by Alexander O. Onukwue
“The United States will remember this day in which it was singled out for attack in the General Assembly for the very act of exercising our right as a sovereign nation. We will remember it when we are called upon to once again make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations. And we will remember it when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit”
Those were the strong words of Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations before the vote by member nations of the world body on the decision of the US to move its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Ms Haley had twitted that “the US will be taking names” during the vote on Thursday at the 193-nation assembly.
As it happened, 128 nations reprimanded the US with their votes, 9 expressed solidarity with them while 35 chose to sit on the fence.
Trump had indicated on Wednesday that he would be taking the votes seriously: “We’re watching those votes,” the US President said. “Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”
NIGERIA’s STANCE vs AID RECEIPTS
To member nations, Haley’s advisory before the vote was that when the Trump administration makes a decision “at the will of the American ppl, about where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us”.
Nigeria was one of the 128 who voted “yes” in chastisement of the US decision on moving its Embassy to Jerusalem. What would then be the consequence?
A Washington Post graphic shows that Africa’s most populous black nation is the eight largest beneficiary of foreign aid from Washington, receiving as much as $606 million. Four other African nations, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia (a two-year non-permanent member of the UN Security Council) – who all voted against the US – receive at least $500 million from the US in foreign aid, constituting half of the top ten on the list.
The last time the US threatened to cut aid to Nigeria was over corruption issues in 2013 when President Goodluck Jonathan granted pardon to the convicted former Governor of Bayelsa state, the now deceased Diepreye Alamieyeiseigha.
BUT IT WON’T BE EASY AND NIGERIA MAY NOT WORRY
Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and military analyst in favour of the Trump administration’s decision, told Fox Business that “the threat was ill-advised”. Mr Peters said the US was “certainly not going to cut funding to countries like Jordan or even Egypt at a critical time like this.”
At the moment, there is no information on the website of the Foreign Affairs Ministry to give any insight on how Nigeria receives the notice of Ms Haley. (President Buhari’s medical visit to London in January is the latest update). Mr Trump had, earlier in the year, promised to assist Nigeria with cooperation, in ammunition and intelligence, necessary to fight the Boko Haram insurgency. The Jonathan government and the US State Department under Barack Obama had a frictional relationship due to questions about the former Nigerian president’s posture on corruption, a factor which may have played to the favour of the emergence of the present APC administration. Hence, the Buhari administration is believed to be in a position to benefit from the US with its anti-corruption focus.
It will be seen how seriously the present US Commander-in-chief takes the issue of the voting decision as to make it a pre-requisite for cooperation on fighting terrorism, which is another major point of Mr Trump’s agenda.
In any case, the Nigerian Foreign Policy establishment will likely not lose much sleep about the threat as it has always been the country’s policy to support a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. While the US Department of State continues to emphasize that its decision in moving its Embassy does not foreclose conversation on a two-state solution, Nigeria, like most other nations, sees the decision as nudging other nations on the matter. The White House had proposed a budget for the coming fiscal year aims to cut its aid and diplomacy spending to a third of its current size, though it has been described as a non-starter by some US Senate Republicans.
SALTY REACTIONS TO THE NOTICE
The threat has led to Trump, not for the first time, being described as an autocrat. A tweet by the former CIA director John O’Brennan says “Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous. Shows @realDonaldTrump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone—qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats”
Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his response, accused the US and Mr Trump of “looking for people they can buy with their dollars”. Mr Erdogan beckoned on other countries to reject the intimidation, saying “do not, for the sake of a few dollars, sell off your democratic free will.” Whether Nigeria should take counsel on “democracy” from Mr Erdogan is conversation for another day.
The United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan were among the strongest allies of the US to vote against the US, confirming their repudiation of Washington’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Other friends of America such as Canada, Mexico and Australia, as well as Poland where Trump gave his biggest foreign policy speech of the year, abstained during the votes. Rwanda, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Malawi, South Sudan and Uganda also abstained.
Supporting Israel in the “no” votes were Guatemala, Honduras, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands and Togo. Togo recognized the State of Palestine on November 29, 1988. However, they abstained from voting when votes were cast to admit Palestine to UNESCO as a member state in October 2011 and as Non-Member Observer State, in November 2012. Compared to the over $600 million budget for Nigeria, the US supports Togo with about $13.5 million, as at 2015.