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Nigeria – USA: Will Biden’s win reset relations with Abuja?

By Ruth Olurounbi, in Lagos
Posted on Monday, 9 November 2020 20:32, updated on Tuesday, 10 November 2020 06:48

buhari usa
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 30, 2018.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In what felt like an eternity as the 2020 US presidential election stretched into days of counting, for Nigerians it was a big sigh of relief when it was announced that Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. would be the 46th president of the United States.

African leaders were quick to welcome the incoming US president on his electoral victory, who expressed the hope that Biden’s win would boost trade, as well as other relations between the continent and the United States.

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari congratulated Biden “on his election at a time of uncertainty and fear in world affairs” in a tweet.

“President-Elect Biden’s remarkable track record gives us hope that he will add value to the presidency and world affairs. We look forward to greater cooperation between Nigeria and the United States, especially at economic, diplomatic, political, and security levels,” added Buhari.

Infamously, Trump’s first meeting with “Nigeria’s ailing 75-year-old Muhammadu Buhari in April, ended with the US president telling aides he never wanted to meet someone so lifeless again, according to three people familiar with the matter”, reported the Financial Times in 2018.

Other leaders, including South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, also wrote in a congratulatory tweet stating: “We congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and the American people on your election. We look forward to working with you and deepening our bonds of friendship and cooperation.”

The incoming administration is a ‘credible reset’ and brings with it ‘the prospects of a more predictable policy towards Nigeria and Africa in general’…

For many African leaders, a Biden presidency could bring an improved, even stronger bilateral relations to the continent that analysts say outgoing President Trump had ignored for the most part of his four-year rule. But what can Nigeria expect from President Biden?

‘Restore cooperative links’

For Femi Soneye, a security consultant in the US sees it, the Biden administration could restore cooperative links between the continent and the US, something the Obama administration favoured during his eight year presidency. He sees the Biden administration as refocusing its policy in Africa and repairing relationships “soured under the Trump administration.”

According to him, the incoming administration is a “credible reset” and brings with it “the prospects of a more predictable policy towards Nigeria and Africa in general in which nations will again be treated as important partners that they are and above all respected.

“Under the Trump administration, tens of billions of dollars for food, water, education, health, security and other development needs were on the line. The Trump administration was notorious for using aid cuts as a foreign policy cudgel, but with the Biden presidency, Nigeria and Africa, in general, need not fret again about USAID’s shrinking budgets annually,” Soneye tells The Africa Report.

“A Biden presidency could see a more targeted approach to international trade instead of Trump’s more blanket approach,” adds Soneye.

Biden is seen as a unifier who wants to build alliances, especially with regards to Africa and Nigeria, ‘the most populous black nation and largest economy in the continent,” he says.

On the other hand, while it is tempting to think that the Biden presidency will simply extrapolate from the Obama Administration, analysts at SMB Intelligence believe: “What is more likely is that Biden will continue Trump’s policy of ‘Making America Great Again’, in one key respect: trade.”

In its report, What can Nigeria expect from President Biden? analysts say they see Biden as unequivocally favouring a reshoring of American jobs that gives power back to the American workers. “Biden will do more than bring back the jobs lost due to COVID-19 and Trump’s incompetence, he will create millions of new manufacturing and innovation jobs throughout all of America.”

This has implications for America’s purchase of Nigerian oil, which has also been in decline due to a growing focus on domestic energy production in the US, the analysts said. This August, the United States announced that it had slashed its imports of Nigerian crude oil to 9.37 million barrels in the first five months of this year, 11.67 million barrels lower than what it bought in the same period of 2019.

“The highest monthly volume of Nigerian crude purchased by the North American country so far this year was 2.12 million barrels, compared to 11.78 million barrels in 2019. Its purchases plunged by 63.03 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 to 5.53 million barrels, compared to the last quarter of 2019 when it bought 15.07 million barrels from Nigeria. It is a state of affairs that is unlikely to change,” SBM said in the report.

Undoing Trump’s immigration ban

Although the US oil receipts from Nigeria continues to shrink, Nigerian immigrants in the North American country are hopeful a Biden presidency will improve their chances of working and living there; while those intending to emigrate are eager to see a review of Trump’s travel ban that may improve the chances of bettering their lives.

READ MORE Nigeria: If you thought 2020 was bad, brace yourself for 2021

“As a very informed, well educated group of immigrants, many Nigerians in America believe their chances of working and living in America are favoured by liberal policies that promote equality rather than racism; while giving equal chances for work and opportunities to achieve their migrant dreams,” says Dallas-based Olusola Amusan, an Artificial Intelligence Evangelist at Coven Works Inc.

Donald Trump’s populist ‘America First’ nationalism led to an executive order banning immigrants from eight countries ( Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen) – six of which are majority Muslim – just days after assuming office.

In January this year, Nigeria, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania were added to the list, on security concerns. Nigerian authorities said the inclusion of Nigeria caught them by surprise.

READ MORE Trumps visa ban hits Nigeria-US ties, security concerns cited

With three Nigerian-Americans having won elective offices in the 2020 election cycle and growing the ranks of Nigerian-Americans with political influence, Nigerians at home are hopeful that once he assumes office, President Joe Biden will rescind that ban, as he had pledged as part of his campaign promises.

Diplomatic relations between Washington & Abuja

The US diplomatic relations with Abuja have been contentious in the past few years, culminating in its blocking of Nigeria’s former minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for the top job at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

READ MORE US holds up Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala appointment as WTO Director-General

The US was also seen as playing a major role in the delay to reelect Akinwumi Adesina as President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), following corruption allegations he was cleared off by a panel of inquiry.

READ MORE AfDB: The “Real” Geopolitics of the Adesina Affair

However, a Biden-led government is “likely to be more receptive not only to immigration from Nigeria but would also respect the diplomatic history both nations share,” say SMB analysts.

Human rights vigilance

Additionally, analysts say they expect that a Biden-led government would likely put more pressure on the Nigerian government with respect to the issues of human rights violation, especially on the heels of the most recent #EndSARS protests that drew the attention of President-Elect Joseph Biden, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who both released statements supporting the protesters.

READ MORE Dear Nigerian government, you must earn respect not force it

At that point, Biden had asked Buhari to: “Cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” to which President Buhari responded with: “To our neighbours in particular, and members of the international community, many of whom have expressed concern about the ongoing development in Nigeria, we thank you and urge you all to seek to know all the facts available before taking a position  or rushing to judgement and making hasty pronouncements.”

READ MORE Lagos burns after army accused of ‘Lekki massacre’

Following Biden’s statement that “the United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy,” Nigerians are hoping to see a curtailing of human rights violations around the world, including in Nigeria.

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