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Buhari’s foreign travels

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
11 February 2016   |   6:16 am
IN arriving at the fact that the nation throbs with a plethora of questions over the necessity of the foreign trips of President Muhammadu Buhari, the presidency succeeds in feeling the pulse of the citizens. But it clearly underestimates the difficulty of stemming the impatience of the citizens by offering justification for the president’s travels. The citizens…
President Buhari

President Buhari

IN arriving at the fact that the nation throbs with a plethora of questions over the necessity of the foreign trips of President Muhammadu Buhari, the presidency succeeds in feeling the pulse of the citizens. But it clearly underestimates the difficulty of stemming the impatience of the citizens by offering justification for the president’s travels. The citizens may not have wholly aligned themselves with the Emersonian disparagement of travelling as a fool’s paradise since those who made England, Italy or Greece venerable were not peripatetic. But the urgency of the need to solve the country’s myriad of problems at home and the unsavoury memories of the globe-trotting of past political leaders  have crashed what was left of the brittle confidence in our leaders’ fascination with overseas’ trips.

Our leaders have left the stark records of not sparing a thought for the suffering poor citizens. Instead of staying at home to consider strategies for taking the blight of poverty off the people, they are rather attracted to a life abroad at the expense of their states or the country. This is why they travel abroad to attend birthdays of their cronies and paramours. Some even travel abroad to organise weddings for their children or they are guests at the weddings of their friends which they have sponsored. In some worse cases, such travels have been used as opportunities to negotiate how to stash slush funds in foreign accounts. But our political leaders justify such travels as opportunities to bring foreign investments to the country.

Still, travelling abroad is a means of escaping from the problems at home.  Our political leaders have no problem with leaving the citizens to writhe and wither away under the weight of the crises sired by the former’s misbegotten governance. And when they are overseas, they do not bother to copy the good things they see there. They do not pay attention to how through transformational leadership, what would have been a barren country is turned into an investors’ delight. Nor do they observe how on account of the fact that leaders live by example, the citizens are ready to obey the laws of the country that would redound to the peace and good of all. What our leaders are only interested in as they travel abroad are the homes that are the exemplifications of modern architectural  ingenuity. They would come home and then loot the treasury in a bid to replicate these architectural masterpieces for their private use.

For a Nigerian leader who travels to the Vatican and takes a photograph with the pope, his or her day is made. Then such a leader would now strive to push the photograph to the front pages of major newspapers in the country. A political leader does this perhaps because he or she would like the citizens to know the opportunity he or she  has just got to put the name of their backwater carrying the beautiful title of a state or country on the map of the world. It could also be to gleefully announce to the hell-bound citizens that their leader is on the way to heaven.  For some politicians, putting the pictures on the front pages of newspapers is not enough. Billboards must be erected in every strategic corner of the state to announce this treasure trove. This was exactly what Governor Rochas Okorocha did in Imo State after taking a photograph with President Barack Obama during a visit to the United States.

Our political leaders often argue that their travels are to enable them to drive foreign investments into the country. Thus they try to justify their frivolous travels by holding town hall meetings with Nigerians overseas. At such meetings, our political leaders would harangue their audience with the need for them to return home; to use their professional experiences to shore up the national fortunes;  and invest their dollars or pounds in the local economy. But it is not likely that the Nigerian audience is really fascinated by the opportunities being reeled out. What is more likely is that the Nigerian citizens are remembering how they lost their loved ones – parents , siblings or children – to the predatory society they left behind at home. They would remember how some of these loved ones have been unjustly incarcerated and how the justice system has failed to give any succour. They would remember how they escaped from kidnappers or the stray or deliberately targeted bullets of bribe-starved and marauding policemen and women and they were forced to relocate abroad.     Now that the presidency has joined in the argument for the necessity of foreign trips, it should have gone further to tell us if Buhari has any magic wand to drive these investments home. Or, is it that once the foreign investors see Buhari they would fall in love with him, empty their bank accounts and bring their hard-earned money to  invest in Nigeria? Regrettably, the illusion of the ease of securing foreign investments by our leaders travelling abroad has made us oblivious of the necessity of keeping our house in order before seeking foreign investors. No foreign investor would put his or her money in a hostile business climate.

Do we really expect foreign investments in these climes ravaged by insurgents, state brigandage and decrepit infrastructure?  If there is a right investment climate, the president does not need to travel to beg any foreign investor to come to Nigeria. They would come here on their own. Or, are we now saying that these so-much cherished foreign investors are so cut off from the world that they on their own cannot get a true picture of developments in Nigeria?

Granted that the president really engages in these frequent travels to negotiate the release of Nigeria’s funds stashed away in foreign banks. But as long as the environment for corruption to fester has not been changed, the money would find its way back to those foreign banks. We must remember the foreign travels of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a bid to cancel the nation’s foreign debts. He succeeded. But the debts are back. Instead of the presidency being excited at defending the president’s foreign trips, it should be conscious of the fact that the bulk of the work is at home.

Now is the time for the president to do less travelling and sit at home to solve the nation’s problems. It is an illusion to expect foreign leaders who are faced with their own problems to give Buhari a blueprint on how to solve the problems of his country created by its own leaders’ greed, profligacy and short-sightedness.

Instead of attempting to justify to the citizens while Buhari’s foreign trips are necessary, the presidential spokespersons should find more profitable things to spend their time on. Let the results speak for themselves. Then the citizens can decide whether the president’s travels are worth the state resources expended on them.