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Hullabaloo over northern governors’ trip to Washington

Ten northern governors’ trip to the USA at the invitation of the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace (USIP) raised a lot of dust in…

Ten northern governors’ trip to the USA at the invitation of the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace (USIP) raised a lot of dust in the media here. The purpose of the trip was lampooned ceaselessly on social media from one end of the country to the other. With the benefit of hindsight, I guess some of the governors on the excursion would have contemplated the trip now and probably have some regrets about having gone on what many regard as not more than an ego trip.

Actually, little is known about the operations of this institute in this country until the governors’ trip blew up the lid. But the fact is that they have been around for a considerable length of time. Established in 1985 by the US Congress, USIP purports to be an independent, nonpartisan institution charged with increasing the nation’s capacity to prevent, mitigate, and help resolve international conflict without violence. Since its inception, USIP has been operating in many countries of the world targeting those nations they consider fragile states, ostensibly to help them develop the capacity to reduce and resolve violent conflicts. Apparently, USIP considers Nigeria as a fragile state, bunching us with Afghanistan, Burma, Iraq, Pakistan and Tunisia.

I suppose it would be difficult for some of my readers to visualise the extent of USIP’s reach globally because we don’t have its equivalent in this country. Forget the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), National Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) or the Nigerian War College. Yes, these are Nigeria’s foremost policy Think Tanks, but none of them has the resources and the backing of the government to operate outside our borders as USIP does on behalf of the US government. In any case, as a credible and informed source alluded to me, USIP is, for all purposes, another arm of the State Department.

In the last 30 years, USIP has made deep inroads into the Nigerian landscape, establishing lasting contacts with the intelligentsia, the military and other security agencies, traditional rulers, and the business community. Many of these mentioned have served as their resource persons and engaged with them for years. USIP established an office in Abuja in 2020 to deepen its operations and sustain its direct action in Nigeria. USIP has spread into outlets working locally in Nigeria to advance its causes. The Network of Nigerian Facilitators (NNF) is one such outfit, composed of professional peace mediators trained and advised by USIP to mitigate and resolve local conflicts through nonviolent means in Nigeria. In the past few years, the NNF has been directly at work in many of the northern states. They were at the centre of the negotiations between local groups in Kaduna and Plateau States to resolve long-standing and violent communal conflicts.

This is not even the first time USIP has hosted our high-level officials in Washington. They hosted President Buhari in Washington in 2022 whose biographer, Professor Emeritus John Paden is closely associated with USIP. And they have also been working closely with President Tinubu’s government from day one. They hosted the Buhari-Tinubu transition team in 2023. The NSA himself had been hosted by USIP this year. Over the years USIP has hosted our governors, individually and collectively, several times over. It has been an ongoing thing for a long time. What prompted the awareness this time might be the large number of governors corralled into the trip and also the growth of social media that quickly spread the story.

Condemnation of the trip was quick in coming. Many commentators criticised the trip as self-serving saying that our problems are local and their solutions must be found locally. Some admonished them for being absent from the country while there was a security dialogue discussing state policing in Abuja. Perhaps the harshest criticism came from the former Foreign Minister and Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido who gave a stinging rebuke to the governors for undertaking the trip. Sule Lamido considered the trip as ‘advancing our shame and embarrassment beyond our frontiers’.  He added, “Certainly, they could have gotten more than they wanted from our resourceful institutions such as NIPSS in Kuru Jos or ASCON in Badagry or even NIA. These three institutions have more than enough materials, essays and templates on the problems of security in Nigeria than the far-fetched American Institute”.

Not to be outdone, Katsina State Governor, Dikko Radda has been on the road countering these criticisms. He said the trip was at the instance of USIP and it provided the governors a forum to cross-fertilize ideas affording fresh insights that would help tackle insecurity in their embattled states. Be that as it may, I believe it is time we draw the line and regulate these trips to foreign institutes by our top officials for what we can conveniently provide here in our secure environment. I recall that in 1999 NIPSS hosted most of the transition forums of the incoming Obasanjo administration, drawing on local resource persons across the country. For years thereafter NIPSS also successfully hosted many retreats of ministers and permanent secretaries. We should build on those successes instead of allowing foreign institutions to bamboozle us.

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