Nigeria @ 50: Boycott by Heads of State, VIPs loom


Indications are rife that the only a handful of the more than 100 Presidents and Heads of State and Very Important Personalities (VIPs) invited by the federal government to witness Nigeria's golden independence anniversary celebrations would make it.

Pointblanknews gathered that the Nigerian government had through invitation letters personally signed by President Goodluck Jonathan invited more than 100 presidents and Heads of government to Abuja for the ceremonies scheduled to climax on October 1, 2010.

However, some foreign diplomats who spoke to Pointblanknews disclosed that much as their Presidents would love to attend the epochal event, heads of their home governments were however constrained by what they said was the lateness in the invitation.

Said an ambassador: “I was invited by your (Nigerian) ministry of foreign affairs only last week and they handed me the very beautiful invitation letter to my Prime Minister personally signed by President (Goodluck) Jonathan. I saw several of my colleagues there trying to get their letters, too. Problem is, you don't invite a President four weeks to such an event. Nigeria did not just realize she would be 50 next month. Such an invitation ought to have been dispatched at least three to four months in advance to enable the invitees tidy up, that is, if they actually wish to attend.”

The diplomat conceded that they had met with the then Vice President Jonathan last year at the “Glass box” in Eagle Square, Abuja, and that he (Jonathan) had intimated them on the golden independence anniversary celebrations next (this) year.

“Yes, President Goodluck Jonathan met with us last year in that bullet-proof box in Eagle Square. At the time he was the Vice President. Late President Yar'Adua was meant to meet with us, but then his illness had begun and his vice had to do it. Then Vice President Jonathan had appealed to us to identify with Nigeria at the occasion, but it is no fault of ours that the formal invitation is coming just about a month to the event,” he offered.

The diplomat added that the lateness in dispatching the letters of invitation aside, concerns would naturally arise on the part of the countries' presidents invited on such issues as security and logistics.

“I know Nigeria has hosted meetings of the ECOWAS, African Union, and of Commonwealth Heads of State and Governments (CHOGM). But inviting over 100 presidents is a different ball game. There would be too much strain on the Abuja airport and the link road which in any case is still under construction. Then the Police, Immigration and the only two five-star hotels would be stretched to their limits. My! It would be complete chaos,” he predicted.

When contacted, a top official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the delay in dispatching the invitation letters to the change in guards in the ministry.

“You will recall that the (foreign affairs) minister, Odein Ajumogobia was only appointed in May, following the elevation of the then acting President to President. Former minister Ojo Maduekwe was on the verge of completing the process. And don't forget that the political uncertainty and confusion that trailed former President Yar'Adua's ill health did not make for proper planning. We were sort of in a dilemma about whether to proceed with planning when our President was literarily in his death bed,” offered the official.

“Of course, we cannot compel any President or Head of Government to attend, the same way you cannot compel your friend to attend any ceremony you are hosting. At 50, we feel proud by the modest but epochal achievements we have made. Nigeria has been able to not only practice democracy for over a decade, but has been able to successfully conduct a civilian-to-civilian transition. Most importantly, that Nigeria was able to overcome the most difficult political hurdle in the death of a serving elected President is enough cause for celebration. That is why we have invited friends of Nigeria to celebrate with us,” he declared.