OPINION : Our President Has Travelled Again – By Kassim Afegbua

President Muhammad Buhari
President Muhammad Buhari

have read a couple of very scintillating opinions and articles cataloguing the numerous travels of Mr. President since he assumed office on 29th May, 2015 till date, but even at that, the President is not ready to slow down at all on this score.

It didn’t occur to me that the president has spent close to 430 days out of the 1,610 or so days since he became president. One would have expected that all these travels and foreign junketing would translate to some tangible outcomes and benefits for the average Nigerian, but the reality back home presents a chequered history of misgovernance and crass incompetence in the leadership of the country.

How suddenly the president has become so enamoured by foreign travels remains to me a puzzle, especially when we have a Foreign Affairs Minister. It won’t be out of place to describe the President as jack of all trade, master of none. He is the President, the Petroleum Minister and perhaps the Foreign Affairs Minister.

His latest travel to Riyadh yesterday is one of several trips that will last till November 17th, when he is expected back home. The president will be spending three weeks outside the country, meaning; five days in Riyadh and 15 days in London in what presidency spokesman called “private visit”.

While the president will be spending 15 days for private visit to London, he has refused to hand over the reins of power to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, thus fuelling speculations that there is love lost between the first two citizens. Before now, President Buhari had tried to impress Nigerians by conveying official communication to the National Assembly in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution by transferring power to his vice.

But grapevine information has it that he has not been impressed by the way and manner that Vice President Osinbajo handled the office each time the opportunity presented itself, reason why he would embark on a 15-day private visit, without transferring powers to Osinbajo.

The vice president, rather than engage in serious governmental issues, has now become a regular face and the most important dignitary at social ceremonies like, chieftaincy titles and birthdays. He presents the picture of a Vice President that is jobless or at best, less encumbered, one that has all the time in this world to attend social events when the country is apparently crippled and in search for leadership that can deliver the much needed elixir for the overall good of the country.

The numerous trips of President Buhari are part of money guzzling adventures that are eating deep into taxpayers’ money at a time when the government itself talks about cutting cost to manage a budget deficit and excessive borrowing that has perforated government pockets. President Buhari, one would expect, ought to show uncommon leadership by example by cutting his own numerous trips to save the country resources that ought to be channelled into other productive areas to rescue our dithering economy. Were the gains of his numerous travels that overwhelming, we would have felt their several impacts, but often times, they end up as photo ops MoU-signing adventures that hardly translate to reality. His trip to Sochi, Russia was reportedly mouth-watering following the claims by presidency spokesmen, but the reality back home will inadvertently affect the realisation of the fruits of those MoUs.

The insecurity back home is a pain in the neck of any deliberate attempt to attract any tangible multi-lateral, government-to-government investment to the country. Security of investment is key to the realisation of the full benefits of any such investment. Added to this is the efficiency of your rule of law as opposed to rule of man.

The infrastructure to drive and sustain such investment are in parlous state and in some cases, non-existent. Our roads are in terribly bad shape. Our power situation is appalling and ridiculous for a country that sets a 2020 target for itself to become one of the 20 best economies in the world.

Our human capital development still operates at a dismal level, while corruption still walks the streets of Nigeria in magisterial candour. While President Buhari mouths anti-corruption as one of his governmental agenda, the reality on ground speaks in the opposite direction. It has become a mere sloganeering, some form of rhetoric that bears contradiction, nepotism and hypocrisy as visible attributes. All these sickening symptoms are part of why foreign investment will drag for some time to come.

Just in 2018 alone, according to statistics, N1.7 trillion was pulled out by foreign portfolios from the stock market because of uncertainties that becloud our economic projections. At a time that the President sees foreign travels as a new fond hobby to attract investment, back home, the borders are closed to prevent smuggling of goods. While small and mid-level entrepreneurs back home are gnashing their teeth because they can no longer reach their clients at the West African sub-region, the government is beating its chest in show of elemental bravado that it has dealt a blow to smuggling activities.

