The Untold Truth About President Buhari’s Many Travels
President Buhari’s frequent travels have obviously attracted the scrutiny of both adversaries and supporters of the president from across the country, and perhaps even beyond.
According to a report by Daily Trust, last Wednesday’s confirmation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory may not have ended the president’s trials, as his administration is still subjected to the court of public opinion on a variety of issues.
A major topical point of reference among many Nigerians is the president’s frequent foreign trips, and what may have accrued to the nation’s resources from such trips, in comparison to the prevailing national situation. This has obviously attracted the scrutiny of both adversaries and supporters of the president from across the country, and perhaps even beyond.
While some view the trips as ostensibly gulping billions of naira despite grave concerns on widespread poverty amidst insecurity occasioned by Boko Haram activities in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest, herdsmen’s activities nationwide, rampant kidnapping across the country and constant communal strifes, supporters of the president believe that the various pacts being signed with the host countries would eventually be of immense benefits to the country.
President Buhari has visited 40 countries, spending 407 days. Out of these, his trip to London, the United Kingdom, where he usually goes for medical treatment, have taken 242 days.
He was in Saudi Arabia twice in May this year. He was there between May 16 and 21 for the lesser hajj. On May 30, hours after he was sworn in for the second term, he left the country for Saudi Arabia for 14th summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), hosted by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. He returned to the country on June 2.
Yesterday, November 2, Buhari left the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the UK again after attending the Economic Forum of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh and performing the Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) on a private visit.
The president, who left the country last Monday on an official trip to Saudi Arabia, is expected to return to the country on November 17, 2019 from the UK, according to a statement from his spokesman, Femi Adesina.
The Presidency’s statement revealed that Buhari will be in the UK for 15 days this time around. Previously, he had spent 227 days in the UK.
Earlier this year, Buhari was on a 10-day private visit to the UK from April 25 to May 5. Daily Trust on Sunday checks revealed that the president was in the UK in 2018 from April 9 to 21 on his annual leave. In May, he had a technical stop-over there. Between May 8 and 11, the president was also there. Similarly, he was there from August 3 to 18.
In 2017, the president was there from January 19 to March 10 on medical leave. He handed over the affairs of the country to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who acted throughout the period. Two months after he returned to the country, he went back and spent 104 days, from May 8 to August 19.
Buhari was in the UK between February 5 and 10 in 2016 on vacation. From May 13 to 15 of the same year, he was there for an anti-corruption summit. Also in 2016, the president was in the UK for treatment of an ear infection.
The foreign trips have already taken him to China, India, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Chad, France, Turkey, Poland, Malta, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Ghana.
Other countries visited are; Cameroon, the Gambia, Niger Republic, Mali, Qatar, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Germany, Senegal, Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya.
In the path of Obsasanjo, Yar’adua, Jonathan
From the records, Buhari’s predecessors also had their share of foreign trips. From 1999 to 2007, former president Olusegun Obasanjo made 139 trips to 97 countries, including India (January 2000), South Korea (July 2000), India (November 2004), Indonesia (October 2007), United Kingdom, Germany, and France among others. Obasanjo travelled to the United States eight times.
His successor, the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua, also visited the US, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Brazil.
Some of the countries visited by former president Goodluck Jonathan between 2010 and 2015 after the death of Yar’adua were Equatorial Guinea, France, Uganda, Australia, Ghana, Chad, Ethiopia, Brazil, and Belgium. Jonathan also travelled to the US four times. In 2012, when N951 million was budgeted for president’s travels, he spent 45 days on tour. The following year, N2.6 billion was budgeted for the president’s travels.
Cost of trips
In this year’s budget, President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo got an allocation of N1.3 billion for travels, while N3.3 billion was proposed for their trips in the 2020 Appropriation Bill. Nigerian leaders usually visit the US mainly with a retinue of aides to attend the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York.
But President Buhari’s foreign trips have drawn criticisms because of its frequency, especially in the past two months. From Saturday, September 14, 2019 till date, the president has travelled to Ouagadougou, New York (for the 74th UNGA), Japan, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the UK with selected governors and ministers.
Benefits of trips
Though critics say the trips are yet to make any impact on the well-being of citizens, the presidency believes that they have brought benefits for Nigeria and Nigerians.
