Biden’s presidency: Lessons for Nigeria


“We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.  If we show a little tolerance and humility.  If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment.  Because here is the thing about life: There is no accounting for what fate will deal you.”

–Joe Biden, 46th President of USA, in his inaugural speech on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as the president and vice president of the United States of America respectively last Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Biden as the 46th president and Kamala as the 49th Vice President of the USA. The inauguration took place against the backdrop of what turned out to be fake predictions by some Nigerian clerics that Biden would not win the presidency and that if he did, he would never be inaugurated as president and that Donald Trump would continue as president. Two of those who goofed on this were a Lagos-based pastor David Kingleo Elijah and a former Nigeria footballer, now pastor, Taribo West.

Last Wednesday’s inauguration was like never before. The outgoing President, Donald Trump, decided not to attend the ceremonial transfer of power making him the fourth president in the US history to so do. The inauguration also took place amidst tight security as an estimated 25,000 National Guards were deployed to Washington DC to provide watertight security at the solemn event. Not only that, a very limited number of people were allowed into the venue in compliance with COVID-19 protocols, with the US being the worst hit globally both in the number of infections and fatalities.

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With the swearing in over, both Biden and Kamala had made history. The former being the oldest elected American president. He was 77 at inauguration. He came fully prepared having served as Senator for a whopping 36 years and 12 days as well as Vice President to former president Barack Obama for eight years (2008 – 2016). He won the presidency with the highest number of votes of over 80 million and is the second Catholic to be the US president after John F. Kennedy.

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As for Kamala, 56, the Vice President, she has shattered proverbial the glass ceiling by being the first American woman to be elected into that exalted position.  She’s not just a woman but also a lawyer and a one-term senator from California. She’s the first woman and first African-American to be elected as Attorney General of California in 2010. In 2016, she became the first Indian-American to be elected as a U.S. senator as well as the second African-American to achieve that feat. Incidentally, apart from being a lawyer, senator and Democrat like Biden, both of them are authors of several books.

Last week, on Radio Nigeria Network News and Kiss 99.9 FM, Abuja, I analysed the implications of the Biden’s inauguration for Nigeria nay Africa. The inaugural speech contained a number of soundbites. Here are some of them: “We will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.”  Also, ‘Few periods in our nation’s history have been more challenging or difficult than the one we’re in now. A once-in-a-century virus silently stalks the country. It’s taken as many lives in one year as America lost in all of World War Two.”

The third one is “And now, a rise in political extremism, white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront and we will defeat.  To overcome these challenges – to restore the soul and to secure the future of America – requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity.” Fourth, “…That’s democracy. That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our Republic, is perhaps our nation’s greatest strength. Yet, hear me clearly: Disagreement must not lead to disunion. And I pledge this to you: I will be a president for all Americans.” Fifth, “We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again.  Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s. We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.  We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security.”

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True to his words, Biden started work in earnest. He signed 17 Executive Actions within hours after being sworn in. According to the Cable News Network “Biden has halted funding for the construction of Trump’s border wall, reversed his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment and diversity that Trump spent four years blocking. Biden also reversed several of Trump’s attempts to withdraw from international agreements, beginning the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord and halting the United States’ departure from the World Health… His first action was to impose a mask mandate on federal property, a break in approach to dealing with the pandemic (COVID-19) from Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus. Biden also installed a coronavirus response coordinator to oversee the White House’s efforts to distribute vaccines and medical supplies.”

It is exemplary that Biden had named most of his cabinet members well ahead of Inauguration Day and had sent his nominees to the US Senate for confirmation. In fact, the Senate approved his nominee for the director of national intelligence who incidentally is a lady, Avril Haines, the same day as he was being inaugurated. It is instructive and noteworthy that the US president has appointed as many women as there are men into his cabinet. He has also appointed many migrants, people of colour and marginalised groups into his government.

 Indeed, Nigeria has been privileged to have three nationals nominated to serve in Trump’s administration. They are Nigerian-born Adewale Adeyemo (39) as the new Deputy Treasury Secretary.  Adeyemo is the first Black person to serve in the role. On January 2, 2021, Biden appointed another Nigerian Osaremen Okolo (26), as COVID Policy Advisor and a member of the COVID-19 Response Team. On January 12, Biden also appointed Nigerian-born Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo (26), a lawyer and an alumna of Berkeley Law College, as one of the 20 members of the office of the White House counsel. These are apart from the three Nigerians who won elections into various State Congresses in US during the November 2020 elections. They are: Esther Agbaje (35), Oye Owolewa (32) and Nnamdi Chukwuocha.

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The 46th POTUS is also scoring another first given the number of women he has nominated into political offices. According to an online publication, “Joe Biden’s Cabinet is set to make history. If all of his nominees are confirmed, 12 of the 24 offices he has designated as Cabinet-level will be held by women … that would break a record. Up until now, the most women to serve in these positions at once was eight, first during Bill Clinton’s administration and then again during Barack Obama’s administration. What’s more, under Biden, women will occupy three high-profile Cabinet-level posts for the first time: vice president, secretary of the treasury and director of national intelligence.”

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Biden himself was reported by the CNN on January 8, 2021 to have said that:  “This will be the first Cabinet ever that is evenly composed with as many women as men in the Cabinet. This will be the first Cabinet ever with the majority of people of colour occupying this Cabinet”. He noted his nominees would, if confirmed, include the first female treasury secretary, the first African American defence secretary and the first Native American Cabinet secretary. All these are exemplary!

One more favour I need from Biden is the approval of Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala as the Director General of the World Trade Organisation. His predecessor had last October blocked the highly cerebral former Finance Minister from a consensus appointment as the new DG of WTO. It behoves Biden who has promised to distance himself from Trump’s American First and isolationist policy  to approve Okonjo-Iweala’s emergence as the first female DG of WTO.

– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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