Echoes of Buharia��s visit to America

May 9th, 2018

President Muhammadu Buhari, has just returned from an official visit to the United States of America. MIKE UBANI examines the reactions of some Nigerians to the Presidenta��s outing in that country.

President Muhammadu Buhari on the night of May 3, returned to Abuja after an official visit to the United States where he held bilateral talks with President Donald Trump, on Monday, lApril 30.

The visit which was at the instance of the US President marked the first high profile meeting between Trump and a sub-Saharan African leader since he was inaugurated on January 20, as the 45th President of the United States.

Mr. Trumpa��s predecessor, Barack Obama, neither visited Nigeria, nor extended official invitation to any Nigerian President to visit the White House; hinging his position on alleged human rights abuses and neck-deep corruption in the country.

Thus, President Buharia��s visit to the US on Mr. Trumpa��s invitation is seen in some quarters as a thaw in the hitherto frosty relations between the two countries.

Not a few said that President Trumpa��s willingness to visit Nigeria, shortly after referring to African nations as a�?shithole countries,a�? and also complaining that Nigerian immigrants would never a�?go back to their huts after living in the United States,a�? symbolized Mr. Trumpa��s readiness to expand the frontiers of economic, political and diplomatic ties with Nigeria.

. “Ita��s an amazing country, and in some ways a�� I hear, from the standpoint of the beauty of the country a�� there’s no place more beautiful,” said the US President about Nigeria.

Expectedly, during his talks at the Oval office with the US President, Buhari seized the hitherto rare opportunity to present Mr. Trump with a shopping list bordering on security, economy, anti-graft war, and others.

While addressing a joint press conference later in the Rose Garden, President Buhari said: a�?We recognized the strong US support in our fight against terrorism, and also appreciated very much the US agreement to sell 12 Super Tucano A-29 war planes and weapons to Nigeria to effectively fight terrorism.a�?

Ironically, the war planes deal had generated tension between the Presidency and the National Assembly before President Buhari arrived the US for bilateral talks with President Trump.

Some Senators and House members had queried President Buhari for withdrawing $496m from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to pay for the 12 war planes without appropriation by the National Assembly.

And going forward, the lawmakers had sought approval to initiate the process for the impeachment of President Buhari.

Interestingly, President Trump had while speaking alongside President Buhari in the Rose Garden, confirmed that the Tucano attack aircraft had already been paid for, thus allaying any insinuation that the money was misappropriated.

But speaking on Channels Television current affairs programme, monitored in Abuja, Dr. Dapo Thomas, an international relations analyst, said that President Trumpa��s confirmation that the actual money had been remitted into the US coffers, does not in any way confer legality to the action of President Buhari.

He agreed with the lawmakers that President Buhari committed a constitutional a�?blundera�? by spending money not appropriated by the National Assembly.

However, he said that the a�?exigency of securitya�? informed the Presidenta��s action, saying that on that score, the National Assembly should gloss over the issue.

Hon. Johnson Ehiozuwa Agbonayinma, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Nigeria/US Friendship Group/Inter-Parliamentary Relations, who appeared on the same platform, agreed that President Buhari acted on national interest,

Agbonayinma who represents Egor/Ikpoba Okha Federal constituency of Edo state, on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) reminded his colleagues that previous presidents had withdrawn money from the ECA, without the National Assembly raising a finger against them.

He said: a�?Youa��ll recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo (PDP) had at a time withdrawn billions of naira from the ECA without recourse to the National Assembly, and without the lawmakers querying him.

a�?It is also on record that late President Musa Yara��Adua (PDP) did the same thing, without the then querying his action.a�?

a�?Dona��t also forget that the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan (PDP) loaded millions of dollars withdrawn from ECA in a private jet, which flew to South to purchase arms, but at the end of the day, that money was seized by the South African government, yet the then National Assembly did nothing .

a�?But I am not saying we should support an illegality. It was a a�?genuine errora�? on the part of President Buhari to have spent money that was not appropriated, though he did it in the interest of the country.a�?

