Long Reads Opinion

The Colonization of Nigeria’s Presidential Campaign (WMTLWBTL part 3)

Photo credit: “Man holding a Flag of Nigeria” by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu

The original article can be found on Proshare and republished and re-edited with permission from the author.  

One month before the Nigerian election took place, three leading presidential candidates emerged, namely Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP), Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). In addition to the regular campaigning strategies usually adopted by politicians, these Big Three politicians included a new tactic that had never been used in Nigeria’s political history. They outdid each other to become the leading and most loyal colonial subject by engaging in a race to the bottom to get validation from Western think tanks and diplomats.   

One obvious manifestation of this tendency was the visit to Chatham House, the British think tank, by Tinubu and Obi in December 2022 and January 2023, respectively. Political analysts, such as Farooq Kperogi, Deborah Tolu-Kolawole, and Reuben Abati, have written about this trend. According to them, the candidates exhibited a colonial mentality by speaking at Chatham instead of focusing on the Nigerian electorate. However, the visit to Chatham House was only the tip of the iceberg. A more disturbing development that has not been scrutinized was the private discussions between the Big Three presidential candidates and Western diplomats.  

Peter Obi set the ball rolling in May 2022 when he uploaded to Twitter an image of himself in front of the doors of 10 Downing Street.

On 1 August 2022, Atiku met a delegation of the British High Commission in Nigeria, led by Catriona Laing, the UK ambassador. Shortly after the meeting, Laing tweeted “Good to meet the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar @atiku today. Interesting to hear his ideas on the economic, security, and development priorities for #Nigeria ahead of #2023elections.” In a press statement, Atiku noted that he expected Britain to play a more active role in the survival of democracy in Nigeria.

Two days later, it was Peter Obi’s turn to see the UK Ambassador to Nigeria. After the meeting, Catriona Laing wrote on Twitter “Good to meet the Labour Party Presidential Candidate, @PeterObi, today and hear about his ideas on Nigeria’s economic, security, and development priorities ahead of #2023elections.”

A month later, Bola Tinubu hosted Catriona Laing, who paid him a courtesy visit at the APC Presidential Campaign Office, where they discussed his campaign plans. 

Next were engagements with diplomats from the world’s greatest neo-colonial power, the United States. Peter Obi won the race by securing a meeting with William Steven, the Consul-General of the United States in Nigeria. Peter Obi uploaded an image of him shaking hands with the US Consul on Twitter and wrote “It was my pleasure to meet with William B. Stevens, the new Consul-General of the United States in Nigeria. We had constructive discussions and exchanged ideas.” Not to be outdone by Peter Obi, the APC Presidential Candidate Bola Tinubu met with the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, and Rolf Olson, the US Political Adviser, on 22 September 2022. On Twitter, he uploaded four images he took with the US diplomats. The US Ambassador said she was privileged to talk about US perspectives on the election with Bola Tinubu. Atiku was late to the party, but he met with US State Department officials in Washington, DC. Atiku stated that the focus of the meeting was to discuss “The critical need to seek collaborative solutions to our local issues on democracy and governance, our deteriorating security and the economy.” Although Atiku did not participate in the Chatham House jamboree, he privately met with United States Institute of Peace officials.

Bola Tinubu gained the first-mover advantage with European Union diplomats. In July 2022, he met with Ms Samuela Isopi, the Ambassador of the European Union to Nigeria, and Ms Rita Laranjinha, the EU’s Managing Director of the European External Action Service for Afrika. A month and a half later, Atiku met with various EU ambassadors. He wrote that he had a robust discussion focusing on the next political phase for Nigeria. He also stated, “not only is unity in Nigeria critical, but partnership with the EU is necessary for Nigeria to reach its full potential.” Two weeks later, Peter Obi met with the Ambassador of the European Union in Nigeria, Samuela Isopi and Heads of Missions of the EU member states.  

In addition to meeting the above-mentioned Western diplomats, our presidential candidates also traveled to London to kiss the ring of Andrew Mitchell, the Minister of State for Development and Afrika. Bola Tinubu had a private meeting with Andrew Mitchell in December 2022.  

In the foreword to the 2008 edition of Franz Fanon’s book, Black Skin, White Masks, a book that examines how colonialism is internalized by the colonized, Ziauddin Sardar wrote that Fanon asserts that “When the Black man comes into contact with the White world he goes through an experience of sensitization. His ego collapses. His self-esteem evaporates. He ceases to be a self-motivated person. The entire purpose of his behavior is to emulate the White man, to become like him, and thus hope to be accepted as a man.” The antics of the Big Three presidential aspirants showcased their inferiority complex. Instead of presenting their case to the Nigerian electorates, they were more preoccupied with drinking milk from their colonial mama’s breast.  

There is no originality in their approach. When one goes to Chatham House, the rest follow; when one meets with the UK Ambassador, the rest follow; and when one kisses Andrew Mitchell’s ring, the rest follow. Bola Tinubu, who was reluctant to participate in town halls and presidential debates and avoided the local media, didn’t see the irony in attending Chatham House and interviewing with the BBC. What is disheartening is these politicians delude themselves by thinking that uploading a photo with Mr. White man or Mrs. White woman will buy them political capital. Equally amusing are the responses to the images from some of their supporters who believe in this mantra: White knows best.   

