It Is a well-known precept in geopolitics that a country does not have “permanent friends”, but “permanent interests.”
Nigeria may be neither a permanent friend nor a permanent enemy of the United States. But America, on the other hand, does have important economic interests in Nigeria, and therefore maintains a sort of permanent watching brief over that country.
Now, Western oil companies like Chevron, Shell and Total, operate in Nigeria. But that is no big deal –they also operate in other countries. What makes Nigeria uniquely important to the West is the quality of its oil. This is light (as in “Bonny Light”) and is therefore greatly sought after, mainly to mix with much heavier crudes imported from elsewhere.
But Nigeria also attracts the attention of the United States for political reasons. Yes, the political leadership of Nigeria is corrupt; its public services are grossly inefficient; and its social imbalances 0bscenely incongruous.
Such internal weaknesses would suggest that Nigeria should operate on the international scene like a mammoth with the voice of an ant. But Nigeria’s voice on the international scene is anything but that of an ant. For instance, the US found out, in 1975, that Nigeria, then led by a fiercely independent-minded leader, the redoubtable Murtala Muhammed, could demolish a carefully-crafted US political initiative designed to get the (then) Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to recognise the UNITA movement , led by Jonas Savimbi, as a co-equal of the MPLA — the legitimate government of Angola. (UNITA was armed and financed by the US in secret collaboration with the apartheid regime in South Africa; the story is revealed in the book, IN SEARCH OF ENEMIES by a former CIA agent turned whistle-blower, John Stockwell.)
Aware of the CIA’s covert sponsorship of UNITA, Nigeria used its money and diplomatic clout to help the (then) Marxist-oriented MPLA, instead, to maintain its position as the sole legitimate government of Angola. This, in turn, enabled Cuba to offer military assistance openly to the MPLA, claiming, as it did, that it was entitled, under international law, to offer military assistance to a legitimate government that asked for such assistance.
Despite subsequent efforts by the US to twist the arms of some African countries to oppose “Communist rule” in Angola by the MPLA, with the assistance of Communist Cuba, it was UNITA that was eventually defeated. African countries, almost in their entirety, correctly ignored the “Communist bogey” brandished in their faces by the US, and told the US, in no uncertain terms, that their loyalty was with their brothers and sisters oppressed by the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, and its acolyte, the illegal regime of Ian Smith in Rhodesia.
Of course, looking at the corruption and nepotism that afflict the ruling oligarchy in Angola today — whose monopolisation of Angola’s oil wealth is blatantly carried out in collaboration with Western capitalist companies — the notion that Angola was about to go “Communist ” under the MPLA, is now quite laughable. And yet the US had carried out quite serious studies by “experts” that argued that America should ally itself with the racist regimes in Southern Africa and prop them up, against a possible “Communist” takeover of the region by Black freedom fighters, potentially led by the MPLA with Cuban and Eastern European assistance!
(One of the most notable of these “studies” was entitled “Operation Tar Baby”. It apparently had the political imprint of no less a person than the American foreign policy genius of the time, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whom Americans lionised because of his feats in extricating the US from the military difficulties in which it had placed itself, in such countries as Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – as well as, politically, the People’s Republic of China: Kissinger made a ground-breaking secret visit to China, and then got President Richard Nixon, one of America’s most hard-nosed anti-Communist leaders, to visit China himself. And the rest became history!)
Yet, in hindsight, Kissinger may agree that he grossly miscalculated the dynamics of the politics of Southern Africa in accepting the premise propagated by “Operation Tar Baby”, which was, basically, that the white regimes of Southern Africa would retain power and that realpolitik required that the US should continue to covertly assist them to remain in charge. Racism? Who cared? Black Africa was to be fooled – with political double-talk, intelligence-mounted deception and cash bribes – into adopting a lukewarm, if not neutral , attitude towards the emancipation of the Blacks.
Nigeria, to its immense credit, saw through all this. It made fierce noises threatening to nationalise Western oil installations on its soil if the West continued to support the racist regimes. Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of Great Britain, was the first to blink: Kissinger, too clever no to realise, mid-stream, that “Operation Tar Baby” was dead in the water, got Thatcher to offer Rhodesia as a sacrificial lamb to Black Africa (in the hope of saving the more juicy beef that was on offer to the West in racist South Africa.) Thus, Zimbabwe was born. Nigeria’s role in reversing the West’s support for the racists — a historic confrontation whose outcome every Nigerian can be proud of — still informs the perspectives of many opinion makers within the Nigerian body-politic. This is why some Nigerians are now suggesting that Boko Haram is a “ creation of the CIA” to punish and emasculate Nigeria. The CIA deliberately created Boko Haram in the way it created Al Qaeda in collaboration with Osama Bin Laden, before Osama turned against America, it is claimed.
Of course, in an emotive situation like the one that has been created by the abduction, on 14 April 2014, of nearly 300 secondary school girls at Chibok, in Borno State, conspiracy theories are bound to germinate and multiply. But there is room for genuine wonder as to how Boko Haram’s activities have blossomed to weaken Nigeria and placed her in the hands of the US and its Western allies, at a time when Nigeria’s prestige in West Africa has been riding high on the performance of Nigerian troops sent to save n Liberia and Sierra Leone, as well as play an under-stated role in resolving the Mali and Ivory Coast conflicts. Isn’t the collapse of Nigerian foreign policy, attendant on its government’s weakness vcis-a-vis Boko Haram, too “neat” to be a mere “happenstance” (as James Bond would put it?)
That question is not altogether an idle one. To begin with, the US would dearly wish to get Nigeria to subscribe fully to the objectives the US has mapped up for American troops in Africa, under the umbrella of the “United States Africa Command” or AFRICOM. With armed forces estimated to be over 200,000 strong, the influence of Nigeria in West Africa cannot be over-emphasized (it is worth
led ECOMOG intervention force, after falling into the hands of a band of desperadoes called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) whose calling card was the brutal amputation of the limbs of prisoners who fell into its hands And as noted earlier, the Ivory Coast and Mali have, more recently, also benefited from Nigerian military assistance during their recent upheavals.) In other words, Nigeria, which has prevented important West African states from becoming failed states, is now in danger of becoming a failed state itself. In whose interest is that, as Nigeria goes cap in hand to Paris to seek military and political support from the West and its unacknowledged colonies in Africa, such as Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Burkina Faso?
The argument , though, that will clinch the issue for conspiracy-prone Nigerians is that the US will be wary of fully trusting Nigeria — if it is not politically weakened from within beforehand — to fall into line behind America’s long-term strategic design on Africa under the rubric of AFRICOM. Would Nigeria accept on African soil, a beefed-up AFRICOM, with drone bases situated in Djibouti, the Seychelles, Niger and other African countries? Would Nigeria ever allow US drones to be stationed on its own soil?
On the other hand, if the US is able – in an opportunistic manner — to use the abduction of the girls at Chibok to get a chastened Nigeria to open up its military and intelligence services to full-scale American penetration, how can it turn round to oppose the long-term strategic objectives envisaged by the US under its AFRICOM programme? If Nigeria falls politically to the US, then certainly, a great number of pieces will suddenly fall into place for the US, on the chess-board on which the US has painted the image of the continent of Africa.
The dangers in that situation are put into sharp relief by facts such as this: even as Nigeria was worrying itself to death over the abduction of the girls at Chibok, Nigeria was signing an agreement with China, that will enable China to construct a coastal railway line for Nigeria. The price tag? Thirteen billion dollars!
NOW (one wonders) what would the US say about that – if it was in a position to say something?