opinionBy Matthew Hassan Kukah
After the debates, Ambassador Campbell might pass for Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Kostner) in Dances with Wolves. Understandably, there have been acrimonious reactions to Ambassador John Campbell's essay in Foreign Affairs, Nigeria on the Brink.
My intervention is aimed at expanding the scope of the urgent debate about the future of our country, something that is seriously missing and which I feel Ambassador Campbell has very kindly offered us. I am afraid that most of the reactions have taken the issues totally out of context and we have ended up drowning the lessons in our characteristic way of letting anger get in the way. Although the title of the essay and that of the forthcoming book are seemingly provocative, taking the book by the cover has led to misleading conclusions. With some patience and a sense of maturity, we could have used Ambassador Campbell's essay as a springboard for some very exciting debate on the one hand and a chance to formulate a coherent response to what is obviously a looming problem, that we cannot wish away. He has merely created a scenario of what could happen, not what will happen.
In responding to what Ambassador Campbell said, I marveled at how no real attempt has been made by his many critics to unravel what might be called his motive for writing the piece. He has been called names and the impression is that, he does not love Nigeria. About that, I can say very little. But, as Shakespeare said, there is no art to find the mind's construction on the face. We might say that the pen might really not be the best guide for determining who are friends or foes. My intention in this piece is to argue that perhaps, rather than judge Ambassador Campbell on the strength of this one article, we need to probe a bit further. I am surprise that even our friends abroad and our Embassy in Washingtonhave not made any attempt to rise beyond the surface by probing further.
When my good friend Karl Maier finished writing his book, he gave me the draft manuscript to read and suggested that I make some suggestions if I could. If I recall, I sent him some three or so pages of my comments. Among other things, I pointed out to Karl that I thought the title of the book was too bleak. Why not call the book, This House May Fall? I suggested. Karl's reply shocked me. The title of the book is not original to me, he said. I am merely quoting Chinua Achebe. I was pole axed. In reaction to other issues I had raised in the book, regarding balance and objectivity in his narrative, again, Karl let me understand that, he had been commissioned to write the book. He said something to the effect that his audience was made up of businessmen and visitors to Nigeria. It was clear, he was not writing a textbook for Nigerians. That was a major lesson for me. I bore this in mind when I read the Campbell essay and heard of the forthcoming book.
First, we all know that Dr. Campbell is no stranger to Nigeria, having served here twice, 1988-90 and 2004-2007. Secondly, after finishing his book, he spent time at Princeton before taking up the prestigious position of a Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR in Washington. Anyone slightly familiar with the politics of Washington will know that both the CFR and its major mouthpiece, the Foreign Policy Magazine are very highly respected platforms for canvassing and articulating key issues on American Foreign Policy, from Abortion to Zimbabwe. In many respects, CFR speaksdirectly to the White House, Congress and those who move and shake Washington. In its mission statement, the CFR states that it seeks to help its members and others to: ... better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.Thus, if Ambassador Campbell made these comments as a senior hand in the CFR and published them in Foreign Policy, perhaps the first thing for Government to do would have been to pause and ask a few questions about his focus, intent and context.
When I e-mailed Ambassador Howard Jeter after reading the article, his response was cautious. I then decided to do some research on Dr. Campbell. It is the result of my findings that have prompted this essay, not an attempt to defend him. I discovered from my research that the much talked about essay,Dancing on the Brink was merely a short paragraph in the many public expert comments, that Ambassador Campbell has written in the last one year specifically on Nigeria. His many comments show very clearly that his principal audience is the President of the United States of America. This much runs through the entire series of Policy Briefing Papers that he has written on Nigeria. To properly understand Ambassador Campbell, in my view, we need to place him in the context of a man who is saddled with advising the American President on how to deal with Nigeria. Clearly, he has shown an appreciation of these complex problems and in my review of all his writings, his focus has been to say to President Obama: Listen Mr. President, Nigeria is an important partner for peace and stability in Africa. This is what you need to know in deciding how to handle her! What is wrong with that? Should the President of Nigeria not have experts who are constantly briefing him on how to handle certain key strategic countries, that are our partners? Ambassador Campbell stated as much in the said Essay when he said:The Obama administration has little leverage over the conduct and outcome of the 2011elections -- and if the vote does lead to chaos, Washington may no longer be able to count on Nigerian partnership in addressing African regional and security issues such as the conflicts in Darfur, Southern Sudan, and Somalia.
Furthermore, he argues that the breakdown of elite consensus, the lingering problems in the Niger-Delta, the crisis in the Middle Belt (read Plateau State) and the religious extremism that has made the North combustible, are all the key fault lines that could make the result of the forth coming elections problematic, if not handled properly. It is from here that Nigerians have jumped to the conclusion that the man is saying that there will be violence on the basis of Christians and Muslims. Whereas others could be forgiven for their wrong reading of the essay, I found the official response from the Nigerian Embassy in Washington the most embarrassing for our country. In his very poorly articulated response, the Nigerian Ambassador, Professor Adefuye resorted to foul language, claiming that Ambassador Campbell's piece was in bad taste. The newspapers reported him as claiming that Ambassador Campbell was an enemy of Nigeria and that his visa would not be renewed if it expired! Holy Moses, I said to myself. This is not how diplomats speak in a sensitive duty post like Washington. This matter called for sober reflection, not indecorous and threatening language especially when it seemed that very little effort had been made to gather enough background information about the thinking of Ambassador Campbell.
Ambassador Adefuye rather buried his head in the sands of snap shot patriotism, arguing rather unprofessionally that elite consensus is not key to politics. What is, then, I ask? Of course, political conduct any Democracy in the world is hinged on elite consensus, as any political science student knows. Has Ambassador Adefuye been deaf to the uproarious, nerve wracking, incoherent debate about Zoning conducted by a garrulous elite back in Nigeria? If we had elite consensus within the People's Democratic Party, PDP, would we have heard the open quarrels about Zoning and allegations of betrayals and so on? Ambassador Campbell did not say that violence against Christians and Muslims will break out in the country. In his view, the existing tensions could be exploited because of the three key issues that he identified in addition to the absence of a ubiquitous strong man like General Obasanjo to bully his way. How can any one fail to see sense and logic in all this reasoning in a country that is dancing on the brink?
Ambassador Campbell further nailed his case by saying that supporters of candidates might exploit religious and ethnic identities, a dangerous and potentially explosive dynamic, that until now, has largely been avoided. (Note, he said they might, not will). In my humble view, what Ambassador Campbell did here was to do what experts do to their Principals to guide their policy choices and decisions. Thus, the