PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s visit to America to see President Barack Obama was quite obviously the most controversial foreign trip taken by a Nigerian leader in recent history. It was famous for its jamboree atmospherics, though he came back with a $2.1 billion World Bank loan to fix our embattled North East even when Boko Haram is far from being subdued.
One of the topics trending over the internet is a notion in the American media that President Buhari did not prepare for the trip. I don’t even want to delve into details of some of these reports, since they were mainly credited to anonymous “White House sources”. If what we empirically observed in photographs, videos and known facts are anything to go by we will be inclined to believe, at least, that the president did not prepare well for that trip.
Just before they travelled penultimate Sunday, I had an interesting telephone conversation with one of Nigeria’s envoys in the Americas. He told me that it was a blunder for the president to ask the politicians who were appointed as ambassadors and high commissioners by the previous administration to come back during the same week he was about to undertake such an important state visit to the USA. He should have waited till after this trip, then withdraw anyone he so desired. This is because all our envoys in that axis, especially US and Canada, ought to close ranks and ensure the success of the visit.
Another blunder he pointed out was that it was totally wrong for Buhari to visit an American president to table requests on fighting terrorism, recovering stolen money and marketing our economy to the American business community without ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Attorney General of the Federation, Defence, Trade and Investments and the like being part of his team. These are the people to articulate and implement the deals with their American counterparts.
What we saw, instead, was President Buhari including his son, Yusuf, in his entourage; to do what, at the expense of the Nigerian taxpayer? Some said it was part of his perk of office, but we are talking about a president keen on reducing wasteful spending. The team should have been peopled by relevant technocrats and bureaucrats with core assignments to perform. Politicians should not have been at its vanguard. When the president goes on his annual leave or personal visit he can travel with his family as part of his perks. Presidents usually travel to such core business trips with their wives, not grown up sons or daughters.
Besides, this American jamboree which had as part of the official delegation, some All Progressives Congress (APC) governors and former governors . The internet is awash with pictures of our president and his host in the company of their respective officials during a White House meeting.
While Obama’s team consisted of technocrats with their notebooks and pens busy during the talks, Buhari was flanked by politicians (state governors such as Rochas Okorocha of Imo, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo, Tanko Al Makura of Nasarawa) who, being VIP tourists, sat pretty with smug smiles for the cameras. I am not saying that notes were not being taken by some other members of the Nigerian delegation out of sight. All I am saying is that it amplified the picture of that trip as a jamboree, both to the American hosts and to us onlookers.
Now consider this outrage. Chairman of APC Governors Forum, the voluptuously Okorocha and chief exponent of bailouts for bankrupt states, came back to Imo State and immediately erected giant billboards of himself shaking hands with President Obama, with President Buhari looking on with admiration. These billboards which adorn strategic street corners in Owerri and other major towns are boldly captioned: “BEHOLD, THE NEW FACES OF CHANGE!” What childish folks we now have in Government Houses calling themselves “Excellencies”! See me now, I travelled with President Buhari to America and shook hands with President Obama! I was there!!
But of course, Okorocha has since denied ever being the one that put up the billboards. Perhaps, Ochereome was the one who did!
Quite apart from the issue of a jamboree trip, there was this worrisome insight that Buhari gave during a press conference in Washington where he was asked how he would treat the lingering problems in the Niger Delta and handle the issue of inclusive government.
When he eventually addressed the issue he got many people confused with a contradictory declaration.
First he made it clear that it is “political reality” for those who “worked hard” to give him “97 per cent” of the votes to expect to be “rewarded” more than those who gave him “5 per cent”. Then in another breath, he said the constitution has guaranteed that every state would be part of government. He had promised: “I belong to everybody and I belong to nobody”. Therefore, if he shows favoritism he would be contradicting himself, and people will be “quick to pick on that against me”.
Will Buhari reward Nigerians according to the volume of votes he got from each section? The answer to this may be found in the appointments he has made so far. The overwhelming majority of his appointees are from the North where he got “97 per cent” of his votes. All other five geopolitical zones have been favoured with appointments made so far, leaving out the South East from where he got the least number of votes. His party, APC, is kicking against the inclusion of South East lawmakers as principal officers of the National Assembly, and he is supporting his party’s position. He made a Freudian slip, which is actually an exposure of his real intentions which he has been putting to practice.
Nothing surprises me about what I have seen of President Buhari so far. I warned it would be so during the campaigns. We have known this man for 48 years, and a leopard does not change its spots.