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What president Obama’s success means to Nigeria

The election of Barack Obama as the
first black president remains
huge to African Americans and to a large
extent to Africans in
America. His recent re-election speaks volume to
the fact that
majority of Americans consider his program in his first
term more
than enough to reward him with another term.

However,
some of our African brothers have cooled their support for
Obama during
his quest for re-election principally because of
Obama’s high profile
support for gay marriage. Some also argued
that he used the American imperialist power to kill his own “African
brothers”. They cite the
Muamar Ghaddafi’s assassination to
buttress the fact that Obama is an
African only in a name. Some
equally argued that Africa has never
benefitted from his reign as
the leader of the free world.
In my
interview with the Anambra Broadcasting Service, (ABS, Awka,
Anambra
State) sometimes in May this year in a program titled
“Matters
Arising”, the issue of Obama’s performance and his
support for gay
marriage came up. I told my ‘inquisitors’ that first of
all, President
Obama is the United States president. That being the
case, his main job
is to protect the interest of the people of the
United States. Secondly
gay right issue is complicated because as
far as American law is
concerned, it is a human right issue which is
covered under the federal
law. Also, gays are not entitled to equal
protection under the US laws.
So being the president of the freest
country in the world, the
president has no choice than to protect the
rights of everyone
including that of gays and lesbians/trans-gender.
Crimes against gays
are classified as “hate crimes”. The ‘homos are
well-connected and have
really made their case that people have
come to accept them, and would
not openly condemn homosexuality
for fear of being labeled
“homophobic”. Besides as a practical
matter, being a country that
operates pure federal system of
government, power to regulate marriage
is a state issue.
In other words, marriage issue resides with the states.
Each state
makes its own laws as regard whether or not to allow gay
marriage
depending on the needs of its people. For instance, the state
of
North Carolina passed a resolution supported by its citizens and
banned gay marriage in their state. On their own part, the states of
Massachusetts, Maine, Washington State and Maryland passed
their
own resolutions allowing gay marriages in their states. A gay
person in
North Carolina could relocate Massachusetts or Maryland
and get his gay
marriage. The president has no power to dictate to
states how they
regulate marriage issues. This is quite unlike in
Africa where the
president is like a thin god and dictates to equally
elected state
governments on how to rule their respective states. In
the United
States, irrespective of a president’s personal opinion
about
gays/lesbians, Muslims, atheists, Mormons, etc, the president
is bound
to protect their rights. Crimes against gays are classified
as “hate
crimes”. That is what our people should understand. A
president’s
personal opinion should not interfere with his duty as
president of the
free world.
As a political matter, President Obama has nothing to lose by
supporting gays and would likely lose that voting block if he didn’t
back his private rhetoric with public pronouncement of support.
Also, he needs support from any coalition in a close election like
this one. Governor Mitt Romney, Obama’s opponent, cannot make
gay
issue a political issue since he himself supported gay marriage
as a
governor of Massachusetts. The only thing he loses is the
goodwill of
most African Americans who are mostly conservative of
social issues,
but would still vote for him since they stand to gain on
the long run
if he succeeds not residing in the United States, who
cannot
vote.
Coming to the issue of helping Africans, unless our people believe
that sending aids to Nigeria and other African countries, only for
such aids and grants to be embezzled by corrupt and inept African
leaders; I don’t know why we still attach ourselves to the apron-
strings of developed worlds instead of looking inwards and holding
our corrupt leaders accountable for mismanaging and embezzling
our
commonwealth. Now we see state governors in our country
buying houses
abroad, fleet of cars and jets. Most of them have
retinue of hanger-on
and mistresses that they use to launder their
state money abroad in
Swiss banks.
Obama’s immense success despite all impediments should be a
thing of joy, if only because he is one of our own. There are
intangibles and tangibles of Obama’s presidency in reference to
Africa. Apart from the psychological effect on our people, President
Obama’s many successes would benefit lots of Africans especially
those living in the United States. Many our people living in America
have kids that go to school in America. It is hard work raising kids in
America and keeping them motivated to be the best they can be. It
is difficult to drive it home to them how hard work begets success.
