Mai Gaskiya offers Peculiar Appeal To The World

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It’s not often that an African head of government is received across the developed world with pomp and popular acclaim. Of course, Africa and many of its governments are yet to cast off that seeming perennial characterisation of a continent darkened by its otiose preference for corruption and saline alteration of the standards of democracy and good governance. Especially for its big countries, with Nigeria counting as a major number in that cadre, the Group of Seven most developed countries (G7) are said to be near wariness on account of which African country would ride its burden of perpetual potentialities to worldwide economic and political acclaim.

Even South Africa, Africa’s undoubted leading light in the economic firmament, has begun to flounder. What with the many offensive news of inappropriate conducts of officials at the commanding height of government. It was thought at a time that South Africa may join the BRIC, a categorisation of emerging economic super powers made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China. But that hope may just remain presumptive.

So, which other country would provide the succour for Africa? A troubling consideration for hapless outsiders who constantly review depressing circumstances from the continent. Nigeria had always held so much hope, so much that in 2001, Jim O’Neill, the economist who coined the term, BRIC, had also identified the “MINT” countries – Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey – as emerging economic giants by 2030.

In truth, in the last 10 years to 2013, there were sanguine expectations of the most populous black nation matching economic index with a second line of emerging market super powers, the MINT. But by 2014, all hope had turned into derision, the Nigerian economy was running down, an abject picture of a traduced economy soon gained currency around the world, the growth pattern and tempo stated at an average 6.5percent over a four-year period principally driven by consistent rise in the price of crude oil, suddenly lost momentum as same crude oil price took a dive. It soon became obvious that a difficult era was afoot; the country’s crude oil cargoes were left without buyers on international waters for many embarrassing, anxiety filled weeks. The country was running on faint heart beats. And to exacerbate matters, corruption had taken roots in the affairs of government and governance.

The first clear symptom of trouble was capital flight and a wholesale staunching of the flow of foreign capital and sundry investments into Nigeria. From $8.9 billion in 2011, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) dropped to $4.9 billion in 2014. FDI declined further by 48.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015 in relation to the preceding quarter (Q4) 2014. A National Bureau of Statistics report states that FDI showed the lowest year-on-year decline in inflows, at $96.09 million growing at -14.77 percent reaching a record low of $624.87 in the second quarter of 2015.

The alarmingly reduced capital inflow into the country aggravated the concern of the European Union (EU) that its Ambassador and Head of delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Michel Arrion, said that Nigeria will have to work on its waning image so as to assure investors of the safety of their investment. He noted that the difficulties in Nigeria are certainly linked to the tradition and image of Nigeria even as he asserts that:

“It (Nigeria) has to work on its image. Also the question of enabling environment, corruption and rule of law we all know that. The main message we are sending to Nigeria is that the country is in competition with other countries. So, investors in Europe, Strafford, Brussels, or France have to decide where to invest; am I going to Brazil, Indonesia, India or Nigeria”

Certainly, by the estimation of the first half of 2015, Nigeria couldn’t possibly be the investment destination of choice for scarce foreign capital. The Nigerian economic desperation had been further aggravated by the monstrous outgrowth of an insurgency that should ordinarily pass for an irritant at its commencement. The Boko Haram insurgency, by 2015, had turned a full blown war, expropriating geographical space within the sovereign Nigerian space and sending out fatal troops of bomb strapped teens, male and female suicide bombers, with deadly trails on impact.

From this security situation, the world had soberly taken a back seat after several failed attempts to collaborate with the administration of that era. No substantive super power was willing to lend a helping hand any longer.

The country’s status report by mid 2015 was depressively debilitating!

Then Muhammadu Buhari won the Presidential election in March 2015 and everything turned between Nigeria and the world. Indeed, the world was barely patient to witness the official inauguration of Buhari so he can start the business of government.

