Buhari’s US trip: It is worth the ado

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Realistically, what is the value to Nigeria in President Muhammadu Buhari’s trip to the United States of America? We know that when Buhari travelled to Niger Republic and Chad, his intent and mission were very clear: He wanted to let the world know that his priority was securing the nation first before anything else; and since those two countries provided the de-facto platform from which the insurgents regularly launch their attacks, Buhari felt the starting point for solving the problem would be to meet physically with the chief executives of those countries. When the stakes are high enough, as they are in this case, a firm handshake, eye contact and general body language are critical in “reading the mind’s construction.” Nigerians understood and appreciated the necessity and wisdom of the two-nation visit and are now waiting to see the expected outcome.

We equally understood, and appreciated, why our president had to wait more than a whole month before overhauling his security team, comprising the service chiefs, the intelligence agencies and security adviser. He needed to squeeze from them every drop of information in order to fully understand why they had been unable to deal with these twisted young men from hell that take human life so brutally and with obvious relish.

Buhari’s relief package to states also makes sense; because two wrongs cannot make a right, Nigerians understand the need to alleviate the suffering of workers mainly in the state civil service. Allowing the problem to fester will distract the administration from its priority of decisively tackling the scourge of insecurity and might, in fact, constitute a serious security threat of its own. Therefore, better to pay the workers now and when the time is right investigate who stole their salary before the present administration came into office. We do understand all of these and, putting aside Mr. Oilseh Metu’s often reactionary, if not pedestrian opposition postulations, President Buhari’s actions, or where applicable delayed actions, have been generally tolerated with national equanimity.

So, now what should PMB be asking of President Obama that will justify all the fuss we are making about a trip that had been undertaken by all previous Nigerian leaders since 1999 and even before then, but which has substantially left us no closer to solving our fundamental problems?

It is certain that Buhari will repeat, on behalf of Nigerians everywhere, his oft-repeated appreciation for the role the Obama administration has played in helping us achieve a difficult transition with miraculous ease. Buhari will have the chance to appreciate what he has severally described as America’s priceless value for human life. As president-elect, I’d sat within a few feet of the president when he mentioned how he felt when Obama called to congratulate him after he’d been declared winner of the March 28 presidential election. I was in an entourage led by the evergreen Maitama Sule, Paul Unongo, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, retired Gen. Paul Tarfa, among others, when Buhari admitted that his heart virtually melted with appreciation not because Obama was congratulating him for winning the election, but because of the very palpable relief in Obama’s voice that human tragedy of unquantifiable proportion had been averted with the successful outcome of our election. “It was the voice of people who know the value of human life,” Buhari had said. Clearly, there are two phone calls that President Buhari will never forget and which mean more to him than any other phone calls he might have received: The call from former President Goodluck Jonathan, congratulating him for his victory, and the one from Obama, expressing relief over Jonathan’s own phone call. Thus given this setup and the role the Obama administration has played in making the entire project the miraculous success it was, Buhari’s visit to the U.S. might well qualify as a “thank you” visit. That is in order and should come before any requests.

PMB’s next item should be to be very clear and precise about what exactly he is having to deal with back home. Is it terrorism, or insurgency? Or is it a mix grill of both. Let’s hope that PMB has enough experts around him to make such fine distinctions in how he defines his problem, and what specific support he requires from the Americans. America’s own definition of its own issues is that it is dealing with terrorism, sometimes described as Islamic fundamentalism. The Americans then make a clear distinction between foreign terrorism and homegrown terrorism. It is from this perspective that it deploys its resources to secure its citizens from the scourge of both. And it has been largely successful. According to The Heritage Foundation, there has been 60 terrorism plots in America since 9/11. Of these, only four had been successful. Fifty plots were thwarted before they were hatched while three were foiled.

This is the thing: How do you explain a problem whose threat you are aware of, and still allow it to consume hundreds of lives? According to the same research organisation, of the 53 plots that were thwarted or foiled, 50 were stopped through diligent intelligent operations, while three were by sheer piece of luck. Although we do have our own piece of luck here in Nigeria when the deadly devices occasionally, mercifully, fail to detonate, our record in deploying intelligence gathering to thwart attacks is at best dismal, at worst non-existent. Or, to be fair to all concerned, we have no idea when we are lucky or when the intelligence agencies are at their best; there are simply no records, and where we are given any statistics, that is always tainted by a justifiable cynicism that our experiences with the official statistics has generated.

So, Buhari must ask, and must take seriously whatever lessons, hints and intelligence he can glean from all the people he will be meeting with on how intelligence gathering is the most effective weapon against any kind of security threat, whether we are dealing with terrorism, insurgency or a combination of both; and not tenuous, meaningless checkpoints that are themselves a source of serious security concerns.

Then our president must also ask Obama, bluntly, how the billions he channels toward internal (or what the Americans call Homeland) security spending get to the end user without being pilfered. “At a congressional hearing last year, a State Department official said that corruption was so rampant (in the Nigerian military) that even basic equipment, such as bullets and transport vehicles were not making it to the front lines of the war with Boko Haram” (Quoted from The New York Times opinion pages, July 2, 2015). So, corruption should be the next big issue after intelligence gathering and usage. It is bad enough that we have the insurgency to deal with; but for some filthy unpatriotic security agents to turn this murderous national problem into an opportunity for self-enrichment is even worse than the insurgency itself. Which means while the media searchlight is focused on political looters, stealing within our security network is even more deadly and must be given appropriate attention.

And then, of course, there is the diplomatic value of the visit, and equally important, the symbolism of it. On planet earth, political influence and military might stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is Obama’s current address. To be invited to the White House, is a political coup no world leader can take for granted; it is the ultimate political invitation; even Putin, if he will scale down his machoism to human level, wouldn’t mind such privilege. With less than twice our population, America is about 162 times wealthier and the number one economy in the world. You don’t play modesty when America shows interest in you. Of course, there is always the memory of the what has happened to America’s former sweethearts, such as Manuel Noriega of Panama, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, the Shah of Iran, and Mobutu Seseseko of Zaire; but to be forewarned is to be forearmed. For now, we need America and in its own way, America needs Nigeria to be a successful economic powerhouse and a viable democracy. It is this common goal that would make it easier for PMB to extract maximum benefit from his trip, to make his visit worthwhile, to justify all the ado about it.

I think more than anybody else, President Buhari is fully conscious of all these and more. That is why, everything considered, the trip is worth the ado. Hopefully.

Sunnewsonline – Culled from: http://sunnewsonline.com/new/buharis-us-trip-it-is-worth-the-ado/

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