But since Obama’s rise to prominence, it is now easier for parents
to motivate their kids citing Obama’s example. Being a son of an
immigrant from Kenya whose father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr.,
virtually ‘abandoned’ with his mom. Barack Jr. being raised by a
single mother and having worked hard, did his homework, kept his
head up and became lawyer who graduated from the prestigious
Harvard Law School, is enough inspiration for our kids who are
struggling in school. The mantra now is the United States is: “if
Barack Obama could do it, I can do it”. There is no other sales pitch
better than: “Obama says that school is cool”, Obama says that “it’s
cool to be smart”. Parents of minority kids including children of
immigrant can now see a future president of America or even
president of Nigeria in their kids. That real or imaginary glass ceiling
has been shattered by Obama’s success.
Also looking at a black
man being the most powerful person in the
world is over-whelming.
Looking at his family and how he and his
wife seeming love each other
and reading the story of their Michelle
and Barack Obama’s love life
creates a kind of reality to the fantasy
of being a powerful man and a
perfect marriage. The effects on
Nigerian couples whose marriages are
struggling take strength
looking at the Obamas. Many could see how they
work like a team.
In a society where there is a constant conflict
between our culture
as Nigerians and that of the developed world,
seeing the Obamas
and his lovely kids in the White House make many
black people all
over the world with struggling marriages to look
inwards and believe
that it could be done.
Having discussed the
psychological and inspirational side of his
success let me try and
discuss the “tangible” side of what his
administration has done for our
people. In education, due to Obama’
s reforms, Pell Grants (a
scholarship program for indigent students)
has been extended to reach
many students (including our
immigrants like Nigerians and their
university-age children) to
further their dreams of getting a
university education to compete in
the 21st Century with other kids. In
the 2008-09 Academic Year;
Pell Grant expenditures were about $18
billion. In 2011-12,
expenditures are $36 billion. While funding has
doubled, the
number of students who receive Pell Grants has increased.
In 2008,
before he took office, the grants assisted 6.1 million
students; while
in 2012, 9.7 million students received aid, an increase
of 59
percent. Some recipients are receiving larger awards. According
to
the United States Department of Education, four years ago, the
maximum Pell Grant award was $4,731; the maximum has been
$5,550
since 2010. It’s expected to increase to $5,635 in the 2013-
14 Academic
Year and will rise in line with inflation through 2017.
Many of
Nigerians in America take advantage of this to further their
education.
Also President Obama made students’ loan program
available and
affordable. His reforms removed all kinds of bottle-necks
and
middlemen that jerk the interest high making it a nightmare for
students.
New regulations by the U.S. Department of Education will
make
repaying student loans more manageable for many borrowers. The
new Pay-As-You-Earn option allows borrowers to make minimum
monthly repayments that are 10 percent of discretionary income
rather than the current 15 percent threshold. And loans could be
forgiven after 20 years of payments, instead of the standard 25.
President Obama first proposed the student-loan reforms in the
2010 State of the Union Address. But by last week, the department
issued the final rules to put the plan into place. Changes in the loan-
repayment plan are expected to affect more than 1.6 million student
borrowers. The rules also make the current Income-Based
Repayment
and Income-Contingent Repayment plans easier for
borrowers to
access.
On the issue of small business, records have shown that many
Nigerians living in the United States have one form of small
businesses or the other. Many of our people are into
exporting/importing business, African Grocery Stores, Dollar Stores,
Real Estate business etc. Since he was sworn on 20th January,
2009, President Obama signed the Recovery Act and subsequent
legislations in 2009 and 2010 have cut taxes for small business
eight times, stimulating their businesses. Success in business here
in the United States means more investments in Nigeria.
Besides,
according to a World Bank report, Nigerians living abroad
are estimated
to have remitted home $11 billion (N1.727 trillion), the
highest for
any African country. Nigeria is the seventh biggest
recipients of money
remitted to the home country by its citizens
living abroad. More than
half of that amount was remitted by
Nigerians living in the United
States. The estimation excludes the
amounts of money “hand-carried”
vice the amount remitted via
money transfer by our people. If our
people living in the States are
doing fine, they always extend their
hands to millions of relatives in
Nigeria aids and assistant to family
members in school and assist in
offsetting hospital bills for sick
relatives. Most Nigerians living in the
States have contributed in
terms of developmental projects,
education, health care etc. If on the
other hand, the US economy
tanks, it would affect Nigerian especially
those in business and
commerce. United States economy is slowly and
surely roaring back
to life thanks to the policies initiated by his
administration to
stimulate the economy. There has been 31 months of
increased job
growth which created over 5.5 million jobs.
