Book Review: Nigeria, Dancing on the Brink (2013 updated version) by John Campbell. With opinions by David William Pear. May 14, 2014.
Michelle Obama took the occasion of Mother’s Day for an emotional appeal to promote another US humanitarian military intervention. This one is to Nigeria to rescue over 200 girls kidnapped by a group calling itself Boko Haram.
Immediately the anti-war antennas should go up with two questions. Is this another humanitarian military intervention with ulterior motives? Does it have anything to do with oil and corporate profits again?
Yes, the American people should be very skeptical about sending in the military. The US track record on humanitarian military interventions is not good. The American people’s track record on being fooled by the excuses for interventions however is excellent.
Michelle Obama and the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign
If one asks question about the mission to rescue “Our Girls” in polite company they should be prepared for the wrath of condemnation for being insensitive and heartless. Still one needs to be suspicious of Michelle Obama’s sincerity and US foreign policy motives before nodding their approval. All is not what it seems.
Americans lack of knowledge about Nigeria is not surprising. Few Westerners have much knowledge about the country. Yet public opinion is running high in support of “doing something” and there is a big publicity campaign to get the public’s implicit approval of the military intervention with boots on the ground as well as in the sky.
Map of Africa
Here are some facts. Nigeria is one of the most important countries in Africa for America. It accounts for 11% of US imported oil. Much of it provided by Shell Oil Corporation. Nigeria with over 170 million people ranks number 7th in the world by population. And it is the 32nd largest country in the world at twice the size of California.
By Gross Domestic Product, Nigeria is the richest country in Africa surpassing South Africa. It has over 150 multi-billionaires. Yet shamefully its people are among the poorest in the world, ranked 153rd out of 187 on the UN Human Development Index. The poverty level of Nigeria is set at a mere $200 (US) annually which means that a Nigerian making just 55 cents a day is not considered poor by Nigerian standards.
Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink (2013)
A very readable book on Nigeria is Nigeria, Dancing on the Brink. The author, John Campbell, was the Ambassador to Nigeria (2004 to 2007). He was appointed by George W. Bush. The book is a very informative and devoid of either neo-con empire flag-waving or America-bashing criticism. John Campbell’s book is refreshingly objective, timely and has some sound US policy recommendation. He is an expert on Nigeria.
John Campbell writes about why Nigeria is close to becoming a failed state. He says that the causes are a hijacked democracy by the current and past governments, and that a pervasive “patronage and corrupt behavior fueled by oil money is a root cause of Nigeria’s political and economic sclerosis”.
He warns that there may be little that the US can do to prevent Nigeria from becoming a failed state and a human tragedy. He says that the problems of Nigeria must be solved by Nigerians, but what the US can do is to use its “soft-power” to help those Nigerians trying to help themselves out of their mess. According to John Campbell those were the instruction to him as the American ambassador. He says President Bush instructed him to initiate outreach programs to the Muslim north.
John Campbell now warns that the US must distance itself from the current un-democratic, unconstitutional corrupt government of Goodluck Jonathan. And that the US risks alienating Nigerians if the US should be too supportive of the current government: “The people of Nigeria distance themselves from government as much as they can. There is the risk that many of them will distance themselves from the United States if they perceive Washington to be an uncritical supporter of the Abuja (Nigerian government) status quo”.
John Campbell’s advice for Obama is that he “should take into greater account what the Nigerian government is doing domestically before embracing Abuja too warmly.” Yet his warning does not ring of a prescription for US sponsored regime change. Instead it seems he is saying that the US risks inadvertently creating more “terrorists” and destabilizing Nigeria as happened in Iraq.
President Obama was listening to this advice while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton has recently come under scathing criticism for not having declared Boko Haram a terrorist group. John Campbell has come to her defense. In defending her, John Campbell is reported to have said according to a “Leadership” article dated May 12, 2014 that “ he and other experts on Nigeria had also opposed the designation because Boko Haram is a highly diffuse group and the move could have limited U.S. options in dealing with it in the future”.*
John Campbell also is reported to have said, in the same May 12, 2014 “Leadership” article, that it is not likelihood that the kidnapped girls can be rescued as they may have been split-up and taken to different countries in Africa.
Apparently John Kerry, who just returned from a trip to Africa, is giving President Obama different advice. The State Department has now declared Boko Haram a terrorist group and the US has sent in US military and law enforcement. John Campbell also said (in the same article) this was a mistake because Nigeria was accepting the US help reluctantly and that the US should have waited to be formally asked for help.
Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan
So what lead to the rise of Boko Haram? According to John Campbell a large part of the reason was the extra-constitutional assumption of the presidency in 2009 by then Vice President Goodluck Jonathan (a southern Christian) during the illness and after the mysterious death of the sitting president Umaru Yar’Adua (a northern Muslim).
Yar’Adua 2007 election was considered fraudulent by international observers. After unconstitutionally assuming the presidency in 2009 Goodluck Jonathan then was re-elected president in 2011 in another fraudulent election. Fraudulent elections are not unusual for Nigeria.
It was not the fraudulent elections that upset the applecart. According to John Campbell, it was that Goodluck Jonathon disrupted the informal system of “zoning”.
Zoning was a corrupt yet stabilizing practice among Nigerian billionaires, oligarchs and the military. It was informally agreed among them that the presidency would rotate every 4 years between a southern Christian and a northern Muslim. That gave each side a chance to enrich themselves with the oil wealth and some of the purloined loot trickled down to their supporters and the people in their respective zones of Muslim north and Christian south.
Missing Nigerian girls
During Goodluck Jonathan’s two terms as president the Muslim north has fallen into dire poverty. It is poverty, and perhaps funding by the Muslim oligarchs and possibly Saudi Arabia or Iran, that has provided a breeding ground and the means for the rise of Boko Haram.
Now the question is will Goodluck Jonathan run again for president in 2015 and even try to become president for life? It is this concern and the tribal and religious frictions that have fueled the current crisis, terrorism and kidnappings of “Our Girls”. The timing of the US military mission will have an impact on Goodluck Jonathan’s decision and the outcome of the upcoming election.
The American people are now left arguing over the fate of several hundred girls. The altruistic argue that “we must do something” and the cynics have visions of Weapons of Mass Destruction and other falsehoods and made-up sob stories of Kuwaiti incubators.
The deployment of the US military is too important for non-sense, deception and propaganda. This is how Madison Avenue sells potato chips. It is not the way to have a vibrant democracy with the consent of the people.
In my opinion, the American people and other Westerners are terrible misinformed about the real causes of Islamic radicalism, its attraction, violence and spread. It is a too simple a view that Muslims by religious beliefs are more prone to violence, war and terrorism than other people.
It is also a racist misconception that black Africans are tribal savages, ungovernable, love to kill each other and need the white man to civilize them, teach them democracy and Christianity, and rescue them from their own violence, poverty, disease and starvation.
Instead the West has done little to help Africa and much to harm it by colonialism, neo-colonialism, and backing corrupt despots for exploitation and forcing neo-liberal policies on Africa. Now there is an ongoing “New Scramble for Colonies”. There are many countries including America competing for the natural and human resources of Africa.
The American people should remember that they have often been tricked into supporting humanitarian military interventions that turned out not to be what they seemed at first. The Libyan no-fly zone quickly turned into an aerial bombardment with covert boots on the ground. And we should never forget the Weapons of Mass destruction that weren’t in Iraq.
Whenever the US government wants a military intervention it is not shy about making up or exaggerating an excuse and to offer an easy “cake walk” solution. The American people are now being asked to give implicit approval of the military intervention that the Nigerian people may not even want.
What Americans should worry about is just how big and long of a military intervention is anticipated. If it were small and short the US military could do it just like all the other covert night-raids and drone attacks of AFRICOM in other African nations going on now.
Instead we have a teary eyed and outraged Michelle Obama selling the story of “Our Girls”. It smacks of a big propaganda campaign that even uses the Obama children Sasha and Mila as props. There should be no doubt that Michelle Obama’s speech was well choreographed.
John Campbell in his book does an excellent job of giving the history of Nigeria from colonial times, the history of independence since 1960, the politics, military dictators, presidents, poverty, corruption, stolen wealth, fake elections, religious conflicts, tribal differences, the emerging of Boko Haram and what it all means for the US.
Answers are what Barack and Michelle should be giving to the American people instead of emotional appeals to rescue “Our Girls”. Then an informed American people could have a real dialog about Nigeria and make an informed decision if a military intervention is in their best interests. That is what would happen if America had a participatory government.
President Obama and Michelle have instead inserted the US into this Nigerian fray without asking the American people first. Nigeria may turn into a long and costly bloody civil war. And then what?
“Boko Haram Designation: John Campbell Flays Criticism Against Hillary Clinton”, Leadership, May 12, 2014 [ http://leadership.ng/news/370459/boko-haram-designation-john-campbell-flays-criticism-hillary-clinton ]