Nigeria: We are back!

Jonathan GoodluckAccording to feelers, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan’s recent visit to the United States may have offered Nigeria a new lease of life in the US and on the wider global scene, going by comments in Washington DC about the four-day visit from Sunday to Wednesday, last week.

At the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, the Americans literally told the international community; WE Are Back!

Yes, after being in the wilderness, going it alone and spurning international collaboration during the Bush years, the world welcomed America back in 2009.

So it is with the visit of Nigeria’s acting president, Goodluck Jonathan to the United States. Commentators generally believe that “Jonathan Made Nigeria Proud in Washington DC”.

Indications are that Nigeria’s dwindling fortunes on the global scene may have started to undergo a positive turnaround, especially at the United States and the United Nations, according to informed sources.

When was the last time that a Nigerian President successfully negotiated a long question and answer session at the Council on Foreign Relations?

When was the last time a sitting Nigeria President gave an unscripted interview to an experienced inquisitor like Christiana Amanpour?

According to a report by Laolu Akande, of the Guardian: Jonathan, who simply became the toast of the US capital city on arrival, “met all who mattered” in Washington DC and was actively sought after by several US groups and international agencies. In all the meetings, opened to public, there were not enough rooms for Nigerians and Americans, diplomats, businessmen, top officials and others who wanted engagement with the Nigerian leader.

At one of the several meetings to which the Acting president was invited, hosted by the Corporate Council for Africa, CCA, a Caucasian American attendee, stood up and openly declared that the Acting President Jonathan has within a few days in the US “repaired the reputation of Nigeria” by his visit and the level and warmth of welcome that he enjoyed. A ready applause from the luncheon room greeted the observation.

Besides, while the Acting President was returning, the deputy assistant Secretary of State for Africa, William Fitzgerald, said publicly in Washington DC, that “Nigeria is important to stability and progress worldwide, as well in Africa,” emphasising the closeness of U.S.-Nigeria ties.

“Nigeria is very important,” Fitzgerald, stressed, adding that, “on the continent, it is the most populous nation, the largest contributor of peacekeepers, the largest producer of oil, and the largest recipient of direct investment by the American private sector.”

“Whether providing critical leadership in ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), engagement in West Africa, or, from the perspective of its current seat on the U.N. Security Council, Nigeria plays a role far beyond its own borders,” the U.S. official added, corroborating what, according to observers, indicates the final restoration of a positive rhetoric from the US government on Nigeria.

In a particular instance, two leading US business groups were competing for longer periods of time to host the Acting President in the US capital city, indicating what government officials, both in the US and Nigeria, say is a new window of opportunity for Nigeria’s image abroad.

CCA, a think tank for US-based business concerns and leaders in Africa and the Atlantic Council, a competing council, battled for influence as the latter was almost being sidelined in favour of the CCA, until an influential US-based Nigerian threw his weight behind the Atlantic Council.

In the end, Dr. Jonathan met both councils on the last day of his visit, and in the event, even the former world-renowned American folk hero, retired war general and former secretary of State Colin Powell, showed up at the Atlantic Council meeting with the Acting President.

At the White House, informed sources say the new Nigerian Ambassador, Professor Ade Adefuye, had impressed it upon the US President on the need to personally receive the Nigerian Acting president during the summit, an idea Obama was said to have readily agreed to.

Also the new Ambassador tabled the issue of the terror watch list, explaining Nigeria’s determination to be a positive voice against terrorism well before the Abdulmutallab incident in December. The Ambassador was reported to have explained at the White House that an anti-terrorism bill was already before the National Assembly, even before the last year Christmas day terror attempt in Detroit.

Few days after, the US government announced new airport security measures, which meant Nigeria and Nigerians were no longer singled out for enhanced airport screening. Within a week of that announcement, a visit to Nigeria was set up by the US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, whose department had, in January, made the determination to include Nigeria and Nigerians under the enhanced airport screening after the Abdulmutallab incident.

About the same time the State Department announced that the US government was also now ready to grant a long-held request of Nigeria for the resumption of a US-Nigerian Bi-national Commission, which had been in place between the two countries in the era of Bill Clinton as President but was suspended afterwards during the George W. Bush tenure.

US government sources say Nigeria is the first country in Africa under the Obama administration to enjoy such an agreement. It was signed just a week ahead of the Jonathan visit. Incidentally, soon after Nigeria signed the Bi-National Commission with the US, the South Africans also quickly got a similar deal with the US government, which was announced last Thursday after the departure of the Acting President. The US-South African agreement was named a Strategic Dialogue, raising press enquiries at the State Department that this was happening so soon after the US-Nigerian Bi-National Commission.

It was gathered that even the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, sent words that he would like to personally meet and know the Acting President, while he, the UN leader, was also in town attending the US sponsored Nuclear Security summit. Ban offered to assist Nigeria, while soliciting more support from the Nigerian government to support international peacekeeping.

Besides, Ban Ki-moon even offered that he would be visiting the Acting President in Abuja in

June. That would be the first time he would be traveling to Nigeria since he assumed the office in 2007. Apart from that, he requested the Acting president to attend his own UN Summit on the MDGs in September, when the General Assembly summit will be holding at the headquarters of the world body in New York.

Similarly, apart from meeting the US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on the first day of his arrival, last week, Dr. Jonathan was immediately invited the next day to also have lunch with the US Vice President Joseph Biden, among few other selected leaders attending the Nuclear summit, at the official residence of the US Vice President.

On the same day the Acting President also met with top World Bank officials, including President Robert Zoellick, who offered a fresh hand of partnership to the Nigerian government on several sectoral issues, especially on power.

At the end of the week in Washington DC/Maryland region, Nigeria’s Acting President’s name had become a pop quiz question on a popular Baltimore FM radio station 88.1-the question was “whose country’s president’s name starts with the word Goodluck?”

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the acting president of Nigeria. He is an indigen of Bayelsa State in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. He’s a biologist by training, and holds a Ph.D. in zoology — and a master’s degree in something I didn’t even know existed, hydrobiology and fisheries biology.

From the events of the past 6 months, Dr. Jonathan came across as a man of uncommon loyalty, impeccable integrity and immense commitment to Nigeria and to the welfare of the Nigerian people.

It is good news to hear that Dr Goodluck Jonathan made Nigeria proud in Washington DC. Optimists believe Jonathan displayed that he has what it takes to make positive changes in Nigeria.

It is equally important to understand that the forces against progress are enormous and demand a new kind of partnership between anti-corruption groups and relevant persons in government.

Will Jonathan’s outing bring the needed respite to Nigeria at home? Only if he find ways to give governance a human face.