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President Buhari’s Junket: What is He Looking For? By Ayo Akanji

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It is not the critique who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,

Or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena– Theodore Roosevelt

No country can thrive in isolation, in today’s world order. Leaders of politically isolated countries travel the world over, for various economic and political reasons. The great leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, visited China and Russia for economic related issues to the development of both countries.

“President Buhari likes to travel”, this phrase and others like it, sometimes derisory, are common on social media and national newspaper editorials. Proponents of this line of thought genuinely believe that a 70 plus year old man who superintends over close to 200 million people will abandon his duty post for hedonistic voyages just for the fun.

First of all, the official Twitter handle of the Nigerian Presidency (@NGRPresident) virtually televises every part of his official activities. Meetings upon meetings are held, bilateral and multilateral agreements are signed, deals sealed and the Nigerian flag gets floated in the right places. A keen observer of the President’s travels will admit that they have brought in returns and Investments. From the US to Japan, Turkey, UAE to Morocco, the president has travelled far and wide with a single goal in mind; the development of the Nigerian economy.

The Russian-Africa summit trip in Sochi is a testament. When the news of his travel came, there was the usual outcry. When the agreements and deals signed were reeled out, those who screamed their lungs out, swearing to the futility of such travels, were left to bite their fingers.

Russia is the biggest country in the world, twice the size of the USA or China, five times the seize of India, seventy times the seize of the UK. However, it has a relatively small population of about 144 million, fewer people than Nigeria. The relations between the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) now the Russian Federation and Nigeria can be traced to the 1967-1970 civil war, both countries had a strategic military alliance.

Crucially, on the foreign policy framework, President Buhari called on his Russian counterpart to support Nigeria’s quest for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) this has been his key foreign policy thrust – a major boost in recognizing the significant contributions Nigeria has played enthroning global stability.

However, NNPC went into a Joint Venture agreement with a Russian based firm Luke oil, for the efficient revitalization of our moribund refineries. Both countries agreed to reinvigorate the joint venture that existed in the past, between NNPC and Gazprom for the development of gas infrastructure, mind you it is opined that; “Nigeria is an ocean of gas and a droplet of oil”.

Furthermore, nuclear technology and how it would contribute to development in Nigeria was discussed in Sochi. Russia’s state – backed nuclear energy company, Rosatam is to build four nuclear power plants in Nigeria, costing about $80 billion, Nigeria signed an agreement to cooperate on the design, construction, operation of the facility in 2012, the government will enter a power – purchasing agreement for the nuclear plants.

Conversely, to illustrate his total commitment to transparency, most of the agreements were government to government cutting off the middle men and having value for services rendered. This has been the bilateral path the President threads, other projects to benefit from the (G2G) are the arrangement for the completion and launch of the jinxed Ajaokuta Steel Company, wheat processing, rail infrastructure etc.

It is important that we remember 1979 was the date the construction of this rolling mill commenced. Sitting on an expansive 24,000 hectares, the mill, despite gulping over $7.6bn, more than 5% of Nigeria’s 2019 budget, has not produced a single sheet of steel as at December 2017.

President Putin accepted this request. He also consented to the construction of 1,400km railway line from Lagos to Calabar. Nigeria – Russia Military Agreement will facilitate Nigeria’s speedy acquisition of hardware and training of soldiers Nigeria.

In the same vein, Nigeria’s Ambassador in Russia, Stephen Ogbah, outlined Nigeria’s desire to purchase fighter planes, helicopters, tanks and other military equipment from the Kremlin. He stated that a draft deal had already been developed awaiting a logical conclusion.

Any sensible and patriotic Nigerian will promote the country’s investment potentials in any way possible. This is what the president is doing. A total of 25 deals worth $15 billion were secured at the summit.

Moreover, critics of President Buhari’s foreign trips have failed to recognize the great opportunity he has given to Nigerian businesses to explore and partner with their foreign counterparts. During his trips abroad, businessmen and women, who travel at their own expense, taking advantage of the President’s visits to build new networks and undertake matchmaking deals, often accompany him.

Additionally, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, talks on diversification of the economy dominated the discussion at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh.

The President met with King Salman and the ambitious Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, both leaders compared notes on the decimation of ISIS in Syria and a strategy to tackle head-on threats from the Sahel region, investment opportunities between both countries led to establishment of a Nigeria – Saudi Council, where a fund for investment into various sectors of the Nigerian economy would be embarked upon by the Kingdom, both countries economies are oil-dependent, hence these economic cocktails are required.

On the margin of the (FII) forum, President Buhari met U.S Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, developing a framework to curb terrorist funding was a major item of their discussion.

 

Akanji is a political strategist and writes from Abuja

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