Daily Independent (Lagos)

Nigeria: Clintonian Branding

Dafe Onojovwo

20 August 2009


Was it right for the United States of America's Secretary of State, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, to have taken Nigeria to the cleaners, as she did last week, on our nation's own soil; was it right for an honoured guest to deliver moral tirades at the host, to his face, under the full glare of the world press, without a thought for the feeling of the host?

Did it accord with proper diplomatic niceties for the US Secretary of State, the chief diplomat of that country, a civilised nation and the world's Super Power, to dress down Nigeria in public during an official visit?

Here's a sampling of her barbed speech: "The most immediate source of the disconnect between Nigeria's wealth and its poverty is a failure of governance at the local, state and federal levels;" "Some of that is due to corruption, others...to a lack of capacity, or mismanagement;" "The lack of transparency and accountability has eroded the legitimacy of the government, and contributed to the rise of groups that embrace violence and reject the authority of the State;" "Addressing the challenges that (such groups) and the poverty of the country pose...requires fixing Nigeria's flawed electoral system - establishing a truly independent electoral council." Mrs Clinton even mentioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission by name as having "fallen off in the last one year" and which needs to "come back to business to be able to partner" with the new US administration.

Let's call a spade a spade: this is an unusual way for a diplomat to talk. Brute frankness - even plain truthfulness - is a rare tool in the diplomat's professional kit. And you cannot teach the US Secretary of State diplomacy; in any case, not Mrs. Hillary Clinton: polished for years by her two-term stay in the White House as First Lady while her husband, Bill, was the world's most powerful citizen (for 12 years before that, she had been First Lady of Arkansas State).

Then she honed her talents, training (she's a Yale-trained lawyer) and experience further as a respected senator for eight years in the world's foremost democracy; and fresh from the gruelling presidential campaigns of last year which saw her as leading Democratic contender, after Senator Barack Obama, the present occupant of the White House and her boss. No, the Secretary of State's uncharacteristic bluntness was no diplomatic gaffe but deliberate state policy.

Again, let's tell ourselves the truth. What Mrs. Clinton did was to give Nigeria a public spanking: to drag the country out, like an incorrigible, serial lawbreaker, and give it a good old-fashioned whipping (with a koboko) on the back side. Needless to say, it was humiliating to the Nigerian State. A colleague of mine, watching the live TV coverage of her main speech at the town hall meeting in Abuja, wept - as he confessed to me - with tears of joy! The thoughts running through his mind, if I understood him, were: "So they know the truth too! They feel our pain! They understand, thank God!"

Buried in every human breast is a pining to be understood, for one's pain to be shared. This pang for understanding is acute among Nigerian citizens today, betrayed continuously by a rapacious, dissolute ruling class - embodying the most degrading vices of man, and woman. How this parasitic group, drawn from across the nation's geopolitical, religious and ethnic divides, has seized upon the State and succeeds in continuing to feed viciously on the country's resources and subverting its opportunities - with the citizens helpless - is a profound riddle.

Gloomy indeed is the present soul of the ordinary Nigerian: blighted by disillusionment and near total despair. On Monday this week, the House of Representatives Committee on Nigerians in the Diaspora heard tales of woe about the maltreatment of our citizens in Libya. About 200 of them are said to be on death row in that country alone. Unnamed thousands are in prison and abused routinely by Libyan security agents. Nigerian embassy officials in Tripoli are reportedly looking the other way, embarrassed perhaps that a good number of the affected Nigerians are common criminals.

Most are probably illegal immigrants - fleeing from the terrors of hopelessness at home: no power supply, no jobs, no public education facilities, no health care, no social safety nets of any kind. Only bleakness: the perennial news of gargantuan scams engulfing the nation, kidnapping gone bizarre, religious strife, armed militancy and banditry, electoral fraud (last Saturday's continuation of the Ekiti disgraceful saga witnesseth), do-or-die politics (over 65 governorship aspirants in Anambra, at the last count, and lawmakers taking voodoo oaths of allegiance to the executive, on video, naked), tottering capital market, reckless corporate governance in blue-chip banks, etc.

Any surprise that our nation's youths are still fleeing abroad in droves to menial jobs, prostitution and petty crime? As I write this, the President is on another medical check-up in Saudi Arabia - a damning verdict on the state of health care in the country. Neither he nor his government has any clue when such trips by top officials will become unnecessary. How can he, when he has allowed the universities, the source of scarce manpower, to be shut down for two months running? In any case, the tertiary schools, including the teaching hospitals and research institutions, are in advanced stages of decay.

My colleague wept, with relief, as he listened to Mrs. Clinton because it became plain that the Obama administration was not hoodwinked by Nigerian government propaganda. No detail of the country's present demeaning, life-threatening disease is hidden from the US State Department. Little wonder then why Kenyan-born Barack Obama, America's first Black President, converted his major speech at his recent Ghana trip to a scathing upbraiding of Nigeria's irresponsible leadership! Clinton is implementing a tough-love state policy: to whip Nigeria's mulish leadership into line, and let verbal tact and finesse go to hell! This patient needs drastic therapy, and must endure it.


It is being insinuated that Mr. Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank chief, may be implementing a Northern agenda to restructure bank ownership in the country, following the North's dismal showing at the last re-capitalisation exercise under his predecessor, Prof. Charles Soludo.

Commenting on the CBN's unexpected decision, last Friday, to give the boot to five bank CEOs, a respectable editorial in one of the national newspapers actually gave guarded vent to that uneasiness earlier this week. There may indeed be a hidden fire producing this 'Northern agenda' smoke; but frankly, I think the sack of the bank MDs was a sound measure, given the detailed explanations that Sanusi has provided.

Truth be told, the sacked CEOs should be grateful to the CBN and the President for providing this dramatic lifeline for their endangered banks. Moreover, the EFCC is said to be on the CEOs' tracks, so they will have their day in court. For now, the 'Northern agenda' theory falls flat, on this score.

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