Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
The President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio, left Nigeria yesterday after a two-day official visit. But the experience he had in the country was one that would be difficult to shrug off.
It was not the first time he would set his foot in the country, but it certainly was a visit in which he got more than he anticipated.
Soon after he arrived the country on Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari who has, on account of the ongoing Ramadan, scaled down some official engagements, especially pertaining to the reception of visitors, warmly received him at the Presidential Vila.
“The President, who has not been receiving visitors because of the Ramadan, chose to do otherwise in the case of President Bio. He received him and they spent a long time discussing about the two countries”, a Presidency official told Daily Sun.
Bio recently stepped into the top office of Sierra Leone after winning the keenly contested March presidential election. He won on the platform of the then opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Expectedly, nationals of Sierra Leone resident in Abuja were happy to have their President in Nigeria. To demonstrate that, embassy officials and scores of the country’s nationals were at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, to receive him.
The meeting with President Buhari was not the only significant thing that President Julius Bio did. He also had meetings with his nationals and high net worth individuals in Nigeria. One of them was the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu.
At the Transcorp Hilton, Bio could not hide his joy when he saw Kalu. They backslapped and exchanged warm pleasantries and followed it up with a meeting. But the meeting did not end at the Transcorp Hilton. It continued the next morning when the President relocated to the residence of Dr. Kalu. Along with his entourage, he attended a Mass held at Kalu’s chapel.
Shortly after the Mass, President Bio and his host spoke glowingly about Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Both canvassed stronger bilateral relations between Nigeria and Sierra Leone, saying such would boost trade and commerce in the two Anglophone West African countries.
First to speak was Kalu, who hailed the election of Bio and praised him for seeking to deepen the relationship between his country and Nigeria. He particularly eulogised him for electing to relate closely with President Buhari.
The former governor, who is also a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), applauded the visit of the Sierra Leonean leader, describing it as a clear recognition of the strategic roles Nigeria played in the restoration of democracy in Sierra Leone.
He recalled Nigeria’s leadership role in the then ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) during the civil war in Sierra Leone and how that interventionist force helped in the restoration of peace in that country.
According to Dr. Kalu, the visit was also an endorsement of the giant strides the President Buhari administration has recorded in Nigeria and across the ECOWAS sub-region over the last three years
In response, President Bio described the visit to Nigeria and the breakfast meeting with Dr. Kalu as a great honour, even as he prayed that the relationship between the two countries would continue to grow from strength to strength. The Sierra Leonean leader departed to his country shortly after the reception at the Kalu residence yesterday.
Although the President was a bit laconic, he did not leave anybody in doubt about how joyous he felt at visiting Nigeria and being hosted by Kalu.