for it. Nigeria has a lot of clean up to do in order to remain in that enviable position and be respected by the international community. How can Nigeria be role model to other African countries when she cannot stand on her feet? This present administration is nothing but trial and error. How can our people be suffering in the midst of plenty? When is the stronghold of corruption going to be pull down? May God help us!
Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA
Well, let's see: Nigeria is big brother to other African Countries? Is it in corruption? Con artists? Population? Oil? Democracy? I cannot put a finger on anything particular that makes Nigeria claim to be big brother to other African countries. If the notion of big brother is one who leads a model and exemplary life that others can emulate, then Nigeria has no chance to be big brother to Africa.
Kiwi Wate, Houston, TX, U.S.A.
I think the Nigerian Government should rethink its stance, as regards to the International Community-if we must be recognised internationally, we must first get our acts together-I mean fighting Corruption head-on at every level of Nigerian public and private life, having free and fair elections and respecting universal Human Rights of Nigerians at home, especially regarding the current deplorable situation in the Niger Delta Region, where innocent people are being killed daily.
Chidi Nwokedi, Madrid,Spain
Nigerians should grow up; we are entering a new world order where the growth of your GDP and your ability to attract foreign investment determines how you are treated on the international stage. Clearly, our leaders have neglected the criteria listed above and Nigerians should get used to being snubbed.
Femi, PA, US
Simply put, Obama's visit to Africa and his choice of Ghana intend to send a clear message message to corrupt governments in the continent. Nigerians, please, clean your house first - before blaming Obama or anybody else, for that matter.
Mike Peter, St. Paul, MN
Obama is stopping over in Ghana to talk about oil and about a possible US base, which idea was initially introduced by Bush. The Ghanaians are interested in doing business with the Americans but are not interested in having an imperialist base on their soil.
I think Nigerians are unduly concerned over nothing; whether Obama stops in Abuja, en route to Ghana, or not is not much of a significance; it does not erase the stigma of corruption and inefficiency that bedevils our country. Today, Ghana is seen as a genuine embodiment of democracy in the West African region, and Obama is well within his rights to acknowledge that, by visiting that country. When Nigeria emerges from endemic corruption and lawlessness, important world leaders will take note. At the moment, they are watching and waiting for something positive to emerge from that country. Our government should focus on putting our house in order, before expecting august visitors.
Felix Oti, Arlington, Texas
With due respect, Barack Obama snubbing Nigeria is not our problem, l shan't presume that you forgot that (Bill) came to Nigeria back in 2000 under Olusegun Obasanjo, with too much money spent to host him, yet 98% of Nigerians are dying in hunger after that visit till today. So, do tell the President Umaru Yar'Adua, to take care of our needs and forget about having Barack Obama in his dinner table in ASO ROCK as if that's our problems. Regards,
Mr Kingsley Jonah, Abidjan Cote d'Ivoire
Let this not surprise anyone. In fact, this is only the beginning. When an elder brother fails to live up to expectations, the younger ones take over. This is our fate in Nigeria.
AGADAH, W.O., YENAGOA, BAYELSA, NIGERIA.
Did Obama forget that Mandela still exists? He better sees this man instead of flying around Africa . He will learn more from SA than from any other country. I rest my case.
Mwenge, B'Ham AL
I think President Umaru Yar'adua should go extra mile to make sure we meet up with all that is international. Over the recent years, I have come to realise that common individuals work and protect the image of Nigerians more than the government of Nigeria do. I think it is high time the government put us where we should belong.
Ige Adeyemi, ternopil,Ukraine
An adage in the eastern part of Nigeria says: "A man whose house is on fire does not run after rats." We have a president who at present is interested in home affairs, he has to handle issues in Nigeria and not globe trotting as in the case of the last administration that left a lot of things undone ,President Yaradua will get Nigeria on the right footing. We are not bothered about President Obama's visit to Ghana, his not coming to Nigeria has saved us a lot of hard currency. Yaradua we dey ur back ride on.
Ugboaja Victor-Isaac, Dubai UAE
As painful as it might be to the majority of Nigerians, the snub is a wake-up call to the country to get her acts together. For years, we have had succession of governments fostering a culture of corruption which has tainted our image. Worse still, we currently have a government that not only gives the impression of being corrupt (inspite of claims to the contrary)but is seen as completely inept through 2 years of inactivity. The more other nations snub us, the sooner perhaps we will collectively act to rescue the nation from the same band of people that have been in power since independence!
Akin Osuntoki, London, UK
If the visits of the likes of Queen Elizabeth, Jimmy carter and Bill Clinton couldn't liberate Nigerians from poverty and insecurity, I wonder what an Obama visit would do.
Adamau Abdullahi, Dakar, Senegal.
It's time we move beyond this ceremonial visits and tackle our problems through our missions that are funded by tax payers money. I don't see a need for him to be here cause I have not seen significant and rapid changes in countries he's visited.
Jide, Owerri nigeria
As a Nigerian living abroad, I think this is a big blow to us - the setback to our appearance and stand on the foreign scene. I wonder how long we would still have this so called "giant of Africa" title. It's high time we started seeing laudable improvements in every sector from the Nigerian government.
Ethel, Dalian & China
America is rebranding its image with a positive and transparent world. Nigeria does have the brand America is looking for.Terry Igbakule, Makurdi-Nigeria
In as much as Obama's stop over in Nigeria will be a welcome gesture, I do not think that will help Nigeria solve the myriad of problems facing the country. It's a simple case of having leaders who do not have a vision to propel the nation in the right direction towards meeting the challenges of this information age. Nigerians are locked in a delusional past glory that we are the giant of Africa. We are beginning to realise that our population will not give us that status. Harnessing our potentials will. Neither will the presence of the white house!
Even if Obama will not visit Nigeria when coming to Africa, does not make any difference to me. Nigeria will rise to the Occasion. Our Beloved President is committed to the development of our country. Please let give him a chance. And lets pray for our country instead of us to be condemning our nation. No matter the condition in Nigeria we are better off many countries in Africa. Let's support our President with prayers. Even some Governors are now doing well, complimenting the efforts of our beloved president. I believe Nigeria will be better in my life time. We will always be the true Giant of Africa as it was in the glorious days.
Emeka Opara, Abuja, Nigeria
President Obama not visiting Nigeria this time around should not be considered as a snub, there is time for everything and everything is in place. Nigeria is busy overhauling her electroral system, combating militants as well as vigorously pursuing President Yar'Adua 7 point agenda. To me these are Government priorities than hosting the Most powerful man in the world.
Abiodun Azeez, London UK
The dilemma of the Nigerian retired senior diplomat might not be far fetched from what some Ghanaians in the two coastal towns of Cape Coast and Elmina may be having as to which of the two castles situated in these towns deserve the visit of the first couple of America. Fellow Africans let's relax and enjoy Obama's visit.
Regina, Cape Coast, Ghana
I do wonder at times about why we as Nigerians like to show-off to the rest of the world about hosting leaders such as President Obama rather than us to focus on the main issues of solving our problems at home which has to do with lots of corruption from the unscrupulous Nigerians who hurts other notable citizens just to save their own greed. Please let Obama be; and do what is right for the image of Nigeria to be restored on the international scene. Most Nigerians living overseas are going through so much agony in terms of immigration policy just because the Nigeria government not doing its work to look after the interests of her citizens. Let Nigeria redeem her name rather than being giant of corruption.
Oluwasegun , Barbados