“Overpaid, oversexed and over here’’. That was the resentful and contemptuous opinion many British people came to have of the thousands of American GIs stationed in several military bases in Britain during the Second World War.
The gum-chewing, brash, hard-drinking and womanising American soldiers frequently got into pub brawls and dangerous knife fights which built up a feeling of disdain for the yanks among the locals.
And this has been the pattern of behaviour among American soldiers everywhere in the hundreds of American military bases overseas from Okinawa in Japan, Stuttgart in Germany, Incirlik and Diyarbakir in Turkey and Pampanga in the Philippines.
That is why I am perturbed, like many Nigerians, that in a virtual meeting last week with the Secretary of State of the United States of America, Antony Blinken, President Buhari was reported to have asked that the United States considers relocating the African Command (Africom) of its military presently based in the southern German city of Stuttgart to Africa. It is presumed that with this call, President Buhari is making a pitch for Nigeria to host Africom.
In the first place, it was a breach of protocol for President Buhari to hold that meeting with the American Secretary of State. The meeting should have been with Blinken’s Nigerian opposite number, Geoffrey Onyeama, who would then transmit the details afterwards to the president. Yes, America is a superpower and all that, but protocol is protocol and should be followed strictly in all circumstances.
Understandably, Nigeria is currently faced with gargantuan internal insecurity issues which seem to defy the best efforts of government and the nation’s security establishment in tackling it. Unrelenting terrorist insurgency in the North East, banditry, kidnapping in the North West, farmers/herders clashes all over the country and the targeted killing of security and law enforcement personnel and other Nigerians coupled with the destruction of institutional buildings in the South East, constitute the cocktail of insecurity now ravaging the country.
But even at that, the call for the hosting of the Africom on Nigerian soil when considered against the various issues and implications of this move to Nigeria is hardly justified.
Africom is one of nine such commands by the American military establishment to exclusively serve American strategic interests around the world. By their doctrine and operational modus, these commands, particularly those outside America like Africom, are not set up primarily to concern themselves with the security and law enforcement issues of their area of coverage. They only do so when such issues directly affect American interests in the area and in such situations, they are not mandated to yield their modus operandi and share intelligence with the local security and law enforcement agencies. If Africom is set up in Nigeria for instance, it will be an island of its own restricting access to Nigerians of all categories and establishing a jurisdiction within the territorial area of the base that will be virtually off limits to Nigerian security and law enforcement agencies. As it always happens with American military bases outside America, Africom will be a forward operating base for disruptive intelligence operations and source of acts of sabotage and destabilisation against the host country.
In the particular case of Africom, part of its original concept was actually to contain the growing strategic influence of Nigeria in West Africa and Africa following our successful peace enforcement efforts in Liberia and Sierra Leone and our sterling records of peace keeping around the world. Africom’s precursor was the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) set up by the Clinton administration to counter Nigeria’s strategic interests in Africa. President Clinton’s Secretary of State, the dour-faced California attorney, Warren Christopher, made many secret and open visits to a number of African countries to sell the idea. But because Nigeria was the target, he pointedly left it out from his itinerary. Senegal, which is not far from Liberia and Sierra Leone, was to be the coordinating base of the ACRI and though it was touted as an initiative to facilitate American assistance to African humanitarian issues, its secret protocols were unmistakably military and strategically targeted at Nigeria.
Due mainly to undisguised hostility to the idea from France, which was averse to seeing the Americans trying to butt into an area it considers its exclusive sphere of influence, the ACRI concept was reviewed. In the review, which drew the expertise of American military, intelligence, political and academic personalities and institutions midwifed by the American congress in secret sessions, the Americans considered and realised the need to set up an African command to add to the other commands already in place covering the various continents of the world. Thus based on recommendations of these assemblage of experts drawn from all facets of American political and security establishments, Africom was set up by the Bush Junior administration with a wider mandate not just to contain Nigeria but also to keep an eye on the growing Chinese strategic penetration of Africa. Africom will be to Africa what US Central Command (USCENTCOM), based in Florida, is to the Middle East and Asia, European Command (EUCOM), based in Stuttgart, Germany, is to Europe and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), also based in Florida, is to Latin America and the Caribbean.
Nigeria is already surrounded by French military presence in Niger, Cameroon, Chad, and Benin. The Americans also have a drone base in Niger. Adding Africom to the mix in Nigeria will amount to a complete capitulation of our strategic interest to both France and America. Bearing in mind that our strategic interests and profile in Africa do not always cohere with those of France and America, the hosting of Africom in Nigeria will be the equivalent of letting in the wolf into the chicken coop.
There is nothing in the present insecurity challenges facing the country that our armed forces cannot cope with. This is after all the military force that eventually secured Liberia and Sierra Leone against a well-entrenched and organised army of insurgents in those countries from a long logistical supply line thousands of miles; the army of Joshua Dogonyaro, Victor Malu and Maxwell Khobe, to mention but a few of the many gallant Nigerian soldiers who distinguished themselves in those operations. It is regrettable that the military of Nigeria, having fallen from the high standards known of it, is struggling now to cope with the activities of non-state actors internally. But intrinsically and essentially, the Nigerian military retains the capacity and capability to defeat these threats to our national security given the right leadership, doctrine and motivation.
We need all the assistance and cooperation that the Americans can give us if they are so willing. But despite our circumstances be arm-twisted into hosting the Africom in view of its antecedents and implications to our strategic interests, on our soil.