Nigeria’s Presidents And The Impact Of Missed International Engagements

International engagements for Presidents are usually opportunities for them to reach out to other countries of interest in a bid to win more friends and maintain relationships with existing friendly nations. Such events as the UN general assembly meetings offer great platforms for international interactions between presidents and heads of governments and other diplomatic teams to take advantage of in serving its national interests.

Thus it could be a costly mistake if a president fails to utilize such opportunities as are offered by these engagements to win more friends and allies. It is in this light that the recent uproar regarding President Buhari and his team missing a meeting in New York where issues concerning Boko Haram and its implications in terms of security and internally displaced persons, were being discussed.

The president through his media aide has come out to explain why it did not attend the meeting but from reports available, the explanations seem not plausible enough to convince Nigerians. And this would be very sad because Nigerians are expecting a whole world of change in the way government conducts its business. We must be seen to take advantage of every opportunity locally and internationally to engage the wider society in our fight against insecurity as reflected by Boko Haram insurgency, armed robbery, kidnapping and all other security/economic challenges we now face as a country.

If we want to know how expensive it is and the harm it causes the country when we fail to make use of viable opportunities such as international platforms to get the attention of the world, we only need to look a little backward in retrospect:

On September 24th 2008, President Musa Yar’adua was scheduled to address the UN General Assembly where key issues affecting Nigeria were to be discussed. Specifically, Nigeria was to further state its position in respect of Bakassi peninsula. But shockingly, Yar’adua was conspicuously absent thereby stalling the discussion on the above. Although some other presidents and heads of governments eventually met (about 26 of them), Nigeria was not represented. Yar’adua had to also cancel his meeting with President Obama and Ban Ki-Moon slated for the same period. Imagine what it cost Nigeria to leave its seat when Bakassi was the topic!

Again on September 22nd 2009, Yar’adua was again absent at UN General Assembly meeting. This time, the following issues we billed for discussion: job creation, especially for young people; creating a more conducive climate for trade and investment; and ways to mobilize African agriculture to create jobs and help feed the continent,"

The following day, President Yar'Adua also missed another crucial meeting, which again was called by the US President for only UN member-States like Nigeria, which contribute troops to the UN international peace-keeping missions.

Apart from being the 4th ranking UN nations in troop-contribution, Nigeria is also a leading voice in the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping. Most importantly, besides offering Nigeria an avenue to address the Assembly, such a gathering, according to UN sources, would have enabled President Yar'Adua to campaign at the time for Nigeria's election for a non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council with his fellow presidents and heads of state.

He had earlier in 2008 cancelled a scheduled bilateral meeting with Brazilian president due to health related concerns.

On December 25th 2009, a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Adulmutallab, was arrested in the US while attempting to blow up a plane carrying 278 passengers. The world was stunned in disbelief. Nigeria needed to urgently say something to address the tragedy. But the Nigerian President at the time, Yar’adua, was nowhere to be found. He was sorely needed to get on the lane of international diplomacy for damage controls. He could not be reached neither was any high ranking official able to respond appropriately to the disaster. Yar’adua failed. This ultimately led to Nigeria being classified as one of the “Terror Prone Countries” – a tag we now fully deserve to wear on account of the deadly activities of Boko Haram. The resultant effect of this has been that Nigerians have been constantly harassed as terror suspects once they are on international routes.

On his part, President Jonathan was known to really enjoy the international limelight and made sure to attend most, if not all international engagements line up for him. His only serious breach in this regard was on May 25th 2013 when he missed a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to present Nigeria’s address to the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa. Jonathan was billed to speak during the event and his slot rightly reserved for him. Fifteen minutes to the allotted time slot, he was nowhere near the venue of the event neither were there words sent in to inform the audience he would not be present. He eventually did not make it to address the AU gathering which was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the body. Jonathan was only able to embarrassingly show up for the group photograph session long after he lost his allotted time slot. Speculations started flying in all directions as to the real reasons Jonathan failed to show up. Expectedly, the reasons were not far-fetched. His home-front was in political turmoil.

Back home, Jonathan was waging war against Rotimi Amaechi, Governor of Rivers state at the time, over the chairmanship of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, both of them having fallen apart. A day before he was billed to speak at the AU, there was to be an election to the office of the Chairman of NGF (Nigerian Governors’ Forum). He along with other PDP governors pushed the candidature of Jonah Jang. Therefore when he travelled to Addis Ababa, he left all the manipulations and arm-twisting (and some claimed, Ghana must go bags) in the “able” hands of Governor Godswill Akpabio. Akpabio was alleged to have assured Jonathan that all was well and that Jonah Jang was set to emerge as the Forum’s Chairman. Election was held. Jonah Jang and indirectly the president’s camp, lost to the chagrin and embarrassment of Akpabio. Upon being briefed on the outcome of the election, “Oga was believed to have stayed late into the night” to mourn the loss. How he stayed late into the night and what he did that prevented him from being able to catch up with his appointment the next day, remains a subject for speculation but your guess is as good as mine.

Nigeria therefore failed to address the AU on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. It is noteworthy to remember that African Union (AU) is a body Nigeria has spent huge resources on to peddle its influence and responsibilities. But Nigeria was found wanting when it mattered most, failed by its leadership. The presidency was to later issue a “clueless” statement that ‘Oga’ was attending sideline meetings in preference to addressing the big stage. Laughable, isn’t it.

Here we are again; the stage, UN General Assembly. But this time around, President Buhari known for his strict discipline in keeping scheduled appointments is at the centre of the controversy.

In the statement issued by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the presidency claimed the said meeting “was not the only one or the most important of such meetings in New York that are paying attention to the problem of insecurity, migration and violent extremism in the Lake Chad area and the rest of the world”.

But as if to betray the spokesman’s position the statement added:

The meeting at which Nigeria was reportedly absent was not one of the official events (emphasis mine) of the United Nations for which President Muhammadu Buhari and his modest delegation are in New York.

“Nigeria was represented earlier today at an important side event devoted to the North-East called by the UN Population Fund, UNFPA on “Building Stability and Resilience in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin Countries.”

In other words, the meeting that was to address the issue of Internally Displaced Persons was not as important and strategic as the one above. This is clearly a faulty logic as everyone knows that the challenge of IDPs has eaten so much into the lean resources of government that it is almost overwhelmed. What an opportunity to offer explanations and seek assistance missed!

It’s time to play less politics and be straightforward with the citizens. If there are strong reasons for the delegation not to be present, even if it meant nominating just one member to a critical meeting as under reference here, the presidency should do well to advance them rather than resort to denial of what is obviously a miss-step.


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Articles by Eyenisong Ibibio