Between staying at home and travelling

Ayo Olukotun was obviously unhappy about President Muhammadu Buhari’s bestowed international goodwill that contributed to his invitation to a few western capitals since he was sworn in, despite the glaring success of the trips. Olukotun, a columnist for The PUNCH newspaper, was displeased that Buhari may have gathered enough points in the air to be considered a frequent flyer in just two months into his presidency. In his article published on Friday, July 31, 2015 entitled, “Buhari should stay more at home”, the columnist left his readers without any doubts that the handful of international trips that the President embarked upon so far were unnecessary since “there were no substantial take-homes on the major issues of military assistance and upgraded investment flows” stacked inside the presidential plane on his arrival. He erroneously believed also that the trips were wasteful as he asserted that the “cost-benefit analysis strongly weighs against the cost of such trips” in an economy that is deep in recession.

The article no doubt weighed heavily against Buhari’s international trips, but discerning readers could not have also missed the warped and disjointed reasons, let alone the totally unsuitable reference to Obafemi Awolowo’s campaign promise he deployed to advance his argument that Buhari should stay more at home, as we shall see later.

As a respectable columnist of an important national daily, one cannot help but be dismayed that Olukotun has forgotten so soon that obliterating the Boko Haram insurgency from the Nigerian soil, killing corruption before it “kills Nigeria”, and recalibrating the economy for sustainable national development and job opportunities– especially for our teeming youths–are what principally gave Buhari his electoral victory at the polls. While he may have acknowledged the imperative of the President’s trip on account of the Boko Haram terror–however grudgingly–one is equally troubled that Olukotun could not see the involvement, if not active participation of the international community as not only very crucial, but also integral to any success that would be ascribed to Buhari’s other two social contracts with the Nigerian people at the end of the day. While it can be rightly argued that Buhari’s aforementioned campaign promises are uniquely Nigerian problems, for Olukotun to have discounted, if not failed to have acknowledged the international component that must be brought to bear in solving these problems shows his limited, if not total lack of understanding of international politics and shuttle diplomacy to resolving local problems.

It’s also an irritable speck it seems to me, on his pedigree as a highly academically credentialed columnist. Since Olukotun found enough cause to applaud Buhari, however faintly, for the “diplomatic shuttle to neighbouring countries” in relation “to the anti-terrorism war,” one should thank him for his magnanimity. But for him to have said that “there is arguably far less urgency attached to the other trips” was not only mischievous, but also a crass exhibition of insidious, negative bias carefully crafted to deny the President credits where credits had obviously been recorded as a result of his other trips.

As a wordsmith himself, Olukotun may have inadvertently showed his repulsion for the Buhari Presidency by saying in so many words that the statement to the world by the most powerful leader, President Barack Obama of the United States, that Buhari, whose invitation to the White House was on account of his acclaimed integrity, discipline and incorruptibility “comes into office with a reputation of integrity and a very clear agenda and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety, security and peace to his country” has no meaning to the international community, most especially to international investors whose collective confidence is sorely needed to spur economic growth and job creation. It’s unfortunate that the writer does not know that the three key words in Obama’s statement: safety, security, and peace are like music to the ears of international finance. He needs not be disappointed that investors did not jump into the next available flights after listening to a visiting leader who wanted a good dose of their capital injected into his country’s economy. International finance and investment, unfortunately, do not work that way. The dividends of Buhari’s two-day presence at the G-7 Summit and his four-day working tour of the US are both in the short and long terms. And Nigerians have already seen the short term gains.

Olukotun clearly missed the point not only because of the dire socio-economic circumstances which the country finds herself that necessitated Buhari’s trips, but also the attendant gains from the trips. More importantly was his failure to properly situate the international component of Buhari’s key electoral promises in decisively dealing with Boko Haram, killing corruption and tackling the economy from which real and permanent solutions could only be found. For Buhari not to have made the trips would have amounted to shirking his responsibility and that would have been unacceptable to the Nigerian electorate. The author’s position that “a diplomatic visit cobbled together almost as an afterthought on the part of the US whose president…had pointedly omitted Nigeria in his scheduled African tour” was disingenuous, to say the least. Pray, what gave Olukotun the impression that Buhari’s visit was “an afterthought” that was “cobbled together?”

The US president may not have included Nigeria in his recently concluded African visits to Kenya and Ethiopia, but should that have been sufficient enough for Buhari not to honour an important invitation in which his country has everything to gain and nothing lose? Should we not rekindle and “reset” our relationship with the US and the rest of the world, which was recklessly defiled and left in tatters by former President Goodluck Jonathan due to sheer cluelessness as to how to grow a nation? Must Buhari now cocoon himself inside his country just because “he does not have the luck of the resources available to his predecessor?” Nigeria is important in the comity of nations, no doubt, and that’s probably why Olukotun was displeased that “our leaders pay so much attention to the slightest invitation from the western capitals.” But he should also come to terms with the fact that Nigeria needs these western capitals to solve her multifarious, self-inflicted problems far more than they need her. That Buhari has realised this incontrovertible fact very early in his presidency and has therefore set forth at dawn deserve commendation rather than excoriation.

Olukotun’s reference to Awolowo’s promise “that he would not travel outside of Nigeria until he had grappled with fundamental ailments on the domestic scene” was a patently bad comparison in trying to convince Buhari to stay more at home. The Nigerian society in Awolowo’s time that necessitated that campaign promise may be akin to putting heaven and hell within the same context. The late sage could not have had any reason to travel outside of Nigeria because the country did not have a home-grown, fatalistic, Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organisation that is now part of the most brutal international terror network that has left the world powers scratching their heads. The corruption in Awo’s time pales in comparison to the in-your-face, conscienceless, earth-shaking, and heaven-may-fall corruption that now prevails in the polity where a government appeared to have been formed with the sole purpose of scamming and defrauding its own people. And neither was the economy prostrate and in ruins then as it is now.

Odere, a media practitioner, wrote in via femiodere@gmail.com

Copyright PUNCH.

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