Odilim Enwegbara, an economist and chief executive of Pan Africa Development Corporation, is a strong advocate for the dismantling of the World Trade Organization, WTO, which he described as a grand conspiracy against Africa and the developing economies.
With the U.S. president-elect, Donald Trump, appearing not to be favourably disposed towards various trade agreements by some members of the group, Mr. Enwegbara told PREMIUM TIMES’ Bassey Udo that supporting the new American administration could be in Nigeria, indeed, Africa’s best interest.
PT: The U.S. election has come and gone. Donald Trump, against all global permutations, emerged the President-elect. How did this hit you?
ENWEGBARA: It was a big surprise. Most of us thought Hillary Clinton was on her way to winning Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, on her way to winning the White House ticket. But as soon as she lost Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, it began to look she was losing.
We already knew the safe states—the red states are Republican, and blue, Democrats’. But when she lost two important battleground states of Ohio and Florida, I knew she was in trouble. It was clear Trump was on his way to winning the election. Trump’s emergence as president-elect, without holding any political position or public office previously, was a kind of political revolution in the U.S.
PT: Does his election portend anything ominous for Nigeria or Africa?
ENWEGBARA: Not that his emergence is bad. Although nobody anticipated it, it’s good news for Nigeria and Africa. We must put emotions and sentiments aside and face reality. Often, we see the U.S. Democratic Party as one that favours Africa. Once they come to power, we tend to think they would be solutions to Africa’s problems, or they would take African-American problems as African problems. But, that is not always the truth.
When George W. Bush was president, he did more for Africa and Africans than President Bill Clinton, who, during the HIV drugs era, ensured Africans emptied their wallets.
By blocking Africans from buying less expensive generic drugs and making sure generic drugs were not made available to Africans, especially to South Africans, Clinton proved to care less about Africans.
Clinton was infamous for looking the other way during the Rwandan/Burundi ethnic cleansing and the genocide that claimed hundreds of thousands of African lives.
In 2008, not only did I campaign for Barack Obama in the U.S. election, I had to relocate to the U.S. to join the campaign team. I participated in Obama’s high level policy and strategy meetings. I did those things not because I expected his government to become pro-Africa. I did them simply because I wanted to see a black man in the White House in my lifetime. Thank God that during the eight months I participated in the Obama policy and strategy team, I made a lot of contributions and they recognized my input in the campaign.
But that’s by the way. But as a Nigerian, am I happy that the same Obama I worked for never visited Nigeria? Of course, I am not. I am not happy, because he visited some smaller African countries without considering it important to visit Nigeria, the largest black nation and the biggest economy in Africa.
But in the case of two past white presidents before him—Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, they visited Nigeria during their presidencies.
Having said that, let me also say that no amount of despising the Republican Party will remove the fact that in recent times it’s the same Republican Party presidents who did more for Africa and Nigeria in particular.
Yes, Donald Trump is known to have made racist remarks about Africans during the campaigns, and condescendingly the black race, and Nigerians in particular. But, then, is it beautiful words that matter more to us or our economic gains?
If it is beautiful words, and making politically-correct statements, then, we should go on disliking Trump. But if it boils down to the real things that matter in life—economic gains and the bread and butter issues—then, we should embrace Trump, because should he go ahead to dismantle the World Trade Organization, that should free African economies from the present economic slavery globalization has since reduced us to.
If your enemy’s enemy is your friend, globalization being Trump’s and Africa’s enemy, joining hands with him to defeat this trade monster will make Africa as a dumping ground for non-African made goods soon become history.
It is as a result of free trade thing that African infant industries have been forced out of business, along with these companies laying-off millions of Africans on their payroll. Aren’t these the consequences of what we see in Africa today? Inequalities all over African countries; inability of African governments to raise taxes, especially import tariffs, money badly needed for fixing infrastructure, for fighting insecurity and militancy, etc.?
So if Trump dismantles WTO and says: Let every country protect themselves from foreign goods’ dumping, shouldn’t that mean African countries will be able to impose high tariffs on imported goods, and by so doing stop all these substandard and cheap products being dumped on African markets?
Shouldn’t that means manufacturing jobs surfacing in African countries, and governments getting more personal income and company tax revenues?
There’ll be no better news than this, because that will mean Africa’s industrialization beginning to take place.