In the very first week of his inauguration, starting May 29, 2015, leading nations of the world, in an unusual diplomatic demeanour, were literally on a long queue, requesting state visits from the then newly inaugurated President. By June 5, 2015, the United Kingdom, United States of America and India had forwarded official request for the President to come on state visit. At that same time, the United Nations also declared its interest to have Buhari participate and address its General Assembly during the 70th anniversary of the world body.

What could have been responsible for this hearty embrace of Buhari by the world? Perhaps the world was simply fed up with the inertia that characterised the government that was in office till May 29, 2015. Or perhaps, the reputation of the then newly inaugurated President Buhari for integrity and his commitment to fighting corruption sold him to the international community.

But then, even as leading nations of the world eagerly beckoned on him, the immediate matter and implications of the security situation he inherited compelled the manner of international travels to be undertaken by Buhari.

Twelve hours after the new president took the oath of office, Boko Haram attacked, hitting homes in the key northeast city of Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades overnight on Saturday, 30 May, 2015. Later, a suicide attack at a mosque in the city, which is the Borno state capital, killed at least 26 people.

The militants then raided two towns in Borno’s neighbouring state of Yobe on Sunday, torching public buildings and looting food and fuel stores. The management of the security situation apparently demanded the attention of the President. The insurgents had capitalised on a lack of proper coordination among countries that share mutual borders with Nigeria to build multiple strike and operational bases that crisscrossed territories of these countries.

Niger shares a border with both Borno and Yobe while Chad borders just Borno in Nigeria’s extreme north, the Nigeria-Cameroon border extends from northern Borno state, by Lake Chad, to the southern end of Adamawa state,

In the past, Nigeria and Cameroon had blamed each other over refusal to grant their forces the right to pursue the Boko Haram militants across the borders just as Chadian President Idriss Deby had publicly mocked Nigeria’s counter-insurgency efforts under erstwhile Present Goodluck Jonathan and called for greater cooperation.

Taming Boko Haram had become a seemingly hopeless task at that time. About 8,700 Africa Union sanctioned multinational troops were in place in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital waiting to be deployed in the fight against Boko Haram. The regional taskforce could not start operations because of funding challenges and a lack of command coordination.

It is to this challenge that President Buhari, in the first week of his inauguration exerted his attention. On June 6, he travelled to Chad and Niger for talks on Boko Haram, and thereafter, to Cameroon

These visits, inclusive of another to Benin Republic facilitated the agreement that allows military forces of concerned countries to pursue Boko Haram militants across their borders and the full activation of the Multi-National Joint Task Force under the command of a Nigerian Army General, Major General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, he has since been deployed back to Nigeria as Army Chief of Staff.

Still keeping the fight against the insurgents in sight, Buhari honoured President Barack Obama’s invitation to visit the United States of America on 19 July, 2015. The United States, had, in due consideration of a rapprochement with Nigeria in the very early days of the new government, decided to expand its military assistance to Nigeria to help it wage war on the Boko Haram extremist group, but it refused to provide any of the coveted surveillance drones that are needed for U.S. counterterrorism missions around the world.

The White House reluctance to provide surveillance drones or other larger scale assistance to Nigeria, at that time, was reportedly because of its military's reputation for brutality and incompetence and because Boko Haram still ranks as a lower priority compared to the threat posed by Islamic State jihadist in the Middle East and al Qaeda's terrorist network, officials and analysts said.

There was definitely a need for a detente with the American government. On July 20, President Buhari met with President Barack Obama. The talk only resulted in limited concessions for the Nigerian administration. Apart from more military training and equipment for Nigeria, the Obama administration decided to deploy two Cessna surveillance aircraft in the next few months to Niger in order to bolster intelligence gathering for the new regional force being set up to battle the Boko Haram extremists. White House officials noted that the Obama administration was hamstrung by the provisions of the Leahy Law which prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. It is named after its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

It was the primary reason the US government refused to sell weapons to the Nigerian Army in 2014 and even blocked attempts by Israel to sell Cobra helicopters to Nigeria.

