Professor Iyorwuese Hagher, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada, has written a critical review on 06 June 2011 about a book by John Campbell, former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, The book title is: “Nigeria Dancing On The Brink”. Campbell appears to think the West would be better able to pick a government for Nigeria than Nigerians, and is an excellent example of the arrogance of US foreign policy.
[After dancing on the brink for several months with provocative articles, lectures and talks, Ambassador John Campbell has hurled himself into the abyss, by publishing his magnum Opus, Nigeria dancing on the brink. This all important book will be read and re-read by US and western diplomats, politicians, policy makers, NGOs, academia, development agents, and even presidents.
It is a faithful memoir of events, a stupendous collection of facts – and non facts, anecdotes, and beer parlour gossip. The writer’s style is lucid, lacy, absorbing, beguiling and clever. Yet the book’s promise is never realised and at the end of the book the reader feels cheated if not betrayed. The credentials of the writer as former US Ambassador to Nigeria, visiting Professor and essayist, Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the immensity of the subject-matter, do not yield to the reader a rigorous analytical basis through which conclusions are made and thematic order established.
The book’s preface prepares us for the worst when Campbell tells us that much of his book is based on conversations and personal experiences during his short sojourn as political counsellor based in Lagos from 1988-1990 and as President Bush’s Ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 – 2007. According to Campbell, Nigerians “like to talk to diplomats” He claims that he “travelled all over the country”. Even though he claimed to have visited thirty-six state headquarters, it is not just possible to travel all over Nigeria within a diplomatic tour or two, with Nigeria’s challenging topography and infrastructure and yet be able to do any other thing else. Besides the challenge of topography and infrastructure, why did His Excellency, the US Ambassador not avail himself of the advisory given by the US to his countrymen, not to travel to Nigeria since “violent-crime, religious and civil crisis in Nigeria is bordering an active war zone?”
The facts about Nigeria’s post-colonial history are well presented and documented. In fact as Campbell himself boasts, “The department of State, other Federal agencies and the Embassy have access to the US Federal government’s repository of experts and factual information about virtually all aspects of Nigeria and its richness is probably unequalled anywhere else in the world.” (p. 8) Aha, here is the real temptation. John Campbell, like Ikato in Tiv folktale coming across the rich storehouse of facts consumed more than he could analytically chew.
The end result is a rehash of expressions like Nigeria is a mere geographical expression; Nigeria Is bifurcated between the North which is Muslim and South which is Christian, and that colonial rule lasted only fifty years so don’t blame the British for your problems. He goes on to inflame passions: Nigerians hate Igbo and hate Yorubas especially a Yoruba businessman to be President. These are constipated facts, all too often told to the world about Nigeria, and exaggerations that bear no relevance to any present reality.
Ambassador Campbell jumps to wrong conclusions after feeding fat on his treasure trove of facts collected over the years by the US like other authors before him: Karl Maier “This house has fallen”, Robert Calderis’s “ The Trouble with Africa”, Robert Kaplan’s “The Coming Anarchy” and Roy Cullen’s “Poverty of Nations”. These perhaps well meaning authors like others of their ilk, constantly make the mistake of comparing, relating and interpreting Nigeria and other African countries with American democracy. With the advent of globalization, the western liberal democracy becomes a veritable but dubious template to condemn some countries like Nigeria, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia are applauded.
Ambassador Campbell’s grand thesis is that whereas Nigeria had been resilient in surviving a civil war, poverty, ethnic and religious violence and even failed elections, this time Nigeria will bifurcate after the 2011 election which he claims “there is little evidence that the elections of 2011 will be anymore credible than 2007” Nigeria will become a failed state because it is already there; an obscene presence that is dangerous, and hard to define, but palpable to sight. He claims that confluence of intensified ethnic and religious violence in the Middle Belt, the insurrection in the Delta, and the paralysis of the Presidency at the time of the election will be the defining moments of Nigeria’s state failure! (See page 131).
