The Many Question Marks on America’s Rapprochement with Nigeria

A few days ago, US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken visited Nigeria which by virtue of its population holds the position of Africa’s largest economy by gross domestic product. While I see his visit as a ‘fire brigade’ approach to curtail the stranglehold of China in the region, I think it is posturing that could bring forth more complexities for Nigeria.

In the last decade, Nigeria has only pivoted towards China, but it has built its socio-economic survival around the patronage of Beijing. As a strong member of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Nigeria now owes China at least $4 billion (according to the World Bank). To the credit of this humongous debt, Nigeria now has flashy trains, relatively well-paved roads and better-looking international airports.

However, as far as the BRI is concerned, the devil is in the details. Various research and findings all point to the fact that Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative goes beyond the much-touted ‘win-win’ cooperation with developing countries across Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and of course, Asia. To China’s advantage, the BRI has gone a long way to change the game of play for the US and from a strategic point of view, the U.S. will need to change its strategy on Nigeria and Africa in particular if Washington is serious at curbing China’s inroads.

CCECC to complete Lagos-Ibadan rail signals, communication system March 2022 – Newstrends
The Lagos Ibadan-Railway standard gauge network was constructed by a Chinese state-owned construction company, CCECC, under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Moreover, I have not seen an iota of seriousness if the words and actions of Mr. Blinken are to be taken seriously. One could conclude that Washington is working on its approach to at least take on China’s BRI, however, Blinken’s latest position is not the least simplistic but counter-productive for the U.S.

Without excusing Nigeria’s deplorable records of endemic corruption, human rights abuses and repressive leadership, the U.S. has always been using a token strategy towards Nigeria and if you are to better interpret it, Nigeria was long regarded as a non-essential ‘ally’ or entity in U.S’ strategic considerations. While the U.S. finds no issues using a classical realist approach to cozy up with Saudi Arabia, it lectures Nigeria on human rights abuses and good governance. Despite the former’s litany of human rights abuses, state-sponsored assassinations (such as the gory killing of Jamal Kashoggi) and the various conspiracy theories on the September 11, 2001 terror attacks; it begs the question of whether Nigeria should take the U.S. seriously when it mounts the podium to lecture its politicians on why a better human rights scorecard would win them her favour.

Without mincing words, the U.S. has no genuine alternative to China’s BRI and its recent rapprochement disguised as one would only make Beijing further tighten its grip on Nigeria and every other country under the purview of its strategy.

As for Nigeria, its benefactor or cheque-book diplomacy with Beijing is not in her long-term strategic interest. For a country that had the potential to be the first developed country in Africa going ‘cap in hand’ to take money from ‘whoever’ is available is not just a misnomer but dangerous for her place in time and her future as the largest black country on Earth.

Despite China’s benign posture, neither Beijing nor Washington has the best interest of Nigeria at heart. Nigeria’s problem is emblematic of the bigger picture across Africa. Without dismissing the bad hand the continent was dealt with via decades of destructive colonisation and neo-colonialism that further cemented its fate, Africa is plagued with a protracted leadership crisis. A poor leader outlay without a sustainable vision on how to build a working economy, eliminate poverty, build a unified national identity, engender prosperity for citizens and global relevance for the country has made Nigeria not just a laughing stock, but a mere object in the field of the diplomatic strategy of the world’s power brokers.

While it seems as if the larger sentiment amongst the Nigerian political elites seems to favour the anomalous Nigerian-China rapport, the rude awakening is awaiting Nigerians when Beijing leverages her pent-up goodwill that will pit Nigeria against a major superpower such as the U.S. Nigeria could end up in a diplomatic purgatory that could further harm its economy, national security and its going concern as an independent and sovereign entity.

The fact on the ground is the US and China are enmeshed in a strategic showdown over several value-based and positioning bones of contentions. On the economic front, the U.S. is serious about keeping its lead on 5G technology, artificial intelligence and protecting its intellectual property from alleged theft and hacking from China and perhaps Russia. While the U.S. seems to have backed off on China’s iron hold on Hong Kong, there is the issue of Taiwan and whether the U.S. should on principle support the island to be independent while still committing to the ‘One-China’ policy. There is also the overlong dispute on ownership and control in the South China Sea. The recent AUKUS alliance between the U.S., the UK and Australia to build several nuclear power sub-marines for the latter is a major affront to Beijing that further heightened tensions between the two giants.

It is not a matter of choosing between Beijing and Washington or the ‘devil and the deep blue sea’. The solution required is for Nigeria to solve the poor leadership that is destroying its leftover potentials and the whittling opportunity to rise as a force to be reckoned with in the international system. This is about building good governance from the ground up, building systems and institutions that can deliver to her people. If this is achieved, Africa’s most populous state would be able to rationally engage power brokers without being combative. It can cooperate as well as ensure its national interest, cultural values, Africa’s perspectives to pivotal issues of global importance are not sacrificed for short-term and pecuniary gains.

Until then, Nigeria is just another beggarly country that China and the U.S. can manipulate at will and it is Nigerians and their unborn generations that bear the brunt of this subjugation.

Samuel Odusami is currently an M.A. International Relations researcher at Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom. All opinions expressed in this article are his personal views and not in any way associated with any institutions he is affiliated with.

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