By Emmanuel Aziken, Emman Ovuakporie & Henry Umoru
The President’s decision to embark on an international visit at the time of heightened insecurity in the land raises questions.
“That President Jonathan decided to visit Brazil in the wake of the escalating crises in Northern Nigeria does not make any difference,” human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu, told Vanguard in his own response to the outrage in some quarters over the President’s trip.
What was a surprising response from one of the administration’s trenchant critics was to turn into a blanket condemnation of the present administration’s ways and manners. “His leaving the country does not make any difference because even when he was around the security agencies could really not do anything, so for me, his leaving for an international assignment does not make any difference which is itself, a very sad commentary,” Aturu said last Tuesday.
President Jonathan’s departure from Nigeria on Tuesday for a visit to Brazil for an international earth summit was preceded by an unusual announcement of the visit. The announcement was perceived in some quarters to be a gauge of public opinion on the visit.
Only last Sunday the country was thrown into another round of crisis following the bombing of three churches in Zaria and Kaduna. It was a continuation of the almost weekly attacks on churches in Northern Nigeria by the Islamic group, Boko Haram which admitted responsibility for the bombing.
Last Sunday’s bombing, however, stretched the patience of the Christian community in Kaduna, who interpreted the attacks on the churches as a war against their faith. The response was swift leading to more deaths in reprisal attacks that also spurred response from Muslim youth groups.
Kaduna was immediately placed under a 24 hour curfew. The following day, Monday, another set of gunmen attacked Damaturu, Yobe State leading to scores of casualties.
With tempers raised across the country on Tuesday, President Jonathan alongside his wife and an entourage of governors and high government officials departed for the Earth Summit.
It was an action that drew surprise from many quarters including some Peoples Democratic Party, PDP enthusiasts that are normally defensive of the administration. Some, out of decorum, refused to condemn the action.
Remarkably, senior government officials pressed on the issue expressed discomfort that the president may not have been fully briefed on the continuing crisis in the country with one top government official noting that close aides of the president may have hidden the truth of the situation from him.
Among the president’s critics were the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, civil rights lawyer Bamidele Aturu and members of the House of Representatives. An exception came from Senate Spokesman, Senator Enyinninya Abaribe who said the president may have been compelled to undertake his trip on the basis of international commitments.
Describing the president’s action as reflective of an insensitive and confused leadership, the ACN in a statement on Tuesday, said the President ought to have cancelled the trip no matter how important as a symbolic show of solidarity with grieving Nigerians.
“Again, we are constrained to ask whether this President is getting quality advice from the myriad of aides surrounding him, or whether, like his benefactor, Olusegun Obasanjo, he has decided he may not even take any advice from his advisers.
‘’In other climes, the usual thing is for leaders to cancel foreign trips or rush home from such trips when their countries suffer tragedies. ‘’In April 2010, Chinese President Hu Jintao cut short his Latin American tour and returned home after a strong earthquake hit the west of China; This year, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir returned home early from his visit to China, due to the rising tension along the border of his country with Sudan, and even a phone-hacking scandal was enough for British Prime Minister David Cameron to cut short an African trade tour and return.”
“Since our own President has not even left Nigeria when these latest tragedies broke, it is inexplicable that he will still hop into a plane with a huge entourage and fly out. He should realise that he is attending the conference because he is the President of Nigeria, not because he is Dr. Jonathan. Therefore, Nigeria’s paramount interest dictates that he stays at home and oversees efforts to prevent the precarious situation in Kaduna from degenerating into an all-out religious war,’’ the party said.
The anger was also reflected in the House of Representatives. Rep. Zakari Mohammed told Vanguard that the President’s action was tantamount to a father, who abandoned his house while it was on fire.
He said “he swore to an oath to protect lives and properties of his citizens is this the right time for him to move when his house is on fire. He should be more sensitive to the plight of his people and take the right decision at the right time,” Mohammed, the House spokesman said.
Rep. Abiodun Faleke representing Ikeja Federal Constituency in his reaction said, “while his people are being buried for his lack of security effectiveness, he travelled to another country to tell the world about his weakness or his transformation agenda.”
Contributing to a debate on the floor of the House on Tuesday, Rep. Femi Gbajabamila, the House minority leader said:
“I am taken aback that at a time when the country is under siege Mr. President has travelled to far away Brazil.”
Aturu while lamenting the lack of effectiveness of the President’s security measures, said that the President’s presence would not in any way have meant anything, describing it as a sad commentary. Aturu, however, insisted that the President should have stayed put.
Expressing its condemnation on what it described as irresponsible executive aloofness, the CPC in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Rotimi Fashaikin said: “At this time, the Nation’s tranquil atmosphere has been truncated with spate of mindless bombings and general insecurity.
“It is our considered view that, this is not the propitious time for frivolous travels by the Nation’s President; more so, that the reason for the journey is what a minister of environment can conveniently handle. This latest action by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is akin to a head of family leaving his home still consumed by a raging inferno but finds it convenient to attend a village meeting on cleanliness of the village square.”
The rare exception was from Senator Abaribe who tongue-in-cheek said, ‘’the senate is not in the habit of running the country, it is a different arm of the government and I believe that if we have international obligations, we must keep to them, the Senate knows that the executive arm has its own responsibility and the Senate has its own responsibility.”
In a riposte from Brazil the President while addressing the Nigerian community in that country, flayed his critics for never seeing anything good in his administration. “One of the problems we have is that some Nigerians play politics with everything, but we cannot destroy our country because of personal political ambitions,” the President was reported to have said.