BUHARI: DIPLOMACY COMES INTO FOCUS
When Emeka Anyaoku, Nigerian born erstwhile Secretary General of the Commonwealth, an umbrella body of former British colonies, went visiting Aso Rock villa on Wednesday, July 16,2015, (as president Buhari prepared for his first visit with USA president Barack Obama in the Oval Office), the seriousness that our president is likely to attach to diplomacy in his reincarnation as Nigeria’s leader came into greater relief because the erudite foreign affairs expert must have availed president Buhari of his wealth of experience.
Against the backdrop of the frosty relationship Nigeria had with the international community between 1984-1986 when then General Muhamadu Buhari was on the saddle as military head of state, the imminent conviviality between Nigeria and USA is a welcome change.
Under then army General Buhari's watch, protectionist policies such as trade by barter; counter trade; ban on importation of non essential goods; restrictions on export of foreign exchange and overseas travel that were deemed to be against globalization interests of the western world, were in practice in Nigeria. Such policies were in furtherance of the Austerity Measures inherited from General Buhari’s predecessor at that time, president Shehu Shagari who following a sharp drop in international crude oil prices to less than $20 per barrel, had to introduce restrictive trade measures to halt the sliding Nigerian economy from grinding to a halt. It is an irony of situation that it was the dramatic drop in international oil price, similar to the current slump that exposed the underbelly of Nigerian economy to recession that compelled the taking over of the reins of govt by General, Buhari.
Co-incidentally Nigerian economy at that time was highly leveraged on imports and with dwindling income from crude oil sale, it was imperative to stop the foreign exchange hemorrhage arising from excessive imports and it became the underpinning principle of Nigeria’s foreign policy articulated by president Buhari at that time. It is equally significant to note that it was also the period of suspected hostility towards Nigeria by the international community of the west due largely to her stance against the practice of apartheid in South Africa. Under such prevailing circumstances, General Buhari had no option than to protect the interest of Nigeria in the best way he could by leaning towards countries like Brazil for counter trade and Russia for defense matters.
As they say, a lot of water has passed under the bridge in the nearly 30 years period (1986-2015) since president Buhari vacated the seat of power as head of state. After hibernating for a while as a farmer, Buhari has now returned as a re-born democrat when he was able to charm Nigerians with his new credentials as a democrat to win their votes in an election adjudged to be one of freest and fairest in the annals of Nigerian history on March 28th, 2015.
After sixteen (16) years of continuous practice, Nigeria has advanced from a pariah state to a nation to be reckoned with in the comity of democratic nations. And with a successful hand over of a ruling party to an opposition party that she lost to in an election, Nigeria has joined the ranks of countries where parliamentary democracy is rapidly being entrenched. In the process, today’s politician, to a large extent, has weaned his or herself of the appendages derogatorily referred to as ‘feeding bottle’ syndrome to the extent that the independence of legislators have been incremental from the 5th in1999 to the current 8th National Assembly as legislators who are serving their 4th term would attest.
These and similar slow but steady changes in the political arena, may be deemed to be aberrant steps in some quarters, but in my candid reckoning, they are democracy baby steps and signs of the much anticipated maturity of our democracy which are only possible through continuous practice.
As odd as it may appear to some aggrieved members of the ruling party, the truth is that a senate president from APC and deputy from PDP is evidence of a steadily but quietly deepening democracy and it is good for democracy and better for Nigerian people. More than anything else, it demonstrates the noble act of reaching across the aisle by politicians, which in essence means voting across party lines also referred to as bipartisanism, and it is a welcome development for Nigeria’s democracy especially from international perspective. Obama may use the opportunity of the visit to share with president Buhari his experience in managing a senate led by an opposition Republican Party. Even in mature democracies of the Western Hemisphere, what happened on June 9th in NASS is a rare act of brinksmanship so in addition to the rare feat of an incumbent president accepting defeat without rancor, as Goodluck Jonathan did (African heads of state are known to hang on to power even after defeat) Nigeria has scored another first in democracy ethos and culture so she deserves more accolades for such lofty accomplishment in her journey.
Just as Jonathan’s early concession of defeat defined his presidency in a noble manner, it is to president Buhari’s glory that the legislative arm attained more independence and better still, it is achieved under APC watch, if the current status of the parliament is sustained. On account of the foregoing, a cautionary restrain on parliamentarians is necessary to admonish them not to allow current political machismo taken too far blithe the enviable democracy spotlight, which Nigeria is currently basking in as encomiums continue to be showered on Nigeria globally. Sometimes I wonder if some of our political leaders are oblivious of the fact that such democracy ‘good behaviors’ are rewarded by the western powers.
