Plan Colombia: a fundamentally flawed model for Nigeria
by Onyemaechi E.F. Ogbunwezeh, PhD, November 2019
Christian activists in the United States are urging the US government to implement a “Plan Nigeria”, based on its military/economic Plan Colombia. This is a multi-billion dollar, ongoing programme launched by President Bill Clinton to combat drug cartels and left-wing guerrillas. An appeal for such a plan for Nigeria on the grounds of genocide prevention was recently made in an op-ed article entitled “Africa’s gathering storm”, published in The Hill. But precise details of “Plan Nigeria” have not yet been presented to the public. Very few Nigerians are aware of this Washington-based effort to commit their destiny to an uncertain future.
The cardinal question here is: Should billions of American government dollars and weapons go to the Government of Nigeria, as they did to the Colombian government in the late 1990s, to end the violence in the northeast and Middle Belt of Nigeria? Many Nigerians in the affected areas view tacit government support, government dysfunctionality, and the unsupportable corruption of government agencies and parastatals, including the security apparatus, as supporting and nourishing the violence across Nigeria.
The danger that this push for a Plan Colombia poses for Nigeria cannot be overstated. Every independent and honest appraisal of Plan Colombia has shown that it created the framework for a sequence of negatives. The US spent decades bankrolling the Colombian military and paramilitaries, and directly intervening in the country by means of special forces and intelligence operatives. This gave Washington access to seven military bases and guaranteed that she became complicit in the human rights abuses committed by Plan Colombia partners. US policy in Colombia was concentrated on the military-strategic alliance with the armed forces, the security apparatus and the intelligence services – all in the name of the United States national security interests. Plan Colombia led to the expansion of the “dirty war”, in which people all over Colombia were massacred, and to the expanded militarisation of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, which no doubt committed its own share of atrocities in Colombia.
"Would any right-thinking person want to have huge amounts of funds and weapons put at the disposal of the Nigerian military and government?"
Is this the kind of situation any right-thinking Nigerian would choose to have implemented in Nigeria? Would any right-thinking person want to have such huge amounts of funds and weapons put at the disposal of the Nigerian military and the government, both of which have a notoriously poor human rights record?
Most Nigerians know that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari no longer makes any pretence at democracy. This is a government that has battered and eviscerated the judiciary and that throws its opponents, journalists, and activists in jail. The government has formed a shameless habit of ignoring every court order to release those unjustly imprisoned. Members of the Indigenous People of Biafra group (IPOB) agitating peacefully for Biafra have been mown down in a hail of bullets by the military under the command of Buhari. Those arrested have shown signs of having been brutally tortured in a manner that would shame medieval inquisitors. After a sham process the government ended up proscribing, and designating as a terrorist group, an organisation that has been non-violent in pursuing its fundamental right to protest. Shi’ite protesters have also been felled by fusillades of military bullets at the order of this president. And until now, no one has been held to account. The Shi’ite leader, Ibrahim El Zakzaky, is still in jail, with his fundamental human rights violated at every turn. But the Sunni Fulani herdsmen, who are on a slaughtering spree throughout the Middle Belt and the south of Nigeria, have not so much as been declared a terrorist group by the government. Many Nigerians see a double standard in the attitude of the government in this case and suspect the reason for it is that President Buhari is himself a Fulani. Need we mention Sambo Dasuki, who has been in jail since this government came to power? He was slammed into jail without trace, and due process has been denied him at every turn. Many journalists are rotting in jails across Nigeria while this government makes plans to criminalise free speech, under the ruse of fighting fake news.
Over and above terrorising the opposition, attempting to muzzle free speech and sending the military into civilian spaces to terrify non-violent agitators, this government has been unable or unwilling to stop the violence against Christians by Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram in the north, Middle Belt and southern parts of Nigeria. But the government has been quick to send soldiers to attack civilian protestors, including the Shi’ites and members of IPOB.
Is this a government that the United States should entrust with implementing a policy with far-reaching and unforeseen possibilities for Nigeria? Is Nigeria still a colonial dependency that can have a policy imposed on her without her citizens being allowed to actively defend their interests?
"This is an area where Nigerians should not keep quiet. Our destiny for many decades to come is at stake here."
The lack of public discussion and debate on this in Nigeria is really ominous. This is an area where Nigerians should not keep quiet. Our destiny for many decades to come is at stake here. If Nigerians of goodwill, and Nigerian Christians in particular, keep quiet over this ill-advised move, we may soon find that enormous funds and weapons are to be channelled to Buhari for military activity against not only Boko Haram, but also against all others that stand in the way of the Muslim Fulani agenda.
In the event of that, some of the following scenarios may unfold:
First, Nigeria may be forced to host US military personnel, brought in as trainers and advisers. In 2009, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua rejected pressure for Nigeria to host the United States African Command. Welcoming American military personnel under any guise may be a backdoor into Nigeria hosting an American military base. It is accepted wisdom that wherever the Americans land, they never leave.
Is that what Nigerians want? Wouldn’t that raise the ire of Islamic militants and put Nigeria in the crosshairs of metastasised terror networks, who would start viewing Nigeria as the base of American operations against them, thereby putting innocent Nigerians at risk of terror attacks?
Second, there is no such thing as a free lunch anywhere. Any bilateral arrangement that is to be funded by the US must totally address US interests, security and strategic concerns. These concerns and interests may not necessarily be the interests and concerns of ordinary Nigerians. What about the opportunity cost? What is the alternative that Nigeria would forego by accepting the plan?
