President Buhari will be hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama today. From all indications, the United States will accord the visiting Nigerian president the most colourful welcome since the same was accorded Nigeria’s Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa exactly 54 years ago this July. The U.S.-Nigeria relationship suffered several setbacks under the last Nigerian administration and from all indications, the U.S. government is keen on mending fences by engaging the new administration early on.
Top on the agenda of both presidents is the issue of the war on terror. The United States is expected to commit to Nigeria’s quest to rid the northeast of Nigeria from the menace of Boko Haram. Also up for discussion will be the issue of Power and the war on corruption. The United States will help Nigeria trace and recover some of its recently stolen wealth. Obama’s Power Africa project has not garnered much attention in Nigeria and a lot of talk would go into improving trade relations between both countries. Buhari’s visit to Washington is on the invitation of the United States president. Many were surprised to again see Nigeria had been left out of what is expected to be President Obama’s last visit to Africa as the president of the United States, with Ethiopia and Kenya on the cards.
That would mean that, of the 54 countries on the continent, President Obama would have visited only Ghana, Egypt, Senegal, Tanzania, and South Africa. The president visited Egypt and Ghana in 2009 in a first term that meant little or nothing to Africa but improved on that with visits to Senegal, Tanzania and South Africa in 2013. The 2013 visit was followed with the US-Africa Summit, which held in Washington last year. That visit also came with the Power Africa initiative along with improved commercial relations between the U.S. and Africa. Along with Ethiopia and Kenya, many expected Nigeria to feature on the U.S. President’s itinerary because of Nigeria’s position on the continent; amongst other things, Nigeria is Africa’s most important country. A set back in Nigeria would set the continent back mutatis mutandis the country’s progress. Seeing as Kenya and Ethiopia are also at the forefront of battling terrorism in their region, a visit to Nigeria would have shown a greater commitment to the fight against terrorism this side of the continent.
The invitation to President Buhari is certainly a move to balance the visit to Africa. That is why the visit comes just before president Obama’s visit to Kenya and Ethiopia. The U.S. President would look to make up for ignoring Nigeria by treating Buhari to a historic statesman welcome in Washington. The Nigerian president would also get a chance to meet with several United States in the public and private sector.
With Nigeria’s oil no longer on the bill of imports for the U.S. market, both leaders would engage on new ways of improving U.S.-Nigeria trade relations. The U.S. government would also look to get Nigeria’s help with its West African agenda, seeing as Nigeria is the most influential country in ECOWAS. The Nigerian president would require U.S. help in its reforms of key national institutions, rule of law and fostering a sustainable democratic process. President Buhari is also expected to seek America’s help in his recovery of the proceeds of loot carried out by cronies of the Jonathan administration.
The United States needs Nigeria as much as Nigeria needs it. China, India, the EU and Brazil have made trade and multilateral advancements in Africa. On most counts, the U.S. is playing catch-up in Africa. Working out a new productive bilateral relationship with Nigeria would help the U.S. re-establish itself as the continent’s foremost partner. President Buhari’s July visit would certainly be symbolic for both countries, but what would count is how substantive the visit turns out to be in U.S.-Nigeria relationship. The Buhari government appears committed to genuine reforms, the onus is on the Obama government to go beyond laying the red carpet for the president’s visit to opening up new vistas for the Nigerian government and bilateral commercial and trade interests.