Joseph S. Nye, Bill Clinton’s assistant defence secretary who holds the preeminent position of the University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard, is best
remembered worldwide for coining the term, soft power, in the late 1980s in a seminal article in Foreign Affairs. Soft power is a theoretical framework which refers to the phenomenon of a state or country attracting or co-opting other nations and peoples to do its wishes without the use of force or money. The opposite is hard power, which President George W. Bush used enthusiastically in Iraq, earning him the reputation of a war monger. Reckless use of hard power pushes American opponents to terrorism against the United States and its allies. Barak Obama, on the other hand, is a practitioner of soft power, which should not be confused with cowardice or pacifism. When the opportunity came for the United States to get rid of Osama bin Laden, Obama took out the foremost terrorist in a rather entertaining manner. It added to America’s global appeal. Soft power is about wide-ranging and sustained charm offensive, it is about public diplomacy, it is about creating and building goodwill. Hence, the University of Manchester prides itself on producing more foreign prime ministers, presidents and heads of state than any other British institution.
A substantial number of Igbo political activists have yet to appreciate the value of soft power. Two instances will do here. Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State was out of the country when the scores of people were massacred at Nimbo in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of neighbouring Enugu State on April 25.
But he quickly returned home on hearing of this act of man’s inhumanity to man. He was to explain that he cut short his trip to ensure that the massacre did not get to Anambra State and that a possible reprisal attack would not occur in his state, given the cultural and historical propinquity between the people of Ayamelum Local Government Area in his state and Uzo Uwani LGA in Enugu State who used to be in the same LGA until 1988. Satisfied that the situation was now under control, the governor advised Anambrarians not to molest any Fulani or Northerner in their midst and then called a meeting of Fulani herders who have been living in some 20 settlements around the state for decades and counselled them to remain peaceful and law abiding. He said that he was determined to make Anambra remain the safest state in the country, so that its development level can escalate.
As the chief security officer of the state, Obiano must protect the life and asset of everyone in the state, whether an indigene or not. The recent steps he took went a long way to secure the lives and assets of millions of his own people even in Northern Nigeria, many of whom are eminently successful tycoons, professors, corporate executives and professionals. But what he got in return was a sustained barrage of insults online from a handful of Igbo elements living in the United States. Presumably, the Igbo irredentists would have been satisfied if the governor had launched an anti-Fulani drive without minding the consequences for millions of Igbo people in the North who are vulnerable.
Obiano’s experience is by no means different from that of Enugu State governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who was pilloried by the same American-based activists. Erstwhile World Bank vice president Oby Ezekwesili last year described these activists as Internet thugs when she came under their scurrilous criticism for demanding that the Goodluck Jonathan administration get serious with rescuing the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in April, 2014. The Internet activists’ anger with Ugwuanyi stemmed from the governor’s visit to President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja two days after the Uzo Uwani killings. They would have been pleased if Ugwuanyi, rather than consult the commander in chief of the armed forces to discuss a grave security development, had stayed at home to engage in incendiary rhetoric.
Paranoia, hysteria and hate language have become the defining elements in contemporary Igbo “nationalism” by a handful of political activists in the United States who are obviously out of touch but often hubristically claim superior information. The activists provide oxygen to the elements in the so-called Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) but also to extremists at home. As Ohaneze, the socio-cultural organisation of the Igbo, was about to hold an emergency meeting on the Uzo Uwani killings, a group of nameless people calling themselves “concerned members of Ime Obi of Ohaneze”, gave to online publications what it called the communiqué of Ohaneze on the massacre. Mark you, this was an unsigned communiqué given out even before the meeting was held, and these online publications ran it as the authentic communiqué; this was unprofessional and misleading. As could be expected, the so-called communiqué written by some extremists without names has been serving as the Magna Carta of these American-based Igbo political activists. At the inauguration of the Association of Nigerian Authors in 1982, Chinua Achebe warned against the growing phenomenon of fanaticism in Nigeria, calling it a rabid beast. Achebe was a prognosticator, a seer.
The Igbo live outside their homeland more than any other group. Besides, they are what eminent Yale Law professor Amy Chua calls in World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic hatred and Global Instability a market-dominant minority because their highly competitive culture enables them to do well in a free market economy. Therefore, they need soft power, and not hard power. It is actually soft power which has endeared the United States to the world, resulting in Pax Americana or the Americanisation of the world. Soft power has caught on around the world, with China officially adopting it in 2011. China has since then been investing massively in African infrastructure and offering of credit facilities to African nations on far better terms than western nations. The soft power concept has had a revolutionary impact on management schools, leading to unprecedented interest in the idea of soft skills which emphasizes that organisational leaders possess such competencies or emotional intelligence and other behaviorial qualities as being a team player; personality traits like trust and effective good communication are now considered more important than academic brilliance. In an article for a major academic journal, I trace the origin of soft power to Nicole Machiavelli who observes that it is good to have the power of a lion but dangerous to behave like a lion. As Wole Soyinka admonishes, a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.
Thoughtful Igbo people can have a frank, honest conversation on the place of soft power in our affairs. As early as the 1960s, Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management gurus ever, declared that the world was entering a knowledge era. How prescient! Only last January, the World Economic Forum held the 2016 annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is about advanced knowledge and sophisticated skills. This is not an era when our vision can be defined by abrasive okada riders, bus conductors, motor park workers and other IPOB members as well as their rabble rousing supporters. We must return to the era of the Great Zik of Africa and engage in strategic thinking which brings forth rapid development.
Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting.