I received a number of e-mails, calls and text messages in the morning of October 4, 2012, following the appearance of my column, titled “The Pains of Jonathan’s Avian Diplomacy” in Peoples Daily and other online news sites.
The article was a response to the then presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati’s piece, “The Gains of Jonathan’s Diplomacy”, in which he justified the frequent foreign trips of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The article drew a potpourri of approbation and reprobation. Jonathan’s supporters, expectedly, lashed at me, while a section of my readers poured commendations – left, right and centre.
Notable among the readers who sent me text messages to commend me was… Guess who??? Garba Shehu! Yes, the Senior Special Assistant to the President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity. It was a delight, reading Shehu, a senior professional colleague, praising me.
But that was 2012 – when criticism was seen as patriotism not “appointment seeking” or “attention seeking” gimmick. That was when I was never dismissed by a section of my readers as a mere parrot but a sincere patriot.
A decade ago, I remember, despite the clear benefits of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s many foreign trips, I criticized him in some of my articles. While Obasanjo travelled to beg for debt write-off (which he got), the baffling aspect of it today is that Buhari traverses the world to canvass for debt burden. Jonathan’s foreign trips, as explained in my October 2012 article, made Nigeria’s foreign relations none the better.
As you go through this piece, President Buhari may be celebrating his silver jubilee of foreign travels, having, so far, travelled out 25 times in eight months. If he sustains the tempo, it is very likely he would celebrate diamond jubilee of foreign travels before the end of the year – and platinum jubilee before leaving office.
Our president sans frontières is zigzagging seamlessly. From Africa, Europe, America to Asia, the president travels like a UN secretary-general. In eight months, President Buhari visited more than 20 countries of the world but visited less than 10 Nigerian states to see how we are coping with insecurity, fuel crisis and poverty.
I am saddened that the travels are even making the president suspend the all-important Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings. And once the meeting was held, part of the resolutions is passing a vote of confidence on the president’s junkets.
But what is the benefit of these junkets that the president gets knack for hovering, like a kite, north, south, west and east – without diplomatic compass? While visits to countries in the Lake Chad basin to chart a course for regional security, UAE to partner on loot recovery and Saudi Arabia and Qatar to discuss oil prices are justifiable, many other trips were sheer waste of public resources and time.
What, for instance, is the essence of travelling to Kenya on January 27 to attend a memorial service of 100 Kenyan soldiers killed by al-Shabab, when no memorial service was held in honor of more than 100 Nigerian soldiers killed by Boko Haram in Gudunbali ambush on November 19 last year?
Although the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, said the size of the entourage had been reduced, it is clear (looking at himself and his twin spin-brother, Adesina) that some people are redundant in the suite. What is the essence of travelling with both Adesina and Shehu if you are cutting cost? What is [Inter]National Security Adviser, Babagana Munguno, doing in every trip? When you factor in the cost of servicing the presidential jets, estacode, advance team, 7-star hotel bills, feeding, contingency, etc, of about 40 or more people, the president might have blown billions off public till.
Sad that despite the president’s early visit to Chad, Idriss Deby withdrew his troops from the Multi-National Joint-Taskforce. Chad’s withdrawal from Damasak was a huge setback for Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram. In the fight to retake Damasak from Boko Haram (after Chadian forces left), Nigeria lost at least 50 soldiers in the encounter. And despite a visit to South Africa, the country’s technical advisers – known for daring incursions into the Boko Haram enclaves – have left our battlefield.
I still can’t fathom why the president still never visited Maiduguri to boost the morale of our heroes at the battlefront despite promising, during electioneering, to be at the battlefront. More baffling is that the first time President Buhari found it expedient to travel to the North East was to attend the wedding fatiha of the daughter of a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar. After the wedding ceremony, the president then branch off to see displaced persons and our troops. Truly this is not the Buhari I voted for. I can’t remember the number of times I criticized Jonathan for failure to visit Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States. Sincerely, I am not happy Buhari has become Jonathan’s alter ego in this regard.
In my opinion, there is no better time a Nigerian president needs to stay at home to attend to pressing domestic issues than now. With the introduction of Treasury Single Account (which ultimately put MDAs’ every naira and kobo under the president’s control), Buhari should remain in his office to attend to files, filing up into heaps. The president also has a task, a huge task of solving the embarrassing issues in 2016 budget. This issue alone should make a Nigerian president homesick not wanderlust.
Writing in defence of Buhari’s trips last year, Garba Shehu proffered a strange reasoning. He reasoned that investors only come to a country when a president goes personally to woo them. He wrote: “Who or where are the foreign investors, whose hand you are seeking if you can’t travel meet them? Will they come if they don’t know about the country?”
I disagree, honestly. Investors are more attracted to enabling environment for business than the president’s presence. When you provide power, water, security, etc, investors will naturally come, but when you don’t have these in place, nobody will come.
May I lastly remind our president that Nigeria’s problems are home-grown, and dedicating more time and resources in search of solution abroad is a wild goose chase.