South Africa ‘stole’ the limelight from Nigeria when the hitherto apartheid country elected her first black president, late Nelson Mandela in 1994 ahead of Nigeria after the then military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida failed to keep his promise of returning Nigeria to democratic civilian rule following his annulment of June 12,1993 election believed to have been won by Moshood Abiola. Had that 1993 election been sustained and parliamentary democracy returned to Nigeria, all the global attention beamed on South Africa in1994 would have been on Nigeria and that would have boosted our global governance ranking as well as buoy our economic development.
Ghana, Nigeria's neighbour has also been gaining global adulation since that country became the first in west Africa in 2009 to successfully transfer power from opposition president, John Kuffor who’s party lost to late John Atta-Mills of the opposition-a milestone Nigeria just attained in 2015, six years after Ghana. It is not by sheer coincidence that president Buhari was invited by the G7-world’s richest countries to their recent meeting in Paris, France after the successful change of baton of government in Nigeria. The proposed hosting of Nigeria’s president Buhari by president, Barrack Obama of USA in the White House, this coming 21 July, for a similar reward is also reflective of our new respectable status in global democracy ranking. Keep in mind that president Obama has visited Africa a couple times since assumption of office in 2008 and avoided Nigeria and Kenya while visiting only Ghana and south Africa, the two democracy compliant countries (Senegal and Botswana are the other two exemplars) in the course of the visits. The reason is not farfetched. Kenya’s election that degenerated into a messy tribal war (ethnic cleansing) with a massive human carnage and Nigeria’s wobbly and rather opaque democracy practice are responsible for the snub by the USA whose foreign policy is geared towards hoisting democracy flags in countries all over the world. But following Kenya’s largely transparent election that brought president, Uhuru Kenyatta to power recently and the subsequent political stability, president Obama is on his way to Kenya, the land of his progenitors, this July. In the same breadth, the successful transition from PDP's Jonathan to APC’s Buhari in Nigeria has also earned Africa’s most populous country, the proposed hosting of president Buhari in the White House by the American leader.
Make no mistake about it, the club of the world ‘s richest nations -G7 and the world’s most powerful nation, USA, don’t engage in such political intimacy with developing countries without a bounty to go with it. Already, the G7 has promised to help Nigeria address items on the wish-list that Buhari took to the G-7 meeting in Paris (Fighting terrorism & bolstering economy) and ahead of the proposed hosting of Buhara in the Oval Office, five ($5m) million dollars has already been pledged towards fighting Boko haram terrorism by the USA. As long as the interactions with G-7 and Obama would facilitate more trade between Nigeria and indeed Africa and the rest of the world, rather than mere aid that has been offered, as the case has been over the years, deepening of parliamentary democracy via an independent legislature in Nigeria is welcome.
In any case, anybody entertaining any doubts about the sustainability of Nigeria’s rising democratic profile owing to the unprecedented steady strides recorded so far by both the executive and legislative arms, only need to recall that even as a late adopter of the GSM telephone concept in year 2000, after less than fifteen (15) years of operation, Nigeria has become one of the fastest growing markets for the service in the world. So in essence, Nigeria and Nigerians are by nature fast learners as evidenced by the aforementioned developments in the economic and political spheres. Need l refer to the phenomenal growth in the movie industry where Nollywood is now the fastest growing movie producers in the world, overtaking Bollywood of India and Nollywood of USA to buttress my point about how fast Nigerians can imbibe concepts and make success of it overnight? Put in another way, Nigerians are over are quick adopters and over-achievers so phenomenal progress in the political sphere can not be an anathema.
For the avoidance of doubt, I’m not by any means advocating brazen disobedience of party directives by parliamentarians which can be disruptive or am I encouraging unbridled political revolution of some sort (president Buhari has emphasized party supremacy at APC NEC meeting) but l went into all these detailed preamble to frame a wider perspective and context within which the assertion of independence of the legislature in the true spirit and letter of separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary arms in a democracy can be better understood. As opposed to condoning roundly condemn the unfortunate incidents of legislators resorting to brawls in their chambers instead of appropriately resolving their differences through horse trading as witnessed in mature democracies, but it must be said that the desire to achieve independence in choosing their leaders is justifiable and commendable in so far as it has helped deepen democracy in Nigeria. This belief is underscored by the fact that the fundamental purpose of transformational leadership which APC promised Nigerians in her campaign, is to engage in transformational changes as opposed to maintaining alleged PDP impunity status quo.
In the light of the above, the controversial Changes in NASS, which so far is the only elective arm of government that has taken shape (The executive arm is still in preparation) in this new dispensation should be deemed as realization of one of the cardinal changes promised by APC.The assertion above is validated by a remark by Hilary Clinton, former USA Secretary of State and current Democratic Party presidential aspirant “One thing we know for sure is that change is certain, progress is not”. The former USA First Lady seems to have been talking about Nigeria because on March 28th, 2015, Nigerians made a change by electing Muhammad Buhari as president. While that change is now certain, it's left to president Buhari and APC after taking over reins of government to make progress which is not certain unless they make it happen.
It should indeed be a progressive pride that the parliament is more independent under president Buhari’s watch and under the APC ‘broom’ revolution, so instead of unbraiding the so called agent provocateurs (Saraki and Dogara), APC should embrace them.
After all, APC is not entirely blameless for the political fall out in NASS, albeit inadvertently. This is because instead of addressing the incompatibility of her legacy parties ab-initio, APC was blindsided by its overarching desire to capture power at the centre and thus postponed the difficult conversation which is a pre-requisite for sharing power so like a suppressed volcano erupted in NASS on June 9th. From the foregoing, the NASS crisis is clearly the opportunity cost for (so to speak) postponing the consequences or fall outs from the Storming stage of the four stages of entity formation thesis enunciated by Gary Tuckman which are: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
President Buhari’s recent comment to party faithfuls at the party National Working Committee, NWC meeting “we have won the battle but not the war” is instructive. Based on the presidential comment, I’m speculating that Mr. president is concerned that though APC succeeded in the quest for taking over power at the centre in the past three months, it appears that the party is now spending the time it should have applied implementing policies and programs to blending the multifarious interests/ideologies in the merger.
National leader, Bola Tinubu’s recent comment at the breaking of Ramadan fast with president Buhari at Aso Rock villa last Tuesday reaffirming his implicit confidence in president Buhari’s leadership and the supremacy of the party are also signs of a seemingly frosty relationship that is thawing and indicative of fresh air blowing across the seat of power and the APC family. Undoubtedly, Tinubu’s presence in Aso Rock and the political exhortation that he gave over dinner have dispelled the rumor that the ruling party was tending towards becoming another ‘House Of Cards’.
Before now, despite APC’s explanation that the delay in forming cabinet is due to the extensive and rigorous work required to unravel hidden burdens and perhaps assets unexplained in the handover note received late from the outgone government, most Nigerians had remained implacable. These were early negative appellations, which the party needed to dispel before they stick just as PDP was tarred with the corruption brush, which it could not wash off before her fall from grace.
Going forward, if these teething challenges in APC are deftly handled, it will be like the very successful and smooth merger of Nissan and Renault but if it fails, it will remind of the Mercedes and BMW failed merger in the auto industry.
Locally, the recent appointment of new service chiefs and National Security Adviser, NSA plus the routine recall of diplomats, the dissolution of boards of parastatals as well as the administration’s clarification of her position on the much anticipated decision on fuel subsidy removal or otherwise have combined to bring a bounce to the otherwise seemingly tepid thirty (30) days of the present administration.
Internationally, the outcome of president Buhari’s meeting with president Obama (hopefully Buhari repeats his Chatham House performance) in the Oval Office on Tuesday 21July, 2015, could add to the agility and traction which government has recently gained with the flurry of appointments and decisions in the past few days before the USA visit.
On that note, my passionate appeal to president Buhari is: please come back home with Some American ‘goody’ bags to end the feeling of inertia that has been looming in the political horizon and increase the new gale of excitement. As for president Obama: please don’t dash Buhari and Nigeria’s high hopes as we have waited for too long for the historic ascension of a black man to the position of the president /leader of the most powerful nation in the world, USA to rub off positively on Nigeria, a country with the largest population of black people in the world.
*** Magnus Onyibe, former Commissioner in Delta State Government, Development Strategist, Futurologist and alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, sent this piece from Abuja.