Dear Mr. President,
I write to you on behalf of my Party, Peoples Democratic Movement, and on behalf of the multitude of Nigerians who do not have a voice in how your government frames the foreign policy agenda of our country. We believe you have the best interest of Nigeria at heart in its relations with the world powers but we also believe your government needs help if it is to recover the disappearing stature of Nigeria as a leading player in world affairs and a leader in the African continent. Since you took over the mantle of leadership in 2010, the reputation and influence of Nigeria in world affairs has suffered an embarrassing setback. We feel it is time you stand up to be counted as the leader of a great country and step forward to offer our continent statesmanly leadership.
You have a rare opportunity to do this when you meet on Monday September 23, 2013, with President Barack Obama of United States of America in New York. It is a meeting you have earned on the back of your July visit to Beijing, which has served as a befitting diplomatic response to the decision of President Obama to avoid Nigeria during his 3-nation tour of Africa in June. With the meeting taking place on the side of the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, not in the White House in Washington, your diplomatic gamble has somewhat paid off. As our President you have, nonetheless, sent the signal to Washington that Nigeria could not be ignored. You have made us proud and I congratulate you on this modest achievement.
However, I believe you understand that President Obama did not avoid Nigeria in June to spite the largest African supplier of energy to the US and the second largest economy on the continent. He visited Senegal and Tanzania, after all. These countries are not central to the strategic interests of the United States. Nigeria is. There must be good reasons, therefore, why President Obama has avoided Nigeria like a plague and, let’s face it, we all know what those reasons are.
Nigeria under you, Mr. President, has issues with the US and, I believe, you are fully aware of this. It is, therefore, not enough for you to court and earn a meeting with the President of the United States. It is way past time for another photo-op. You must seize the rare opportunity provided by the New York meeting to address those critical issues which continue to dog the medium and long term future of Nigeria’s bilateral relations with the United States. Although I’m sure you have a list of topics to discuss in New York, I would like to suggest four key items which should feature among them.
Rising Levels of Corruption in Nigeria
Corruption has plagued our institutions and has embedded itself in our governance and society as the routine, standard modus operandi for transactions amongst public and private entities alike. Despite marginal improvement, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index still ranked Nigeria as the 35th most corrupt nation in the world in 2012. The Government, the Police, and the Judiciary are perceived as the most corrupted institutions in Nigeria today.
Many of Nigeria’s leaders have fallen victim to the ease with which unsavory business is conducted, losing sight of the goals of democracy and communal progress that our Founding Fathers and millions of Nigerians hoped would become an impenetrable foundation and guiding light for Nigeria’s future. In order to regain our vision as a country, our leaders must change their mindset of greed and complacency that has only managed to subject the Nigerian people to rising levels of poverty, insecurity and misfortune as these have combined to alter the perception of Nigeria and its role, from the regional leader that it used to be to the semi-pariah nation that it is today.
The United States and other international allies have actively collaborated with and offered assistance to Nigeria in its fight against corruption, especially between 2002 and 2009. However, its enthusiasm and that of our international allies began to wane when business-as-usual began to creep back, culminating in your grant of pardon to the convicted former Governor of Bayelsa State. That action has robbed you of the moral capital you need to fight corruption in your government and in the rest of the nation at large. Before you meet President Obama in New York, it would do Nigeria a world of good if you would reverse that pardon and then, when you meet him, renew the commitment of your government to a genuine fight against corruption beyond meaningless media sound bites. For if corruption continues to grow at the current rate, there will be no hope of confronting and conquering insecurity, unemployment, piracy and the host of other afflictions that obstruct the nation’s growth, prosperity and progress.
Last week, about One Hundred and Fifty innocent Nigerians were massacred in the small town of Beni Shek in Yobe State where a State of Emergency you declared is still in force. Similarly, Ombatse, a traditional religious cult in Nasarawa State, which has been implicated in the massacre of over One Hundred on-duty security personnel in May, has again allegedly ransacked and burnt down a whole community while killing scores of innocent citizens who looked up to the Government for protection. Furthermore the uncertainty surrounding last week’s shootings in Abuja points towards a crisis of confidence and trust. In a time of deep-rooted and widespread insecurity it becomes far too easy for corrupted officials and leaders to conduct operations of self-interest under the auspices of security and counter-insurgency.