Other than Nigeria, other countries that have been stopped from receiving assistance by the US under the Leahy Law are: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan.

However, President Buhari refused to let the Leahy limitation go without a challenge. Speaking at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), the Nigerian President urged the US government to review the law so that it could provide the needed assistance to Nigeria to crush Boko Haram.

He said that the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the US on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations levelled against the Nigerian Armed forces had denied the country access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war against the insurgents. Shortly after expressing his thoughts on the Leahy Law, the United States hinted on its resolve to lift the ban on the sale of arms to Nigeria.

In August, 2015, the US agreed to lift its restrictions on arms sales to Nigeria under the Leahy Law to enable the government purchase weapons with which to conduct the war against Boko Haram. The Obama administration agreed to not only supply Nigeria with equipment but to also offer intelligence on the terrorists’ activities. Washington delivered on this promise by agreeing to send 300 troops and surveillance drones to Cameroon with the consent of the Yaoundé government.

On 15 October, 2015, President Buhari met with the Commander of United States Africa Command, Gen David Rodriguez where he thanked the United States of America for sending training teams and equipment to the Nigerian military:

“The positive results of our collaboration are evident. Structured attacks by the insurgents have reduced and by the end of the year, we should see the final routing of Boko Haram as an organised fighting force,” the President had enthused at that meeting.

President Buhari’s visit to the United States marked a turning point in the nature of the relationship between Nigeria and the world. Even when leading nations were excitedly waving the olive branch at Nigeria, the rare endorsement of the person of President Buhari as a man of integrity and a president with a clear-headed agenda to confront the challenges contending with the Nigerian state by Obama provided a new fillip to the perception of Nigeria in the international arena.

Soon after, Nigeria became a major attraction to the world.

The French were not going to be left out in the race to secure Nigeria’s friendship through assistance. The French President, François Hollande, during Buhari’s visit to France in September 2015, pledged that his administration will assist the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF) with intelligence gathering and equipment to check the activities of insurgents in Nigeria and beyond.

On the economic front, a salubrious scenario was evolving beginning with a positive turn in the inflow of foreign capital into the country. The National Bureau of Statistics reported that foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria increased by $1213.98 in the third quarter of 2015.

Obviously, the world had started seeing a new Nigeria.

Coming from the United States in October, 2015, was a commitment of $2.3 billion US government assistance over the next five years that will support the administration of President Buhari’s programme to combat extreme poverty among the Nigerian population. Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, signed the billion dollar assistance agreement with the United States Agency for International Development, USAID at the Presidential Villa.

Earlier, on 26 September, 2015, during a visit by the UNICEF Norway and Goodwill Ambassador Vibeke Klemetsen, Ambassador Rolf Ree and Jean Gough, UNICEF Country Representative signed an agreement on NOK 20 mill (app. US$ 3 mill) in additional support to the Safe School Initiative (SSI) in the North-East Nigeria. The goal is to give at least 100,000 internally displaced and marginalized children access education of improved quality in four target states Borno; Adamawa, Gombe and Yobe.

President Buhari’s visit to South Africa between December 4 and 5, 2015, as part of the delegation to the Forum on China/Africa Cooperation prepared the ground for huge concessionary loans for Nigeria by China. President Buhari used the facilitation of the forum to follow up on his meeting with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping which took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in November in New York in November, 2015.

President Buhari had indicated to Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader at the bilateral meeting in New York that he wanted China to re-commence stalled rail projects under new terms that would see China providing nearly all the financing required.

Of particular interest is the coastal railway project stretching for 1402 kilometres linking Lagos in the West with Calabar in the East; a project that is expected to be financed with 12 billion U.S Dollars Chinese loan and which will create about 200,000 jobs.

