By Farooq A. Kperogi
It is by now evident that although President Joe Biden appreciates and identifies with Nigerians (certainly in more ways than Donald Trump did), he has nothing but stone-cold disdain for the inert, isolated mannequin in Aso Rock that pretends to be Nigeria’s “president.”
Biden’s first call to an African president (on March 3) after his inauguration wasn’t to the president of the continent’s most populous country; it was to Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Even in the aftermath of his electoral triumph in November 2020, Biden also only called South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa.
And on February 26, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nigeria’s geographic and demographic heft in the African continent hasn’t caused it to deserve the attention of America’s new leaders. Well, it has to be because Nigeria is now basically leaderless. Everyone who pays attention knows this.
I am not surprised that Biden is giving Buhari the cold shoulder. Right from his campaign, Biden made it clear that he identifies with the frustrations Nigerians feel with the Buhari regime’s ineptitude and ruthlessness.
For instance, while Trump and his campaign looked the other way when Buhari’s regime brutally suppressed and murdered peaceful #EndSARS protesters, Biden issued a statement in support of the protest and expressed horror at the unconscionable barbarities the regime inflicted on protesters.
In an October 21, 2020 statement, he urged “President Buhari and the Nigerian military to cease the violent crackdown on protesters in Nigeria, which has already resulted in several deaths,” saying, “My heart goes out to all those who have lost a loved one in the violence. The United States must stand with Nigerians who are peacefully demonstrating for police reform and seeking an end to corruption in their democracy.”
At no time in America’s history has any candidate for president shown this level of interest in the affairs of Nigeria. It was no surprise therefore that henchmen of the Buhari regime were deeply emotionally invested in Trump’s reelection and in Biden’s loss.
As Wall Street Journal’s Africa Bureau Chief Joe Parkinson reported on November 8, 2020, honchos of the Buhari regime had desperately hoped for a Trump win in the 2020 presidential election. “Nigeria’s president was one of the first African leaders to congratulate Biden but privately, some of his key advisors were hoping for a Trump victory and are worried,” he wrote. “The reasons are quite simple and are linked — human rights, the #EndSARS protests, and weapon sales.”
Parkinson concluded, correctly it’s turning out, that “President Biden may be much less welcoming to Buhari; much more skeptical about selling weapons to Nigeria’s military and much more forthright in criticising any crackdown on protests. That’s why, despite the tweets, some at the top of the Buhari administration are nervous.”
But there’s another reason Buhari preferred a Trump presidency: Trump is an embodiment of— and an enabler of— moral putrefaction and a boon to blood-stained, anti-democratic despots all over the world.
The Trump and Buhari regimes also share a lot in common. They both loathe the news media, chafe at the feeblest dissent, are nepotistic, are incompetent and derelict in their duties, are unapologetic in their allegiances to divisive primordial loyalties in their countries, and personify indecency and corruption of the darkest dye.
Even if the Buhari regime murders every citizen of Nigeria, Trump wouldn’t care a whit. He doesn’t think Black people’s lives are worth saving and would probably be pleased that there are fewer Black people on earth since, in any case, he has singled out Nigeria as an example of a country he doesn’t want immigration from into the U.S.
Notice, however, that while Biden obviously disdains Buhari and his regime, he has shown remarkable connection with everyday Nigerians. One of the first people he called after winning his election in November 2020 was a Nigerian immigrant family in Springfield, Illinois.
The Nigerian-American he called to thank and invite to the White House for donating $12 to his presidential campaign has been identified as Dr. Francis Abiola Oke who came to the US in 2007 from Iseyin in northern Oyo State.
Biden’s wide-ranging, 20-minute phone conversation with Dr. Oke and his two daughters was one of the sweetest, most genuine expressions of warmth I have seen from a politician in a long while. My own children derived so much vicarious joy from watching the video of the call. No American president-elect had ever gone out of his way to reach out to the Nigerian immigrant community in the United States like Biden did.
Of course, we also know that Biden’s government has more Nigerian Americans serving in strategic positions than in any government in America’s history. He nominated Adewale Adeyemo as Deputy Treasury Secretary (equivalent to a minister of state for finance), Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo as Associate White House Counsel, and 26-year-old Osaremen Okolo as a member of the presidential COVID-19 response team.
So, it’s apparent that Biden has a lot of respect for Nigerians and courts their talent. But, like every sensible person, he just can’t bring himself to respect a government that despises its people, that has given up every pretense to governance, that willfully fertilizes fissiparity in its polity, that looks away while its citizens swim daily in oceans of blood, and that has proved either incapable or disinclined to halt its country’s descent into the world’s kidnap capital.
Biden’s symbolic repudiation of the Buhari regime is an acknowledgement that he knows what Nigerians know: that they have no president, that their country has gone to the dogs, that what passes for the “Nigerian presidency” is a disorganized cornucopia of little political fiefdoms that work at cross purposes, and that mindless corruption and insensate cruelty are the governing philosophies of the hordes of swashbucklers who stand in for an absent, insentient, and clueless “president” marooned in Aso Rock.
Even Donald Trump, with whom Buhari shares many horrid qualities, reportedly called him a “lifeless” dolt with whom he never wanted to meet again. He was underwhelmed, irritated even, by Buhari’s child-like timidity and taciturnity when they met at the White House in April 2018.
If even someone as objectionable and disreputable as Trump can find you unworthy of a second meeting—even after unwisely paying his government $496m upfront for fighter jets you aren’t sure will be delivered—you know there is something fundamentally defective about you.
To be clear, a call from the US president is nothing more than a diplomatic nicety. It confers no special status on presidents who receive it and detracts nothing substantive from presidents who are shunned. America’s national interest will always dictate how it relates to every country, no matter who is president.
Nonetheless, it bespeaks the international alienation and contempt that Buhari’s rulership has caused Nigeria that most of the world increasingly bypasses Nigeria for even symbolic gestures to the African continent. Most people in the world know that Nigeria’s current ruler, through his actions and inactions, has plunged the country to the nadir of despair.
There are now two dominant emotions in Nigeria: resignation and suspended animation. People are either resigned to the possibility that the country is headed for an implosion or hope against hope that it will endure until 2023 when Buhari’s stolen tenure will end to have another chance at a rebirth. Anyone who burdens his country with this weight of hopelessness deserves to be shunned by all world leaders.