Much ado about Buhari’s foreign trips
As President Muhammadu Buhari embarks on another trip to China, many Nigerians wonder why the President needs to travel so frequently, even as others express confidence that the trips are in the best interest of the country. AJIBOLA AMZAT (Features Editor) reports.
At the moment, President Muhammadu Buhari should be on his way to China. China is the 22nd country the President will be visiting in his 319 days in office.
Between June last year and April 2016, the President has also traveled to South Africa for African Union Summit, Germany for G-7 Meeting, USA for UN General Assembly, France for Climate Change Summit, Iran for GECF Summit, Malta for Commonwealth Summit and India for India-African Forum.
Other countries visited by the President include Chad, Niger, Ghana, Benin Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Qatar and UK.
The flight time between Nigeria and China is 12 hours, 56 minutes, according to travelmaths.com. By the time the President returns home at the weekend, he would have spent a total of 26 hours approximately. Added to the 223 hours already spent on air during the previous travels, the time flight rises to 249 hours.
Explaining the reason for the trip to China, the presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina said the visit aims at securing greater support from Beijing for the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure such as power, roads, railways, aviation, water supply and housing.
No doubt, Nigerian infrastructural gap is wide. The 2014 National Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP) document states that Nigeria needs about $127 billion between 2014 and 2018 to upgrade the infrastructure in the country. This translates to an average of $25 billion per annum.
This challenge might have informed the government’s plan to spend N1.5 trillion on the capital project in 2016, as against N577 billion allocated to capital expenditure the previous year. The Senate- approved budget for 2016 is N6.06 trillion which consists of N1.59 tn for capital expenditure, N2.65 tn for recurrent expenditure, N1.48 tn for debt servicing and 351.4 bn for statutory transfer.
To cover part of its 2016 budget deficit, which stands at N3tn ($15bn), the Federal Government has said it wants to raise about $5bn abroad.
And traveling to China at this time means accelerating Nigeria’s access to the $60 billion promised by China to African countries during the China -African Forum held last year, according to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama.
Another gain of the President’s trip to China is the opportunity to discuss how China can buy more oil from Nigeria while Nigeria increases its export volume to China, Onyeama told journalists recently.
For the most part, the two countries will sign some bilateral agreements to strengthen their relationship, the minister said.
Notwithstanding, the frequent travel of President Buhari has become a source of concern for many Nigerians.
Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose has described Buhari’s foreign trip abroad as “wasting the nation’s resources.”
Foreign countries, Fayose said, “won’t solve our problems for us and the President’s incessant foreign trips are already bleeding the economy with about $1 million being spent per trip.”
He said most of the trips embarked on by the President could have been attended by the Vice President or the ministers.
Other Nigerians have taken a swipe at the President over his foreign trip.
“Dear Garba Sheu and Femi Adesina, does Buhari plan to address the nation about this 2016 budget scandal or do we have to await a trip abroad,” Ikhide Ikheloa, a social critic, asked sarcastically in a tweet.
The opposition party, People Democratic Party, has characterised Buhari’s travel as a “thank-you” visit to the foreign nations that supported him during the March election.
But the Professor of Law and Chairman, Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects University of Lagos, Nigeria, Akin Oyebode said those who criticise Buhari for travelling abroad are merely advertising their ignorance on foreign matters.
“Although there have been considerable misgivings in certain quarters regarding the President’s peregrinations, it should be appreciated that a Head of State is obliged to honour invitations from different countries.”
Oyebode said it is particularly important for the President to firm up the anti- Boko Haram coalition among Nigeria’s neighbours through direct action.
“The nose-dive experienced by the national economy warrants solicitation of assistance from friendly countries hence the imperative for some of these visits.
“Finally, visits by Heads of State to their foreign counterparts are a feature of contemporary diplomacy even in the age of global Internet communication technology. The rising profile of Nigeria in international affairs warrants sustenance and enhancement through pressing the flesh abroad and Nigerians have to appreciate this reality.
“Accordingly, critics of the foreign forays by the President need to evince greater knowledge and savvy in foreign matters instead of advertising abysmal ignorance of the international realpolitik by unwarranted dismay at the foreign visits by President Buhari.”
The Minister of Information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, has also explained why it is important for the president to travel abroad. “You do not run a country by being isolated and the personal presence of the president in many of these fora is very important because before now we were almost a pariah state and the two things that have been driving investments away from this country are terrorism and corruption,” Mr. Mohammed told journalist after a Federal Executive Meeting held recently said.
He said President’s presence in these fora is very crucial even to the economy back at home.
“Before now the level of corruption was very high that nobody was ready to risk his investment in Nigeria. The cost of doing business was so high that most international businessmen didn’t want to come here. Who is coming to invest in a country where there is insecurity?”
Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has also not spared the critics of the president, describing them as being “not patriotic.”
His defence explores the same line of argument with Mr. Muhammed’s.
“Nigeria was a pariah state, Nigeria was isolated and stigmatised for the better part of PDP administrations, nobody wanted to do business with Nigeria.
“The president would be doing disservice to the country if he does not go to correct those impressions that the world has about Nigeria, to tell the world that Nigeria is now a new place, Nigeria is now keying into the best practices in terms of statutory matters, in terms of international collaboration in economic activities”.
He reminded the critics of the achievement of Buhari’s administration in the area of security and economy. He said his intervention has weakened the hands of Boko Haram insurgents and helped the states access bailout needed to pay the workers’ salaries.
Yet it appears Nigerians are waiting for a more convincing justification for the frequent travels by the President.