By Ebuka Emebinah
On President Muhammadu Buhari’s recently concluded US trip, President Barack Obama endorsed our President, Muhammadu Buhari for his integrity, commitment and clear agenda to bring peace to Nigeria’s troubled regions.
Our President’s US trip could be considered a success in terms of providing Nigeria with credibility capital following President Obama’s endorsement which would definitely resound globally and present Nigeria in a different light in the business and political world.
The trip however had some obvious downsides, for example, The Nigerian President on his return complained of his inability to secure any commitments from the Americans with respect to security contracts to arm the Nigerian military in its fight against Islamic Extremists in the North East.
The Americans refused our rapprochement in this regard largely due to the Leahy law which prohibits the United States government from providing arms to countries whose Armies are accused of human rights abuses. The correctness or otherwise of this action is a topic for discussion for some other day since the United States still supplies Israel with arms despite accusations of human rights abuses on innocent Palestinians.
Our President’s comment that the refusal of the United States to supply Nigeria with arms aided and abetted the Boko Haram sect created diplomatic tensions between both countries with denials and counter press releases from the Nigerian side upon President Buhari’s return.
However, some less obvious downsides to this trip, which the Americans did not see but were clearly obvious to discerning Nigerians who wish our President success on, his role included:
- The non-inclusion of women on our President’s entourage to the United States: President Muhammadu Buhari did not find any woman diligent in her work and excellent in her field who would be worthy enough to represent an area of interest in discussions with the US government. There are numerous Nigerian women who have excelled or are excelling in business, governance, public administration, finance, tourism, sports and academia. He certainly should have selected some to have a fair gender balance on his team but he didn’t. If only Obama knew we were not bringing our best team with us on that trip.
- The non-inclusion of members of parliament on the President’s entourage to the United States: I listened to Obama’s speech at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES 2015) at the United Nations Building in Nairobi, Kenya and was amazed at his acknowledgement of members of parliament who had flown with him on Airforce 1 to the Summit. This is a leader who aims to build consensus and truly belongs to nobody. President Buhari must aim at a more inclusive government and stop the “holier than thou” attitude.
- The non-inclusion of the Organised Private Sector on the President’s entourage to the United States: Unconfirmed reports in some circles which have not been denied speculated that President Buhari was angered at the presence of Jim Ovia and some other distinguished Nigerian businessmen at a parley with the business community in Washington DC. These entrepreneurs are the engine room for development of the African continent. President Obama acknowledged and extolled the role of Nigerian entrepreneurs and businessmen on the continent and the world at large in his discussions with President Buhari. Unfortunately, none of those businessmen was officially on the Presidential entourage. Our private sector think thank – The Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) was not represented on that trip. Alhaji Aliko Dangote is Africa’s richest man from Africa’s most populous country and should have accompanied the President on that trip. The $300 million donations from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation towards polio eradication announced during President Buhari’s sideline discussions were announced in partnership with the Dangote Foundation and the presence of Alhaji Dangote would have echoed ripple significance for the country.
- The non-inclusion of any member of the opposition political party on the President’s entourage to the United States: The 2015 General elections were the most credible in Nigeria’s history and brought about a change in political party leadership in the country for the first time. The elections were also the most divisive in our history. The onus lies on the winner, President Buhari to re-unite the country and heal the electoral cracks. His 97-5 percent comment when asked a question on the Niger Delta revealed his honesty but also showed his weakness at not being a uniting force for the country.
In conclusion, President Buhari must henceforth not see himself as elected for a group of persons or by mostly a particular section of the country. With his age, he must assume a more fatherly role for the entire country and be a uniting force for the entire country.
Nelson Mandela was such a uniting force for the Republic of South Africa post-apartheid and did not divide the country between blacks and white through his comments or appointments.
President Jonathan did not act very well in this regard and was perceived as an Ijaw and Christian president in some circles which did a lot of damage to his Presidency although his appointments could be said to be fairly balanced between north and south.
The President must end the illusion that he alone can change a country of over 160 million people. To be successful in his task, he needs change agents and some of them will be apostles converted from other political parties, other sentiments, other ethnic groups and other tribes. Some of his future most vociferous supporters may turn out to be those who even campaigned against his Presidency.
Perception is everything. I urge President Buhari not to tow this part but to work assiduously for all of Nigeria in a fair and if possible equal measure. He must be seen and perceived to be a National figure by all. This will help our country reap the benefits of unity and harness the potential of our diversity, which makes us the envy of all of Africa.
About Ebuka Emebinah:
He wrote in from Lagos and is a 2014 Mandela Washington Fellow of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). He can be reached on Twitter via @cemebinah.
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