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Why Saudi at this time, sir?

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And I must say very strongly as a senior Nigerian here in the UN Secretariat that there was a greatly missed opportunity that our head of state was not advised properly to come to this assembly…Nigeria missed an opportunity to really register its own views on the world, register its credentials as an African leader.That he has not come; that he did not come last year and he doesn’t come next year it will not be seen in a positive light by the international community —Professor Ibrahim Gambari, Under Secretary General of the UN – a Nigerian – recently.
Choices have consequences —Anonymous.

This piece was written immediately the president departed for Saudi. But the ASUU vs FG series partly prevented it from being published at the time. That was fortuitous because Professor Gambari’s comments would have been missed. At least now, the president, his advisers (if he has any), and his spin doctors know what damage they have done to Nigeria by making the choice to go to Saudi Arabiawhen all serious Heads of State were in New York.

Dear President Yar’Adua,

Re: Choice of Saudi visit over UN and G-20 summits

I NEVER thought there would ever be a reason for publishing two open letters to you, a self-described servant-leader, two months in a row. But, when the chief servant of a nation is behaving in a manner that calls to question his judgment, his seriousness and even his loyalty to the realm, then his employers are within their rights to request urgent answers to questions raised by his conduct.

To put it mildly, Mr. President, your choices of late have given a lot of thinking Nigerians cause for a great deal of alarm. Your trip to Saudi Arabia instead of the United States of America, where two meetings vital to global future progress were on the agenda, is only the latest in a series of decisions which have left observers wondering if all is well in your administration.

In case Ojo Maduekwe, your foreign affairs minister, whose penchant for being “misquoted” (his excuse when he had invariably put his foot in his mouth) has failed to inform your government, the United Nations has gathered serious heads of state together to discuss the future of our planet. Every nation is at environmental risk. But as the great Miguel Cervantes, 1547-1616, had remarked, “All happy families resemble one another.

Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The top 20 nations resemble one another; we among the unhappy are unhappy in our own peculiar way – we have no leader to speak of. The difference between nations; those who overcome the challenges they face and those which are overwhelmed, will be determined by the type of leadership each group receives.

Since the matter of environment is global, that leadership must first of all start by forging multilateral alliances enabling the nation to share information, resources, solutions, ideas etc with other nations on a broad front. The second aspect of that leadership must include the ability of the nation’s leaders to push the nation’s concerns to the fore front of the global agenda.

Nigeria, you may or may not know, faces several environmental challenges which, unless addressed, could render large parts of our country uninhabitable in future and exacerbate the problem of rural-urban drift. Permit me to point to a few. Erosion in most parts of the South East, is already robbing the smallest zone, with one of the three largest populations, of a great percentage of its landmass – land mass badly needed for agriculture, industrialization, education and for housing.

Erosion is almost always accompanied by de-forestation because when the soil is removed the trees and shrubs fall of their own accord and this promotes more erosion. That vicious cycle had gone unaddressed nationwide for years threatening our collective future. The Sallah holidays gave me the opportunity to visit some places in the South East zone to update myself. And, sir, the situation is almost catastrophic and none of the state governments is addressing the problem.

Coastal communities from Badagry to Calabar are in danger of becoming submerged. Any map of Nigeria will reveal to you that the following states will be most affected  – Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. Quite a chunk, you must agree. Already several communities in the riverine areas of Nigeria have disappeared under water and with water levels worldwide rising, more of our island communities face extinction.

Lagos State and the Federal Government, which you now head, have spent the last ten years literally throwing billions of naira into the ocean at the Bar Beach. That has not prevented Ahmadu Bello Way from being submerged from time to time. There, it is a race between us and utter disaster. In the north, which is your primary constituency, the problem is desertification which has gone unabated.

Having lived in all the corners of the north, at one time or another, and still a frequent visitor, I can assure you, that we are losing the war against desert encroachment. And one of the consequences of that has been the unprecedented floods in parts of the north which until recently had not experienced them.

There is no need to list, seriatim, all the challenges confronting us, as well as those that will arise in the future. Even if all we have to solve are the problems of the present, they will require a leader who works all the time, obtains information all the time, seeks collaboration all the time and goes to the right summits all the time.

Your trip to Saudi, whatever else it might yield, will certainly not assist us in solving our own share of the global environmental problems. The answers were being worked out in New York while you were drinking tea in Riyadh. We deserve better from our servant.

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