On September 14, 2019, Buhari, in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in his speech at the Extraordinary Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Governments on counter-terrorism, said he expected that the adoption of the roadmap, priority areas and other recommendations at the summit, if properly implemented, would go a long way in addressing the spread of terrorism and violent extremism in the region.
Buhari, who joined other ECOWAS leaders for the special one-day summit, used the occasion to brief the regional leaders on the operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), saying the achievements recorded so far by the MNJTF remained an exemplary model for regional collaboration.
“MNJTF has largely succeeded in degrading the Boko Haram terrorist group. This could not have been accomplished without the recognition by the affected Lake Chad Basin countries and Benin
Republic, of the need to harness our efforts and resources to confront our common enemy which has now been substantially weakened.
“While much still remains to be done, I encourage MNJTF to stay steadfast in their mission, as I urge the political leadership of the LCBC countries to continue to preserve our solidarity and commitment towards achieving durable peace and sustainable development in these areas.
“In this regard, it is imperative that we continuously strive to provide the necessary resources and tools to the MNJTF, the G5 Sahel Joint Force, the Accra Initiative and similar initiatives, to lead the war on terrorism, violent extremism and trans-border crimes across the region,” he said.
After his trip to Pretoria, Nigeria and South Africa agreed on issuing 10-year visas to businessmen, academics and frequent travelers to encourage more people-to-people contacts among citizens of both countries and further strengthen socio-cultural, economic and political relations.
The agreement was reached in a meeting co-chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, which was the first time both presidents would preside since the Bi-National Commission was elevated.
According to a statement from Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, both countries also agreed to re-establish the consular forum, which is a structured arrangement where both governments meet regularly, at least twice in a year, to discuss the welfare of citizens.
The two presidents agreed on early warning signals to nip violence in the bud, while taking into consideration the need to share more intelligence and promote stronger partnerships in security.
The president was quoted in another statement as saying that 32 agreements and MoUs had been signed between both countries.
“We need to implement those that have come into force, as well as expedite necessary actions to ratify the seven outstanding agreements that have not yet been brought into force.
“I welcome the robust defence cooperation between Nigeria and South Africa, and call for more support and solidarity with us in our fight against terrorism and violent extremism. We also welcome the increased collaboration against arms and drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking,’’ he added.
At the end of a four-day trip to attend the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, the presidency said Nigeria got all her requests from Russia.
Garba Shehu said in a piece written after the summit that President Buhari returned to Nigeria from the trip “extremely happy” with the success of the visit.
He said the definite high point was the decision by the Russians to agree on a government-to-government understanding that would see them return to complete the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill and commission it.
The presidential aide said not only did Buhari get that needed support to fight Boko Haram terrorists, he also got the two countries to cooperate extensively in the strategic fields of defence, civil nuclear energy and dealing with piracy and oil pipeline vandalism in the Gulf of Guinea.
He said the Nigerian leader also got a deal for the technological upgrade and timely delivery of the balance of seven, out of an existing order for 12 attack helicopters.
Garba Shehu said President Buhari had directed the Minister of Defence to work with the Ministry of Justice to conclude issues on the Nigeria-Russia military mechnical agreement that lapsed a few years ago without being renewed as Russia had been ready with her part.
He said, “The significance of this agreement lies in the fact that it opens the door to the procurement of military hardware, on a government-to-government basis, eliminating middlemen and reducing costs as well as the training of military personnel, modernization of the armed forces, refurbishment and renewal of infrastructure and equipment, which President Putin said he is ready to assist Nigeria to undertake….
“There are many of our citizens who do not reckon with the fact that this country has a nuclear programme for about 40 years, one however, that has not gone beyond the setting up of research stations. Arising from these discussions, President Vladimir Putin invited President Buhari to join him in taking the next step in the implementation of the project by commencing the construction of the nuclear power plant.”
He said the protracted issue of the Aluminium Smelter Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) in Ikot-Abasi, Akwa-Ibom State, would also will be resolved as President Buhari had asked the Ministry of Justice to submit a comprehensive report on the UC Russel (the Russian owners of the plant) matter…I want to assure you that our reforms aim to ensure that such investments are concluded and actualized professionally and painlessly.”
