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A testimonial from Accra

A testimonial from Accra
May 04
19:18 2021

Kwesi Pratt Jnr, Managing Editor of Ghana’s The Insight Newspaper, is most probably little known to us in Nigeria. But last week, he spoke from Accra where he is domiciled, and became an instant hit on the social media. He may not be resident in Nigeria, but in this age of globalisation and real-time information dissemination, Pratt is very well informed about Nigeria’s sociopolitics, especially because of the hallowed place Nigeria occupies, not just in West Africa, but across the continent and beyond.

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As guest on a current affairs programme on a Ghanaian television station recently, Pratt found himself dilating the recent virtual meeting between the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, and two African leaders, Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. It was an opportunity for Nigerians in particular to hear from a brother nation, impressions and perspectives about where we have found ourselves.

Buhari by the way, had previously met with Anthony Blinken in the United States, when Blinken was Deputy Secretary of State in 2015, in the administration of President Barack Obama. Sonala Olumhense reminds us that “ironically, the issues that the two men “discussed” last week, are the very same that they covered in 2015 when Buhari was preparing for his first state visit to the US.”

If the six year span between Buhari’s first meeting with Blinken have only resulted in the regurgitation of the same issues discourse in 2021, Nigeria, simply put, has been rooted to one spot these six years, without any motion or movement, by the incineration administration.

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Olumhense also reminds us with deep nostalgia, the grand and lavish reception accorded Buhari at the White House on that visit, by an obviously elated Obama, against the backdrop of his sterling credentials which had been sold to the global community.

Obama at that first encounter, acknowledged Buhari’s “reputation for integrity (and) to make sure that he is bringing safety and security and peace to his country… and a very clear agenda with respect to rooting out the corruption that too often has held back the economic growth and prosperity of his country.”

Six years down the line, however, Nigeria has so thoroughly underdeveloped itself that it has been so relegated in global reckoning. That is why a virtual meeting with a senior government official who is neither the US President or his deputy, is what the Nigerian leader has been subjected to. And this issue is at the root of Pratt’s anger. He is deeply miffed by the phenomenal disrespect accorded Africa by the US on this occasion and the acquiescence of African leaders in the denigration process.

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Reminiscing on the recent diplomatic overtures of top government officials in the new regime of the Democratic Party, Pratt observed that Blinken, like his Principal Joe Biden, had gone around the globe meeting world leaders, from one continent to another. When it was the turn of Africa, however, Pratt noted that US authorities cited fears of the COVID-19 menace as a deterrent to Blinken’s physical journeying to the continent. This necessitated the setting up of a virtual engagement between the US Secretary of State, and Presidents Buhari and Kenyatta, respectively.

In the specific case of Nigeria, issues raised the non-physical interaction between Blinken and Buhari included global economic recovery; the effort against COVID-19 and the effects of climate change in the Sahel and Lake Chad region. A furiously embarrassed Pratt could not conceal his anger and indignation at the decision by the Nigerian and Kenyan leaders to subscribe to a virtual exchange between them and the US representative. Pratt noted: “African leaders appear to have lost their dignity. And because they have lost their dignity, they are being treated in a most shabby manner to their own applause.”

Continuing, Pratt said: “I’m embarrassed by this so-called meeting between the Presidents of Nigeria and Kenya with the US Secretary of State. It’s embarrassing. Since Joe Biden came to power, he has been all over the world meeting his colleagues and foreign ministers of smaller countries, countries that don’t have the endowments of Nigeria. Nigeria is a major country. It has a population in excess of 200 million, that is what Nigeria is. Nigeria exports two million barrels of oil per day. I mean, Nigeria is a major player in world affairs.”

Pratt was not done. He continued: “Anthony Blinken is not talking to the Nigerian Foreign Minister, he is talking to the President. It makes me sick. Quite apart from that, Blinken has been travelling all over the world, meeting people and discussing US foreign policy and so on. When it comes to Africa, he says “no, I’m afraid of COVID-19, so we do a zoom call.” Proceeding, Pratt says: “What rubbish. Is Africa the epicentre of the pandemic? It’s not. His own country is topping the world in terms of the figures. So when it comes to Africa, he’s unable to travel to meet African leaders. Rather, he would have a zoom meeting with them. And they are happy. Unbelievable.”

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Another issue which unsettles Pratt is the tacit admission of failure of Buhari’s government in its six-year battle with insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, attacks on security infrastructure and random killings across the country, in his interaction with Blinken. Buhari, arms up in the air in despair, at that virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, requested the relocation of the US Africa Command, USAFRICOM from its base at Kelly Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany to a proximal location in Africa!

