By Emmanuel Onwubiko
President Muhammadu Buhari was recently quoted in a section of the media as telling the restive Nigerian Youths that anyone who is malcontent about the state of affairs at home can as well travel to wherever the person desires and live. Apparently, the President must have been disturbed by the absurdity that even as Nigeria is abundantly endowed with natural resources and awash with crude cash from oil minerals, but the reality is that only less than one person of the elite cornered these huge amounts leaving millions of other citizens absolutely poor just as the nation has gone full circle to assume a rapidly failing state. It is for this inequality and the poor state of security that have combined to force hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians out of Nigeria to run for safety.
That statement daring Nigerians angry about parlous state of affairs locally to migrate to other climes as made by the President, to me represents a total shift from the mantra that governed the days of the then major General Muhammadu Buhari as he then was at the commanding height of a military regime in the mid-eighties when the few publicly owned broadcasting stations were awash with a television propaganda material of a certain Nigerian called Mr. Andrew who was told not to emigrate but to stay back and make the country great.
And so, few days back, I was reflecting on the seemingly unending travelling profile of the now elected civilian president of the twenty first century Nation State and the obvious fact that rather than add to our economic growth, the many travels of president Buhari all around the world has further depleted the financial resources of Nigeria.
The globe-trotting presidency that Nigeria has had in the last four years has also created the kind of leadership lacuna that has seen some very few but powerful unelected cousins, uncles and kinsmen of the president becoming the ruling cabal that have administered the country to its current ruins.
These unelected members of the cabal in the presidential villa are blamed by millions of Nigerians for much of the bad economic, political, social and security outlooks and state of affairs that confront Nigeria as I write.
The reality of the multifarious and multidimensional challenges of underdevelopment; corruption and insecurity, hobbling our country, logically brings us to the theme of this reflection which seeks a response to the conundrum whether the travelling president of Nigeria can at least cut down on the many trips to stay back home and proffer solutions to the widening spectre of calamities that are unleashed on phenomenal space on the Nigerian space. Can Mr. President stay home at home and repair the fundamental damages inflicted on Nigerians by some coordinated but unworkable policies of his past four years or more including of course those of his predecessors given that government is a continuum?
Aside the issues thrown up by bad governance, the frequent foreign travels have also impacted negatively on the local economy and in a way never seen before, have made governance a very expensive gambit.
For instance, in 2019, the country will blow away #751 million on foreign trips and #250 million for local trips. In 2018, the president and his vice spent #1.3 billion on travels.
His first foreign trip in 2018 was to Ethiopia from January 28th to 30th for the African Union summit.
Buhari was in the UK for 13 days from April 9 to 21, 2018 for his annual leave.
From April 28 to May 4, 2018, Buhari journeyed to the US where he met with President Donald Trump at the White House where they discussed security and trade.
Buhari spent seven days away from home and went to the UK for a few hours for what his handlers termed a “technical stopover.”
Four days after returning to Nigeria, however, Buhari returned to the UK for medical reasons on May 8, 2018, and he returned on May 11.
From June 10 to 11, 2018, the President was in Morocco where three agreements between Nigeria and the Moroccan government were signed.
From June 30 to July 3, 2018, Buhari visited Mauritania for the ordinary session of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
On July 15, Buhari travelled to The Netherlands for the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Court. He returned on July 18.
President Buhari travelled to Togo on July 29, 2018 where he participated in the Joint ECOWAS-ECCAS Heads of State and Government Summit on Peace, Security, Stability and Fight against Terrorism and Violent Extremism.
The President again travelled to London on a working leave on August 3, 2018 and returned on the 18th, spending a total of 16 days.
The President handlers said during interviews that “he may just see his doctors briefly during the visit.”
On August 31, 2018, the President travelled to China to attend a summit on China-Africa Cooperation and returned after eight days on September 7, 2018.
