Nigerians are increasingly expressing worry over the incessant foreign trips by President Muhammadu Buhari, with allegations that the travels do not bring any concrete benefit for the country, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
Presidents usually undertake foreign travels to attend important events, deepen diplomatic ties or seal bilateral business deals.
Since his coming, President Buhari had come under public censure over the frequency of his foreign trips with critics saying the benefits were not commensurate with the cost to the taxpayers.
Some also criticise the president for prioritizing foreign engagements against the backdrop of fewer domestic travels to attend to pressing national issues.
The trend of the president’s foreign trips was however halted by the COVID-19 pandemic which restricted physical meetings for nearly two years.
With the easing off of the COVID-19 restrictions protocols, President Buhari has now resumed another bout of foreign trips.
The president’s many trips
In the first half of the year, an analysis by this paper revealed that the president had undertaken 10 foreign trips.
The latest of the trips was a state visit to Portugal, last week, at the instance of President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. He also participated in the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon June 27 to July 1.
Before this, President Buhari had attended the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), held from June 20 to 26, 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Also, on June 4, the president attended an Extraordinary Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government on the political situation in Mali and other parts of the sub-region in Accra, Ghana.
On June 1, he embarked on a two-day state visit to Madrid, the capital city of Spain, at the invitation of his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sanchez.
In May, President Buhari visited the United Arabs Emirate to condole the country over the loss of its immediate past leader, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nayan; Equatorial Guinea, where he attended the Extraordinary Summit of the African Union; and the Ivory Coast, where he attended the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
The president also visited Brussels, Belgium in February for the 6th European Union-African Union Summit; Nairobi, Kenya in March, for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Environmental Programme; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in February for the 35th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Africa Union Heads of State and Government; and London, the United Kingdom in March, for a two-week medical trip.
Trips wasteful, not yielding results – PDP, dons, activists, lawyer
The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who described the president’s foreign trips as “unprecedented,” said it had not attracted foreign direct investment to the country nor restored the respectability of Nigeria among countries of the world.
He said the president had been noticed to always be on the move out of the country for events that ordinarily should be attended by aides and appointees.
Rafsanjani said one would expect that these foreign trips would yield security support in the form of military support and consolidation of military infrastructure for the country to fight the increasing spate of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and secessionist insurrections.
“But this is not the case as the country continues to be held to ransom by criminal elements.
“Since the return to democracy in 1999, Nigeria’s presidents have always embarked on endless and fruitless foreign trips at the expense of the country’s meagre resources, especially when the modalities and financial cost of presidential travels are factored in. While Nigerians have since 1999 complained about the frequent foreign trips of their leaders, President Buhari’s rate of foreign travels since assumption of office is unprecedented.
“In the early years of the President Buhari regime, his frequent travels were largely on medical grounds. One would have thought that the biggest lesson the president should have learnt at the early stage was to revitalise the health system in the country. Sadly, however, the country’s health system continues to be faced with unprecedented negligence by the government, especially through poor budgetary allocation.
“Sadly, the president neglects the country’s health sector in preference to medical jamboree to foreign countries, whose governments have developed their health sectors. He has also set a terrible example for his appointees, who are also following suit in this kind of medical tourism at the greater expense of the masses of Nigeria.
“As a country with very high level of illicit financial flows, which are always a tool for terrorism financing, one would expect that foreign trips by the president would strengthen Nigeria’s bilateral and multi-lateral relationships to effectively combat terrorism financing in the country. Illicit financial flows are rather escalating.
“By and large, President Buhari has merely abandoned governance at home and is fixated with foreign travels,” he said.
Also speaking, a political scientist at the University of Lagos, Dr. Kayode Esuola, said while it was imperative for leaders to seek global alliance with other nations of the world, Nigeria had not achieved much from President Buhari’s frequent foreign trips.
He said, “The world today is a place where nations and governments must relate over an array of social, political and economic deals.
“This inevitably makes leaders of countries travel in search of alignments amongst one another. However, a look at the state of the Nigerian state today does not show much yield of the foregoing in Buhari’s frequent travels.
“Subsequent travels, if they must occur, should focus on relations that will restore security, repair the economy and foster socio-political development in Nigeria.”
On his part, a professor of Political Science, Lagos State University, Sylvester Odion, said there was nothing the president could achieve again with his frequent trips.
President Muhammadu Buhari (left) with other world leaders during EU-AU summit in February
Also, a lawyer and activist, Festus Ogun, described the development as disturbing.
He said, “The frequent travels of the president, which have brought no significant value to the country, is completely embarrassing.
“I feel that by 2023, we must summon the courage to elect a leader that sits at home and gets the job done.”
