IT was quite gratifying seeing President Muhammadu Buhari display rare strength and character recently in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire’s capital. Strength, because without betraying any sign of tiredness or weakness, he was engaged in one bilateral meeting after another, lasting well past midnight for the duration of the conference and character, as evident in the currency and depth of issues – some of them African-themed – he reportedly canvassed at the talks.
President Buhari was in Cote d’Ivoire for the just-ended 5th African Union-European Union Summit, which took place from Tuesday, the 28th to Thursday 30th November. Buhari had entered the Sofitel Hotel venue of the conference from around 9.00am Wednesday, the day the conference officially opened. And about midnight, precisely 12.26am, that is Thursday morning, the president was still on his feet. This writer saw him coming out of a dinner hosted by the Ivorian president, Alassane Quattara and his wife in honour of visiting heads of state and government and other heads of delegation, and entering into another round of meeting for multilateral talks with some heads of state at past midnight.
The talks were on the sidelines of the conference and the All Progressives Congress’ National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, who was part of his entourage to the summit, was with him at some of these meetings. Also on the entourage were Bauchi State governor, Muhammed Abubakar and his Akwa Ibom State counterpart, Emmanuel Udom, who attended a few of such talks. President Buhari held back-to-back bilateral talks with Quattara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo and the vice-president of Gambia, Fatoumata Tambajang, with barely any little time between each meeting. He later attended the summit proper.
Those round-the-clock meetings underscored two things. One, having such a whole day non-stop engagements showed that the president was truly back to full health. He is fit, mentally alert, active and agile. As he moved from one meeting venue to another, he carried himself sprightly with the agility of a 50-year-old. President Buhari has his sights on the problems afflicting Nigeria and Africa. The raging issues plaguing Nigeria and Africa were the focal points, and rightly so, at his meetings. When he met the German Chancellor, the illegal migration of some Nigerians to Europe in search of elusive greener pastures and the new slavery they are being subjected to, particularly in Libya dominated discussion. President Buhari was quite emphatic at the talks: this trend must be checked. The two leaders made a passionate commitment to expand discussions on how to stem the tide of such illegal migration. They agreed to strengthen legal migration. At the talks, Buhari also spoke of his government’s commitment to securing lives and property in Nigeria which, according to him, remains paramount.
He said prompt attention was being given to gainful employment of youths in Nigeria through education and the acquisition of skills and vocational training, adding that Nigeria and Germany could draw from their experiences to cooperate effectively in the area of investing in youths for a sustainable future. On her part, the German Chancellor commended Buhari for the giant strides recorded by his administration in revamping the economy, promising to increase support for Nigeria in dealing with terrorism. Merkel disclosed that 58 German companies are at present operating in Nigeria. More companies have indicated interest in investing in the energy, manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors, she added.
The political instability in Togo also seized a part of Buhari’s attention. In his bilateral meeting with President Quattara, Buhari expressed the view that if the instability was not averted, the Togo problem could have dire consequences for the region. He told the Ivorian president: “We must have a solution in Togo. The friends of the opposition and authorities must talk to them on the steps to jointly take to achieve stability. They must work towards gaining the trust of each other. There will be regional consequences for instability in Togo and this will surely come at a cost to development”.
These bilateral talks were held behind closed doors, with the president supported by just one or two other personalities in some cases. In one instance, at the president’s behest, Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama had to vacate his seat to allow Tinubu take the lone seat at one of the meetings in order to be with Buhari.
It was instructive that President Buhari and Tinubu had graced most of the meetings together. Asiwaju was by the president’s side as he met with the Nigerian community in Cote d’Ivoire at the Nigerian Ambassador’s residence, barely two hours after they arrived in that country. At the meeting, President Buhari enjoined Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to be good ambassadors. He said he brought the two governors in his entourage along because he might need their votes in future, hinting at his presumed second term ambition. At that interaction, Tinubu urged the Nigerians to help in preserving the country’s good name in Cote d’Ivoire. He spoke about President Buhari’s achievements in office thus far and his good plans for the country going forward. It emerged also that the bulk of the Nigerian population in Cote d’Ivoire are mostly of Osun State origin in the South-west.
But perhaps the most interesting bit of news for many Nigerians was Buhari’s comment about Tinubu. Speaking about Senator Tinubu at that meeting, the president said the APC national leader brought him “a beautiful piece of information” of which he had been oblivious. Tinubu had handed that piece of information to the Nigerian leader right inside the Nigerian Airforce plane taking them to Abidjan. Buhari did not disclose the nature of the information Tinubu gifted him. “I also thank our leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He has brought me a very beautiful piece of information, which I was not aware of until I sat down and read it this evening (penultimate Tuesday night). Thank you very much for your hard work and I will discuss that paper with you,” he said.
But what precisely is that piece of information all about? Well, only President Buhari and Tinubu can answer the question.
Rahman is Special Adviser, Media to Senator Tinubu.