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Nigeria and Africom: The dangers of ceding sovereignty

Nigeria and Africom: The dangers of ceding sovereignty
  • PublishedJune 14, 2021

By inviting the US’s Africom to help resolve its security issues, Nigeria is once again ceding sovereignty to outside powers, and is in danger of repeating the mistakes and unwanted outcomes of the past, writes Onyekachi Wambu.

News of President Buhari’s declaration that he would welcome the presence of the US’s Africom to help the continent resolve its ongoing security issues, came at the same time as I was reading Max Siollun’s excellent book, What Britain Did to Nigeria: A short history of conquest and rule.

Buhari’s declaration recalled many of the mistakes made during the pre-colonial period, and has serious implications for Nigeria’s sense of itself, its supposed leadership role in Africa and Africa’s own global geopolitical positioning.

However, the most surprising thing about the declaration was how little response it galvanised within Nigeria itself or across the African continent. Nigerian elites have always had an appetite for hidden security deals with the former imperial power but the people have always vociferously rejected any such dealings.

Between 1958 and 1962 during the independence transition period, Nigeria entered into a defence agreement with Britain, which had to be abrogated following widespread demonstrations from a strong anti-imperialist constituency. 

Externally, in terms of its African leadership position, Nigeria also faced being outflanked by Kwame Nkrumah, who struck a militant non-aligned anti-colonial position, which would have left the perception that Nigeria was an imperialist stooge.

Nigeria continued to quietly rely on British military support but diversified its military alliances through the civil war and up to the mid-1970s, then a radical group of military officers led by Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, repositioned the country towards a combative anti-colonial Africa First policy.

This view, actioned through the OAU, the Commonwealth, UN, nationalisation of BP, etc, was particularly in opposition to Western support for the remaining racist white minority regimes in Southern African, which resisted decolonisation.

Following the liberation in South Africa, Nigeria doubled down on this Africa First policy in the 1990s, committing huge resources to the ECOMOG force that attempted to solve the regional crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The creation of the AU and NEPAD at the turn of the century, and the role played by Thabo Mbeki and Obasanjo, saw the ‘African solutions for African problems’ approach formally entrenched, with a great deal of continental resistance to Africom or other foreign bases on any part of the continent.

Two events began to erode Nigeria’s African solutions position, both happening under Goodluck Jonathan. The first was his deference to French power in resolving the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire in 2011, and the second, equally egregious, was voting for the UN Security Council 1974 Resolution for a ‘no fly zone’ over Libya, which enabled France, Britain and the US to remove Gaddafi from power and destroy Libya.

Erosion of sovereignty

The BRIC countries (Russia, China, Brazil, India) and Germany all abstained, while Russia and China later stated that they wanted to vote against, but given that the African countries on the Security Council (Nigeria, South Africa, and Gabon) were in favour, they did not want to be seen, as we say in Nigeria, to be crying more than the people who owned the body.

Many of the conflicts that Buhari is today calling for Africom’s help with are a direct consequence of the destruction of Libya and the emptying of Gaddafi’s armoury, which provided major arms to previously poorly armed small rebel groups like Boko Haram or those in Mali, which were thus enabled to form major threats across the region.

These outside interventions created the problems in the Sahel and the broader Middle East without resolving them.

As the writer Siollun shows, Nigerian elites rarely learn from their mistakes. What is however disappointing is why the home-grown anti-imperialist movement disappeared.

This could be an indication of the diminishing support for the Nigerian nation state itself, with progressives now increasingly demanding a break-up and their own ethnic states rather than safeguarding Nigeria from imperialists. 

Finally, inviting foreign powers to help you to solve your security problems is a tacit admission that you are no longer in control of your own sovereign space.

At that point one truly wonders what it is that your sovereignty is worth. Are our leaders now reverting to colonial-era indirect rule, where they administered the space on behalf of the colonial power, in return for local privileges? 

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Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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