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Trump meeting with Nigerian president focused on trade, terrorism

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Editor- | Last updated: May 8, 2018 - 1:21:01 PM

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in the Oval Offi ce of the White House on April 30 in Washington, D.C. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
WASHINGTON—Even as the bulk of recent U.S. diplomatic attention has been focused on Iran and North Korea, and before that on every place other than anywhere in Africa, President Donald J. Trump paused for a full-featured, bi-lateral meeting at the White House with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.

“It is an honor to be here with President Buhari of Nigeria,” Mr. Trump told reporters ahead of the Oval Office discussion between the two men. “We have many things that we do together, as you know, especially on terrorism, terrorism-related. We also have trade we’re working on ... equipment, helicopters and the like.”

“It’s going to take time and the action by United States in trying to see the end of ISIS has helped us a lot,” Mr. Buhari replied.

“Trump was attempting to make amends for his unfortunate comments about Africa and Haitian countries, a couple of months ago,” Melvin Foote, president of Constituency for Africa told The Final Call. “Donald Trump is trying to turn it around a bit. At the same time he’s also trying to push the U.S. into trade, business deals with Africa.”

Mr. Trump sparked international outrage when he told a group of lawmakers meeting in the White House in January: “Why do we want all these people from Africa here? They’re shithole countries. … We should have more people from Norway.”

When asked April 30 about the comments, Mr. Buhari, honoring the African, and diplomatic custom, sidestepped the subject. “There are probably a number of factors, as well the fact that they’re trying to get this military aid in fighting Boko Haram,” which influenced the Nigerian participation in the meeting, according to Mwiza Munthali, host of “Africa Now,” heard on WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C. “During the press conference they asked Buhari about the comment, but he said he doesn’t know … he probably knows.

“It’s also a slap in the face that it’s taken so long for the administration to  meet, a leader of the continent here, Africa’s biggest country, economy,” Mr. Munthali continued. But domestic political considerations—Nigerian presidential elections next year—may have outweighed any reservations.

“Yes. Reporting that he has credibility, that he’s a world leader, and he wants to be seen as presidential, and a world leader” at home, is important to Mr. Buhari, said Mr. Munthali.

“So, the heavy focus of this visit was trade, U.S. companies investing in Nigeria, and security, which is also a trade issue. It involves U.S. helicopters, and U.S. military equipment, and U.S. companies selling to Nigeria,” said Mr. Foote.

Mr. Trump was able to make a case for good relations with Africa’s most populous country, and strongest economy in the face of big gains in Africa by China, Mr. Foote said.

The U.S. leader was also able to score points with evangelicals at home by chastising the Nigerian over false reports that Christians are disproportionately the victims of terrorist attacks in Nigeria. “Also, we’ve had very serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria. We’re going to be working on that problem and working on that problem very, very hard because we can’t allow that to happen,” said Mr. Trump.

Many African observers contend that the violence in Nigeria is not directed at religious targets. In the Boko Haram terrorist campaign, for example, there is no respect for any religious place of worship; mosques and churches are targets as are Christians and Muslims.

In his remarks President Buhari pointed out a decisive factor contributing to terrorism in Africa—the U.S.-supported overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi in Libya. “I don’t think people should underrate what happened in Libya: Forty-three years of Gadhafi,” he said.

“With the demise of Gadhafi, they (fighters from the Sahel recruited to be fighters) moved (back) to their countries, into their regions, and they carried away with them the only experience they have—trained using weapons. And that’s what is aggravating the situation.

“Sadly, security is the main issue,” said President Buhari. “We very grateful to the United States for agreeing to give us the aircraft we asked for—the spare parts. We are even more grateful for the physical presence of the United States military that are going to our institutions in Nigeria, and train them and go to the front, in the northeast, to see how they are performing, as an example of the training given to them.

“So the commitment of the United States to get rid of terrorism across the world, we have firsthand experience of that, and we are very grateful for it,” he said.

“It’s a question mark of what this relationship really means for ordinary Nigerians,” said Mr. Munthali. “This administration, and previous administrations, on Africa, it’s always been a one-way street, where the U.S. gets the lion’s share of the resources, and the continent doesn’t really get much.”

The Trump administration signed a $600 million deal with Nigeria a year ago, providing military aircraft meant to help fight ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram. The deal goes back to the Obama administration’s time but it was delayed over human rights concerns after then First Lady Michelle Obama led a public campaign to free the 100 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

“There have been mixed opinions in Nigeria over what this trip really means, so we’ll see, what this means for ordinary Nigerians, apart from what it means to President Buhari,” said Mr. Munthali.

President Buhari was elected in 2015. This trip to the U.S. also included meetings with business leaders here to discus agriculture. Muhammadu Buhari is a 75-year-old former military leader, who promised to reform Nigeria’s democracy when he ran for office. But concerns over how well he has handled corruption and human rights violations have brought Western criticism.