The two presidents also addressed issues in education and agriculture as Russia did not only agree to give additional scholarships but also to support Nigeria in laying a solid foundation for food security.
Also, Nigeria and Russia signed an important Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which would enable the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Russia’s Lukeoil to elevate commercial relationships to a government-to-government backed partnership.
Mele Kyari, the Group Managing Director of the NNPC and Vagit Alekperov, president of the leading Russian oil company, Lukeoil, signed the MoU which entails cooperation in deep offshore exploration of oil in Nigeria, production, trading and refining.
Shehu said the NNPC and Lukeoil would work together in upstream operations and revamp Nigeria’s refineries with the signing of the MoU.
The signing ceremony which took place on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia, was witnessed by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva.
President Buhari on Thursday accepted an invitation from the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the establishment of a Nigeria-Saudi Council during a bilateral meeting which took place on the margins of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference.
The establishment of the joint council was aimed at promoting investments and enhancing relations between both countries. The council will be made up of government officials and business leaders from both countries and the areas of focus include economic growth and development, investments in oil and non-oil sectors, and security cooperation.
Dissenting views Trips a political jamboree – Tanko
A former presidential candidate and ex-chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Dr Yunusa Tanko, described Buhari’s numerous trips abroad as a political jamboree.
Tanko, the current national chairman of the National Conscience Party (NCP), told Daily Trust that the trips were not of any benefit to Nigeria despite the pacts signed with other countries.
“It’s just a political jamboree. Mr President has been travelling from one country to another while his home is not safe. He has to make his home safe first. You can’t attract foreign investors when your home is not secure.
“We have potentials and if we make our home safe first, foreign investors will come. Now, we have serious issues of insecurity, lack of stable power supply, poor infrastructure, and many others, so the home is not safe. All these trips are not benefitting Nigeria,” he said.
Trips beneficial – Okechukwu
The Director General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, said the trips were in all ramifications “highly beneficial” to the country.
Okechukwu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), said opponents of Buhari’s trips were envious of his uncommon global acceptability.
He said, “Take, for instance, gains like the SUKUK N100 billion fund used to fix some federal roads in all the geo-political zones, the agriculture foreign intervention funds, the super electricity grid fund, standard gauge railway lines and the Siemens engagement in the power sector.
“Mr President by his diplomatic shuttles is acting like a true father who is genuinely shopping for investments for his children amid limited financial resources. This is especially so when he had during the 2019 Democracy Day, publicly proclaimed a vision to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
“This means using diplomatic channels to reign in international friends of Nigeria for assistance, as he did at the United Nations General Assembly when he canvassed for a Marshal Plan for Africa.
“How can he lift 40 million in his remaining tenure if he doesn’t fix infrastructure and fix moribund public companies like our refineries, Ajaokuta Steel, Aluminum Smelter Company, Super Transmission line et al? My prayer is that the Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, should honour his pledge to fix our moribund refineries. This particular collaboration will unbundle our economy, as huge millions of dollars, the so-called fuel subsidy spent in procuring refined petroleum products will be saved.
“For me, the most interesting aspect is that he has opened Nigeria in the best foreign interest of our dear nation for all to invest in – covering Africa, Europe, China, America, Russia, and the Middle East. He works with both capitalists, liberals, communists and socialists, thus reflecting the multi-ethnic and plural Nigeria.
“I view those who oppose his diplomatic shuttles as those who envy Mr President’s uncommon global acceptability, these are the same people who frowned when in less than two months of his assumption of office in 2015, a red carpet reception was accorded him by the then President Barak Obama. Otherwise, there’s no way to alleviate gross poverty and gross unemployment in the land without global outreach.”
Speaking in the same vein, the National Chairman of the Democratic People’s Congress (DPC), Rev. Olusegun Peters, said the impact of Buhari’s foreign trips has not yet been felt.
Rev. Peters, in a chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, expressed optimism that the trips would benefit the nation in the long run.
“For now, nothing is working in Nigeria. So, we need those kinds of trips to attract investors. We need some international leaders to help us tackle some of the challenges bedevilling the nation,” he said.