BY ERIC ELEZUO
There was untold joy in the nation when on March 30, 2015, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared General Muhammadu Buhari winner of the March 28, 2015 Presidential Election, at least from a majority of the populace, especially members of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Expectations were high considering the change mantra which the party preached.
Consequently, the administration was heartily welcomed on May 29, 2015 to begin rapid and spontaneous turnaround of the country for the good of the citizens, who claimed to have suffered neglect in the 16 years PDP held sway.
But contrary to all expectations, the Buhari-led administration kicked off on a travelling note just four into the life of the administration. Before 2015 came to a close, the President had travelled to over 10 countries across the globe.
This is even as the country was being ravaged by internal squabbles witnessed in the myriad of challenges facing the country, from fuel scarcity to insurgency in the North East. As anticipated, his frequent travels abroad came under criticism as some are of the opinion that he is engaging in wasteful international pleasure trips which is consuming a significant amount of the country’s cash. Some pundits have put the figure of the President’s expence to millions of dollars, excluding estacodes for ministers and the President himself. Some of the President’s escapes in travelling since assumption of office include;
On June 3, exactly four days after taking the oath of office, the president embarked on his first official trip. He left for Niger Republic to hold talks with President Mahamadou Issoufou on security and how to curb the activities of the terrorist group, Boko Haram in the region.
On June 4, Buhari headed for Chad to hold talks with his Chadian counterpart, Idris Deby, as Nigeria and neighbouring countries find lasting solutions to the lingering Boko Haram insurgency. Bothe presidents vowed to enhance cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency.
Two days after his trip from Niger and Chad, the President left Abuja for Germany to attend the G-7 meeting, accompanied by a 20-person delegation including former Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, former Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Abdulrahman Dambazau (ret.), his personal photographer, Bayo Omoboriowo, and his cook named ‘Anne’.
On June 15, President Buhari traveled to South Africa to attend the African Union (AU) summit in which he was the Chairperson of the Peace & Security Council meeting. He commissioned the Nigeria Immigration center in the country and also met with some Nigerians living in the country.
From the foregoing, it was obvious that the President was hardly at home in the month of June.
On July 19, President Buhari left Abuja for the USA with a 33-man delegation. The White House was said to have invited Buhari via a statement on June 27, saying that Barack Obama is looking forward to his visit, during which both leaders will be discussing the threat of Boko Haram and how to tackle insurgency. He also visited the US again in September for the UN General Assembly. The President left Katsina state with a 22-man delegation after celebrating the Eid in his home town in Daura.
On August 1, President Buhari paid a one-day visit to Benin Republic in continuation of the effort to curb Boko Haram insurgency. He was conferred with a traditional title ‘Manahouwhe’ Gbede’, which means “I will never forget you”. He was also conferred with the national honour of Grand Croix du Benin (Grand Cross of Benin), which is the highest award in that country.
On September 7, Buhari arrived Ghana where he was received by the Ghanaian President, John Mahama. During a press conference with President Mahama, Buhari vowed to appoint his cabinet before the end of September.
Buhari left Abuja for Paris on September 14, on a three-day official visit following an invitation from his French counterpart, Francois Hollande. They both had a closed door meeting where they decided on military cooperation. Buhari also met with top management of biggest multinational companies to discuss their future investments in Nigeria.
On October 27, President Buhari left Abuja for New Delhi, India, to take part in the 3rd Summit of the India-Africa Forum. He also met with Nigerians living in India and had discussions with Indian businessmen.
The president arrived at the Mehrabad International Airport on Sunday, November 22 and was received by the Iranian Deputy President, Shariat Madri. He was in Tehran, Iran, to participate in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) summit.
He was also in Malta to participate in the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and has also been to France and some other countries before the recent trip to China which prompted a lot of reactions.
In April 2016, The President also embarked on yet another trip. This time to to China.Many Nigerians see the trip as one trip too many, more so, that it was uncalled for considering the fact it was alleged that the President went for a loan canvassing mission. The President and the entire administration, therefore, came under serious criticism from every corner of the country.
However, a lot of the President’s supporters has come strong in defence of the President’s unending journeys abroad. Among them is the former Governor of Lagos State and Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN).
Fashola stated in a speech he titled ‘…My Takeaways’ that the reasons for Buahri’s travels are hinged on repairing the battered image of Nigeria, occasioned by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He said:
“PMB is traveling to repair our reputation severely damaged by the last government, and to assure our partners that Nigeria has CHANGED. And from there, to re-negotiate an existing funding agreement to complete critical Transport infrastructure.”