Another rail project that will be up for renegotiation is the $8.3bn Lagos-Kano standard gauge modernization project, of which only a segment, Kaduna-Abuja has reached completion stage.

President Buhari also discussed ways of removing all obstacles in the way of the 3,050 MW Mambila Power Station, considered a strategic project which was conceived in 1982 but has not taken off. At the forum, the Chinese President pledged $60 Billion of new development aid to African countries

The Chinese President also informed President Buhari of the willingness of his country to finance the whole project through a special loan agreement. Speaking of certainty, it has been confirmed that President Buhari and his finance minister would travel to China to sign a $20 billion loan agreement in March.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, NIPC, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with Qingdao International Chambers of Commerce for the Private Sector, QICCPS, to affirm their desire to encourage the inflow of Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, from Chinese businesses. Another fallout of President Buhari’s visits.

Both the parties agreed in the MoU that the two Organizations shall proactively encourage Chinese businessmen to invest in Nigeria, particularly in Construction Sector; like woodwork, furniture manufacturing; cement manufacturing, glass production, garment and diaper manufacturing and railways.

In the dying days of October, 2015, President Buhari in New Delhi, India, while canvassing India businessmen noted that despite the fall in oil prices, his Administration remains fully committed to maintaining macro-economic stability and improving investor confidence in Nigeria.

At an interactive session with Chief Executives of Indian companies with interests in Nigeria, President Buhari expressed the belief that with its abundance of human and material resources, the Nigerian economy does not have to suffer unduly from low oil prices, despite its severe impact on government revenues.

“What is required of us, to which we are strongly committed, is the implementation of tight expenditure controls, effective fiscal and monetary policies, incuding the husbandry of scarce resources which our introduction of the Single Treasury Account has begun to address.

“We are aware some of these measures may hurt operations of some businesses in the short term, but we believe they are right for a sustainable economy,” the President said.

“We can increase and diversify the current volume of our bilateral trade beyond US$16.36 billion, and diversify to other critical sectors such as agriculture; green technologies in power generation; infrastructure; information and communications technology; the services sector; education; industry, especially textiles and solid minerals among others,” the President told them.

President Buhari also urged the Indian CEOs, to accept the changes in policy being introduced by his administration and observe all extant Nigerian laws in running their business in the country.

He warned, particularly, that his administration will not tolerate the importation of sub-standard goods, especially foods and medicines, into Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, has formally announced that his country would give N2.25trillion ($10billion) concessional lines of credit to Nigeria and 53 other African nations in the next five years to boost their economy.

He also said additional grant assistance of N135billion ($600m) will be made available to African countries by India.

Without doubt, President Buhari’s diplomatic and economic shuttles to strategic destinations across the world have engendered an impressive goodwill profile for Nigeria so much that the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, acknowledged that the “Ministry was also taking advantage of the current goodwill for the administration of President Buhari to open more areas of need and identify specific focal points to draw investments into the country.

The idea, according to the Foreign Affairs Minister, is for the Nigerian government to explore investment potentials in the 119 countries where it has Embassies and High Commissions.

According to the Minister, Nigeria will employ its policy of economic diplomacy to identify, strategise and exploit the numerous investment opportunities that abound in the 119 countries.

No better way is this goodwill expressed than by the invitation of the Chairman of the Corporate Council on Africa, Mr. Paul Hinks, to President Buhari to Chair the Council Summit in Ethiopia in November. Hinks made the offer when President Buhari met United States investors at a Business forum organized by the United States Chamber of Commerce and Corporate Council on Africa in Washington during his visit to the United States.

Delivering a strong marketing pitch as he sold Nigeria to United States business men and women, President Buhari asserts:

“It is my intention to create the necessary environment for future investment in Nigeria. We are the most populous nation with largest market in Africa with vast human and natural resources and blessed with abundant young skilled workforce

“We are therefore proud candidate to become the destination of choice for United States investments in Africa. I will work assiduously to welcome new investors to our country.