It’s beneficial, strengthening international diplomacy – Prof Ojo, Dr Tade
However, a professor of Political Science, Dr Gbade Ojo, told Daily Trust on Sunday in Ibadan that the foreign trips by the president were expected at this critical time.
“President Buhari has been on the move recently, from one country to another. This is good for the country, to some extent. At times, diplomacy is better conducted by personally moving out to meet leaders of powerful countries personally rather than through ambassadors.
“What matters, however, is the ability of the Foreign Service of Nigeria to do a very good follow-up to reap the benefits of such travelling.
“Aside that the administration of Buhari is gradually expiring, his achievements should transcend domestic policies alone. Finally, he is trying to prove that he is healthy despite his age and ludicrous insinuations.
“On the other hand, some irreverent critics of Mr President may, however, argue that Buhari needs to devote more time at this tail end of his administration to many daunting challenges at home, most especially security, economy and transition from civilian to civilian government coming up next February.”
Another public affairs analyst, Dr Oludayo Tade of the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, said Nigerians should consider the benefits of the trips by the president before criticising him.
“The trips are for certain purposes. It is left to interrogate each of the trips and the benefits to the individual traveller and what becomes of the country. If all his journeys are not impacting the country, then it is wasteful. But if the country can see physical things or diplomatic positive impacts from the trips, then it is okay to travel. Balancing these two sides would give you an idea on whether his trips are desirable or undesirable,” he said.
Presidency lists gains of trips
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, in a factsheet released on May 28 this year, which highlighted the achievements of the administration, announced the re-establishment of Nigeria’s position and influence in the regional and global arena.
He said fragile or broken relations with the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, and with neighbouring countries (Chad, Niger, Cameroon) had been revived and strengthened since June 2015.
He said President Buhari’s April 2016 official visit to China had unlocked billions of dollars in infrastructure funding, primarily for road, rail and port projects.
Adesina listed major outcomes, results and manifestations of Nigeria’s renewed visibility and respect on the international stage to include: “The positions of deputy secretary-general of the United Nations; director-general of the World Trade Organisation; secretary-general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), African Development Bank, and African Export–Import Bank, which are all currently held by Nigerians.
Also included are “the signing, in August 2016, of a memorandum of understanding with the United Kingdom (UK) government on modalities for the return of Nigeria’s stolen assets; establishment of a Global Forum for Asset Recovery (GFAR), hosted by governments of the United States and UK in December 2017 to focus on assisting Nigeria and three other countries to reclaim their stolen assets.”
Furthermore, “Nigeria joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016 and developed a National Action Plan, which is already being implemented.
“In 2016, Nigeria signed an agreement on the identification and repatriation of illicit funds with the United Arab Emirates during President Buhari’s visit to that country.
Concerns Grow Over Buhari’s Incessant Foreign Trips
“The federal government under President Buhari has successfully engaged the governments of Switzerland, Jersey Island, United States, United Arab Emirates and Liechtenstein, among others, in an effort to ensure the repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen assets.
“A total of US$622 million in looted Abacha funds repatriated to Nigeria in two tranches in December 2017 and April 2020. The first tranche ($322m) is being disbursed as part of the Buhari administration’s Social Investment Programme interventions, while the second tranche ($311m) is being invested in the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), managed by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). More Abacha loot has since been identified for repatriation.
“Under President Buhari’s watch, Nigeria has been playing an active and stabilising role in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In 2017, Nigeria was able to successfully negotiate a vital exemption from production cuts agreed at the time, a move that helped shore up revenues and foreign reserves.
“The Buhari administration has mobilised international support for the war against Boko Haram, forging strong partnerships with key countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, ECOWAS, the AU, UN and others. After years of stalemate, the United States finally agreed to sell – and is selling – weapons to Nigeria (fighter aircraft).”
Again, he said, the government has revamped the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) “comprising troops from Nigeria and Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Benin”.
Other achievements the Buhari administration achieved on the international stage, according to Adesina, include “the designation of President Buhari as the African Union (AU) Anti-Corruption Champion for 2018; the designation of President Buhari by ECOWAS Heads of State as West Africa’s COVID-19 Champion in 2020; President Buhari’s assumption, in 2021, of the presidency of the Pan Africa Agency of the Great Green Wall”.
The presidential adviser explained that “President Buhari’s interventions have helped restore and strengthen democracy in The Gambia and Guinea Bissau. He authorised the deployment of troops, fighter jets and warships to The Gambia during the impasse that followed the December 2016 presidential elections.
There is also a “successful evacuation and repatriation of more than 10,000 Nigerian migrants from Libya, with the support and partnership of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).”