Less than one month into his presidency, newly elected Donald Trump has reached out to President Buhari extending his first official phone call to the Nigerian leader. The topics of conversation were reported to include trade and security issues, including a commitment by the new U.S. president to help broker a deal that would enable Nigeria to obtain military weapons that would be used in the fight against the terror group Boko Hara. (This extremist terror group has been reported as responsible for over 100,00 deaths and other atrocities in Nigeria since 2011). President Trump also extended an invitation to President Buhari to visit Washington at a “mutually convenient time”.
This initial contact seems to indicate a positive step forward in the relationship between the US and Nigeria– a relationship often strained in the past—but more recently improving with the election of President Buhari in May, 2015. Prior to that, the U.S. would not support the sale of weapons or advanced equipment to Nigeria, and partnership between the governments was limited. During Presidents Obama’s eight years in office he never visited Nigeria during any of his three state visits to the African continent. The lack of a state visit, (a great disappointment to the Nigerian people!), and the United States governments’ unwillingness to broker a military weapons deal were both due to the prolific and horrific human rights violations rampant across Nigeria at the time by the then corrupt government and military. (The military was believed responsible for 1000’s of civilian deaths, and the government did little to alleviate the crippling poverty & lack of services in many areas). The United States could not, and would not, risk inadvertently supporting Nigeria’s blatant disregard for the life and safety of its own citizens.
However, the election of President Buhari brought a new political climate to Nigeria as he vowed on election day to ‘fight the nation’s endemic corruption’, and then later to eradicate the terrorist faction Boko Haram. President Buhari has taken several actions during his 20 months in office, but the road to a safe, healthy and prosperous Nigeria is a long one, and the support of the United States will certainly help on that journey. President Obama did acknowledge the changes and positive intentions of the new regime before he left office, and although he did not visit Nigeria before the end of his presidency, he did host President Buhari in Washington in September of 2016, the last quarter of his presidency sharing encouraging words and hope for the future.
Now Presidents Trumps words are also bringing new hope to the Nigerian people. In his phone call he “encouraged President Buhari to keep up the good work he is doing, and commended him for the efforts made in rescuing 24 of the Chibok Girls and the strides being taken by the Nigerian military.” He also underscored the importance the United States places on its relationship with Nigeria, and he expressed interest in working with President Buhari to expand the strong partnership.
This must certainly be good news for the Nigerian people, but much more than words are needed. Continued, and stronger action is needed from President Buhari to heal his country, and President Trump must make good on his words to support President Buhari in fighting terrorism and corruption.
This writer and many others in Nigeria and around the world will be waiting and watching to see now this new partnership evolves, hoping to see a safe, secure and thriving Nigeria in the future!