Spats of violence, including attacks on innocent school children across the north, the deliberate and extra-judicial murder of civilians in Baga, rampant kidnapping, armed robbery and other instances of unspeakable violence across the county, may have led Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index to rank Nigeria at 148 out of 162 countries, using violent crime, political terror, terrorist activity, and political instability as justification for the failing marks. The Fund for Peace casts a shadow over Nigeria’s prospects as a successful state, placing the country in the “high alert” category of prospective failed states. If Nigeria continues on its current trajectory, there may be no state remaining for you to preside over before very long. It is in nobody’s best interest to permit this to happen.
With all these happening under your watch, Nigeria’s insecurity ought be at the top of the checklist of items you will be tabling in your meeting in New York.
Nigeria needs material and technical support to create a workable and sustainable public security framework, including the establishment of genuine counter-insurgency measures, which will have the winning of hearts of minds as its centrepiece, not just the deployment of brute force. The combination of high-level corruption, the disastrous state of our infrastructure, jobless growth and the record levels of unemployment currently at an astonishing 22% with 38% youth unemployment, are the main drivers of insecurity and violence in our country. We should be humble enough, given the debilitating political quagmire in which we have found ourselves, and the lack of capacity exhibited by the government which you lead, to seek enduring partnerships with our international allies before they eventually write us off as too far gone to be salvaged.
Intensification of Crude Oil Theft in the Delta
Just last week, Chatham House, a London-based think tank, released an unflattering report on crude oil theft in Nigeria, with estimates of up to 150,000 barrels of oil stolen each day, costing us upwards of $6 billion in annual revenue. This is what the respected think tank has to say:
Nigerian crude is being stolen on an industrial scale. Some of what is stolen is exported. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria. In Nigeria, politicians, military officers, militants, oil industry personnel, oil traders and communities profit, as do organised criminal groups. The trade also supports other transnational organised crime in the Gulf of Guinea.
The figure of 150,000 barrels per day is the lowest that has been placed, so far, in the public domain. Other figures coming out of the industry, including from Shell, indicate that as much as 300,000 barrels of crude, worth almost a billion dollars a month, is stolen everyday. It is inconceivable this industrial scale theft of our crude oil is taking place without the active collaboration and connivance of political leaders at the highest level as well as other agents of the state. In the last year, incidents of piracy and fuel theft have increased so much so that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has surpassed that in the waters off of Somalia.
The United States and other international allies also suffer the consequences of oil theft and piracy and have a keen interest in assisting Nigeria to tackle this issue head on. Nigeria needs to ratchet up its collaboration with the United States on anti-piracy measures, using the East African model, to eliminate piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and help us save much-needed revenue. The precipitate decline in Nigeria’s oil receipt is unsustainable and could spell doom for our country in our time of need.
The declining prospects for free and fair elections
Which brings me to the issue of free and fair elections and smooth transition to a democratically elected government in Nigeria in 2015. There are ominous signs, Mr. President, that desperation to stay in power by agents of your party is already pushing our country to the edge of the precipice. Statements such as “2015 is already in the pocket of PDP” is not helping matters in the face of growing discontent with and desire to change the face of politics and governance in Nigeria as we know them since 1999.
When your party assumed power in 1999, the level of poverty in Nigeria was bad enough at 52%. Today, about three in every four Nigerians live in abject poverty and above one in every four is unemployed. There is fear in the land arising from rising insecurity with about 300 Nigerians killed by violent means in this month of September alone. All this is happening when Nigeria is recording record numbers of private jets purchased by people with questionable means, some of whom are fairly close to you. Poverty, unemployment, insecurity and corruption are bad enough. It would be disastrous if we add bad elections to this combination by denying Nigerians their right to choose leaders of their choice in 2015.
As you and President Obama meet in New York, I am certain your host will expect to hear reassuring words from you about the sanctity of the ballot in the forthcoming elections and a pledge from you that your party will not use state resources, including security personnel, to perpetuate itself. While it was possible to bend the rules and confer advantage on your party in the past, the emergence of new alternative political parties has profoundly altered the political landscape. It would be truly transformational if you will use the platform of your meeting to reassure President Obama and the international community in the after-meeting press briefing or Communique that Nigeria will follow in the footsteps of Ghana, Senegal and Mali in the quality of the election it will hold.
I wish Mr. President a successful meeting in New York and pray you return home safely, with renewed energy to kickstart the transformation which you promised Nigerians two and a half years ago.
Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim
National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM)