How Nigeria Should Engage US Under Trump – Enwegbara
Odilim Enwegbara, a development economist and international finance specialist, is an alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of London. In this interview with CHIBUZO UKAIBE, he spoke on the significance and implication of Donald Trump’s emergence as President-elect of United States, to Nigeria and Africa. He also advocates ways through which Nigeria can engage Trump for enduring benefits.
The U.S. election has come and gone with Donald Trump, amidst hues and cries, emerging as President-elect. What is your reaction to his emergence?
It was a surprise because most of us thought Senator Hillary Clinton would have won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio. But as soon as she lost Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, it began to look she was losing. We already knew the safe states—the red states are Republican states and blue states as Democrat states. But when she lost two important battleground states of Ohio and Florida, I knew she was in trouble and that Trump was on his way to winning the election. Trump’s emergence as president-elect, without having held previously any political position or public office, was a kind of political revolution in the U.S.
You call it a revolution, but what does it portend for Nigeria or Africa?
It’s good news for Africa and Nigeria. We must put emotions and sentiments away because we often see the US Democratic Party as one that favors Africa and Africans. But that is not always the truth. When George W. Bush was president, he did more for Africa and Africans than President Bill Clinton did, especially during the HIV drugs era. Clinton blocked Africans from buying less expensive generic drugs. They made sure that generic drugs were not made available to Africans, especially to South Africans. In 2008, I not only campaigned for Obama in the U.S. election, I had to relocate to the U.S. I participated in Obama’s high level policy and strategy campaign team. I did those things not because I was expecting his government to become pro-Africa. I did them simply because I wanted to see a black man in the White House in my life’s time. Thank God that during the eight months I participated in the Obama policy and strategy team, I made a lot of contributions and they recognized my input in the campaign. But that’s by the way. Did Obama visit Nigeria? No. He visited small African countries. But he didn’t consider the largest black nation and the biggest economy in Africa important to visit. Both Clinton and George W. Bush visited Nigeria during their presidencies.
Having said that, let me say this; no amount of despising the Republican Party will remove the fact that in recent times it’s the same Republican Party presidents who have done more for Africa and Nigeria in particular. Yes Donald Trump is known to have made racist remarks about Africans and condescendingly to the black race, and Nigerians in particular. But then, is it beautiful words that matter more to us or our economic gains? If it is beautiful and politically correct words, then we should go on disliking Trump. But if it boils down to the real things that matter, economic gains, the bread and butter issues, then, we should embrace Trump because should he dismantle the World Trade Organization (WTO), that will free African economies from the present economic slavery we have been subjected to, since globalization turned Africa into a mere dumping grounds for non-African made goods. As a result of this free trade thing, African infant industries have been forced out of business along with these companies laying-off millions of Africans on their payroll. The consequences can’t be worse than what we are seeing today: inequality all over African countries; inability of African governments to raise taxes, especially import tariffs, money badly needed for fixing infrastructure, for fighting insecurity and militancy, etc. So, if Trump dismantles WTO and says every country should protect themselves from foreign goods’ dumping, that will mean that African countries will be able to impose high tariffs on imported goods and by so doing, stop all these substandard and cheap products being dumped in African markets. Manufacturing jobs will begin to surface in African countries and governments will begin to get personal income and company tax revenues. That will be good news because Africa’s industrialization will begin to take place.
I will advise African leaders to attend Trump’s inauguration if invited. They have to embrace Donald Trump. They have to tell him their own stories about how globalization damaged the entire continental economy since 1994 when Bill Clinton signed WTO into law and imposed open border on all countries of Africa. In the case of African migrants in the U.S., they should tell him that fair treatment and respect for human rights should be observed by his government.
In specifics terms, what kind of strategic interests should Nigeria look for when engaging Trump’s administration?
As the leader of Africa, Nigeria should be looking after for Africa and for itself when it comes to creating a better relationship with the U.S., a win-win relationship. This means that Nigerian government should tell the U.S. to truly help it defeat Boko Haram. Nigeria can insist that he calls the U.S. oil companies to stop engaging in oil theft and exhibiting poor environmental practices. They should desist from these fraudulent activities. The Buhari administration should insist that the country’s billions of dollar looted wealth and hidden in American banks be returned to the country without delays. The U.S. should return to buying Nigerian oil, which is not only light and sweet, but cost less to transport and less time to reach the U.S. markets than Middle East oil. For these reasons—and for the fact that right now Trump is looking for legitimacy—it should be good if the Buhari administration reaches out to the Trump administration; possibly demand early state visits by the two. He should strive to have an official visit before the end of next year. I will suggest that President Buhari endeavours to attend Trump’s inauguration, if not he should send a powerful delegation.
What do you make of Trump’s perception of Nigeria as reflected in his strong statements against Nigeria with regards to corrupt leadership?
What has he said about Nigeria that cannot be resolved? What is important is not what he says but what are we doing to put our house in order. The good news is that the world has seen how determined President Buhari is fighting corruption. All our president has to do is to continue to fight corruption boldly. He should tell Trump, ‘you know what, my country is no doubt corrupt and that is the battle I have been fighting. But, then, how can I defeat this monster, if your government does not help me defeat corruption? Without your help, corrupt Nigerian will continue to keep their loots in the U.S. To defeat corruption we should become strategic partners in this war’.
The specific question of the Niger Delta comes to mind, do you see Trump’s emergence as causing a dramatic change in the situation there?
The Niger Delta has never had peace because international oil companies operating in the region have been instigating and financing these inherent crises and insecurity in the Niger Delta. They have done so having discovered how such crises and insecurity help them operate without anyone watching over them. As a result of the militancy, the oil companies have no one to stop them. Because of this and the fact that U.S. strategic energy interests override any foreign interests, it is possible that Trump wouldn’t be forthcoming with interest in resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta; especially after all, it is a localized problem.
Over time, stronger countries capitalize on the failings or frailties of other countries which seem to have become a common trend in international politics. Do you foresee any difference under Trump?
Survival of the fittest is more pronounced among nations than among people. But that does not mean that Trump is going to submerge weak countries like Nigeria. There are rules and laws that are guiding nation-to-nation relationship—between weak and strong nations. Those are what the UN has been able to achieve since its establishment in 1945. So, Trump does not have the kind of dictatorial powers Adolf Hitler enjoyed that led to his invasion of his European neighbours. Frankly, I don’t expect to see Trump waking up one morning and saying let us go and colonize Africa again so that we will take over their vast natural wealth. We must insist on the fairness of global diplomacy.
From the benefit of hindsight, do you think Nigeria engaged the Obama administration enough?
It all depends on what one means by engaging Obama enough. Is it because we didn’t engage him enough that made him not to have visited Nigeria? I don’t think so. Obama never created the opportunity for us to engage him. Obama was never really interested in Africa and Nigeria in particular. During his first term, I thought he didn’t engage Africa for strategic reasons. But haven’t seen his second term, I believe that his avoiding Africa, and Nigeria in particular rather than being for strategic reasons, was due to his personal disinterest in what happens in Africa. That explains why in his eight years, Africa and America had the worst relationship. But did I regret working for the Obama campaign in 2008? Of course not! I should regret because I am completely aware that President Obama as powerful as we would like to believe he is, he is a mere president who has to take instructions from the powerful US Establishment. It is actually the US Establishment headed by the Council on Foreign Relations that run the US, including the Obama administration. So, whatever they tell him to do is what he has to do, period.
You have made so much emphasis on how we should engage Trump, but do you think the administration has the capacity to engage the Trump administration?
They are building one. It is in our best interest that they build the capacity. Our President must know that he has to leave behind a legacy. To engage Trump’s America, we need to have a group of gifted Nigerians who should be brought together to help come up with how Buhari should engage Trump. The team should come up with specific firm policy measures with timelines. These should be in the area of our economic diplomacy and national security relations. Our national interests should be sacrosanct here. Also since whatever you get in Washington is also dependent on how much lobbying you can do, we too should employ some lobbyists to sell our interests in Washington. In fact, one of the members of the House of Reps, the current chairman of the US-Nigerian relations in the House of Reps was once a powerful Washington lobbyist.
Now that Trump is here, what should Nigeria do with China?
I have a lot of Chinese as friends. I have severally been to Beijing on the invitation of the Chinese government. The Chinese are a very smart people. Theirs is a nation of 5000 years. But the problem with China is that they too have become so narrow-minded in their policies toward Africa. Little wonder these policies are increasingly degenerating into a kind of zero-sum game. It is now like the same way Europeans engaged Africans after colonialism. Above all, African countries have to contend with substandard Chinese products. This is an unfair trade relationship that should not be allowed to continue. China can no longer come here, exploit our natural resources and take them home in their raw forms and then turnaround to tell us we are the best of friends and that this is much better relationship than what we have been getting from Europeans and Americans. That is why with our kind of population, we can no longer continue to allow others to dump their cheap and substandard goods on us as Chinese currently do. What we should tell them is we want win-win trade relations. They should come and build industries in Nigeria or we deny their exporters access to our 200 million consumer market. After all, there are industries in China like pharmaceuticals, oil and steel companies that can build their factories. Why can’t they help us build our roads and other infrastructure? We can give them sovereign guarantees which should protect their investments here. But we should not allow them to invest in unprocessed mining that only help them simply move our raw materials outside the shores of this country. We should also insist that Chinese government make sure that its citizens desist from illegal mining in Nigeria, given that 90 percent of those involved in illegal mining in Nigeria are reportedly Chinese. These are some of the things we have to do. But we will not do them by begging them. We have to make them understand that unless they stop, we will have serious issues with them.