According to Fashola, Buhari is a reflection of honesty and reputation, which speaks volume of his person, as a result, needs to move around to showcase it and make Nigeria better. He continues:
“Because of his reputation, President Xi Jinping believed him, and to quote him, he said: “It is better late than never.” Through him China literally opened the door to Nigeria in areas of infrastructure (power, railways and roads), agriculture, education and manufacturing especially in our Free Trade Zones. To paraphrase the Chinese President, “ask us for whatever support or partnership and we will be happy to respond.”
Former Premier of old Western Region, Chief Niyi Adegbenro, also threw his weight behind the foreign trips of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying that such international engagement was needed to reposition Nigeria’s economy. The Egba chief described as “unwarranted” the criticisms against Buhari’s foreign trips.
He recalled that former President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked on similar foreign trips in the early life of his administration and went on to successfully secure a debt relief for the country.
While canvassing patience with the administration, he said, “Let us give Buhari the opportunity. I’m not saying he is a messiah, but he is a redeemer. His economic policy has been transforming Nigeria, but the result of it will come out in another one year or so.
But, the patience is not what the people cannot now afford considering the enormity of promises the administration made during the campaign days, which actually prompted the block votes it got in the 2015 General Elections.
A Financial expert, Mr. Sam Mbibi, said that given the untold hardship in the country at the moment, truancy is not what the people can take kindly to at the moment. He insisted that the general population will hardly understand the rationale behind the travels because they are hungry, and there are crises hovering around every sector of the nation’s political, economic and social endeavours.
“It is true that the President may not just trotting the globe, but the people will not readily understand considering the fact that they are deprived in totality. Again, there are crises in every area one turns to; power outage, water shortage, unavailability of fuel, Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen among others. The truth is many expected the President to have stayed around and attend to issues,” he said.
On the other hand, Mr. Mbibi believed that the President is taking some steps in the right direction, but only needs to find cushioning effects for all the crises on the ground at the moment, and he will not come under any radar while he undertake his journeys.
Mr. Adeola Adeleke, a legal practitioner, explains that so far it is only the trip to China that something little has been noticed. He said that every other trip so far undertaken could have been shelved or have a representative standing in for him, maintaining that it is not every situation that a ‘whole’ president go showing his face.
“We were told that the President was able to negotiate a loan from the Chinese government to undertake certain projects in the country; that is a good one. At least that is one good report from all the trips he undertaken so far. If the report coming from the Presidency source is anything to go by, then there is hope,” he said. As a fall out of the China trip, it was reported that contrary to rumours making the rounds that the Nigerian leader would sign a $2bn loan deal with China to fund the over ₦2tn budget deficit, the country has rather gained more from the President’s visit. According to Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, “There was no loan deal during the President’s visit to China. All that is coming are investments into Nigeria.”
He intimated that at the end of Buhari’s visit to the Asian country, Nigeria had gained immensely with over $6bn investment for the country. A breakdown of the collaborations, which will be of immense benefit to Nigeria include but not limited to the following; Nigeria’s state-run oil firm NNPC and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) have signed a $23bn (£16bn; 18bn euros) deal.
The two will jointly seek financing and credits from Chinese authorities and banks to build three refineries and a fuel complex in Nigeria. The project would add 750,000 barrels per day of extra refining capacity.
NNPC hopes the construction of new refineries will stem the flood of imported refined products into Nigeria. It will be recalled that Nigeria is the world’s 12th-largest oil producer and the eighth-largest oil exporter, but the country imports roughly 85% of its fuel needs because of the disrepair and mismanagement of its four state-owned refineries.
Mr. Shehu Ladan, a spokesman of the NNPC expressed that juicy feedbacks are dropping from the China trip, especially as it oncerns the downstream oil sector. “We are about to deepen the existing technical and commercial relationships between China and Nigeria through the signing of a memorandum of understanding,” he said. The three refineries will be built in Kogi, Bayelsa and Lagos states, while a location has to be confirmed for the petrochemicals complex.
The Nigerian government has said that foreign companies must invest in developing Nigeria’s infrastructure and economy first, before they can benefit from its oil and gas exports.
According to the Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda, Mr. Edataen Ojo, it is not all the president’s foreign trips that are worth their onions, pointing out that there are trips which the President should delegate to subordinates, to save time and resources. He however, agreed that there are also trips which the President, in his executive capacity must be involved in. “In my assessment, the China trip is one trip the President should attend, because it discussed issues that were paramount to the nation’s economic yearnings. Apart from that, it is obvious that the President should delegate some of his trips, if not to his vice and ministers, to the Ambassador of Nigeria in such countries,” he said.