PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar’Adua opted for a visit to Saudi Arabia when global attention is at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. At least he told Nigerians where he was, and why he was there.

On the surface, this trip is a vast improvement on what happened last year. For 17 days, Nigerians speculated about the whereabouts of their President with government officials falling over each other to give conflicting accounts.

It transpired that the President was ill and was attending to his health while his officials told the nation he was fulfilling his religious obligations in Saudi Arabia. On his return, the President fired Alhaji Babagana Kingibe, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, without explanations.

Following that incident, the President’s men have found it expedient to issue public notices of his travels, especially if they include Saudi Arabia.

This trip would be his third to Saudi Arabia in about a year. On August 25 the President returned after an 11-day visit to Saudi Arabia for a medical check-up and the lesser hajj.

A statement from his office said, “President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, will, at the invitation of King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud, undertake a working visit to Saudi-Arabia Tuesday, September 22, 2009”. He was to hold talks with King Abdullah, participate in the opening of the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

The President’s second straight absence from the UN General Assembly is not funny. Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe is leading the country’s delegation, but he cannot attend important bilateral meetings that presidents and heads of government hold at this time. about 140 Heads of State or Government are participating in debates on climate change, nuclear security and non-proliferation, and the global financial crisis. Last year, President Yar’Adua’s absence stalled a scheduled meeting on the Bakassi Peninsula.

The UN Secretariat in a statement then stated,  “In the light of the fact that the President of Nigeria, Mr. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, will not be attending this year’s ordinary session of the General Assembly, the high-level meeting between the Secretary-General and Presidents Paul Biya and Umaru Yar’Adua, initially scheduled, will not take place as planned.”

Criticisms have trailed the President’s Saudi visit. The strident voices have been increased with the mention that the President’s schedule includes opening of a university in Saudi Arabia while universities in Nigeria have been on strike for three months with the President and his official paying scant attention to the crisis.

Nigeria loses opportunities each time the President fails to attend these important meetings. His officials delight in dissipating energies canvassing Nigeria’s invitation to other meetings.

Just like last year when crucial meetings involving the Nigerian president were either postponed, or where possible held without him,  this year would not be different.

Nigeria has global ambitions, among them a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. In two UN General Assembly sessions, our President has not put in a word for Nigeria.


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