This conclusion is hardly surprising. Twice in the history of Nigeria’s transition to civil rule in 2000 and 2011, American institutions have sponsored books that prophecy doom and collapse. In both Karl Maier and Campbell’s books, the words of critical Nigerians are taken out of contexts and remodelled to justify a universal recognition of the approaching Armageddon. In “This house has fallen’, it is Chinua Achebe’s while dancing on the brink, is Ojo Maduekwe’s words, so the writers can wipe their hands and feel clinically detached from malice and malignance.
From his first chapter to chapter nine, the reader breathlessly hopes to find the central meaning that justifies the book at this time of Nigeria’s transition. We are caught in the usual refrain, Nigeria was, is and should be a global player and partner to the US and if Nigeria fails there will be unpleasant ramifications. Yes, we have heard this before! That Nigeria is central to US energy security is a true but overbeaten fact. That there is endemic corruption in Nigeria is not new. What is new is that John Campbell finally found out who are the real rulers of Nigeria. They are the “Ogas”, whom Campbell holds responsible for endemic corruption and the stealing of Nigeria’s oil wealth. (pp140 – 143) According to Campbell, Nigerians are divorced from their institutions of governance which are now just as colonial, exploitative and dominating. There is therefore the need for the American government to stop listening to the Nigerian government of “Ogas” (146) and instead strengthen the civil society to resist election rigging and unjust government policies (in page 94 and 142.) and overthrow the “Ogas”.
John Campbell finds time in his treatise for chest-beating and boasts of his breakthrough in diplomatic soft power, which he had championed. He recommends the expansion of US efforts on behalf of Islamic high culture, in building Muslim museums, and facilitating contact between northern Imams and Mallams and their American counterparts. It is good to also know that with a budget of more than half a billion dollars annually (146) The US Ambassador has the heft to do much good if well intentioned. But if he is motivated by arrogance and hubris to establish an opaquely defined democratic culture that can overthrow an elected candidate not particularly liked by Campbell like Goodluck Jonathan, then the Ambassador has crossed the line of diplomatic responsibility. John Campbell is an albatross who has become increasingly dangerous to both US and Nigeria because of his own animated dance on the brink of relevance. He hates Goodluck Jonathan who is to him a beneficiary of corruption and thus lacking political will to combat corruption? He admires Atiku Abubakar who is not corrupt, a businessman, philanthropist and sensitive to Christian sensibilities! John Campbell advances Atiku over Obasanjo and ignorantly takes sides in the political zoning debates, ostensibly to advance Atiku’s candidature over Jonathan. But like all false prophets, the PDP convention turned out differently. Zoning was not the be all and end all of the PDP political process. The Presidential Primaries were conducted in a free, open, and transparent manner for the world to see. Amb. Campbell then rushed to the press with this pathetic prognosis “Bribery and intimidation likely helped Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan achieve his overwhelming defeat of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar (PDP) Presidential nomination”. But he exceeds even himself, and goes further on to predict that “popular protest and violence can easily spiral out of control” if this repeats at the general election. Meanwhile the 2011 elections have already been hexed by John Campbell. His death knell for Nigeria is already sounded as we await his Armageddon.
What Ambassador Campbell needs to tell his Nigerian readers and about which his book is silent, is how much his book is influenced by the American Oil Companies for which he worked to advance their fortune as Ambassador. Let him tell Nigerians how much, American Oil Companies have contributed to Nigeria’s corruption. Let him exonerate former Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton, even as he sees the EFCC as incompetent. Can Campbell explain the role of the World Bank and IMF in destroying the middle class in Nigeria when he functioned as ‘Political Affairs Counsellor’ in Nigeria during the IBB days? Does Campbell challenge Wikileaks exposure of the clandestine role of the oil companies in infiltrating the Nigerian Government? Is this done through bribery or through espionage? When Campbell says Nigeria has only one National hero, Murtala Mohammed, can he tell Nigerians how their hero was killed, and for the matter why is he silent on the “heroic” roles of those that killed General Abacha and Chief Moshood Abiola? Whom really does Campbell think he is fooling?