Shortly after his inauguration, Buhari on June 3 and 4, 2015 travelled to the Republic of Niger and Chad Republic for consultations on how to tackle terrorism in the country and the region.
Although the handlers of Mr. President wants us to believe otherwise, these numerous foreign trips of the president are simply money guzzling ventures just as the situation in Nigeria has continued to deteriorate and the well-being of the citizenry has witnessed unprecedented decline since 2015.
The Human Rights Watch made the same observation in the 2017 world’s report it compiled whereby the New York based group noted that insecurity heightened in the year 2017 but the president was absent for much of the year.
The group noted that the ongoing Boko Haram conflict in the northeast, cycles of communal violence between pastoralists and farmers, and separatist protests in the south defined Nigeria’s human rights landscape in 2017.
Notably absent for much of the year was President Muhammadu Buhari, who traveled overseas on two extended medical leaves for an undisclosed illness. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo acted as interim president on both occasions.
The clearest global evidence that the foreign trips of president Buhari have not achieved much for Nigeria is the current report by Expat Insider Survey done by InterNations in which 20,259 expats were polled representing 182 nationalities and living in 187 countries or territories, covering topics such as quality of life, cost of living, personal finance, safety and security.
Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, and Egypt were named world’s most dangerous places. South Africa and Nigeria, along with Brazil were the worst rated destinations in the safety and security category, which covers peacefulness, personal safety and political stability.
“For example, in South Africa, which ranks 64 out of 64 countries for this factor, 63% of expats say they don’t feel safe, and 22% even feel extremely unsafe,’‘ said Malte Zeeck, founder and co-CEO of InterNations. On Nigeria, the compilers rate it as 62. Specifically, a Hungarian expat states: “We are not really free, cannot walk on the streets, and cannot mingle with the Nigerians. There is always the possibility of danger.”
A Rwandan expat complains about “the feeling of uncertainty. Almost anything can and might happen to me, anytime, anywhere.”
Nigeria was the worst rated country in the categories of travel and transportation, health and well-being.
So, my direct posers to the President on whose table the bulk of the issues stop are; why travel to beautiful and well governed nations around the world but in four years the same president and his team are now presiding over a nation that in the last few months became the World’s poverty capital with over 90 million absolutely poor people? Why travel to nation’s that are bastions of freedoms and democracy but to return to preside over an administration that is becoming so intolerant of dissents so much so that critics are demonized and free speech is criminalized with dozens of activists and journalists languishing in illegal detention?
Why travel for healthcare in Britain but yet Nigeria rates badly in the health sector just as millions of women die from childbirths and infant mortality is almost higher than what obtains in such war ravaged countries such as Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan? Why take medication in Great Britain whereby the National Health Insurance scheme works efficiently and social security benefits are awarded to indigent citizens but to return to Nigeria to preside over an administration that derives joy in churning out obnoxious tax regimes that are driving many small businesses to extinction? Why travel to Europe all the time whereby their government runs efficient transportation services but to return and run a government that lacks strategies for fixing the collapsed transportation infrastructures?
It is hoped that in this last term in office, assuming he wins at the post-election litigation at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which he says he would, that president Buhari will focus on staying more at home and ensure that the battered state of economy and insecurity are fixed. Mr. President should let his foreign service officials to dot the I’S and cross the T’S in the area of their specialty so he can work more at home to fix the broken society that may fail in his hands before long?
The president recently passed a vote of no confidence on his ability to deliver the economic goals by setting up a team of hard core apolitical economists to give him sound advisory notes on how to fix the broken economy of Nigeria.
He can achieve his goals only if he stays home to provide oversight responsibility on his cabinet because his first cabinet ministers between 2015/2019 failed Nigerians. He should stop the coup against constitutional separation of powers so there would be institutional checks and balances.
The fact that we now have a weak National assembly and a compromised judiciary should worry Mr. President if he is a Statesman and a patriot who plans to bequeath good legacies to Nigeria when he quits the stage soonest.