President Tinubu on the world stage
The huge acknowledgement given to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu following his speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) annual meeting in New York could very well signal a new beginning for Nigeria in her quest to command the respect of the international community as a country serious and eager to develop in the actual sense of it. Notably, President Tinubu’s speech was devoid of the usual boring rigmarole of past presidential speeches delivered on such occasions; but focused on core issues around which the future of Nigeria and indeed Africa revolve. It is important for the president to ensure that Nigeria works in a way to sustain the attention of world leaders that he has managed to catch.
The supranational organisation is the most enduring post-war organisation for global governance. It offers ex-cathedra opportunities for nations to address the world on national, regional, and global concerns. It is a complex full of diplomatic intrigues while offering opportunities for deal-making and solidarity.
The 78th Session in New York, the seat of the United Nations, offered Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu the opportunity to articulate a vision of the country, Africa, and the world. Indeed, his speech centred on Nigeria, issues in West Africa and the world, and could be approximated to democracy and good governance, Africa’s exploitation, climate, and development.
While coups have become prevalent recently in parts of West Africa, President Tinubu argued that they arose from the economic and social crises that had bedevilled the continent rooted in the several years of ruthless exploitation of the continent by the dominant global powers. While vowing to act as a democracy proselyte in the West Africa sub-region, he noted that democracy and good governance were preferable to military incursion into politics. In the same vein, “tilted civilian political arrangement that perpetuates injustice” is counterproductive to the goal of democracy.
On climate change, President Tinubu averred that it was real and demanded urgent global consensus just as he noted that efforts at addressing it must align with the overall economic efforts of countries. As he argued, important victories would be recorded if the advanced countries pandered to the preferences of the continent in economic development than the imposition of received policies. Therefore, he stressed that Africa would tackle climate problems on its terms.
On the sustainable development goals, over which this year’s summit is themed, he said its realisation was only possible through enhanced international cooperation with African nations, implicating a kind of Marshal Plan for Africa.
Nigerians have reacted to the president’s maiden speech at UNGA. Some see it as a landmark outing to be applauded. Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Olisa Agbakoba, praised the president. He further enthused that never has any president in the history of the UNGA spoken for the entire African continent the way Tinubu did. The only exception is the renowned Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah. He then advised the entire African continent to embrace the message and act. The Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, also applauded the president. According to him, “My view is first that he demonstrated true statesmanship during that speech, and he was able to personally put forward, his view of what a new Africa should look like. His view of what a New West Africa should look like. And, he was also able to analyse (what) are the issues concerning Africa, West Africa, and Nigeria as a whole.”
While some believe the president was acting a legitimising script by his handlers in Washington, we dare say that the President’s speech reeks of patriotism, nationalism, and pan-Africanism. However, he needs to be told some bitter truths. A Marshall Plan will not come from either Europe or America. What came from America to post-war Europe was not charity as such; loans from Bretton Woods Institutions were involved, and Europe had the discipline to pay back in time.
It is important to note that Africa had its own Marshall Plan, namely, the Lagos Plan of Action formulated in the 1980s. It was a patriotic-African-centred blueprint. It was deconstructed by the same Western forces through rationalism from the Bretton Woods institutions, and subsequently watered-down versions were imposed on the continent. How this was done is well documented in the seminal book titled: Patrons of Poverty.
Thus, President Tinubu needs to map out his blueprint, a strategy of development. There must be something to show that Nigeria, and indeed, Africa, is ready for development. Otherwise, appearance in UNGA becomes a mere yearly ritual.
gain, there is something to be said about Nigeria’s presence at UNGA. Instead of departing from the past in which Nigeria’s attendance was always a jamboree, President Tinubu followed the beaten track with a large retinue of delegates. What is the relevance of seven governors and 11 ministers in the summit? It may be argued that they were needed for side-line deals. Notwithstanding, it is a waste of national resources. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is the most sensitive thing in the world. It responds to incentives when it sees one. It runs from an unstable environment. It is the lessons learnt from the Asian Economic meltdown of the last two decades or so. Besides, Africa must look inward for development. It is never in the interest of the West to develop Africa, rather it will continue to perpetrate what experts have dubbed “policies of secondary uneven development” which reinforces Africa’s subaltern position in the global political economy.
Nevertheless, Nigeria should entrench ease of doing business, and provide energy critical for domestic industrial development. The country must demonstrate that it is important for the rest of the world. Indeed, the world is watching to see that seriousness before they can reckon with the country. The meeting between Nigeria and South Africa at the side-line of the summit was a good one, a synergy of efforts by these two countries can lift the continent and enhance the latter global importance.
It should be noted, however, that many Nigerians could not watch and listen to the president’s speech. So, the foreign ministry should register on time to enable Nigeria to speak early enough. South Africa enjoyed that benefit. Nigeria’s turn was about 1 a.m., Nigerian time when even the UN gathering was depleted in attendance; while South Africa was 9 p.m. Importantly, President Tinubu has somewhat mustered some goodwill of global leaders; he needs to cultivate and nurture a Nigeria that will match his tone and aspirations.
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