Why is John Campbell doing this? Does he love Nigeria more than the Nigerians? Is he a subversive? Who are his collaborators if so? My answer is through an African and Nigerians proverb which says that an elderly man does not rush into a thorny thicket in the rain for nothing: either he is pursuing something or something is pursuing him. Certainly, Ambassador Campbell would not define his book’s subject matter as Nigeria merely for fun. Certainly he is being pursued or he is in hot pursuit of something!
It is my opinion that Campbell’s book, like many others before him are books which have a sinister and insidious agenda. This book validates many others written in the past and is written in the best tradition of Joseph Conrad’s “The heart of darkness” and Joyce Cary’s “Mister Johnson”. It is empire all over again. Globalisation has once again proven that it is the western template alone that defines civilisation. Campbell lacks originality and ingenuity, and the whole book is less dramatic than its affected and grandiose title. The conclusions of this beguiling and clever thesis are the continuous intellectual massage of neo-racism. It comes across as an offensive and wrong book which bears too close a resemblance to Joyce Cary’s racist Mr. Johnson. In this case, former President Obasanjo fits in perfectly with the role of Mr. Johnson. Throughout his book, Campbell’s Obasanjo is a pretender who had deceived the west by pretending and offering lip service to democracy while entrenching the “Oga” mentality of corruption and dictatorship. Funny that Nigerians have always considered Obasanjo the creation of the West and some have even referred to him as a CIA agent. Poor former President Obasanjo, the true “Oga” of Nigeria’s future, Campbell wishes for you Noriega’s fate. This was also the fate of Cary’s Mr. Johnson. Like Mr. Johnson, former President Obasanjo becomes psychologicalised and abandoned as irrelevant to the new agenda of inciting the people against their “Ogas” so that a proper friend of America can become Nigeria’s President.
Nigeria Dancing on the Brink is hubris of diplomatic arrogance. It is a tale of intrigue and paranoia that is insensitive and insulting to the intelligence of Nigerians. The sub-text of the book especially his “discovery” of the Oga is pretentious and insincere. He recommends a longer term for the US Ambassadors to Nigeria so they can engage and remove the Ogas from power. This is sadly, advocacy for richer western nation’s imaginaries. His advocate of militarism and regime change after election serves as a valuable strategy for the west to lead in prosperity, while the blackest of the black nations, Nigeria collapses. The “Oga” therefore symbolises the target of western hysteria. On another level, “Oga” can be deconstructed to a racialised meaning, where the likes of Campbell, become the Ogas of Africa and can determine whichever metric they wish to measure standards of state failure.
Finally a book like this should be soundly condemned as irrelevant and inappropriate in this age when diplomats are considered as boundary spanners and not gate-keepers. It is a sick vehicle through which a new form of global racism is secured, nurtured and sustained. All the buzz words about “good “governance”, “democracy”, acceptable elections,” are merely the institutionalizing of new forms of white space and white supremacist agenda.
Nigerians know what their problems are. It is up to us all, and up to us alone to fashion out our salvation through creative thinking and action. Our democracy is only twelve years old, and we shall protect it, because it must be fully democratic by enforcing the will of the people, but it must also be authentic Nigeria democracy. We cannot re-enter into history of the West, to create the same conditions and circumstances that have given the US and the western world their neo-liberal democracy. We must evolve our path and our trajectory no matter how difficult and rough.
As for Campbell’s prognosis of a failed Nigeria, I would like to end with this Nigerian proverb. “The witch cried yesterday and the child died today, who does not know that it is the witch of yesterday that killed that child”. The witch has cried; let us see if the child, Nigerian democracy, will die now.]
Professor Hagher is the President and Founder of the Leadership Institute in Nigeria. Planet Africa Group introduces him as “Professor Iyorwuese Hagher: A Blazing Torch for Nigeria
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Canada, Professor Iyorwuese Hagher new book, Nigeria: After The Nightmare, examines the dichotomy of a post dictatorship Nigeria and how the country can maintain its current course of nation building. With the pen of a master artist, he presents a frank, open discourse, not only about past problems, but more importantly, about the future promise of Africa’s most populous nation. “