UNIITED States’ President Barack Obama commences his visit to Africa in a few hours, and it comes as a relief to know that he is skipping Nigeria – a country that, by its sheer size and influence on the African continent alone, should be part of President Obama’s itinerary on a journey that includes visits to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.
The reason for opposing Mr. Obama’s visit to Nigeria should be obvious if one takes into consideration the disappointingly mediocre leadership in Nigeria today, longing desperately for an opportunity to 'pimp' the visit as an accomplishment of sorts.
A handshake with Mr. Obama in Washington DC was all that then-acting President Goodluck Jonathan had with the US president in 2010, shortly after Jonathan succeeded his deceased predecessor, former President Umaru Yar’Adua. The Jonathan Administration thereafter threw away all restraint and went ahead to milk that image like Obama were the Catholic pope who had just beatified a devotee.
The image of the handshake between the two leaders was splashed everywhere in small and giant posters alike, from the streets to the headquarters of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in Abuja, and even on the central web portal of the federal government. Although the heavy circulation of the imagery was initially excused by observers as an answer to powerful interests who were against the emergence of Mr. Jonathan as president [that: 'powerful allies in the international community had accepted Jonathan as the legitimate Nigerian leader'], but all such justification soon petered away as the image turned caricature in the hands of President Jonathan’s handlers.
It is out of dread for a repeat of such inglorious excitation on the part of the incumbent leadership in Nigeria that such visit becomes undesirable. More importantly, not only will such visit by President Obama be a huge distraction at a time when all eyes needed to be trained on the unfortunate realities of mediocre governance trumpeted as 'transformational' in the country today, but the visit will also be another excuse for politicians to dip their reckless paws into state coffers across the board, to throw money around under the guise of making arrangements to host the visiting American president.
Like feudatories expecting superior authority to do them the honor of a kindly visit, the these folks would hurriedly scrub the floors and re-pave the roads that they previously had not given a damn about; they would issue contracts for tee-shirts and hats to be made with Jonathan and Obama’s face emblazoned on them like those two were long separated twins who were now reunited; they would put up large banners everywhere and interrupt thousands of children from their daily activities to line the routes that Obama would take on his visit, urging the children to wave flags and ululate.
Governors from far away in the creeks of Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom, to the deserts of Sokoto and Borno, would leave their duties as chief executives of their various states to be part of the misplaced fanfare. They will of course travel with their retinue of aides and hangers-on, who will also be paid out of the state purse. Bamanga Tukur, the ‘young’ septuagenarian leader of the Peoples Democratic Party will be there smiling to suppress the constant ‘Who/Where-Am-I?’ look, ever plastered on his face. Oh, and our First Lady Patience Jonathan, one known never to ‘carry last’ and de-facto president of the federal republic, would swell like a peacock at the prospect of an opportunity to be seen in the exclusive company of the American First Lady Michelle Obama.
After the Obamas have come and gone, our old friend whom many of us grew up reading with admiration as a columnist at the influential stables of The Guardian [Nigeria], would issue the type of releases for which he has become [in]famous of late as the president’s communications chief – I speak of those notoriously garrulous pieces penned by Dr. Reuben Abati, which are unbecoming of the country's highest offices, least of which is the Office of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic. He would say that President Obama's visit, at the very least, was a testament to the ‘great strides’ that the Jonathan Administration is making in ‘transforming’ Nigeria. In between derision and reluctant appeal, he would call on the “children of anger” who ‘never see anything good’ in his boss’ leadership to let go of their ‘never-ending criticism’ and get on the Jonathan ‘Train of Transformation’.
These are not guesses. They are, rather, accurate predictions by a Nigerian who is familiar with how the mediocre leadership in Nigeria operates, after years of observation from within and from without. Regretfully, very reluctantly, one recalls the words attributed to an expired colonial superintendent installed as a representative of the British crown in Nigeria in the earlier 20th century, whose words more accurately describes the current crop of leaders in Nigeria [save for a few] than it describes the generality of the African peoples that it sought to define. A ‘lack of apprehension’, alongside a ‘lack of ability to visualize the future’, are two notable descriptions made. Add ‘fickle and easily excitable’ to the aforementioned, and you would find that you have defined the typical Nigerian leader of today.
A visit by Obama is something for which the Nigerian government officials and ruling party politicians desperately thirst. And it is only right that this government would not get a visit by the latter, even if it makes little difference that Obama skipped Nigeria on this tour of Africa. But it will at serve, among other purposes, to deny an opportunity for the leadership to hoodwink the masses with another useless, self-serving jamboree. More importantly, the snobbery would sting the leadership [assuming these folks have any shame] and give the opposition [who are no saints either] more ammunition, not only to knock some sense into the consciousness of these mediocre marauders masquerading as leaders, but it will also give an unvarnished platform to launch a sincere, fact-backed argument against the performance of the incumbent leadership, to be witnessed by one and all.
In the meantime there is plenty of work to be done, from tackling a major insurgency in the north, to stemming widespread insecurity in the land, among other challenges. So let's get to work and pretend like we don’t care that President Obama is in our neighborhood.