Owoeye: On international front, Buhari has done well, but it’s now time for results
Prof Jide Owoeye is chairman, governing council of Lead City University, Ibadan. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he x-rays President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration’s international politics after one year in office.
Within one year of coming into office, President Buhari has been very active in his international engagements. Looking back to these diplomatic shuttles, how beneficial have they been to country?
It is very important to embark on these international trips, especially in order to improve or restore the nation’s international pedigree and prestige. Nigeria’s foreign partners and allies’ perception is very crucial. You will also remember that former President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked relentlessly on similar trips when he came into office.
These are not jamboree or fancy trips, but one that is absolutely necessary in the furtherance of the Nigerian national interest goals and objectives. These trips also became necessary especially when there’s change of administration and perception of partners needed to be reassured. It is important for a new government, in fact it is essential for a new government, to do a lot of hopping around to effectively make allies come to terms with the reality of a new government in place.
But can’t the respective embassies carry out some of these tasks?
Yes, you may say that. But the reality is that major capitals of the world, where we have serious economic and political interactions, cannot be entrusted to the embassies. It is very important for the number one citizen to tend to these issues at inter-personal level; it is important for Buhari to do personal diplomacy to enhance the effectiveness of the image laundry.
Many people have expressed fears that the President’s frequent journey abroad may be affecting adversely domestic responsibility. What could be done to stop this from happening?
I must that I am very impressed that President Buhari can do all this international showmanship; I didn’t think he was going to succeed and he is doing it well. But where the problem lies is with the vice presidency. Remember the last time he was in power, he had a firm person, in Tunde Idiagbon, who showed the seriousness of the regime. Every week, actions were being taken and we were informed, so one would have liked if the vice president could borrow a leaf from Idiagbon so that when you have a strong man at home, even if the President is travelling there would one strong effective hand at home.
Again, we have to remember that people were initially afraid of Buhari, being a military strong man. As such, he too will inißtially want to lie low a little bit. So, while the President is junketing abroad, the home front should be kept running firmly by his second in command and I don’t see what is holding back our Mr. Vice president. He needs to, rather than making comments on the state of the nation, be confronting some of the issues of the state. We should be seeing results. He is the man we are looking up to now to be taking those actions. Fortunately, Buhari is system man; he is a man who delegates authority and highly principled with the constitution. So, the authority has been delegated to the vice president. I don’t see why the vice president cannot give us, it might not exactly be like Idiagbon, but at least some level of authority.
So far, what would identify as specific gains of these relentless engagements?
We must realise that while foreign policies often, and eventually, is primarily directed towards achieving domestic goals, the results may not be instantaneous. Now, it may appear nothing much is going on, but this is so because there is a lot of problem that has to be cleared. These things do take some time, especially in our own case and under the circumstance we are. For example, in terms of corruption, everyday we are confronted with the fact that is far reaching than most of us ever thought it was.
And for the Buhari administration, the concentration on external issues must have also allowed it to settle some certain domestic challenges and misgivings. This is because when you are having a rough road, domestically, and you cannot achieve much, you direct people’s attention externally. But this cannot go on for too long. Now, after the first year, people would begin to expect government to now say, ‘we have seen the situation on the ground, we have seen how to stabilise the various problems and this is how we are going to do.’ But I think strategically, they also need all the external moves.
After one year, what should be the focus for subsequent years?
The problem that we have seen is such that without tackling the corruption to an appreciable level, it will be difficult to move ahead. The country was very broke initially, but with refunds from the home front and outside the country as foreign governments are bringing back to us, there is an indication that the economy could easily be refloated and the economy diversified to shift from dependence on oil. Fortunately also, in the last two weeks or so the price of oil in the external market is beginning to look upfront.
So, with all these, the government now has a good base to begin to implement its policies. But being a democratic government it will not be easy to tackle some of these issues because the rule of law is very important, but it all depends on the ability of Mr. President to carry everyone along. Once people see that he is focused and what he wants to do is remove some stumbling block, nobody will cry foul if we are firmer on corruption, otherwise these people will continue to use court process to elude law enforcement and the judiciary.
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