Skip to main content

Opinion: Nigerians right to be wary of U.S. intentions

By Tolu Ogunlesi, Special to CNN
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage. Women in Abuja, Nigeria, hold a candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 14, one month after nearly 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. The abductions have attracted national and international outrage.
HIDE CAPTION
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria on April 14 are still missing
  • The mass abduction has been claimed by militant Islamist group Boko Haram
  • The United States is among the countries that have offered to help Nigeria find the girls
  • Tolu Ogunlesi says Nigerians realize foreign help is needed but query U.S. motives

Editor's note: Tolu Ogunlesi is a Nigerian journalist who was awarded the Arts and Culture prize in the 2009 CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards. Follow @toluogunlesi on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- The Nigerian government is up against a wall. The inability to locate the more than 200 school girls abducted a month ago has embarrassed the government and forced President Goodluck Jonathan to appeal for foreign help as Nigeria's five-year struggle with terrorist group Boko Haram escalates.

It does seem that Nigerians are caught in the difficult position of having to welcome the help and be deeply wary of it. On the one hand we know, from the evident helplessness of our government, that we're at the point where we cannot make any progress without the skills and knowledge and technology that Western countries will bring to this battle.

Tolu Ogunlesi
Tolu Ogunlesi

On the other hand, there are questions (running the gamut of conspiracy theory to reasonable concern) about America's motivations, and its track record.

"I have my reservations," says Debo Bashorun, a retired Nigerian army major who served as press secretary to military president Ibrahim Babangida in the late 1980s, and is now a vocal critic of the Nigerian military. "[Now] this is a good time [for the Americans] to do what they've always wanted to do," Bashorun says.

He's referring to the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), run by the U.S. Department of Defense, and established by President George W. Bush in 2007. From early on African leaders opposed attempts to site AFRICOM's headquarters in Africa.

On his first official trip to Washington as president in December 2007, on the invitation of President Bush, Nigeria's President Yar'Adua made comments that were interpreted back home to mean that Nigeria was acceding to America's AFRICOM-in-Africa push.

It doesn't help that many Nigerians believe, on the strength of pessimistic American assessments of Nigeria's fate, that its inclinations towards their country are sinister.
Tolu Ogunlesi

Outrage in Nigeria compelled the president to declare that he "did not agree that AFRICOM should be based in Africa."

"What we discussed with [President] Bush is that if they have something to do for Africa that has to do with peace and security, they should contribute. I told him that we African countries have our own plan to establish a joint military command in every sub-region ..." he said.

Segun Adeniyi, Yar'Adua's spokesperson, says those comments displeased America. "[By] openly repudiating the idea of AFRICOM, Nigeria's relationship with the U.S. on Yar'Adua's watch had started on a very bad note. It was a relationship that would remain at a less-than-inspiring note throughout his tenure," Adeniyi writes in his book, "Power, Politics and Death," an account of the Yar'Adua administration.

Nigerians are right to be wary of America's military intentions, with the cautionary tales of countries like Iraq and Pakistan.

"This is a transactional relationship; there's nothing strategic about it," said Ehsan ul-Haq, retired Pakistani general and one-time head of the country's Intelligence Agency ISI, of U.S.-Pakistani military relations, at a reporting seminar for journalists which I attended in London in 2011.

He added that the cumulative value of U.S. military assistance to Pakistan ($20 billion at that time, he said) paled into insignificance compared to Pakistan's losses from the war on terror --- which he put at not less than $68 billion.

Mother of missing girl: 'Our hearts hurt'
Nigerians take security into own hands
Could girls be freed with prisoner swap?
Nigerian girl escapes from Boko Haram

Bashorun echoes those views. "America will not do it out of honest intentions," he told me. "It's a matter of giving you 10 naira and in the long run they will collect 50 naira," he says.

But he is pragmatic enough to realize that at this point Nigeria has got little choice in the matter. "If we had done what we were supposed to have done, things wouldn't have turned out like this," he says.

Then again there's the strong possibility that suggestions of the United States turning Nigeria into another Iraq or Pakistan are unfounded.

Anonymous Nigerian defense blogger, Beegeagle, points out that Nigeria has long enjoyed significant levels of cooperation with the United States, in terms of receiving donations of hardware and training.

"The difference in this latest American effort is that the U.S are going to collaborate with Nigeria in the field --- an undisguised first," he wrote in an email message to me. But even that field work, he says, will not involve "putting [American] soldiers on the ground to fight alongside Nigerian soldiers."

That will no doubt be comforting to many observers. But there's obviously still a lot that needs to be clarified regarding the extent and mode of foreign help Nigeria will be getting. For now the solidarity mounts; at the last count America, Britain, China, Canada, France and Israel had already thrown in offers of assistance.

Nigerians will of course continue to be wary, and quick to bristle at any threats, real or imagined, to Nigeria's sovereignty. It doesn't help that many Nigerians believe, on the strength of pessimistic American assessments of Nigeria's fate, that its inclinations towards their country are sinister.

And Nigerians have been there before. Shortly after Independence in October 1960, Nigeria's Parliament formally approved the terms of a controversial "Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact," which the Nigerian public had come to believe would give the departing colonial power the right to set up military bases in Nigeria.

The protests that followed, led by student and labor groups, resulted in the speedy repeal of the agreement by the Federal Government barely a year-and-half later.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tolu Ogunlesi.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Arwa Damon meets two young orphans, now in Niger, whose mother died years ago -- and whose father was killed in a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
A small river marks the border between Niger and Nigeria -- a shallow divide between security and the horrors of Boko Haram.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that U.S. sources now believe Boko Haram insurgents may be hiding on the islands of Lake Chad.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Isha Sesay talks to journalist Aminu Abubakar who says approximately 500 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as
Police in Nigeria's capital Tuesday made a U-turn, saying a ban on protests in support of the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April does not exist.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A top Nigerian official claims to know where the missing schoolgirls are located, as Arwa Damon reports.
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Arwa Damon reports on Nigerian schools sitting empty as residents live in fear of Boko Haram.
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Half of a yellow sun poster
It's one of the most important Nigerian stories to hit the big screen -- yet the director says Nigeria's bureaucracy is purposely preventing its release.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Opinion: The media turns Boko Haram into 'superstar monsters' -- which is exactly what they want.
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir speaks with the mothers of two missing Nigerian schoolgirls.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
With fear in her eyes, a young woman tells CNN's Nima Elbagir, the first journalist to visit Chibok, how she fled gun-toting Islamic extremists.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Women in repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele, who recently directed Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Half of a Yellow Sun," discusses his remarkable journey.
updated 10:31 PM EDT, Sat May 10, 2014
From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Nigeria woke up to a brand new economy, apparently. But the country are suffering and its people responded with a hiss.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness sake return this woman's calls.
Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT