The sleepwalkers

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Obadiah Mailafia

Having succeeded in strangling our country almost to death by its wanton profligacy, gross ineptitude and catastrophic incompetence, the All Progressives Congress-led regime of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) now seems hell-bent on selling us to the United States. The whole of progressive Africa was shell-shocked last week when, in the course of a Zoom conference that the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, held with African leaders, Buhari casually requested the relocation of AFRICOM to Africa.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, quoted the President as saying, “considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the US to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation”.

I was really shocked and dumbfounded. I am not sure that Buhari fully grasped the implications of such a major policy U-turn. I have my suspicions. There are one or two shadowy creatures that are always malingering around the corridors of power in Aso Rock. They do not have any official roles in government. But they operate as part of the remnants of the cabal. One of them has held high positions in government but has been notorious as a certified foreign agent since his youth. They must have put the AFRICOM idea into Buhari’s speech, knowing that his cognitive powers have been wiped away by illness. They have used that same weakness allegedly to get him to sign away financial approvals running into billions of dollars. Their shenanigans patently amount to high treason.

The Africa Command, popularly known as AFRICOM, was the brainchild of George W. Bush’s “war on terror”. It was conceived as an intervention force towards safeguarding American strategic security as well as oil interests in Africa. President Bush defined its aims as being to “enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa”. AFRICOM is an integrated command with headquarters based in Stuttgart, Germany, with Defence/Military Advisers in 38 African countries.

The original idea was to set up the headquarters in Africa, but there was stiff opposition from various stakeholders.

The SADC countries warned that “it is better if the United States were involved with Africa from a distance rather than be present on the continent.” Our own ECOWAS similarly opposed installation of AFRICOM on our continent, with the sole exception of Liberia which seemed to have sat on the fence.  In December 2007, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was unambiguous in his stand: “I did not agree that AFRICOM should be based in Africa. What we discussed with Bush is that if they have something to do for Africa that has to do with peace and security, they should contribute. I told him that we African countries have our own plan to establish a joint military command in every sub-region (as we) have in economic groupings.”

In the words of foreign minister Ojo Madueke: “Nigeria’s position on AFRICOM remains that African governments have the sovereign responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security on the continent, especially in the context of the proposed African Union Stand-by Force and in this regard, the need for support and assistance by Africa’s development partners, such as the United States, in the provision of training, funding and logistics for African militaries was duly acknowledged.”

African civil society also stood resolutely opposed. In Liberia, a country with historically close links to the United States, Ezekiel Pajino of the Centre for Democratic Empowerment, described AFRICOM as a “deadly plan of U.S. military expansion on African soil… that threatens future generations throughout our continent”.

In Johannesburg, the influential Business Daily warned that, “The expansion of an American strategic geopolitical military base on the continent will worsen many of the problems Africa has at present”.

Many observers have pointed to the abject record of American military interventions in countries as wide apart as Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and the rest.

For more than a decade, we were receiving prophecies of doom from policy think tanks to the effect that Nigeria would collapse in 2015. When that did not happen, they changed the date to 2020. Now, they are talking of 2030. Military academies in the United States have been doing war games with Nigeria as the model of the failed state of the future.

I have been an assiduous student of Western classical diplomacy from Machiavelli to Talleyrand, Metternich and Henry Kissinger. I know that the Westphalian machstaaten power-states system which emerged in early modern Europe is based on nothing but the pursuit of power and self-interest. In an age of diminished expectations, many of the world powers are trying to enforce an international hierarchy of labour whereby African countries will remain permanently sources of raw materials and dumping grounds for their manufactured goods. They have studied our perennial fault-lines and they know which buttons to press to trigger ethno-religious wars.

Through satellite imagery, they know where the vital materials are and are able to sponsor and arm rebel groups to move into the villages and clear the lands in readiness for the vultures to descend. I am not one of those who blame foreigners for all our misfortunes. We must take responsibility for our follies. But it would be foolhardy, even suicidal, to think that imperialism has ended.

World powers have been building up military bases in our neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad, Niger and so one. AFRICOM has been patrolling the Gulf of Guinea. I sense a kind schadenfreude about Nigeria.The grand strategy of the world powers seems to be the encirclement of our country. When you read some of the documents uncovered by Wikileaks, we would be fools to be inviting the world powers to come and help us. I would have gone to Israel instead.

Nigeria and the US have enjoyed cordial relations going back decades. The Murtala Muhammed interregnum and his assertive rhetoric at the Extraordinary OAU Summit of January 1976 annoyed the likes of Henry Kissinger. The lowest ebb in our relations was in 2013 when the Obama administration banned the sale of our oil on its shores; denying us of 25 per cent of our traditional market. The Obama administration was ostensibly chagrined by the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s intransigence on gay and lesbian legislation.

To all intents and purposes, Africa did not exist in the worldview of the erstwhile Trump administration. Donald Trump dismissed our countries as “shit-hole nations”.

A few years ago, a BBC world opinion poll found that, astonishingly, 69 per cent of Nigerians approve of the US and its policies, the second highest in the world after – would you believe it – Iran. Nigerians – this writer included – feel nothing but love and goodwill towards America.

The late Kenyan political scientist, Ali Mazrui, wrote a seminal study on African security titled, Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967). It was the outcome of his doctoral dissertation at Nuffield College, Oxford. Mazrui argued that the independence of African nations required a new African collective security arrangement anchored on “Pax Africana”. All the progressive forces on our continent firmly believe that African problems are best solved by Africans themselves without meddling by external do-gooders, no matter how well-meaning.

When the eminent American political scientist, James Coleman, was about to embark on his doctoral work at Harvard in the 1950s, he sought advice from his tutor, Rupert Emerson. A general in that field, Emerson counselled the young graduate student to focus on Nigeria. He prophesied that Nigeria is destined to be the most important country in Africa and a world power in the future. Coleman’s mammoth doctoral dissertation was later published as, Nigeria: Background to Nationalism (University of California Press, 1963). It is widely regarded as one of the classic works of modern political science.

We Nigerians exist not merely for ourselves; we are the guardians of Africa and the symbol of the black race. Our destiny is to build a technological-industrial state of the first rank. As such, we cannot be subservient to any world power. If Buhari feels that he cannot lead us out of our current doldrums without AFRICOM relocating to our continent, then I fear that he is sleepwalking into the oblivion of history.

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