Prior
to Obama’s assumption of office, real estate business was in a
very bad
shape. Home values went down, many home owners could
not afford to pay
their mortgages due to the economic meltdown
under President George
Bush. Many Nigerians that invested their
money buying houses, lost a
lot of money when home values went
down. A good number of our people
are into real estate and lost
business prospects when the housing
market went sour. Most
predatory lenders deceive prospective borrowers
of home loans
with hidden rates and fees. The system is unregulated and
an
extreme form of capitalism or vulture capitalism. The victims of
these
scams got stuck with houses which they are unable afford. The
resultant effect was that the same lenders turn back and force the
victims into foreclosure, while same predatory lenders go behind
and buy the same houses in auctions following foreclosures. This
was the position of the mortgage system before Obama assumed
office. Obama’s home loan modification plan is officially known as
the Making Home Affordable (MHA) plan. The plan is expected to
reach up to 9 million families, so that they can refinance or modify
their loans and hold on to their houses during this economic
recession.
Again President Obama enacted the Affordable Care Act
2009,
otherwise known as OBAMACARE. Under this health care law, it
would be illegal for Health Insurance Companies to deny people
health care due to their pre-existing condition. Children are carried
in their parents insurance coverage until they are 26 years old; it
makes provision for cancer screening and contraceptive coverage
for women, wellness program for all where insurance companies
reward insured that take initiatives to take care of themselves in
form of exercise program, healthy diets and tobacco usages. Many
of Nigerians are beneficiaries of the health care law. Health is
wealth as the saying goes.
Also a good number of our young men and
women joined the United
States military for its various benefits
including the tuition assistance
programs, Foreign Language Proficiency
allowances, health care,
dental insurance, life insurance, housing
benefits including Veteran
Administration Loans etc. President Obama
signed into law the Post-
911 Montgomery GI Bill into law. The law made
it easy for veterans
to go to school. This covers both the tuition and
the books 100%!
Many of our people benefit immensely from this program
and further
their education to any level they could. This benefits our
country,
Nigeria, on the long run because when these people succeed,
they
come back to contribute to the development of our country. Above
all, where most of our people benefit immensely is on the ending of
Iraq war and drawing down on the war in Afghanistan. Most of our
people in the military were in a harm’s way under the war-mongering
policy of President Bush. Also because of the Drone program under
President Obama, there was a reduced human cost of the engaging
in
military operations. In the war against terror, drones were used
both
as surveillance equipment and that of ‘booth on the ground’.
Instead of
putting the life and limbs of its troops, drones are used to
locate,
close with and destroy Al Qaeda.
In his second term, we expect that
Obama’s administration would
not just send money in aids to dubious
African leaders to feather
their own nests. Africa does not need
handouts from developed
countries including the United States. What our
people need is
empowerment. I sincerely hope that U.S. does this by
helping to
fund countless effective educational projects that suffer
from lacking
of funding. It is a well-known fact that education is the
key to
stopping the vicious cycle of poverty. While the U.S. often
funds
larger government programs which are at the risk of embezzlement
of the funds; it is the small projects, which deal directly with
communities, which need support. By re-prioritizing and focusing
development efforts, U.S. can encourage and help these “self- help”
programs in Africa by offering support, be it through providing
expertise or otherwise. This is more effective than simply pumping
money into African governments.
Also despite what has been said
about the U.S. government under
President Bush, he did a lot of good
work in curbing the HIV/AIDS
epidemic. Funding for programs like the
President’s Emergency
Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has actually
decreased under
President Obama. He should restore them to previous
levels — the
program has made a huge difference on the
continent.
Finally, we expect Obama to help encourage sincere governments
to fight corruption and help track laundered money by previous
administrations. As Themba Mzingwane, a South African writer, puts
it, “We are hoping that the newly re-elected president makes Africa
one of his top priorities in his second term. His support here is still
big and his African background is an inspiration to the youth. It fills
them with hope and promise — and reminds all of us on the
continent that we can achieve great things, regardless of
circumstances.”

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