Jonathan Unfruitful Foreign Trips

Posted: September 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Punch Editorial

Since he assumed the nation’s top political office, President Goodluck Jonathan has been rather enthusiastic about strutting on the world stage. And well he should. In an interdependent world, it is necessary for countries to engage one another through many channels, including diplomatic visits. As the world’s largest black nation, a major oil producer and sub-regional power, Nigeria’s voice should carry some weight in international affairs.

Presidential foreign trips should however be carefully synchronised with national economic and political aspirations. Foreign trips must have a purpose and be geared towards extracting the best possible advantages for the country. There is little evidence to show however that our president’s trips are carefully planned to promote our economy or advance our political interests. Within the past few months, Jonathan has jetted to Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the United States, Botswana, Ghana, Malawi and Niger Republic. Earlier in the year, he had been to Brazil and Belgium, among other places.

There is nothing to be achieved by the President hopping on a jet to attend low-key celebrations in lightweight nations just because he has one of the largest presidential air fleets in the world. That is why we have a Foreign Affairs Minister and a large diplomatic bureaucracy. The major work of forging good relations with other countries is done by diplomats under a competent minister, who often is the face of the country abroad. That is why President Barack Obama of the United States need not frequently junket around the world but leaves the globetrotting to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, despite that country’s extensive strategic, economic and political interests around the world.

China’s President Hu Jintao visits countries to advance the economic and security interests of the world’s second largest economy. His visits have made it the most significant trading partner for many African countries today and secured lucrative business deals for Chinese firms in many countries, including Nigeria where multi-billion dollar contracts have been signed for railways, oil and gas and airports. Even tiny Benin Republic, whose President, Boni Yayi, often describes his country as Nigeria’s 37th state to underscore its economic dependence on Nigeria, regularly but wisely nips in to Abuja to fraternise with his big neighbour just to safeguard his country’s commerce.

Many experts have questioned the propriety of Jonathan’s frequent trips, citing the grave economic, security and political problems confronting the nation at this time. Or is the President only trying to follow the footsteps of his predecessors, especially Olusegun Obasanjo, who once made about 53 foreign trips in less than one year, according to records kept by the late civil rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi? The hollowness of making trips to seek foreign investors has been proved by the failure of Obasanjo’s numerous trips to yield such dividend. What will attract foreign direct investment, according to a former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Emeka Anyaoku, are improvements in our infrastructure, economic liberalisation and drastic reduction in the corruption that has killed all efforts to revive the agriculture, mining and manufacturing sectors.

The doubtful value of the trips is underscored by the poor judgment in the choice of places to visit, timing and the utterances of the President. It was in poor taste, for instance, to have attended the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni for a record fourth presidential term even after he had manipulated Uganda’s constitution to abrogate term limits, spent 26 years in office and had been accused of electoral abuse, provoking mass protests. Jonathan would have saved himself the discomfort of being caught in Museveni’s convoy when it was pelted with stones by irate Ugandan voters in Kampala. The timing of the President’s trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Earth Summit in June was insensitive. Terrorists had just struck in Kaduna, Kano and Yobe states in a weekend orgy of bloodletting that left over 70 dead. But as Nigerians mourned, their President travelled for a summit that the environment minister could well have handled. The President’s entourage is also excessive and wasteful.

The President will also need to rein in his penchant for making embarrassing promises to his hosts. His promise to Malawi’s president to import rice from that country is bizarre when we have a plan to reduce the $3 billion we spend yearly importing rice and return to self-sufficiency in the staple. He was equally unguarded when he promised to ensure direct air links between Nigeria and Trinindad and Tobago at a time our aviation sector is in such dire straits that last week when Arik Air planes were grounded for a few days, we had only three domestic airlines, with limited capacity to cope with air travel demands, airborne.

Jonathan should spend more time at home. China did not engage the world until it first put its economy in order. Since 1979, China’s economy has been developing at an unprecedented rate, and that momentum has been held steady into the 21st century. Brazil is also steadily climbing the economic ladder. But Brazil’s leader is not everywhere as our President is. His intervention will be appreciated if only his trips will help secure the repatriation of billions of dollars of public funds stolen by officials and their collaborators, seal lucrative business deals for our entrepreneurs or secure better treatment for Nigerians in foreign lands. Otherwise, he should leave shuttle diplomacy to the Foreign Minister and the diplomats.

Jonathan is needed at home to confront corruption head-on; re-start the flagging economy; prosecute the privatisation of the power, and oil and gas downstream and railway sectors with single-minded resolve and transparency. He also needs all the time he can spend at home to rein in the odious terrorism that has become a potent threat to our national cohesion.

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