People sometimes ask me why I work in Africa. My answer is simple, the problem of white racism in the United States is not solvable until Africa takes its rightful place in world affairs. Imagine if Nigeria was viewed with the same respect given Germany or Japan? What a difference it would make for us here. I have been in Nigeria a number of times in a number of areas but Nigeria like the United States is a big complex country not easily described in generalities. In area it is twice the size of California and ranked 30th of the world’s countries. In population it is ranked 7th with an estimated 179 million people. One in every 5 African is a Nigerian. It is the most economically powerful country in Africa with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranking on par with countries like Sweden, Poland, Belgium and Norway. Obviously Nigeria is a country to be reckoned with and its potential is great.
Nigeria has faced many challenges. Artificially set up by Europeans as were most other African countries it has over 250 ethnic groups with their own language. It has three large groups Yoruba in the Southwest, Igbo in the Southeast and Hausa in the north. Regional conflicts have existed with the far north being least developed and the south –south of the Niger Delta feeling that while their area produces the oil which drives the economy instead of development they have suffered from environmental damage with the profits going elsewhere. There have generally been good relations between Muslins and Christians especially in the southwest where different religions are found in the same family. However in the middle belt the impact of desertification driven in part by climate change has exacerbated tensions over scarce grazing lands between Muslim herders and Christian farmers. The far northeast is where Boko Haram has created havoc particularly in the northeast. The north generally is a less developed area.
In its short history since declaring independence from Great Britain in 1960, Nigeria suffered a civil war when the south-south and south east sought to be the independent nation of Biafra, and it has had frequent military dictatorships all pledging to address corruption and governmental inefficiencies but with little lasting success. In 1999 Nigeria returned to an elected civilian government. President Obasanjo served two terms and his party elected the next president who died in office to be succeeded by Vice President Goodluck Johnathon, who later ran on his own and was re-elected. Thus from 1999 until 2015 one party ruled Nigeria. Heading into the 2015 election under President Johnathon, an independent elections commission was established to run the elections. The Commission utilized biometric voting where fingerprints were checked and while there were some problems with the procedure it is generally believe that much of the reported lower turnout compared to the previous election is attributed to eliminating extraneous votes. The opposition parties coalesced into a true national party and Muhammadu Buhari was elected President. The various observer teams concluded that the election was basically free and fair. It should be noted that President Buhari a Muslim had a Christian running mate as Vice President while President Johnathon a Christian had a running mate of the Muslim faith. President Johnathon held onto his base in the south-south and southeast and there was considerable fear of violence particularly from those groups that had been essentially in rebellion prior to President Johnathon taking power. There was talk of taking to the mangrove creeks again. However President Johnathon not only conceded but urged that the results be accepted by all and that Nigeria move forward as a country.
President Buhari will have to demonstrate fairness towards the oil producing regions but thanks to the people of Nigeria and the acceptance of democracy by President Johnathon, he has the opportunity to put his programs in place. I am looking forward to being in the south-south area in October where I am on the Steering Committee for a conference on African River Delta at the University of Port Harcourt and observing the results of the new national administration. This election is a victory for Nigerians and for Africa as it adds to the list of countries such as Ghana and Senegal where parties have changed in elections, as well as to democracy everywhere. But this step forward for Nigeria and Africa is of particular importance for the future of the diaspora.
President Buhari faces great challenges, not the least being the falling oil prices reducing the country’s main source of revenue. The US has not always worked as effectively as it could with Nigeria because of various political issues. This election provides an opportunity to change that. The President of the Constituency for Africa, Melvin Foote, argues that “last month, Nigeria completed its election process in a peaceful and transparent manner. While the U.S. applauded this positive feat, our involvement cannot conclude just yet. In fact, in some ways, it is only just beginning — which is why I strongly urge President Barack Obama to attend the inauguration of President-Elect Mohammadu Buhari on May 29.” He stated that “President Obama’s presence at this historic inauguration would send the right signal at the right time.” Former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa under President Obama, Johnnie Carson has urged the President to send a high level delegation to the inauguration headed by Vice President Biden and to stop over himself on his trip to Kenya. He also gave eight other detailed recommendations for actions this administration should take to work with Nigeria to move it towards the powerful nation it should be (see AllAfrica.com for May 15, 2015). Now is the time for the entire Africa Diaspora both recent and historical to weigh in along with other supporters of Africa and let this election in Nigeria be a turning of the corner in US relations with Africa. Other countries benefit greatly by political support from US citizens but when it comes to Africa there are usually only a few voices. Now is the time to change that urging the President to restart our relations with Nigeria following their election.
Brad Brown is first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is a retired National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist. He continues to work as a consultant on African coastal and marine projects and scientific capacity development. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org