How wrong!
Closing borders essentially because of rice smuggling in the wake of other activities that go on in cross border transaction is to miss the point completely.

First, if smuggling has become so pervasive, as a government, you need to identify the reason, particularly your import policies or duties being paid for imported items across a wide spectrum of goods and services. Having identified that, you need to get your priorities right. If Benin Republic’s import policy is such that encourages dumping, as a neighbouring country, you need to find a way to mitigate the excesses so that your action doesn’t become a no-win situation or have a telling impact on your citizenry and producers. Rather than close borders in such whimsical stroke, you can impose certain restrictions and ensure that the right personnel are made to secure the borders to guard against their porosity. What makes smuggling flourishes across the country, is due to our porous borders, high tariffs, high import duties, and other exorbitant penalties paid for certain goods and services. What you can do as a country is to amongst other things, set policy in place that would be importers friendly in order to attract them to your ports. For this singular action, prices of staple food items have skyrocketed and that means additional suffering to a people that have been impoverished to the nadir.

At a time when there seems to be restrictions on a number of hitherto imported items, the President still patronises foreign goods and services. He patronises foreign shoes, he patronises foreign hospitals, he patronises foreign fabrics and also foreign wristwatches. Leadership by example would have been a more alluring footnote to pass the message that this government actually means business, but policy is one, reality on ground is another.

A budget of N3.3 billion in the 2020 budget to cover President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo’s foreign and domestic travels for example, is not only bogus, but unrealistic in the face of excruciating poverty, want and hunger occasioned by poor service delivery.

When the presidency was giving indication towards a downward review of travels by government officials, one would have expected the President to show the way to go by a drastic reduction of his own travel budget. Added to this is the numerous numbers of presidential airplanes that should have been reduced to save cost of maintenance. But if there is anything that this government does well, it is saying one thing and doing the opposite.

The level of contradiction and hypocrisy has risen to a crescendo at a time, when the moral fibre of the citizenry has been affected by poor rendition of leadership and governance.

Talking more seriously, I am of the strong opinion that the Buhari presidency has lost touch with the reality of the Nigerian situation. A President that understands the dynamics in the country will sit back home to heal the wounds across the country to engender a sense of oneness and solidarity.

Aside from during election campaigns, President Buhari in four solid years only visited 9 states to commission one project or the other. During campaigns, within 32 days, he criss-crossed the entire 36 states to ask for votes.

Aside from that, he has not shown enough concern for the troubles, tribulations and challenges facing Nigerians on a daily basis. Imagine the huge difference it will make, if President Buhari convokes a meeting of leaders of thought in the respective zones to address a couple of issues that stare them in the face. Or, if he visits trouble spots across the country to see things for himself, different from what his security chiefs would feed him with. Imagine if President Buhari decides to travel by road to Kaduna and stops over at dreaded kidnapping points to assure the villagers of government’s readiness to flush out the criminals. Or if he chooses to travel from Warri to Benin by road to see the bad condition of that road. Alas! he would rather travel out than seek our audience.

At a time when prudent management of our hard earned resources should be the motivation, Buhari approved N10 billion for Kogi State at the eve of election. Before we finished pronouncing the figure, a phantom Rolls Royce appeared in the premises of the Attah of Igala; a gift ostensibly given to him by political appointees of Igala extraction.

They talk to us as if we live in a fool’s world. They present issues to us as if our medulla has gone berserk and out of tune with reality. They look at us with scornful mentality as though our collective psyche has been eroded by psychological trauma. Hmm, limousine for votes?

Both the “givers” and the “taker” are products of corruption. The legitimate earnings of those who now assume to be generous donors cannot purchase a N356m worth Rolls Royce, phantom edition. That singular action is the height of our indubitable folly, the warehouse of our stupidity, the engine room of our backwardness and the signature of corruption. But under President Buhari, anything is possible, including closing the borders for goods, but opening the borders for medical tourism.

Kassim  Afegbua, a former Media Adviser to former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole

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