By - Tobi Idowu
Nigerian cyberspace was recently awash with commentaries as it got to the public notice, yet again, that President Muhammadu Buhari, was to embark on a foreign trip – a two-in-one trip, if you may. Understandably, there were differing views, ranging from outright condemnation of the President’s penchant for jetting out of the country, to some attempts by his media aides and acolytes to defend those travels as being necessary to the economic uplift of the country.
Notably, however, some of the commentaries, were more or less cynical responses stemming from the banality that a presidential trip has been made to become in the current dispensation. According to a report by the Punch Newspapers, as of April 2019, Buhari spent more than a year of his first term four years. It is likely he will beat the record in his second coming. Yet, it needs to be asked how have the purported blessings Buhari’s journeys would bring in to Nigeria been affecting the ordinary citizens?
First, his latest trips
President Buhari’s latest trips were to his arguably two favourite foreign nations: Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. Whereas, it could be said that he gravitates towards Saudi Arabia due in part to religious affiliations, it is widely known that the president’s doctor are resident in the UK.
It should be noted that Buhari had just recently been part of the African-leaders’ contingents to Sochi last week for Russia – Africa summit, but he had barely spent two days on his return before the presidency announced that he was off to Saudi Arabia and then to the United Kingdom for a private visit.
However, his spokesman, Garba Shehu, disclosed that the official trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was to enable him attend Economic Forum of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh. Afterwards, he would proceed to London on what is said to be a private visit.
It means that Buhari would be absent for a total of 20 days. Five days in Saudi and 15 days in the London; part of those 20 days would on a private visit on whose cost? The taxpayers.
Foreign trips offer Nigerians chance to hear their president
It is a common knowledge in Nigeria that their president somewhat incredibly dislikes the idea of engaging with the people he rules. Apart from very few staged and extremely “boring” media chats, President Buhari has hardly held any forum to enunciate his vision and goals to the citizens. Nigerians, who could read and/or have access to media channels, in most cases, could only make guesses about the thoughts of their president, via addresses released by the presidential media aides. It is an open secret that those addresses are usually written by professional speech writers, with little or no inputs of the man in whose names they have been released.
Ironically, in order to get a first-hand message from Buhari, Nigerians look no further than to the foreign trips their president embark on. There, Buhari not only feel comfortable to bare his thoughts as the president of Nigeria, but also uses them to make official pronouncements that will affect the citizens. For instance, it was while on a trip to Saudi Arabia that the president gave reasons he had ordered that the Nigerian borders be closed to Benin and Niger. Nigerian are sure to receive some more message from their leader’s latest itinerary. It could only be hoped that it would be less of a disheartening order.
Buhari might be aiming to beat former president Obasanjo’s record
Nigeria’s former president, Olusegun Obasanjo was also a famous junketing president. In Nigerian popular lore, he holds the record for the most travel of all the former Presidents that have governed the country. Yet, it is not inconceivable that President Buhari might take that position from his former military boss.
Until that happens, Buhari’s constant travels shouldn’t elicit much concern as it is the case presently. This perhaps is what the national chairman of Buhari’s All Progressive Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, meant when he berated the critics of President Muhammadu Buhari’s constant trips abroad, as he insisted that President Olusegun Obasanjo travelled more frequently that Mr Buhari when he was in office.
“Saying Mr President is involved in frequent trips is not correct. I remember very well, there is no president in recent Nigeria’s history, since 1999 till now, that travelled out of Nigeria as much as former President Olusegun Okikiola Aremu Obasanjo did. “If you check through your newspapers and playback some of your electronic coverages, you will find where Gani Fawehinmi (of blessed memory) took time to calculate the number of days President Obasanjo was out of Nigeria, visiting foreign countries.”
Meanwhile, what benefit will Nigerians get from Buhari’s possible beating of Obasanjo’s foreign trip record? In a Punch editorial titled “Buhari, stay at your duty post,” the incumbent President’s trip is said to “provocatively gives the impression of an uncaring president.”
“Without opening up the economy and ensuring sound rule of law at home, foreign travels to attract investment is a complete waste of public funds. “Short of administering the country from outer space, Buhari has made international travel a pet project,” the paper concluded.
The cost of the President’s trip
“The President and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, received an allocation of N1.3 billion in this year’s N8.9 trillion budget, mainly for their international trips. Domestic trips constitute a low percentage of this allocation. “Buhari has proposed a N3.3 billion budget to take care of his and his deputy’s trips in the 2020 Appropriation Bill before NASS. The government Buhari leads is piling up taxes and charges on the people without considering how to cut down the huge cost of governance,” the Punch editorial reads.
While government continues to initiate different policies aim at putting the burden of the cost of governance on the citizens, it seems unable to think some of its own needless enterprise and expenditure need to be cut down. It bears asking if the presidency does not deem it necessary to reduce the president’s trips and only privileging that have immense necessity?
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