“We will also simplify visa procedures based on principle of reciprocity. May I, therefore, seize this opportunity to formally invite the American business community to take advantage of our liberal trade and investment climate to do profitable business in Nigeria,” the President stated

Now that President Buhari has turned his travels into a marketing stumping opportunity of the rewarding promises Nigeria holds to foreign investors, the traffic of investors to Nigeria has increased and has become more intense.

February 1, 2016, Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo played host

to a group of visiting global investors drawn from these companies: Russia-China Investment Fund, Renaissance, China Africa Development Fund, Invest Abu Dhabi, Actis, ECP, KKR & Co. LP, Old Mutual of South Africa and Emerging Capital Partners

Earlier In January, a trade delegation from Brazil led by the Ambassador of Brazil to Nigeria, Joao Lima visited the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission where he made a commitment of the readiness of Brazil to strengthen trade relations with Nigeria because of its “very important” position in ECOWAS.

The delegation, which is composed of businessmen from different sectors of the Brazilian economy, said its investments in Nigeria would focus on rice production, housing, waste recycling among others.

The Brazilian trade mission was followed up in February by a German trade delegation which registered its interest to expand Nigeria's Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market into Europe.

Leading a large contingent of German business concerns on a visit to the Honourable Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu at the NNPC Towers, Abuja, Vice Minister for Economic Affairs & Energy and Member of the German Parliament, Mr. Uwe Beckmeyer, said the country was seeking the development of business relationship to accelerate the supply of LNG especially in the country's ship building industry.

Just at about the same time, President Buhari on Thursday, February 9, played host to visiting German President, Joachim Gauck, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The visiting President told his host that he had earlier visited a camp of Internally Displaced Persons in Abuja and was moved by their plight.

He promised that his country would offer support to the Federal Government where necessary in order to ameliorate the plights of the IDPs.

He extended an invitation to President Buhari to pay official visit to Germany. President Buhari on his part used the opportunity of the interaction to seek Germany's support for Nigeria's quest to hold a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

This should be a source of patriotic pride to Nigerians. It would seem as if the world is truly beholden to President Buhari not many President have had the rare privilege of addressing gatherings of World leaders within a short span of time. From his very first international outing at the Summit of the Group of Seven (G7) on Monday, 7 June, 2015, in Germany, to his highly acclaimed speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization in New York on 28 September, 2015 where he called for the return of Nigeria’s stolen money. And thereafter, to Malta, at the Commonwealth, on 28 November, 2015, where at a group meeting of Commonwealth leaders on corruption, chaired by the British Prime Minister David Cameron, he urged the international community to do more to support his administration’s effort to curb corruption in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry.

At the opening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference attended by 150 world leaders on 1 December, 2015, President Buhari raised the alarm to the effect that climate change is threatening the totality of human existence in Nigeria. He drew international attention to the changing ecology of Lake Chad even as he demanded $14 billion be raised for the purpose of salvaging impact of climate change on Lake Chad.

Continuing on the climate change theme on 9 January, this year, President Buhari stressed the need for greater global cooperation against the devastating effects of climate change to avert disaster for the human race in the 21st century. Addressing the opening of the 2016 World Future Energy Summit at Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirate, Buhari reaffirmed Nigeria's readiness to work with the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the world in a collective effort to mitigate the effects of climate change.

And then, on 3 February 2016, President Buhari addressed the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg, France, where he discussed challenges toppling Nigeria, such as Boko Haram insurgency, migration of Nigerians to Europe, job creation, oil theft among other

Generally speaking, at no time had Nigeria been consistently and persistently focused at the centre of the attention of the world for good. Now, it may be possible to resurrect that dimming promise of MINT. Under Buhari, with the world cheering Nigeria unto a new level of self worth, Nigeria may just attain membership of that cadre of the next generation of super rich by 2030 as projected.

Written by Niyi Akinsiju, a Public Affairs Analyst.

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