After US trip, back to pressing matters By Owei Lakemfa

US President Barack Obama speaks with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, July 20, 2015. Obama welcomes Nigeria's freshly elected president after the country's first ever democratic transition. AFP

I AM interested in  President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to the United States last week not because of the over N2 billion allegedly spent or the long retinue of aides that tagged along with the official delegates. I am not interested in whatever controversy arose from the trip or the brick bats in the social media.

If anything, I think he made some  points about the war against corruption in which he said even his party chieftains would not be spared. I cannot fault his recap of his manifesto that he would create jobs  and check theft. His stand on homosexuality reflects national consensus and our collective culture and sense of morality. He also has a pass mark in the CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour. My  question is,  was the trip worth it, and at this time?

If  I put myself in the shoes of the Americans; how would I assess a visiting President who has no basic government structure in place? A President coming for serious talks who has no Secretary of Government or Ministers who can coordinate the implementation of agreements reached? International politics follow a lot of protocols and reciprocity; the American Attorney General sits, and she has no counterpart on the visitors  side; how can we be taken serious?

Propagandists are running us deaf  that the President is quite capable of running  Government without Ministers and that he is so strong that he gets briefs from five to six  Permanent Secretaries daily. How impressive! If Permanent  Secretaries  can run ministries, rather than Ministers, who says that the Head of Service will not do, running the country rather than an expensive Presidency?

The Ministers to be appointed will not come from the moon; you can never put together a perfect team. The challenge is to screen nominees, but more importantly, to move decisively against any non-performing Minister or Government official whose conduct is questionable.

I believe that the time spent planning and travelling for the four-day trip, would have been better utilised putting  in place an Executive Council. When the President goes abroad to tell Nigerians  that they will not have Ministers until September; that is six months after winning undisputed elections, and four months after being sworn into office, serious concerns of governance arise.

Appointing Ministers is not discretional. The Constitution directs that there shall be  Ministers who can be assigned to run any department or business of Government and are   charged with “advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions.”

Sections 147 to 149 make it illegal for a  sole administrator to run the country; rather it directs that there must be, a collective body composed of the President, Vice President and at least thirty six Ministers including the Attorney General of the Federation whose appointments must be spread across the thirty six states to reflect federal character, promote  national unity and command national unity. This body is charged with running the country.

Ministers, although appointed by the President, are actually constitutional  watch dogs; the eyes of the citizenry  who in interacting with the President, Vice President, and observing them, can declare either of them incapable of discharging  the functions of their office. We run the same Presidential system as the Americans, so they know how to assess their visitor beyond diplomatic niceties.

Apart from this, we have the self- afflicted wounds  in the National Assembly  which is festering, and if not quickly and well handled, can become gangrening requiring  amputation. Of course, there are the campaign promises that need to be implemented to ease life for a long suffering populace.

The main reason for the trip I have read about, is the Presidency’s allusion that it was a follow up to the G7 meeting where we were promised support in the fight against Boko Haram. If there was the need to present America with such a shopping list, does the President need to go on an official trip uprooting so many people including otherwise busy governors and their aides?

Should we not ask ourselves why the same US  not only refuses to sell us weapons to fight Boko Haram, but also blocks our efforts to procure them from other countries and sources? It would be quite naïve to think that it was a matter of American hatred for former President Goodluck  Jonathan, and that the US  would change its mind now that its beloved son in  whom it is well pleased is now in power. As for the request for American troops to train the Nigerian military in counter insurgency, have we found out why the Jonathan administration kicked them out in the first place?

There is the issue of the World Bank $2.1 Billion loan to rebuild parts of the country devastated  by Boko Haram. The President and  Governors traveling  to US is not a prerequisite  for negotiating or procuring World Bank loans. Also, I am not sure I understand the hype about this loan which we must pay back with interest even if the terms appear liberal. So, is it really necessary to add to our loan weight and heap the burden of repayment on the future generation? Is it not possible  through the proclaimed  prudent management of our resources by the change  administration to raise the funds necessary for the reconstruction? Are we learning from the pillorying of Greece by its European relatives over loan repayment?

Before President Buhari’s trip, the Boko Haram which  had been driven out of virtually all the towns, and pinned down by the Jonathan administration, had once again festered, taking new territories, attacking not just Bornu, but Yobe, Gombe, Plateau and Kaduna States. A man with burning coals on his palm does not tarry for discussions; a time when large parts of the country are being overrun by vicious insurgents who are maiming, killing, kidnapping and laying waste villages and towns including that of the new Army Chief, is not one  for the President and Commander-In-Chief of the  Armed Forces to travel. He needed, and needs to be at home to lead the counter attack. Welcome back, Mr. President, now to pressing matters.

VANGUARD