Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has said that the international community has not turned its back on President Muhammadu Buhari.
He spoke exclusively with Daily Sun in Abuja against insinuations that the president no longer enjoys a cosy relationship with the international community due to happenings in the country.
How was the year 2018 for Nigeria on the foreign scene, most importantly, in the three areas of fighting corruption, battling insecurity and revamping the economy?
The year was very good from the foreign perspective on all those three issues. On fighting corruption, of course, Mr. President was also made the Anti-Corruption Champion of the African Union and he was able to organise a very well-attended forum of Heads of State around the theme of fighting corruption. And he was able to galvanise the Heads of State and all the interventions they made really showed that they were all ready to coalesce around this and identify corruption as one of the big challenges for the continent. So, that is one of the reasons he was chosen because they thought that his persona, his charisma and also his credibility in that area was also required to rally all African leaders around that cause. Secondly, he has the demographics of Africa. The majority of our population is youthful, so the youth is a very important constituency going forward for Africa. And again, he organised a very well-attended congress of African Youths to get that message across and to really get the youth to also rally support for anti-corruption fight.
The repatriation of stolen assets from foreign countries also required very good diplomacy. And again, with Mr. President in the lead, he has been able to put the issue of repatriation of stolen loot from foreign countries at the top of his international agenda. So, the UN at the multilateral level and also major countries, have all sort of bought into that and they are doing a lot more to facilitate the repatriation of the loot. So, on the anti-corruption front, it has been successful.
On the security side, again, because terrorism is a global phenomenon now, no one country can say it is fighting terrorism. So, it has to be a global effort. And he has been able to mobilise international support in our fight against Boko Haram. First of all, the African countries around us have really been very, very supportive in that fight and again, that is due to his diplomatic outreach to them. In furtherance to that, he has been able to also get a very strong support of other major countries. Countries like the US that had hitherto not wanted to sell some sophisticated weapons to us, are now doing so. So, that again required some diplomacy and also some credibility on his part and he has been able to deliver that credibility, that diplomatic touch and we have seen the benefit of that.
On the economy also, I think the challenge there is in our diversification of the economy which has been one of the main planks of his administration, the government has been at the head of the promotion of foreign direct investment. So, a lot of work is going into that: the Ease of Doing Business Initiative of the government and some of the successes, the Visa on Arrival that had been introduced have been important. But of course, to promote foreign direct investment, you need credibility; you need confidence for foreign potential, foreign investors. So, that has been a message that he has been trying to get out there and he has been very successful in that. A lot of very important foreign leaders have been trooping into Nigeria to visit the country and he has been receiving invitations to a lot of the major countries around the world, which shows a certain level of confidence they have in him and his leadership of the country. As I said, that translated into this bilateral visits and bilateral engagements which have also included trade issues, trade promotion and it made the big difference. We have seen increasing foreign investment in the country and we have seen that we have infrastructure development and other capital-intensive projects that the government is engaged in that required foreign support and foreign investment.
Presidential election is here. Has the international community turned its back on the president?
Not at all! Not at all! On the contrary, he has got a lot of outstanding invitations to visit a number of countries and they are all very keen to maintain and indeed, strengthen bilateral relationship with him at the helm of affairs of the country. So, far from it! I think on the contrary, they are still very much engaged with the country going forward.
There is the notion out there that the president no longer enjoys the support of the international community. What do you think accounted for that?
It is a weapon of the opposition clearly and also, a fake news. You have to hate somebody with whatever you can. So, they are clutching at straws. There was one that he was in Paris, but they said he wasn’t really there, that he wasn’t at the major events in Paris. But he went to Paris for one specific event and that was Peace Conference and he was one of the leaders who were given an opportunity to address an audience. So, he is very present and getting lots more of invitations and major countries are engaging with him. It is just political attacks, opportunism.
The press conference by the Minister of Information recently on the issuance of visa to Atiku Abubakar, was viewed by many as a sign of panic on the part of the president. Is it true?
Not at all! During election time, all kinds of things are said and done. This is normal. Elections in the US for instance, all the things that were said during that period, and the UK now with Brexit; that is just the nature of politics at election time. So, I don’t think that we should really be making so much out of a lot of these statements that are said around election time.
What agenda are you setting for the country in 2019?
I think the agenda has to be more of the same. There is the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. It is a multi-year plan and if we stick to that, we will see a major transformation of this country. And also in our foreign policy engagement, we have laid excellent foundation. Mr President is the Chairman of the EOWAS Authority of Heads of State; we are engaged in AU reform, we are engaged in UN reform, we are engaged at bilateral levels, we have signed trade agreements with countries, so we have laid a very good foundation for real economic development of our country.