‘We Have a Lot to Learn from US Presidential Election’
In the world of international politics and diplomacy, he is an intellectual colossus. Before he served as Nigerian ambassador to the United States, between 2004 and 2008, Professor George Obiozor was director general of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, NIIA, Lagos. He was also Nigerian High Commissioner to Cyprus and ambassador to Israel between 1999 and 2003. In this interview with Adekunle Yusuf, assistant editor, the 70-year-old seasoned diplomat who earned a PhD in international affairs from Columbia University, US, analyses factors that helped President Barack Obama secure a second term in office, the challenges ahead and lessons Nigerian politicians can learn from how politics is played in the US. Excerpts:
In spite of the odds President Obama faced, he won both the popular and the Electoral College votes. In your view, what were the factors that helped his re-election?
In spite of all challenges, President Obama won one of the most closely contested presidential elections in American history. Some of the reasons for his success include loyal follow(ing) particularly among the youths, African-Americans who gave Obama over 90 per cent of their votes, Latinos who gave him more than 70 per cent of their votes and women who gave him about 60 per cent of their votes. Other factors were the bailout of the automobile industry, which ensured his victory in both Ohio and Michigan, Super-storm Sandy, which gave him the opportunity to act presidential and monopolise public attention to the detriment of his opponent. It is noteworthy that he won in all the storm-affected states such as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C. and others.
Now that election is over, what do you think are the challenges Obama will face in his bid to rebuild America?
The challenges that President Obama is likely to face now that the election is over are many but the most important is the economy, particularly unemployment. A 7.2 per cent or more unemployment rate is too high for Americans to accept and was evident throughout the campaign. President Obama would also be expected to seriously review American global interests, obligations and responsibilities. Perhaps it is time to review American military strategic, and political, diplomatic interests in a changing world.
With the results of the election showing votes along racial lines, will the fact that Obama is leading a highly polarised country allow him leave any meaningful legacy?
There is no denying that voting along racial lines took place in the presidential election. This reality exposes as a historical fallacy, the idea that America is a melting pot. However, the conventional wisdom in America is that once a president is elected, he is the president of all Americans regardless of race, creed, colour or gender. Therefore, opportunity still exists for President Obama to leave meaningful legacy in such areas as reviving the American economy, scaling down the country’s energy dependence, among other things at the national level. At the international level, he also has opportunity to use American power and influence to assist once more in the maintenance of international peace and security, especially in the Middle East and Africa.
With the Republicans still dominating the House of Representatives, how can his second term be different from the first, which was characterised by incessant face-offs between the executive and the legislature?
Though the Republicans will still control the House of Representatives, they also know that the president is on his 2nd term when any president seriously challenged by the legislative branch will not hesitate to use his veto power. Certainly the experience of the election campaigns, the pattern of the votes, particularly the popular votes, show serious division between the Democrats and the Republicans. However, it is expected that the numerous national issues highlighted during the campaign, which require urgent attention, will compel both parties to cooperate in their national interest. Americans are very patriotic and President Obama has already started to appeal to that patriotic spirit for them to come together to solve America’s national and international challenges.
In specific terms, what lessons do you think Nigeria and Nigerians can learn from the way democracy is practised in America?
Nigeria and other African countries have a lot to learn from the recently concluded American presidential election. For example, President Obama accepted his victory graciously, recognised the rights of those who did not vote for him and promised to work with Mr. Romney, the Republican presidential candidate. Mr. Mitt. Romney equally accepted his defeat with grace, congratulated President Obama and pledged his cooperation. In doing so, both recognised the crucial point most often ignored by Nigerian and other African leaders that national interest and national stability supersede personal ambition and partisan politics. In Nigeria, for example, all the presidential elections since 1979 ended in court, and even after the court had decided, the defeated candidate hardly saw it fit to congratulate the winner. Hence our political elites and leaders should learn from Americans that politics is not always conflict and deadly competitions. But indeed, quite often, politics is also concessions, cooperation and compromise in the national interest.