I will advise African leaders to attend Trump’s inauguration if invited. They have to embrace Donald Trump. They have to tell him their own stories about how globalization damaged the entire continental economy since 1994 when Bill Clinton signed WTO into law and imposed an open border policy on all countries of Africa.
In the case of African migrants in the U.S., they should tell him that fair treatment and respect for human rights should be observed by his government since America is a nation of immigrants.
PT: In specifics terms, what kind of strategic interests should Nigeria look for when engaging Trump’s administration?
ENWEGBARA: As the leader of Africa, Nigeria should be looking after African and its interests around the world. President Muhammadu Buhari should be pushing for the creation of better relations with the U.S., a win-win relationship.
This means the Nigerian government should tell Trump’s government to truly help it defeat Boko Haram.
Nigeria can insist on U.S. oil companies stopping to engage in oil theft and in poor environmental practices. They should desist from these fraudulent activities in Nigeria that have caused inherent crises in the Niger Delta region.
The Buhari administration should insist that the country’s billions of dollar looted wealth and hidden in American banks be returned to the country without delay. The U.S. should return to buying Nigerian oil, which is not only light and sweet, but costs less to transport and less time to reach the U.S. markets than Middle East oil.
For these reasons—and for the fact that right now Trump is looking for legitimacy—it should be good if the Buhari administration reaches out to Trump, possibly to demand early state visits by the two.
He should strive to have an official visit before the end of next year. I should suggest that President Buhari endeavours to attend Trump’s inauguration, if not, he should send a powerful delegation.
PT: What do you make of Trump’s perception of Nigeria, through his strong statements against the country with regards to corrupt leadership?
ENWEGBARA: What did he say about Nigeria that cannot be resolved? What is important is not what he said about us, but what we are doing to put our house in order.
The good news is that the world has seen how determined President Buhari is handling the war against corruption.
All our president needs to do is to continue to fight corruption ‘blindly’. He should tell Trump: “You know what, my country is no doubt corrupt, and that is the battle I have been fighting. But then, how can I defeat this monster? If your government does not help me in winning this war against corruption, what should I do? Without your help, corrupt Nigerians will continue to keep their loots in the U.S. That is why defeating corruption should require our strategic partnership.”
PT: The specific question on the Niger Delta comes to mind. Do you see Trump’s emergence causing a dramatic change in the situation in the region?
ENWEGBARA: The Niger Delta has never had peace because international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta have been instigating and financing these inherent crises and insecurity in the Niger Delta.
They have done so, having discovered how such crises and insecurity help them operate without anyone watching over them. As a result of the militancy, the thieving oil companies have no one to stop them.
To the extent, they in most cases blow their aging pipelines and turnaround to ask the federal government to spend billions of dollars to repair them, because of the Joint Venture it has with them.
Because of this, and the very fact that U.S. strategic energy interests override any foreign interests, it is unlikely that President Trump should be forthcoming with some interest in resolving the crisis in the Niger Delta. This is more so especially because it is a localised problem.
PT: Over time, stronger countries capitalize on the failings of other countries to gain more power in international politics. With Trump coming, do you think there would be much difference?
ENWEGBARA: Survival of the fittest is more pronounced among nations than among people. But that does not mean that Trump is going to ride on weak countries like Nigeria. There are rules and laws guiding nation-to-nation relationship—between weak and strong nations.
Those are what the UN has been able to achieve since its establishment in 1945. So, Trump does not have the kind of pre-World War 11 dictatorial powers that Adolf Hitler enjoyed, that led him to invade his European neighbours.
Frankly speaking, I don’t expect to see Trump waking up one morning and saying let us go and colonize Africa again, so that we can take over their vast natural wealth. Rather than preoccupying ourselves with the impossible, let African leaders engage Trump by insisting on the fairness of his diplomacy toward Africa.
PT: From the benefit of hindsight, do you think Nigeria engaged the out-going Obama administration enough?
ENWEGBARA: It all depends on what one means by engaging Obama enough. Is it because we didn’t engage him enough that made him not visit Nigeria throughout his two terms? I don’t think so. Obama never created the opportunity for us to engage him. Obama was never really interested in Africa, and Nigeria in particular.
During his first term, I thought he didn’t engage Africa for strategic reasons. But, when he repeated what he did in the first term during his second term, avoiding Africa and Nigeria in particular, I was left with no doubt that he has no personal interest in what happens in Africa. That explains during his eight years in office the African-U.S. relations were worse than what they were during his predecessors’ years, particularly since the beginning of this century.
