The visit by the US President Barack Obama to Ethiopia this month has not come without controversy. While human rights observers argue that Ethiopia is a wrong choice because of its gross violation of human rights, others wonder why Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy, is not on his itinerary.
The United States is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria, with the money concentrating in the petroleum, mining and wholesale trade sectors. But that's not enough, it seems, to bring Obama to Nigeria. Obama has not been to Nigeria on an official visit even though he's met with former president Goodluck Jonathan and will soon meet with the new president Muhammad Buhari in the US.
In addition to Ethiopia, Obama will also visit Kenya on his final Africa trip before his term ends. His first trip to Africa nearly two years ago took him to Senegal, Tanzania, Egypt and South Africa.
Some political observers have taken the time to make a case for Obama's Nigeria visit. The late Mwangi S. Kimenyi, who was a senior fellow and former director of the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at the Brookings Institution, argued earlier this year that by visiting Nigeria, Obama could articulate a strategy to fight violent militant groups across the continent:
Nigeria, a country characterized by serious governance problems compounded by ever-intensifying incidents of terrorism imparted by Boko Haram, would not pass the “safe bet” test. Notwithstanding the failures and challenges that Nigeria faces, and regardless of how the 2015 elections turn out, this is the country that deserves a visit by President Obama.
The president could use the visit to articulate a strategy to fight terrorism not only in Nigeria but also across the continent. Fighting terrorist groups should be a key focus of the president’s trip in Nigeria but also during the visit to other countries given the increasing threats posed by these groups and the fact that they have potential to grow and export terror outside Africa.
In addition, this is the place where the president can focus on the importance of strengthening the institutions of governance for peaceful co-existence among the country’s very diverse ethnic and religious groups.
John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies who tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa, explained why this was the time for President Obama to visit Nigera:
While far from perfect, the March 28 elections were the best since Nigeria’s restoration of civilian government in 1999. The elections resulted in the first democratic transfer of power in Nigeria’s post-1999 history from an incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan, to the opposition presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. Most Nigerians, including President Jonathan, have accepted the credibility of the election results.
The Obama administration was heavily invested in the success of the elections. Senior administration officials repeatedly denounced potential election related violence, which Nigeria has historically experienced. The administration also supported the efforts by Attahiru Jega, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, to conduct elections that were free, fair, and credible. The Department of State has made it clear that those who promoted violence or interfered with the elections could expect to have their U.S. visas revoked. On March 23, President Obama directly appealed to the Nigerian people to insist on credible elections.
Under these circumstances, a presidential visit to Nigeria would be a continuation of U.S. support for Nigeria’s developing democracy.
While these two non-Nigerians maintain that Obama should visit Nigeria on his last Africa trip as a president, many Nigerians commenting on the issue think otherwise, accusing Obama's administration of not doing enough to support Nigeria in the war against Boko Haram militants who have killed many innocent civilians and kidnapped, among others, 200 school girls.
Commenting on Campbell's post, a reader going by the name tim asked where Obama was when Nigeria needed him the most:
Obama…a day late and a dollar short. Where was he when the people of Nigeria really needed U S help to defeat BH [Boko Haram]?
Charles Emejulu argued that Nigeria needs time to reflect on its relationship with the US and that they are waiting for “President Hillary Clinton”:
Frankly speaking, in my own opinion I don’t think that Nigeria has the appetite for a President Obama visit.
Those packaging President Obama to come to Nigeria should please stop that.
Nigeria should be allowed some time to reflect and articulate the kind of relationship it wants or needs to have with the United State of America.
In that regards, in my opinion, in think that Nigeria have moved beyond President Obama and that Nigeria is impatiently waiting for President Hilary Clinton to press the restart button of US Nigeria new relationship after redefining the basis of this new relationship to be in consideration of our mutual areas of interest such as trade and finance, AFRICOM, UN Security Council seat for Nigeria, etc… […]We are happy to receive John Kerry and maybe Uncle Joe Biden.
A commenter using the name king of kings said Nigerians do not want him in Nigeria anymore:
I think Obama should not come to Nigeria at all, we Nigerians dont want him in Nigeria anymore, where was he when Boko haram was winning the fight with Nigeria military, where was he when Nigeria military wanted to buy wepons from American??? they refused to sell to Nigeria, Cos they wanted to disgrace our beloved country Nigeria b4 the world
Dare Akangbe castigated Obama for arrogance in his diplomatic relationship with Nigeria:
Obama is not welcome in Nigeria for many many reasons…forget about the elections…he was a very arrogant president in his diplomatic relationship with Nigeria. He didnt treat us the way even other white president has done in the past. His policies to Nigeria is very hard to understand. He openly meddle in the politics of the country and quite frankly hypocritical in his approach to our nations affair.
Obama has been “a disappointment to Africa”, noted Charlie:
Presidenet Obama had been nothing short of a disappointment to Africa. After his 2008 victory, Africa celebrated his victory in the misguided hope that a golden era of US-Africa relationship had been born. How wrong could anyone had been. Whether it is accurate or not, Nigerians will remember President Obama as the US President that bluntly refused to assist them with Ebola, Boko Haram and economic issues.
A Nigerian-American who voted for Obama, bigbang, suggested that former US President Bill Clinton should be the one to visit Nigeria:
Send Bill Clinton, I don’t think it will be a good idea to send Barrack Obama to Nigeria. He is a disappointment. As a Nigerian American I regret voting for him. I like Bill Clinton, he is charismatic and a true friend of Nigeria and Africa.
Noting that Obama's visit to other countries is a top-down initiative, Jim Sanders shows how useful such a visit could have been to Nigeria:
Yet an Obama visit might still be useful, if it is structured to focus on ordinary Nigerians and not elites.[…] Obama might strengthen [Nigerian President] Buhari’s hand by appealing to common people and avoiding exclusive focus on a small number of key officials.