An inconsolable Pratt notes that this particular issue was of immense discomfiture for him. His words: “I felt so embarrassed, so disgraced, by the Nigerian Head of State and the kinds of things he said. I am embarrassed by Buhari.” Pursuing his argument further, Pratt said: “Listen, when Buhari was campaigning to replace Goodluck Jonathan, what did he say? What did he tell the people of Nigeria? He said he was a General, an astute General. And that if he got power, he will be able to stop the operations of Boko Haram.”

Asking rhetorically, Pratt proceeded “Is that not the promise he made? Now the same Buhari is saying “Hey, I raise my hands, I can’t fight Boko Haram, America come and fight Boko Haram for us.”

The festering inability of Nigeria in the containment of Boko Haram insurgency in the North East of Nigeria; banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen’s menace, killings in the North West and the recurring attacks on security infrastructure and personnel in the South East, have raised questions about the professional capabilites, preparedness and commitment of Nigeria’s military to root out these evils.

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Comparisons are regularly drawn between the high-flying Nigeria military of the 1990s which, in collaboration with the militaries of sister West African countries, spearheaded the resolution of uprisings and civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, among others, as part of an Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group, ECOMOG. Those were the days when thoroughbred, toughened Nigerian Army Generals like Joshua Nimyel Dongonyaro; Samuel Victor Leo Malu; Rufus Kupolati; Ishaya Bakut; John Mark Inienger; Adetunji Olurin and others, burnished Nigeria’s image and respectability, internationally.

The Nigerian military also stood up to be counted in the Somalia crisis, as a component of a United Nations Operation in Somalia, UNOSOM I. Brigadier General Olagunsoye Oyinlola (as a lieutenant colonel then), was commander of the Nigerian contingent.

With the recent volte face from the Nigerian leader in the course of his engagement with Blinken, Pratt believes Buhari should be leaving office. His words: “Buhari should be leaving office. He has not fulfilled his promise to the Nigerian people. In any case, if Nigeria, a giant in Africa cannot deal with Boko Haram, and and has to go and beg Anthony Blinken to bring into Lagos and Abuja and other places, soldiers to fight Boko Haram, then what will other countries do, countries like Gambia and so on?”

Francis Adenigba Fadahunsi, Senator representing Osun East, has equally spoken along the same line. In a recent interview, Fadahunsi observed that Buhari has failed Nigeria in the critical areas of security and economy. According to Fadahunsi, it has almost become customary for the senate to begin its sittings, by rising for a one minute silence, in honour of innocent Nigerians killed by insurgents, bandits or kidnappers.

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Fadahunsi alluded to the interaction and the legislature and the former military service chiefs who were cleared for ambassadorial appointments. He noted that the immediate Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Yusuf Buratai, observed that ongoing insurgency in the North East, may subsist for another two decades, if the proper strategies were not adopted.

According to him, Nigeria may be heading for a food crisis by the end of the year, because herdsmen and similar marauders are discouraging farmers from go to the farm. Fadahunsi forsees hunger in the coming months. He equally alluded to the mammoth debt burden in which the country under Buhari’s watch, has accumulated from global donors.

Senator Fadahunsi believes it is more honourable for Buhari to articulate his own resignation letter by himself, apologise to Nigerians and take an honourable bow. If he doesn’t choose this easier route, he suggested that the relevant clauses in the constitution, will be invoked, because the challenges Nigeria is experiencing, are no respecters of political affiliations.

Pratt repudiates African “leaders who are lying prostrate before the forces of imperialism begging for soldiers to come and deal with insurgencies in their countries. They will be rejected by the masses of Africa. They will be replaced by the forward looking forces in Africa who want to build an Africa without a bomb, an Africa without a foreign military base, an Africa capable of standing on its own, among the continents of this world. I’m embarrassed by Buhari and the Kenyan President and the manner they have degraded us and impugned our dignity. It’s embarrassing.”

With the forthcoming 2023 general elections gaining traction already, Buhari has barely a year to deliver on his myriad of promises to the Nigerian people. Nigeria ranks as the third most terrorised country in the world today, with various countries issuing travel warnings to their citizens. The rate of corruption is unbelievably high in an administration which rode on the back of a change mantra to end the malaise. Poverty and unemployment indices are touching the skies. There are fears that the economy has is deeply encumbered, such that the Central Bank of Nigeria has basically been printing money in recent months. The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has warned that it will not be able to fund the federation account for the next three months become it is broke. This is the cul-de-sac Buhari has pushed the nation.

It remains to be seen, the magic wand he will pull out of his hat, which he hasn’t done in six uneventful, gruelling, difficult and uncertain years.

–Tunde Olusunle, PhD, is a poet, journalist and scholar.

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