As President Muhammadu Buhari and his 32-man delegation leave for the United States of America today at the instance of the U.S. President Barack Obama, expectations are high that the trip would provide the necessary platform that would take Nigeria to the next level. At the White House in Washington, Buhari is expected to have several hours of engagement with President Obama and other key officials of the American Government.
He will also engage with Vice President Joe Biden; Secretary of State, John Kerry; Congressional caucuses and leaders; the defence establishment; the private sector and Nigerians in the Diaspora. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said “the timing of the visit is quite auspicious.” According to him, “ By tradition, the United States does not usually accord this type of welcome to new national leaders until they have settled properly in their jobs.
“The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Paul Lolo, who leads the Ministry in the absence of a substantive minister, says the goal of the visit is to revitalise Nigeria – US relations which have bilateral, regional and global ramifications.
“All issues will be on the table. Discussions will cover security defence, economy, commerce, trade, agriculture, law, financial and other crimes, counter-terrorism, and immigration.” He also noted that the Americans see Nigeria as the most strategic nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“They want to listen to President Buhari’s vision for Nigeria and see how they can key into it for forge a stronger bilateral partnership for mutual benefit and for the good of the African continent.
“From the point of view of commerce and investment, the United States is seen world-wide as a great facilitator and President Buhari’s visit to the White House this early in the life of his administration will certainly boost the confidence of American investors in the Nigerian economy and assure them that they can safely do business with the country, Shehu affirmed. Nigeria is no doubt grappling with poverty fuelled by corruption and high level of insecurity in spite of the abundant human and natural resources .
Analysts believe that the problem of Nigeria is rooted in leadership and Buhari who has just assumed leadership of the country is considered a change agent. That is why this meeting with Obama is considered strategic as Buhari is expected to lay the whole cards on the table for America to pick. Also members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) think that there is a sense of celebration that Nigeria is returning to international reckoning with the visit.
They consider other agenda on the list of discussion as security in the West African sub region, war against terrorism in Nigeria, support for the multi-lateral military task force, the war against corruption, and trade between US and Nigeria as something cheery to look forward to. A statement from the White House had earlier said that President Obama would host Nigerian President Buhari at the White House on July 20 (tomorrow).
“The visit will mark our support for the Nigerian people following their historic democratic elections and peaceful transfer of power,” the statement added. Coming also on the heels of criticisms that the Obama did not plan to visit Nigeria during his two-nation Africa tour involving Kenya and Ethiopia, also slated for July; the Buhari’s meeting with Obama is considered timely.
However, while most Nigerians are elated at the invitation of Buhari to the White House to discuss areas of co-operation between the two countries, The UNION gathered that some Nigerians are not very enthusiastic about the outcome of the visit and are not afraid to be challenged on this..Some Nigerians believe that while Washington is out to fraternise with the new government in Nigeria and willing to support it in the fight against terrorism and corruption, the olive branch may be steeped in a booby trap designed to get Buhari to rescind the anti-gay bill which his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan , signed into law.
They argue that except Buhari remains focused and resistant to unholy pressures mounted by the US over this law, the visit could push him to cross the Rubicon by threading on grounds considered ‘most sacrilegious’, thereby pitting him against the populace and truncating his change agenda.
Research shows that the growing pessimism by Nigerians over relationship with the United States is not unconnected with the way America has treated matters concerning Nigeria in recent times as well as the illtreatment given to the immediate past Jonathan Administration, which fell out of favour with
Washington when it signed into law the Same-Sex Prohibition Act against all pressures from the US and its allies which claimed that the bill was in violation of the Fundamental Human Rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Nigeria.
The US mission was obviously upset and could not hide the fury of the White House with that legislation. This was the genesis of the problem Jonathan had with America to the extent that the US frustrated every move for the country to get arms to fight Boko Haram and the acclaimed world police turned blind eye to needless killings of Nigerians by dare devil terrorists when they had every opportunity to help.
This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria has the highest US business interest in Sub-Saharan Africa and citizens of Nigeria play key roles in the US economy. In further display of anger, there were series of negative publications of events in Nigeria to disgrace the GEJ administration and smear its image. Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Prof Ade Adefuye, attacked this harsh treatment of Nigeria when he addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington in November last year.
He told the Americans that Nigerians felt abandoned by the US during the time of need. Ambassador Adefuye said: “I am sad to inform you that the Nigerian leadership, military and political and even the general populace are not satisfied with the scope, nature, and content of United States support for us in our struggle against terrorists. We find it difficult to understand how and why in spite of the US presence in Nigeria with their sophisticated military technology, Boko Haram should be expanding and becoming more deadly.”
Expectedly, Washington has never hidden its anger over this perceived impudence. Also in terms of cost, Nigerians believe that the large size of the delegation is unnecessary, especially as Buhari said the treasury is empty as it is being alleged in some quarters that the trip, which will involve the dignitaries and their aides, may cost Nigeria a whopping N2.2 billion.
The Presidency had earlier listed those expected to join the President on the visit to include: Governors Kashim Shettima (Borno), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Tanko Al-Makura (Nasarawa) and Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo). The delegation will also have former Rivers State Governor Chibuike Amaechi; Buhari’s running mate in the 2011 presidential election, Pastor Tunde Bakare; former President of the Newspapers Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and publisher of The Democrat, Ismaila Isa Funtua; a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau; and Halilu Sheni, a businessman, amongst others.