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President Muhammadu Buhari was at the United Nations in September. Nations that had plans to overlook us because the President had been indisposed for a while had since changed their minds. I knew because when he stood before the General Assembly, the hall was packed full. Of course, not all the leaders who used the same podium in that season got the same attention. Some spoke to almost empty seats. We know Nigeria ordinarily attracts attention. It’s in the statistics. Population. Investment opportunities. Major influence both in our region and in the continent. If we aren’t in a project in this part of the world, it hasn’t started. So, it was fitting that Buhari stood on the podium at the UN that time.
I couldn’t make it out if the President wore a dark, dark blue, or blue outfit when he addressed the world. But blue is my favourite colour, so any shade of it leaves me with no choice than to award him every mark in my kitty for appearance. The content of his address on that occasion is another matter though, and regarding that I shall be strict in my marking. The President must have had brushes with teachers who were stingy with their marks when he was a student, so my stingy marking style won’t catch him unawares. However, I focus on a few issues that I find interesting in his address. Buhari had begun by paying compliments to the UN Secretary-General on that occasion. He didn’t forget to thank the former Secretary-General, Mr. Ban ki Moon, for his services to the UN and wished him a peaceful retirement. I think ki Moon deserves that because he had personally taken interest (and he was here at one stage, calling for peace) in the election that led to Buhari’s emergence as President.
He went further to state that 2016 witnessed significant events that included the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the North Korean nuclear crisis. I had thought Nigeria would make his list on that count. It didn’t. Except for that news about recession which the media and international rating agencies talked about throughout 2016 as though we won the Nobel Prize, there was nothing else from a foreigner’s perspective, and our President also didn’t think there was. But when Buhari commended the UN’s role in helping to settle thousands of innocent civilians caught in the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, I hadn’t any reason to raise my hand and call the President’s attention to a “Point of Order”. Reason? I had written about the conflicts and the plights of the civilians involved in that region for 18 straight weeks on this page in 2016. At the UN, Buhari went on to thank the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel for assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees. This was an icing, because as of the time Merkel was accepting innocent civilians caught in the conflicts (even as a few European nations said they didn’t want refugees simply because they were Muslims) I had saluted Merkel for her broad-mindedness (“Here’s a powerful nation that understates it”, The PUNCH, July 1, 2016)
Buhari noted further that the international community came together in West Africa to assist in containing Al Qaida and Boko Haram. Good observation. What I’m concerned about is how nations in the region can take steps to reverse conditions which make citizens cooperate with outsiders to make terrorism fester here. From the Sahel into the Sahara Desert of the nations in the belt, the condition of people is such that joining terrorist groups for a pay or even regular meal is an enforced alternative. I think Buhari should work to ensure that the same international community that comes to help deal with terrorist groups on military terms work with nations in this belt to ameliorate the conditions that breed such groups. For the presence of foreign forces with all the hi-tech they deploy isn’t the permanent solution. The other day, three American soldiers were killed in Niger Republic as foreign soldiers continued to be the prized targets of terrorists. Buhari did thank the UN Security Council for pledging assistance to rebuild lives and livelihoods in the belt. But he still has the task to help see to it that pledges are fulfilled.
The President also said frontiers of good governance, democracy including holding free and fair elections, and enthronement of the rule of law are expanding especially in Africa. Hmmn, Africa and democracy. One would need to concede though that a few nations here have allowed governments to change hands, and regular elections take place. But we know the detail of this is like the difference between the shining white tombstone and its content. Togo, Uganda and such nations held elections that have returned the same person to power for decades. Now, Togo is a flashpoint that may soon be a headache for Nigeria because its people have been staging protests for weeks against their sit-tight leader. As for Uganda, lawmakers have been smashing one another’s heads with chairs over attempt by the president to remain in power after he had spent almost four decades. Other leaders recently changed their constitutions in order to cling to power. Buhari told the UN that Nigeria’s faith in democracy remains firm and unshaken, and that indeed ECOWAS came together to uphold democratic principles in The Gambia and in Cote D’Ivoire. True. But Nigeria has big work to do in this region through ECOWAS: More than one or two terms in office should be eradicated across the region, then we can lead the region to spread same to the rest of Africa. Sit-tight leaders are never a plus for their nation in the long run however good such leaders may be. The sit-tight leader is a loud early warning signal of disaster. As things stand, Zimbabwe’s First Lady is warning about possible coup because of succession battle following decades of one-man rule in that country, and her husband is reshuffling his cabinet out of fear.
Furthermore, President Buhari said state institutions are being strengthened to promote accountability, and to combat corruption and asset recovery in African nations. In Nigeria, one cannot argue that assertion except that the battle hasn’t caused the kind of tsunami that citizens expect going by the alarming lack of accountability and looting of national resources that have gone unpunished for years. With the kind of case that we hear of at the NNPC and other places of recent, drastic measures such as suspension of officials in order for investigations to commence should have been more regular. By the way, I don’t subscribe to the wholesale dismissal in some quarters of any effort to curb corruption that is being made at the moment. We had travelled in the wrong path for so long that it would be a slow and painful process for Nigeria to institute public accountability and reduce looting. Whatever little is done in this regard is welcome by me. For the reason of what the situation had been in the past, I had always maintained that if the dragging into jail of a few of the high profile thieves and plugging of holes in our treasury were all that the current administration was able to do, I would be contented.
At the UN, Buhari added the North Koreans whose activity had been generating tension in Asia to his speech. According to him, “Nigeria proposes a strong UN delegation to urgently engage the North Korean Leader. The delegation, led by the Security Council, should include members from all the regions.” This doesn’t surprise because Nigeria maintains a middle-of-the-road approach in international affairs. Many have praised the president’s proposal. I read the finer lines: Nigeria is one out of just 25 countries that have embassies in Pyongyang. They too have embassy in Abuja. Meanwhile, some nations have closed down the embassies of North Korea in their capitals over Pyongyang’s military pursuits. Others are cooperating to apply UN sanctions against North Korea. Nigeria wants a diplomatic resolution rather than sanctions. More sanctions means Abuja may soon be found guilty of flouting UN resolutions against Pyongyang. In any case, North Korea is a developing nation and members of the club have a history of making efforts to rescue one another from the claws of non-members.
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