Over the past year, I have written and publicly commented often about Nigeria. Some of the things that I have written and talked about included the prospects of democracy in Nigeria leading up to the May elections, the challenge of Nigeria to address growing security concerns posed by the onslaught of Bokam Haram, and the very lackluster and tepid United States response to issues of Nigeria generally as well as what steps the Obama administration might take to improve U.S. – Nigeria relations.
As everyone now knows, the Nigerian presidential elections held in May were carried out in an unprecedented free, fair and transparent manner with the opposition candidate Mahamadou Buhari being declared the winner. Perhaps, what was even more remarkable than the election results, was the fact that the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was gracious in acceptance of defeat in good time, thus preventing expected bloodshed.
With all this in mind, I sat down at my computer last Thursday to write a column on developments in Nigeria since the elections and the way forward for President Buhari and his administration as they seek a radical new course for Nigeria. As soon as I started to tap on my computer, I received a text message from a good friend who lobbies on Capital Hill, asking if I heard the news that the Nigerian Ambassador to Washington, Ade Adefuye had died a few hours earlier. Of course, I was shocked to hear this unbelievable news and immediately called friends in the Embassy and learned that this news was in fact true and that the ambassador had died in a local hospital following a seizure.
I can say that I enjoyed an excellent relationship with Ambassador Adefuye during his 5½ years as the Nigerian Envoy, and had begun to work with other colleagues in the Africa-focused community to put together a farewell reception for him for September 15, three days before his assignment was coming to an end. I have never worked with any ambassador who was more passionate about his country, moreover passionate about Africa or more passionate about African people. Ambassador Adefuye made his embassy available to me and my organization, the Constituency for Africa (CFA), for any and all Diaspora-related events and activities. He also sought me out on a regular basis to get my opinion and ideas on what could be done to promote Nigeria and to strengthen the relationship with the Obama administration.
President Buhari’s visit to Washington in July, which was organized by Ambassador Adefuye, went incredibly well. President Buhari was well-received in the White House by President Obama and had very positive engagements with members of the U.S. Congress and with the Washington power establishment. President Buhari’s requests for U.S. assistance to address the fight against Bokam Haram and to address seemingly endemic government corruption in Nigeria, was well-received from all quarters of Washington.
Who can be against President Buhari and his efforts to transform Nigeria from a corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucracy, to a country that can begin to reach the tremendous potential that the natural wealth and the intellectual capital would dictate. President Buhari reminds us of President Obama when he first came to the presidency in 2008 facing tremendous challenges. He is clearly off to a very good start, showing that he is quite poised, calculating and deliberate.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan also deserves to be commended, especially for the way he accepted defeat at the polls and handed over power to the new president as spelled out in the Nigerian constitution. Perhaps other countries across the continent (17 presidential elections are slated in Africa between now and 2017), can learn from former President Jonathan’s example. This is very much in line with President Obama’s powerful address to the African Union in Addis Abeba in July, calling on African leaders to head the call of the ballot box and to leave office peacefully as determined by their constitutions.
We all know that once an election has taken place and the results have been confirmed, people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of the new leader, even it means trampling on the incumbent previously held in such high esteem. Maybe Jonathan, as a private citizen, can continue to contribute in positive ways as the country strengthens its democratic processes, addresses the security concerns poised by Bokam Haram, and builds the economic base that will create jobs for the next generation. He is perfectly positioned to advocate for peaceful political transition not only in Nigeria, but across the entire African continent. This will help Nigeria to take it’s rightful place as the “giant of Africa” and as a respected global leader.
Melvin P. Foote is founder, president and CEO of the Constituency for Africa (CFA), a Washington, D.C.- based education and advocacy organization.