September 14, 2011 / Olufemi AWOYEMI
For the sake of clarity, I do not for a second believe that the collection of tales, gossips and lack of discretion collated by US officials is not reflective of the interactions that took place between the parties so recorded. Second, the cables confirm our worst fears about our state of the nation and the subsequent commentaries therefrom confirm as much. If the purpose of the rebranding project was to eliminate the corruption perception locals and the international community have about us, these cables represents a PR disaster at best - suggesting we may be a long way from the transformation we need.
Having gotten that out of the way, there is this small matter about the so called ‘intelligence’ this cable represents which the anti-intellectuals would have us believe represents something much more fascinating than when we discovered oil in the creeks! That is where I have a thing or two to add.
First, I thought spying was the art of using deception, cunning and subterfuge to get factual information for one’s advantage. While what happened would not qualify as espionage, common sense would dictate that what has been passed out by the dread-locked Ambassador Renee Sanders and Ambassador John Campbell, acting as case officers involved in human source intelligence operations; is nothing more than what their official covers require. The real tragedy here perhaps is the understanding, or lack of it, shown by the people doing the talking – those who ought to have known better.
Yet, even at that - what has been passed out by the US Embassy in Nigeria cannot be anything more than a collection of tales you could have picked up in any upscale hang-out or one of those high heeled and exclusive private parties held in Abuja, Lagos, PH or Dubai by the high rollers of our society.
I mean, beyond the drama it offered; it provided nothing that suggested the authors did more to validate and make credible their findings beyond the ‘he said’, ‘she said’ source recording documented – an easily deniable record of events.
I guess they expected us to follow that lead ourselves, if we had institutions that actually work. Well we don’t and though it sounds painful, US cables don’t command such a high credibility factor in itself to lend credence to such ‘over the top reactions’ as we have seen.
What immediately comes to mind is the danger in (with) such ‘intelligence’.
Recall that the UN approved for the world to go to war based in part on the smoking gun provided by the US embassy in Niger who passed on a cable about an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal. Permit me to share excerpts of an intelligence review of that document to buttress my point.
“The US embassy in Niger disseminates a cable reporting that the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “provides sufficient detail to warrant another hard look at Niger ’s uranium sales. The names of GON [government of Niger ] officials cited in the report track closely with those we know to be in those, or closely-related positions. However, the purported 4,000-ton annual production listed is fully 1,000 tons more than the mining companies claim to have produced in 2001.” The report says that US ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick met with the Nigerien foreign minister to ask for an unequivocal assurance that Niger is not selling uranium to so-called “rogue states.” The cable also notes that in September 2001 Nigerien Prime Minister Mamadou Tandja had informed the US embassy that there were buyers like Iraq who had expressed willingness to pay more for Niger ’s uranium than France , but he assured them at that time that “of course Niger cannot sell to them.” However, the cable concludes that “we should not dismiss out of hand the possibility that some scheme could be, or has been, underway to supply Iraq with yellowcake from here.” (US Congress 7/7/2004)”
Further insight was later provided – “Skepticism among Participants about Report - Wilson will later describe himself as “skeptical, as prudent consumers of intelligence always are about raw information.” He will note that much of this kind of intelligence is classified as “rumint,” or rumors passing as fact, and is usually “no more reliable than Bigfoot sightings. Rumint is a necessary and unfortunate reality in a world where many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, as opposed to simple facts.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 14-15)
The ‘dodgy dossier’ case/example from the UK is also another reminder about the limitations these types of cables and what third party assembled information may represent.
I understand the point being made by Funke Aboyade in her Thisday commentary on the wikileaks cables; as well as contributions from other insightful, knowledgeable and well intentioned persons; and quite frankly, I am persuaded to agree with them about our general apathy on matters bothering on values, ethics and accountability. But I caution that we show some restraint.
If the wiki-leaked documents showed anything, it merely presented us tales about a country we know all too well and have become frustrated, disillusioned and almost indifferent towards, given the enormous mismatch between potential and outcomes. Indeed, we would rather go into denial about this reality because it appears we are fighting a losing battle. From leaders who are all too quick to ‘shiver’ in front of a foreigner (men and women who, it would appear, are not properly groomed in the art of statecraft) to the state of chaos illuminated by the way governance (GON) is configured and defined from the prism of a foreign official. The picture is naturally depressing and the need for action more apparent and urgent than we would dare to admit.
Yes, this is a bitter pill to swallow. We take it on the chin, yet it hurts in our guts.
To the majority of citizens who have seen their dreams, talents and hopes dashed by an irresponsible set of leadership over the years, the cables would appear to provide them with a smoking gun they had craved for, and waited patiently for to justify our failures so far – something to explain why we are unable to rise up to our potential as a people and I can’t blame those who share this position. A significant number of Nigerians do.
Yet, I would treat an American Embassy cable just as I would view a news broadcast from our own NTA! There is no basis to assume that whatever is disclosed from these cables by Wikileaks (who has gone to great troubles to throw up the contradiction between intelligence, hearsays and gossips) is the unassailable truth.