Several reasons have been advanced for President Muhammed Buhari’s frequent foreign trips, the motives, which according to his aides far surpass the attendant criticisms that have greeted such voyage.
On the side of those who manage his image and spokesperson for the government, Garba Shehu and Alhaji Lai Mohammed respectively, Buhari’s foreign trips are well intended and for the good of the country.
But his critics say nothing has being gained. This school of thought argues that the frequent trips are to re-launch the President back to global reckoning. According to a recent report in a national daily, on ‘why Buhari globetrots’, it noted that the President may have to travel more in 2016 to enable him fully fit into modern day governance. The report further explained, but for his recent junketing across the globe, Buhari would have found it extremely difficult to cope with daunting challenges which present day leadership offer and that he would not have been at par with his contemporaries on certain global issues.
Another group argues that there are enormous responsibilities as President of Nigeria, which he is jettisoning. According to the argument, out of over 183 days in office, he has spent 43 outside Nigeria, a development which places him more or less as a visiting president.
Further, explaining why the President has been jetting round the world since he assumed office in May, Garba Shehu, said that President Buhari was setting up infrastructure, both at home and abroad, pointing out that the change mantra of the administration was being manifested in the countries he visits.
Shehu further added that in public diplomacy, face-to-face interactions as the frequent trips have recommended, is better conducted rather than through third parties. This is even more so at the level of heads of state, he said. According to him, interfacing through proxies was to say the least, ignore the outcome of nurturing strong interpersonal relations between leaders, through which nations benefit.
Similarly, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, while also justifying the many foreign trips, said that such visits by Mr. President are critical to the implementation of his administration’s key policies of enhancing security, jump-starting the economy, creating jobs and fighting corruption. Alhaji Mohammed argued that all the trips have started yielding fruits in terms of turning the tide in the fight against the insurgents, attracting investments in the range of billions of dollars, and securing global support for the administration’s anti-corruption fight.
But he was quick to fault critics. According to him, “Nigerians, whether in the ruling or the opposition parties, have a right to ask questions about the activities of their President, but it is absolutely important that they do so from an informed, rather than partisan or sensational, standpoint,” he said.
Indeed at the last count, from May this year, the President has thus far visited Germany, South Africa, USA, Niger, Tchad, Cameroon, Benin, Ghana, South Africa, India, Iran and Malta. The trip came as a result of the United Nations, EU, African Union or energy and security-related summits. They were mostly undertaken to attend specific meetings and not ‘State Visits’.
The international assignments are seen as unavoidable trips for the President. For instance in the opinion of Mr Shehu, What would Nigerians say of their leader when they see the array of world leaders assemble, and their own President is missing from the table? Certainly, we agree with the president’s spokesman even as we have weighed both sides of the arguments and unequivocally urged Mr. President to give more attention to urgent domestic issues while also being very active in global politics and international diplomacy. After all Nigeria cannot be an isolated case in the manner we are perceived globally, we need other countries in the manner they too need us.
Though the clouds are really piling up in the country, fears are increasing daily over insurgency, armed banditry, highway and bank robberies, kidnapping, array of inconclusive elections, which a President is required to address. Yet, no matter how competent those who head the security agencies and other critical government establishments are, the child is more at home when the father is visible. We cry our hearts outs when Boko Haram is becoming more daring, sacking barracks and kidnapping girls close to the army chief’s village.
The All Progressives Congress, APC in Kogi State is in disarray, election in Bayelsa State is inconclusive and pro-Biafra activists are unrelenting in their protest. These are sensitive national challenges that the President must not be seen to ignore. The Pro-Biafra agitation is gradually turning violent; therefore, the President should intervene.
While we acknowledge the economic and political merits of foreign visits, it should be done with a sense of nationalism and not frivolity. By now, we expect terrorism to be ending in few weeks as it was promised, the paths to economic revival and job creation, critically engaged by experts and the government’s economic team or cabinet members ahead of the 2016 budget presentation, which is the first money bill of this change administration.
Whereas we are not against foreign trips that will add value to governance and make this administration succeed, but we abhor any act that could undermine in-house challenges that require the President’s immediate attention if he were at home to deal decisively with such.