We need Tucano, not relocation of US AFRICOM HQ to Africa — Amb. Olumoko

Ambassador OlumokoBy Olayinka Ajayi

Olufunso Olumoko is a former Career Ambassador to Thailand with accreditation to Myanmar. In this interview, Olumoko speaks on the call by President Muhammadu Buhari for the relocation of the United States (US) African Command, AFRICOM, from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa, to help tackle insecurity in the continent. Excerpts:

What are your thoughts on the lingering insecurity across Nigeria?

It is extremely disturbing, worrisome and unsettling that Nigeria seems to have slipped into the abyss of completely ungoverned space where life has become “brutish, nasty and short”! One wonders if Nigeria still has any government in place? How can a nation have a government so lackadaisical and careless to allow the whole space to be taken over by terrorists, hoodlums, kidnappers, so-called herdsmen and other brigands, yet, there’s a government in place! Haba!

Besides, year in, year out, Nigeria appropriates billions of Naira for defence. What have they done with the money, if a whole Nigeria has descended into the embarrassing state of now appealing to the US to relocate its AFRICOM from Germany to the Africa? Also, the situation is damning if it is true that Boko Haram insurgents are merely two hours away from Abuja!

But this was part of the reason President Buhari requested that the US should relocate the African Command from Germany to Africa which the previous administration turned down…

The AFRICOM proposal was not turned down by the US under President Jonathan. In fact, it was the other way round; it was the Yar’Adua administration that turned down the AFRICOM proposal. My view on this is that this is totally uncalled for. In fact, when the AFRICOM idea was first mooted in 2007 or thereabouts, Nigeria was first approached by the US government to host the African Command.

But Nigeria rightly rejected the proposal then for reasons of her sovereignty, her leadership role in Africa, her non-aligned status and non-readiness to breach relevant sub-regional and continental protocols on defence.

To now turn round later, after almost 15 years, to literally beg the US to relocate the same Command she had rejected is not only bewildering but also criminally embarrassing. The present situation speaks volumes on the sorry state Nigeria has now descended! What will the sub-region, the continent and indeed the entire world perception be of Nigeria, the so-called ‘Giant of Africa’, now going on bent knees, pleading for assistance to be rescued from nothing better than rag-tag bands of terrorists and hoodlums! Let me be clear.

There’s nothing wrong in Nigeria seeking assistance to complement her efforts in confronting the dire security situation she’s found herself in but, definitely, not to request for AFRICOM’s relocation to Africa! Nigeria, for instance, could press for the 12 A-29 Tucano super attack aircraft she has ordered from the US, under President Trump, to be speedily delivered. Moreover, she could request for drones to fly over and neutralize suspected Boko Haram, kidnappers and bandits hideouts like Sambisa and other forested areas and the Lake Chad region. Besides, Nigeria could seek assistance in terms of logistics support and training from the US, which are all likely to be favourably considered by the present administration in the US, given its obvious goodwill towards Nigeria.

Also, Nigeria should enlist the assistance of AFRICOM in securing the Gulf of Guinea basin from pirates, bunkerers and other marauders making this particular sea lane notorious and dangerous!

What would you then make of the allegation by the leader of Borno Elders Forum, Prof. Khalifa, that the Nigerian Army has facts that the international community has vested interest and that being the reason they handed off Nigeria for this long?

To me, most of Nigeria’s present problems are largely self- inflicted, be it Boko Haram, insurgency, kidnapping, herdsmen/farmers clashes and banditry among others. None of these just started all of a sudden. They all signposted their emergence decades ago but successive administrations either totally disregarded the signals or lackadaisical about them before all now snowballed into huge insecurity and mayhem threatening the very existence of the country!

None of these came without warnings and Nigeria has ample time either to nip the problems in the bud or tackle them decisively but they allowed them to linger and fester! In fact, all Nigeria administrations, in particular from 2000 to date, are guilty of criminal negligence and should be held responsible for the dangerous abyss Nigeria presently finds herself. There’s no excuse whatsoever why Nigeria should find herself in this sorry pass. The country is blessed with huge resources, material and human, yet all mismanaged! Even if there’re elements of foreign connection, they’ll all likely to be traced to domestic instigation and collusion!

It seems government strategy against the guerilla war is not effective enough. What is the implication for our foreign policy?

Nigeria should be effectively engaged internationally with key countries and organizations that can assist her with logistics support and equipments in boosting her capacity, in combating insurgency and terrorism. Nigeria should engage constructively with the US to get delivery of the 12 Tucano A-29 super attack aircraft she has ordered.

She should also engage, diplomatically, with AFRICOM to offer strategic and logistics support not only in her combat against insurgency and Boko Haram but also the security of the Lake Chad region and the Gulf of Guinea. Nigeria should also deploy her foreign policy machineries to seeking assistance and cooperation in boosting the capacity and effectiveness of her internal security forces like the police, civil defence and intelligence. There’s also the need for Nigeria to be represented effectively with result-oriented performance in defence and security-related sub-regional, continental and global organizations.

Arising from these ordeals, how are we perceived by the international community?

Sadly, in the last two decades, Nigeria has been steadily losing her clout and gravitas internationally. This has largely been due to her poor economic performance, negative perception as a country of scammers and fraudsters, de-marketing of their own country by some Nigerians themselves and Nigeria being currently wracked by internal crises!

So, all these have reflected poorly on Nigeria’s international stature. The effects include capital flight, re-location of international business concerns out of Nigeria to other African countries like Ghana, Kenya and South Africa and negative travel advisories about Nigeria to foreign visitors, both official and private! Yet, in spite of all these, Nigeria still holds the ace! She holds the enviable advantage given her size and population. Once Nigeria can put her house in order, with a buoyant and thriving economy, these businesses, investments and visitors will be falling over themselves to be allowed to enter Nigeria!

So, what is the way forward?

Nigeria, as a nation, does not need AFRICOM to be stationed in Africa to deal decisively with her present security challenges, all she needs is effective and committed military force and a leadership with sincerity of purpose, political will, transparency and the support of all and sundry.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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