Lost in Nigeria
Are you wondering what’s going on with Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is supposedly in Saudi Arabia recovering from heart surgery but hasn’t been seen in two months? Don’t ask the State Department, because officials there have no idea. The Cable spoke with a State Department official working on this issue to see whether Foggy ...
Are you wondering what's going on with Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, who is supposedly in Saudi Arabia recovering from heart surgery but hasn't been seen in two months? Don't ask the State Department, because officials there have no idea.
Are you wondering what’s going on with Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua, who is supposedly in Saudi Arabia recovering from heart surgery but hasn’t been seen in two months? Don’t ask the State Department, because officials there have no idea.
The Cable spoke with a State Department official working on this issue to see whether Foggy Bottom had a handle on what’s going on. There’s so much confusion surrounding Yar’Adua’s status that the Nigerian high court last week imposed a 14-day deadline for the cabinet to vote on whether he is still capable of ruling.
Seeing as how the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hailed from Nigeria and considering that the State Department’s IG office just issued a report warning that Nigeria is at risk of becoming a terrorist safe haven, you would think the Nigerian president’s disappearance would be a major cause of concern.
To judge by this official’s reaction, not so much.
"We follow the reports that he’s been out of the country and ill; we all saw the interview he did where he came across that he sounded weak … As far as we are aware he is a sick man."
Do you have any specific details about his health status or location, The Cable asked the official?
"Not really. Anyone who listened to the BBC interview would conclude he did not sound well."
OK, so the State Department is basing its analysis on the BBC? Well, the official went on, it doesn’t really matter much because the bilateral relationship between the United States and Nigeria "does not revolve around the head of state," and there are lots of connections at lots of levels.
Who’s running the country, then? Apparently it’s Goodluck Jonathan, the official said, citing news reports saying that the vice president had taken charge of responding to incidents of violence this month.
OK, well, what does State know about the violence itself? Again, the official pointed to the media as its main source of knowledge.
"We’ve been following reports of unrest there and obviously hope they should be resolved," the official said.
But what about that IG report, which warned not only about increasing radicalization in Nigeria but also criticized the dilapidated condition of U.S. consular facilities and inadequate staffing there?
"I wouldn’t want to comment on the specifics of the report, not having read it," the official said.
UPDATE: Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson will visit Nigeria as part of a whirlwind tour of Africa beginning tomorrow. In Nigeria he will hold bilaterals with Vice President Jonathan and Foreign Affairs Chief Ojo Maduekwe.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
More from Foreign Policy
Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?
The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.
Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World
It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.
It’s a New Great Game. Again.
Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.
Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing
The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.