By Enyioma Orji
Babatunde Raji Fashola is a man who needs no introduction in today’s Nigeria. His profile in the political arena of Nigeria speaks volumes of his accomplishments. However, there are limits to what is humanly possible, like defending the indefensible. In his “public interventention” entitled ‘PMB’s Foreign Trips – My Takeaway’, published in This Day online portal, Fashola seeks to justify the incessant foreign trips of President Buhari. It is unclear whether the attempt at rationalization of almost 30 foreign trips in less than a year, was an unsolicited effort to keep himself in the good books of Mr President. Whichever is the case, the effort at justification came off not just bland, but against popular opinion.
Mr Fashola started by reminding us of the dark days of Abacha’s misrule and how Nigeria became a pariah state in the comity of nations. Then fast forwarded to present day’s issue of Buhari’s foreign trips as a panacea to Nigeria’s status, along with other agenda as the Foreign Policy thrust of the APC government.
What Fashola conveniently omitted was that Nigeria had paid for this same reintegration through Obasanjo’s numerous ‘image laundering’ trips in the first half of his civilian regime, with commensurate success. As at 2015, Nigeria was no longer a pariah in the international scene.
Trying to get out of the corner in which he boxed himself, Fashola decided to limit his discussion to only six of the President’s 26 foreign trips. While the Minister tried so much to dwell on the respect and admiration of President Buhari by other heads of state, he equally gave the impression of a child lost in awe at being in close proximity with people he never expected to meet, “…we saw some of the world’s most powerful men and women take off their jackets, call each other by their first names in a club-like setting while addressing the world’s most serious problems… I was proud that my president was in a room where decisions concerning my planet were being deliberated upon.” He went on, “…I learned that their scientists were worried about increasing resistance of strains of infections to antibiotics.”
Perhaps, the most disingenous part of his argument was when he wrote that “… in the group photograph, President Buhari stood on the second row alongside Britain and Turkey. In the past, we used to be on the last row. This is “CHANGE”. I was besides myself with laughter while I wondered if the emphasis was because this was the ‘Change’ APC leadership promised us during the campaigns. Change from the last row to the second row for photographs. Interesting times indeed.
Fashola was still full of encomiums for the President for being the first in West Africa to keep part of our foreign reserves in the Chinese Yuan Renminbi.
Even after leading economists have faulted the decision to cut US dollars and go long on a currency that is always artificially devalued in a bid to retain balance of trade.
More importantly, while reeling off the above as benefits of the president’sforeign trips, Fashola forgot to tell us exactly how much these trips have cost the tax payers, so that we Nigerians can do the cost-benefit analysis on our own.
While I am not against the President honouring invitations or attending international gatherings with his counterparts, the frequency has set a new world record. At a conservative average of 4 days per trip, the president has spent 104 days out of 320 visiting other countries, and this comes after an excruciatingly slow start upon assumption of office, all while grave socio-economic problems have been escalating all over the country.
We frequently see other countries’ ambassadors parleying with our presidents and foreign affairs ministers on bilateral issues, why can’t our foreign missions handle some of these matters and report back? Moreover, the Foreign Affairs minister can do more of the running around so that the office of the president will command more respect.
Most importantly, the president’s foreign trips is not what will improve Nigeria’s standing internationally. Countries like China, India, Brazil, and Singapore, did not get to where they are today by virtue of their president’s visits to other countries.
Our greatness and subsequent recognition will surely come when we have laid the necessary economic foundation that will ensure our self-sufficiency and improved living standards, then the “most powerful nations on earth” who Fashola reveres so much will come to see us as a force to be reckoned with. The world is always watching. For now, the President needs to stay back home and do the job he was elected to do.
nOrji writes from Abakaliki