Melvin P. Foote is president of the Constituency for Africa.
Last month, Nigeria completed a competitive national election in a peaceful and transparent manner. While the United States lent a hand as the democratic process played out, its participation cannot conclude with it applauding Nigeria’s success from afar. In fact, in some ways, its involvement is only beginning, which is why I strongly urge President Obama to attend the inauguration of President-elect Muhammadu Buhari on May 29.
Obama’s presence at this historic event would send the right signal at the right time. This election was a landmark victory for democracy in Africa and for struggling people everywhere, and the U.S. president’s participation would make a powerful statement of hope and renewal. Nigeria is at a crossroads. While it faces a brutal terrorism campaign in the north, and multiple other development challenges elsewhere across the country, it remains the largest economy in an extremely important part of the world and is poised to achieve much more in the years ahead.
Nigerians are well aware that Obama bypassed their country during two previous visits to Africa. Many excused this, believing his decision was based on the fact that Nigeria had not shown sufficient progress on its democratic processes. They were also mindful of concerns about corruption, along with the fierce security threats posed by Boko Haram.
But conditions on the ground have changed dramatically. There is a new, hopeful landscape in Nigeria that could be broadcast loudly to the world by Obama’s presence at the inauguration. His attendance could also provide the spark needed to reenergize and refocus U.S-Nigeria relations, a partnership that appears to have stumbled recently.
The United States has an enormous stake in what happens in Nigeria. Credit for the successful elections rightly belongs to the Nigerian people, but they are the first to admit that the United States provided strong support to the electoral process. This explains why Buhari, in his victory speech, promptly expressed the gratitude of the Nigerian people to the United States and other international partners. He also pledged to engage the governments of partners such as the United States in tackling Nigeria’s numerous challenges.
The inauguration ceremony will be a defining moment for Nigeria’s maturing democracy. The day will be a call for Nigerians and their foreign friends and partners to demonstrate the strength and promise of their collective commitment to democracy.
Who better to embrace and validate this new budding freedom in Nigeria than the leader of the world’s most prestigious democracy, the United States?
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