The Big Three failed to realize that these photo-ops with White diplomats revealed more than they intended to communicate. When we looked at these photos they took with Western diplomats, we saw our future president and his pot-bellied entourage grinning from ear to ear like the Cheshire cat that ate the cheese posing with Mr. White man and Mrs. White woman. We saw from their body language a subservient relationship between a colonial subject and a colonial master. We saw a group of politicians engaging in a beauty parade before their colonial overlords.

Instead of working towards Pan-Afrikanism, the Big Three are more interested in building bilateral relationships with Western colonial powers. When the founding fathers of the Afrikan continent fought for independence, they did not envisage future Afrikan leaders genuflecting at the altar of the colonialists. The Big Three now go cup in hand to their colonial masters, believing that the West can solve our problems. Atiku said he expected Britain to play an essential role in the survival of democracy in Nigeria. His focus with the US diplomats was to seek solutions to local issues on democracy. If our presidential aspirants had done their homework well, they would know that the West should not be lecturing us on democracy and how to have a free and fair election. Britain can’t and should not play an active role in the survival of democracy in Nigeria when its present Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was elected to office by a mere 202 members of Parliament, which translates to 0.0003% of the British population. Neither can the US provide solutions for democracy issues in Nigeria when President Trump’s supporters attacked the United States Capitol Building two years ago due to what they claimed were election irregularities.  

In revealing their vision and seeking help from Western diplomats, the Big Three demonstrated a need for more understanding of history and the thin line between espionage and diplomatic missions. If they had read their history books, they would have learned how Western diplomats have worked to destabilize Afrikan countries, as eloquently explained in Susan Williams’s book White Malice. From history, we know how Britain used indirect rule to manage its colonies. Nigeria was not immune to this practice as the Brits used it effectively in northern Nigeria. Instead of using people from the metropolis to rule the colonized, the colonialists appointed local leaders to oversee Northern Nigerians on their behalf. As these Big Three presidential aspirants held private meetings with Western diplomats, were we not witnessing a 21st variant of indirect rule? The Big Three also failed to understand that all their plans for Nigeria would be relayed from the embassy staff in Abuja to 10 Downing Street, the White House, and the European Parliament.  

The Big Three should have reflected on the folly of their actions and imagined the following scenario: It is 2024, and the UK General Election is two months away. The two main contestants are Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer. Keir Starmer leaves London and travels 4,078 miles to deliver a speech at The Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) explaining his vision for the British people. Five days later, Rishi Sunak flies over to address the NIIA. Keir Starmer then poses in front of Aso Rock and uploads the image onto Facebook with the caption “I just arrived at Aso Rock for a meeting. Ran into Governor Wike —full of passion as usual.” What would the British people say? Wouldn’t they say that Starmer and Sunak have lost their minds and should return?   

What the Big Three have done in this recent electoral cycle was shameful at best and dangerous at worst. We can’t allow our electoral process to be manipulated by foreign influence. So, in the future, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should prohibit presidential candidates from meeting with foreign diplomats. INEC should also put a blanket ban to prevent presidential candidates from delivering speeches at foreign think tanks. Furthermore, the Federal Government should obtain the transcript of the discussions between the Big Three and the Western diplomats and make it available to the broader public so we can determine whether anything sinister was discussed.  

With Bola Tinubu now occupying the seat of power since 29 May 2023, traces of the neo-colonial takeover are still ongoing. In his quest to attract foreign investment, he has implemented a number of neo-liberal policies that have got foreign economic hitmen and women rubbing their hands with glee. On the day of his inauguration, President Tinubu announced that the petroleum subsidy would be removed. As a result, the fuel price trebled instantly, which had and continues to have dire implications for Nigerians. As the Nigerian masses wailed in response to the inflationary impact of the subsidy removal, the apostles of the “Washington Consensus” rejoiced and commended Tinubu for a job well done. The fuel subsidy removal is an answered prayer for the World Bank, which has engaged in a long-standing crusade to have successive Nigerian governments remove fuel subsidies.

Two weeks after the inauguration, Tinubu removed the currency peg, resulting in the biggest drop in Naira’s history. According to the Financial Times, Tinubu’s move “To put the country on a more orthodox economic trajectory has been praised by investors who are hopeful that Africa’s most populous country has passed an important inflection point.” A Goldman Sachs economist stated that the devaluation of Nigeria’s currency has excited many people in the market. While the Nigerian masses saw the policy as negative for their pockets, Fitch Ratings, the American credit rating agency, wrote that the reform was a positive development for Nigeria’s credit profile. US vice president Kamala Harris called Tinubu to express her support for his ending fuel subsidy and unifying the foreign currency exchange rates. Irrespective of who would have won the election, the yearnings of the Nigerian masses would always have played second fiddle to the desires of the Washington Consensus as the “Big Three” presidential candidates all indicated their intentions to remove the fuel subsidy if elected. 

A few days before Tinubu took over the reins of power, Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, paid him a courtesy visit behind closed doors. According to a statement released by Tinubu’s office, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change had several projects in the country, and it was “incumbent upon him to meet the country’s incoming president to understand the administration’s priorities.” Rather than meeting with the market women, drivers, and students suffering from his neo-liberal troika of subsidy removal, exchange rate devaluation, and increased electricity tariffs, President Tinubu has chosen to hang out with his neocolonial masters.

Despite its challenges, Nigeria has a critical role to play in Afrika’s renaissance. Furthermore, it has the human and natural resources to be a key player in global affairs. We should therefore be vigilant and make sure that the current and future occupants at Aso Rock are not Manchurian leaders who will turn Nigeria into a neo-colonial state for politicians and financiers in Washington, London, and Brussels.

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