But did I regret working for the Obama campaign in 2008? Of course not! I shouldn’t regret it, because I am completely aware that President Obama, as powerful as we would think he is, is a mere president, who has to be taking instructions from the powerful U.S. Establishment.
It is actually the U.S. Establishment, headed by the Council on Foreign Relations, that runs the U.S., including the Obama administration and major policies around the world. So, whatever they tell him to do, he has to do them. Period!
PT: You have placed so much emphasis on how we should engage Trump. But, do you think the Buhari administration has the capacity to engage the Trump administration?
ENWEGBARA: They are building one. It is in our strategic national interests that they build the kind of capacity to be able to engage Trump’s America.
Our President must know that he has to leave behind a legacy that future generation of Nigerians would be proud of. Engaging Trump’s America, we will need to have a group of gifted Nigerians brought together to help come up with how the Buhari administration should engage Trump. The team should come up with specific policy measures with execution strategies. These should be in the area of our economic and trade diplomacy and national security and defence diplomacy. Our national interests should be made sacrosanct here.
Also, since whatever you get in Washington is also dependent on how much lobbying you can do, we too should employ some powerful lobbyists to sell our interests in Washington.
In fact, one of the members of the House of Representatives, the current Chairman of the House on U.S.-Nigerian Relations, being once a powerful Washington lobbyist, should help out here.
PT: What about China? What do we do with China?
ENWEGBARA: I have a lot of Chinese as friends. I have severally been to Beijing on the invitation of the Chinese government. The Chinese are a very smart people. Theirs is a nation of 5,000 years. But, the problem with the Chinese is these narrow-minded policies toward Africa and their increasingly zero-sum game postures.
It is now like the same way Europeans and Americans engaged Africans after colonialism. And above all, there has been the flooding of Africa with substandard Chinese products. This is an unfair trade relationship that should not be allowed to continue.
China should no longer be allowed to come here to exploit our natural resources and rather than process, take them home in their raw forms, and, then, turnaround to tell us we are the best of friends, and that this is much better relationship than what we have been getting from Europeans and Americans.
That is why, with our kind of population, we should no longer continue to allow others to dump their cheap and substandard goods here in Nigeria, as the Chinese are currently doing.
In this emerging New World Order, we should tell them that we want win-win trade relations; that they should come and build industries in Nigeria, or else we deny their exporters access to our 200 million consumer market.
After all, there are industries in China, like pharmaceuticals, oil and steel companies, that can build their factories. Why can’t they help us build our roads and other infrastructure?
We can give them sovereign guarantees, which should protect their investments here. But we should not allow them to invest in unprocessed mining that only help them simply ship our raw materials offshore, to their country.
We should also insist on Chinese government making sure its citizens desist from illegal mining in Nigeria, given that 90 per cent of those involved in illegal mining in Nigeria are reportedly Chinese. These are some of the things we have to do. But we will not do that by begging them. We have to make them understand that unless they stop, we will have serious issues with them.
PT: Many Nigerian-Americans are protesting that they are being harassed by Nigerians living in Nigeria to the extent that many are asking them when they are returning home with Trump’s emergence. What do you think?
ENWEGBARA: Having lived in the U.S. myself too, I understand how the folks in the U.S. feel when the folks in Nigeria take joy in taking some of the political campaign jokes too seriously.
We should know that Trump doesn’t have power to deport millions of immigrants, not to mention green card holders, since these people have the right to defend themselves. They can hire best immigration attorneys to defend their rights to live in the U.S., after all, America is a country of immigrants.
That we in Africa are leaving our own enormous problems and focusing on other people’s problems only shows how we Africans have always misplaced our own priorities. The African-American priorities in America, or how the government of the U.S. treats them shouldn’t be our preoccupation, or form the basis of the African-U.S. relations.
We here should mind our business by focusing on what Africa should benefit relating with the U.S., and not the plight of Africans living in America. After all, our problems here are far more complex and more difficult to find answers to than theirs in the U.S. Or was Obama not a Kenyan-American? What did he bring to Kenya during his eight years as the president of the U.S.? Absolutely nothing.
PT: Thank you for your time.
ENWEGBARA: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.