What Will an Obama’s visit mean to Nigeria?

By Konye Obaji Ori

Posted on June 20, 2011 13:18

After shunning Africa’s most populous nation in his first historic visit to Africa, United States President Barack Obama is, according to reports, planning to visit Nigeria before the end of his first term in office.

While the US has commended the credible work done so far by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, some have argued that this commendation is not enough unless it is backed by a presidential visit. But analysts argue that visits by former U.S Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George Bush to Nigeria neither influenced leadership within the Nigerian political circles nor served as inspiration to any reasonable change of mindset amongst public officials.

When Obama first chose Ghana over Nigeria, it was reported that this action spawned an outpouring of soul-searching and self-flagellation about the latter’s image and dubious democracy. Obama’s 2008 visit to Ghana, which had come on the heels of international praise for an ultra-close and peaceful election that marked the country’s fifth electoral transfer of power since a military ruler re-launched democracy in 1992, alongside a properly implemented open-market economy, according to some, helped instil a sense of direction and uprightness amongst its politicians and public officials.

However, the question this purported report raises is why would the effect of a President Obama visit to Nigeria be any different from his predecessors? Jonathan’s administration is struggling to deal with the menace of militants of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the growing exasperation over the extreme Islamist terror group in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram. There is also, amongst other issues, the matter of rising tension between the predominantly Muslim north and the Christian south that Jonathan is yet to figure out.??

At best, Obama’s visit will serve as a motivation for the current Nigerian administration. And whilst the accolades and praises heaped on Jonathan by world leaders at the United Nations, New York are incentives that would keep the Nigerian leader on track, the psychological implication of such a visit would mean that he has an international admiration to maintain. It will also serve to buttress the confidence shown to Jonathan by former US President Bill Clinton in New York, who said the Nigerian president is the man to help the West African country actualise its potential.

Clinton’s description of Jonathan as a man who has a “studied outreach to bridge the divide that has kept Nigeria from reaching its full potential” strikes an echo with the applause the Nigerian leader got from a recent United Nations Security Council meeting on the “Impact of HIV/AIDS epidemic on international peace and security” when he was commended for his commitment to end the HIV/AIDS scourge, his government’s efforts to advance the MDGs, the country’s new health bill and the freedom of Information Bill passed by the Nigerian National Assembly late last month as well as the outcome of the April 2011 elections, adding to the argument that an Obama visit has become an imperative that will help Jonathan stretch his esteem farther.?

But despite the psychological effect Obama’s visit may have on the Nigerian leader’s political clout, Nigeria – the fifth-largest oil supplier to the United States and strong supporter of former President George Bush’s anti-terrorism efforts – remains a key US ally in West Africa. According to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, “Nigeria is the most important country in sub-Saharan Africa, bar none.” Diplomatic sources in Washington DC say that the issue of a visit to Abuja by the US President is now merely a matter of timing.

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