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Managing Expectations Of President Buhari’s Foreign Tours


French President François Hollande (second from left) gestured next to U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and other G7 summit participants and outreach delegates at a family picture event at the G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Krün near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, June 8, 2015.									PHOTO: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN

French President François Hollande (second from left) gestured next to U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and other G7 summit participants and outreach delegates at a family picture event at the G7 summit at the Elmau castle in Krün near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, June 8, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS/CHRISTIAN HARTMANN

NIGERIANS are known for their pun. Whether by coincident or not, President Muhammadu Buhari has suddenly become the subject. Many Nigerians now see him as the ‘visiting President’. In fact, since his assumption of office, Buhari has so far visited Niger, Chad, Cameroun, the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US) and Germany. He has also visited South Africa, Benin, Ghana, India, Iran and Malta.

The talk is even rife that he likes visiting colonial masters for meetings. While engaging the rest of the world can be a potent instrument for revamping the economy, it should, however, be seen as not sufficient for genuine development.

In history and in practice, the core of sustainable development of any nation and the respect it earns at the international arena stems from sound domestic policies. Whenever a country puts its house in order, reciprocally, a gate is open to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the kind of goodwill that produces multiplier effect.

Among President Buhari’s tours, his attendance of the Group of most industrialised countries (G7), which met in June, in Germany, this year, comes up for the spotlight. He went there with a wish list — a routine list seeking support to fight insecurity, as well as assistance in the areas of infrastructure, power, energy, corruption, FDI, environment and good governance. Iraq and Nigeria got special invitation to the talks, as the leaders addressed global security threats, the Greek economy and Ukraine. This group comprises countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Watchers of international politics could be forgiven if they maintain that attendance of meetings such as that of the G7, could for instance, be used to strengthen the legal framework for recovery of stolen funds, as well as improving of existing goodwill between that club and an ‘invited guest’ such as Nigeria, but when it is reported that the head of a multilateral organisation such as, IMF charged President Buhari to also work harder for the unity of Nigeria, then a ‘lecture’ as that may be taken as a reminder of the old routine tutorial for familiar pupils, who come from Africa. It would appear that those who want President Buhari to stay at home are particularly conscious of this, among other sentiments.

It was because of the suspension of Russia from the group over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that this exclusive club of nations became the G7 having been known as the G8 before 2014. Ironically, it was Russia that started the “arms bailout of Nigeria” in the fight against insurgents when its Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, met with his erstwhile Nigerian counterpart, Ambassador Aminu Wali, in New York on the margins of the 2014 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meetings.

What An Invited Guest Ultimately Wants

AN invited guest to a G7 meeting like Nigeria gets an exclusive handshake of goodwill. It then asks for support to enable it build and sustain its economic strides, and/or, as in the case of Nigeria, to help it stay on a stable, secure and democratic path.

Usually, economic progress and general Human Development Indices (HDI) seek to measure real development in terms of the quality of life of citizens. Even when economists speak about Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and things like Per Capital Income (PCI) and try to base the progress of nations on favourable returns on these and other indicators, any government may well be reminded that an impressive GDP does not necessarily translate into elimination of hunger and malnutrition. Per Capita Income, which is the earning of individuals per population, is insufficient also for capturing human development. Human development puts people at the centre stage of development — a process of enlarging people’s choice, societal development and to specific indices of improvement.

President Muhammadu Buhari is really yet to define Nigeria’s foreign policy trajectory. Yet, when he makes his diplomatic shuttles, we are reminded of how a leader’s international exertion must necessarily stem from his country’s domestic capacity. Regardless, it is a time the nation’s energies were mobilised for good purpose.

… The Prsident And The Talk Shows

FOR many reasons, meetings like the G7, is seen from the point of view of any developing country (which does not really belong) as a talk show, where the big guns make grand statements and the small-player-invitees talk around the bowl of requests that they bring.
It is therefore not surprising that other talk shows are then erected to defend President Buhari’s shuttles. Senior Special Assistant (Media) to President, Buhari Alhaji Garba Shehu, has sought to be a big participant in this talk show. It is also because most people see the Presidential trips as waste of public money that they are crying about the frequency of the visits. So Shehu started from that angle.

He cited the lean nature of presidential delegation as a case in point. It is necessary to also quote him here. “In the delegations accompanying him abroad, President Buhari has slashed the numbers, bringing them down to a tolerable or the bearable minimum. He went to the United Nations General Assembly in September (2015) with an unbelievable 32 officials in his delegation. These included his cook, his doctor and luggage officer…His predecessor in office went to the same meeting with 150 officials and family members the year before…Wherever they are given government accommodation and feeding, members of President Buhari’s entourage receive reduced allowances, thereby saving the government some money… In public diplomacy, experts say that it is better conducted through face-to-face interaction than through third parties. This is even moreso at the level of heads of state. To do it by proxy is to miss the effect of fostering strong interpersonal relations between leaders, by which nations benefit.”

Defending further, Shehu said, “They (trips) were mostly undertaken to attend specific meetings, not State Visits. Looking at these assignments, the trips are inescapable for the President. What would Nigerians say of their leader when they see the array of world leaders assemble, as they would shortly be doing discussing climate change in Paris on Monday and their own President is missing from the table…Those of us who were around under Abacha read all the taunts about him being a sit-at-home leader. Abacha was despised for not representing his country abroad. President Buhari’s foreign visits have been marked by punishing schedules.”

He added, “they are always business-like and results-oriented…All trips have been marked by tight schedules. Meeting after meeting, happening back-to-back morning, afternoon and evening. The President has had to travel overnight for some of these meetings.”

He continued: “The visit by any president to another country is the highest act in international relations. It sends out a message that the country is important to the visitor. It is not like your usual vacation abroad. Official discussions involving political leaders, the military, the diplomats and at times, business people are held at multi- track levels. In foreign policy you stand on a quick sand of events and you slip up if take a rest or lose focus. Governments also know that their achievements at home will be meaningless if they cannot project them abroad. 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?”

Leadership Learning Curve, Questions

BROADLY speaking, there is also a leadership learning curve to the foreign trips of Buhari.

In the days leading to the 2015 Presidential election in Nigeria, Buhari, then a candidate, had been quoted to have criticised the administration of his predecessor for going round the West African region, seeking solutions to the Boko Haram insurgency, instead of tackling the problem from within. But by jetting out soon after assuming office to Chad, Benin and Cameroun to seek support in the fight against Boko Haram, the president may have demonstrated some quick learning about the high need for neighbourhood diplomacy and that by today’s dictates, it is a positive development in statecraft.

In Germany, the G7 made commitment to the Nigerian project with respect to infrastructure and energy, but most visible in this regard, concerns support for Nigeria’s military with equipment in its fight against surging terrorism.

As Nigerians look at how many of the promises especially on military support and a quickening of the FDI have been delivered within the last six months, it is equally imperative to examine whether these meetings do indeed play their part in the reconstructing of Nigeria’s foreign policy along new realities.

Now, the nation is being told that countries such as France, UK, and the US are actively supporting Nigeria with intelligence, weapons and training for our military against insurgents and the economic saboteurs in the Delta region. How would independent assessors score this?
Are the meetings such as the G7 now a forum where countries such as Nigeria are subtly introduced to what may later manifest as “conditions” and “demands” from organisations such as, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) before assistance are granted?

It may even be in order if the searchlight goes beyond yesterday and also now look at how promises from bodies such as G7 weigh in the scale of fulfilment spanning the pre-civilian Buhari era.

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