Third, the massive inflow of American funds would naturally fund the corruption and further underwrite the dysfunctionality of our government, which has persisted since our independence. That is what petrodollars and aid dollars have done to the Nigerian economy. Anybody thinking that such free monies would lead to stability and development has not studied the trajectory of Rentier economies.
Moreover, the funds coming from “Plan Nigeria” would certainly increase the capacity of the government to strike down legitimate opposition by labelling opponents terrorists and fake news peddlers. Buhari’s government has shown its draconian face on so many occasions. The government has finally eviscerated the judiciary, with its overthrow of Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen and appointment of a totally unqualified lackey in his place. It has severally disobeyed court orders, and arrested and detained journalists and activists arbitrarily in violation of Nigerian laws. Who would hold this government in check when the negative sides of the Plan start manifesting themselves, as they did in Colombia – the legislature? I doubt if that would be of any effect or consequence. The present National Assembly is viewed by many Nigerians as a lapdog of the executive. I fear that if Plan Colombia is adopted for Nigeria, the human rights violations witnessed in Colombia under that plan would be the antics of spoilt kids in comparison to what this government would wreak in Nigeria. Nigerians were caught in the brutal fangs of a Buhari government between 1983 and 1985 and these fears are not unfounded.
Furthermore, these funds would give the Nigerian government, which many suspect is systematically Islamising and Northernising Nigeria into a nepotistic Fulani enclave, the financial and moral backing of a super-power, for its final push to eviscerate all opposition and instal a tyrannical government that owes its legitimacy to American support and not to the mandate and will of the Nigerian people.
Repackaging Plan Colombia for Nigeria under whatever ruse would undermine the progress the country has achieved through blood and sweat and would be a grievous error. It would end once and for all our continuing claim to nationhood, and deepen the primitive fault lines that have dogged unity, peace and progress in Nigeria. Mutual suspicion would be exacerbated, since sections of the country that are presently very marginalised by the Buhari government’s unabashed Pro-North and Pro-Fulani Realpolitik would now have just cause to believe that the government has been given carte blanche to secure Muslim Fulani ascendancy in Nigeria in furtherance of US strategic interests. The plan would break those weak strings and forces that have held the country together. It would set the country up as a tyrannical stronghold of US interests that makes a pretence of democracy and human rights but is teleguided from Washington. Or it would plunge the country into a theatre of war: unstable, highly volatile and a fomenter and exporter of terror.
"We should not stand aside and watch as actors beyond our shores plan to convert our fragile peace into a conflagration."
This assessment is based on the massive scale of the corruption that has dogged our dysfunctional government institutions in Nigeria. Some elements in our police force and the military have been variously accused, with very good reason, of selling weapons to armed robbers and members of Boko Haram. How then can we be sure that the mass quantities of weapons that would be sent to our security forces, consequent on a Plan Colombia-Nigerian style, would not find their way into the lairs of the terrorists and armed robbers who have money to pay for them?
Plan Colombia is not a functional response to the Nigerian security situation at the moment. Nigeria and Nigerians don’t need another war directed from a Western capital. We are not a drug-producing nation. We have had a civil war, which attracted all the international vultures and dogs of war. We have close to four million obituaries as a placard to that collective madness. We offered the world a ringside seat to that very first case of televised, fratricidal genocide in post-independence Africa. We should not stand aside and watch as actors beyond our shores plan to convert our fragile peace into a conflagration. The hard military option has not acquitted itself creditably as a solution to complex conflicts like that of Nigeria. Such options have been known to create war economies, which keep on fanning the flames of unending war, as we see in DR Congo.
Plan Colombia, no matter how it is adapted, is not a credible option for Nigeria. Nigeria is too complex for such a plan. This was also the conclusion reached by Major Elliot Burns in his 2016 MA thesis presented to the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, entitled “Colombia to Nigeria: Exploring the Possibilities of a Security Co-operation Strategy for Nigeria Based on the Successes Realized through Plan Colombia”. While he acknowledged the threat of Boko Haram, the author did not foresee the Fulani herdsmen crisis or the agitation for the restoration of Biafra by the IPOB. In spite of these lapses, he concluded that Plan Colombia cannot be successfully implemented at the present time in Nigeria. By the present time he meant 2016. When one looks at Nigeria, three years later, one would conclude that the situation is even more complex.
Any plan for Nigeria should and must come from Nigerians themselves. Nigeria does not need a Plan Colombia. In fact we already had a plan, decided by Nigerians sitting in a constituent assembly and submitted to the presidency in the final days of the last administration. Most of the recommendations of that assembly would go a long way in helping the Nigerian socioeconomic, geopolitical and security situation. We should be pushing for its implementation, not for the imposition of a plan designed for a drug-producing country and proposed by the US to attain its specific security interests. It cannot be overemphasised that any Plan Nigeria must take into account the security challenges posed by Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen, while giving serious consideration to the human rights concerns of Nigerians, the rights of vulnerable groups and the rights of minorities. This is a clarion call for all Nigerians to raise their voices and be counted. No plan to commit us should omit us.
Dr Onyemaechi Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh is the Director of the Africa Dept.at the International Society for Human Rights based in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a citizen of both Nigeria and Germany, and has been a vocal advocate for human rights and religious freedom across the African continent.
 Frank Wolf and Matthew Daniels: Africa’s gathering storm, The Hill, 21.09.2019, https://thehill.com/opinion/international/462458-africas-gathering-storm
 Burns, E., https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/1019911.pdf accessed on 25.10.2019