President Buhari thanked the US government for assisting his administration to recover stolen funds, saying that the two governments are working towards returning to Nigeria over five hundred million United States dollars ($500m) of looted funds siphoned to US banks.

It will be recalled that on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, President Buhari, made the anti-graft war one of the keystones of his administration. Though the main opposition party, PDP, has on several occasions accused the administration of bias in the prosecution of the war against corruption, Mr. Trump thinks Buhari is on top of the game.

a�?Nigeria has a reputation for very massive corruption. I also know that the President (Buhari) has been able to cut that down very substantially. We talked about that, he is working on it and they have made a lot of progress and I think they will continue to make a lot of progress.

a�?We have a lot of people in this country that invest in Nigeria, so cutting down on that corruption element is very important,a�? said President Trump.

However, there is a groundswell of opinion that the US banks are hosting several billions of dollars looted from Nigeria, a development which portrays the Trump administration as not on the same page on Nigeriaa��s quest to recover looted funds in Europe and America.

a�?By what statistical template did they arrive at the claim that $500 million was looted from Nigeria? We have in the US massive estates owned by Nigerians. Nigerians have huge funds in US banks that are known.

a�?So if Buhari/Trump are speaking in real terms, wea��ll be looking probably at 500 billion US dollars or more stashed in US banks that you can trace to Nigerians,

a�?Assuming they send down the 500 million US dollars, how about the remaining monies,a�? queries Dr. Okey Ikechukwu, Senior Fellow, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK) Awka.

He thinks the money would be a�?re-looteda�? when it gets back to the country. He suggests that the US government should use the money to purchase agricultural equipment to improve agriculture in the country

Hon. Agbonayinma thinks that the 500 million US dollars that the Trump administration had agreed to return to the country, pales into insignificance when weighed against what he referred to as the a�?stupendousa�? amount of money looted from the countrya��s treasury and stashed in the US.

a�?What can 500 million US dollars do for us?,a�? queries the lawmaker. He agrees with Dr. Ikechukwu that the amount of money looted from Nigeria, and stashed in US banks is far more than 500 million US dollars.

The desire by the US to be a close trading partner with nations on the African continent, as well as its request to President Buhari to lower trade barriers between the US and Nigeria, which he described as “very substantial,” also came under criticism.

a�?a��Nigeriaa��s trade volume with the United States stood at $6.07 billion according to 2016 statistics and comprised $4.176 billion worth of Nigerian exports to the US, and $1.894 billion US exports to Nigeria.

a�?We urged greater effort to increase these figures substantially,a�? said President Buhari during the press conference.

But Dr. Ikechukwu argues that opening up the countrya��s market for US goods, would hurt Nigeriaa��s economy a�� increase unemployment rate here a�� while creating more jobs in the US economy.

He suggests that US investors should set up manufacturing plants in Nigeria to reduce the level of unemployment in the country a�� which according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) rose from 14.2% to 18.8% in 2017.

But there is a snag. The lingering insecurity problem in the country, not a few say, would hinder direct foreign investments in the country.

Perhaps, many say the issue of insecurity, and the urgent need to keep it at bay, informed President Buharia��s immediate approval for the payment of the American Tucano war planes, without allowing the process to pass through the National Assembly.

a�?President Buhari acted in the interest and safety of lives and property in the country,a�? insists Hon. Agbonayinma.

In all these, the main opposition party, the PDP, expressed deep dissatisfaction over President Buharia��s performance during his April 30 meeting with President Trump.

The party in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, described the Presidenta��s visit as a�?embarrassinga�?, saying that he a�?completely failed to project the economic interests of the nation before the American government and the world.a�?

In the same vein, President Buharia��s traditional critic, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his usual sarcastic manner, said that even a a�?morona�? would have performed better than President Buhari during his outing in the US.

However, Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, described President Buharia��s visit as a�?triumphal.a�?

Hon. Agbonayinma agrees. a�?President Buhari went to the US to market Nigeria, and he did that so well. I believe Nigeria will get huge value from the visit,a�? he said.

Not a few say that until the visit translates to tangible results a�� creates additional jobs a�� puts food on the table a�� and secures the territorial integrity of the country a�� it would be regarded as another executive jamboree.

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