By Rotimi Fasan
Terrorists have killed no less than 10, 000 Nigerians, while two million others have been displaced since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. The preceding statistics were provided by President Muhammadu Buhari in the course of his speech during the Queen’s Banquet at the Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting in Malta last week. That speech by President Buhari was perhaps the most important news report on him at the CHOGM. While thanking the international community for their support in Nigeria’s fight against the insurgents, Buhari used the occasion of his speech to call for more international support.

Buhari’s account of the Boko Haram insurgency was not different from the kind of narrative that the international community has become familiar with from visiting Nigerian leaders in the last 16 years of our return to democratic governance. By implication, Nigeria’s only contribution to discussions at these international forums in which our relevance appears ever more questionable has been the display of our huge begging bowls that carries a check list of demands from the international community. Rather than the problem solvers we were hitherto known to be, Nigerian leaders now go abroad to seek foreign solutions to our home grown problems mostly spawned by corruption and irresponsible leadership.

Last week’s visit to Malta was one of many the president has made since assuming office six months ago. Most of these trips are concerned with finding solution to our insurgency problem. While the Presidency must surely know the number of times the President has made these international trips, I don’t know if Nigerians keep track of them. But what is clear to me is that the trips are becoming more regular. This is one of those many times when one remembers Gani Fawehinmi. As part of his larger objective of keeping our leaders on their toes and making them accountable to the people, he made it his business to document such trips. Meticulously he weighed these presidential trips against whatever benefits Nigerians were projected or could be expected to have gained from them.

By Fawehinmi’s reckoning our leaders gain too little from these trips. He would rather have them stay back home more to serve the Nigerian people. Gani documented the many trips of President Obasanjo and was very critical of him for being too footloose. Gani had a soft spot for Buhari going back to the latter’s days as a military leader that took the fight against corruption rather seriously. Gani, Nigerians might remember, was the only notable Nigerian lawyer that flouted the Nigerian Bar Association’s order barring lawyers from appearing before so-called anti-corruption tribunals that the military established to try corruption cases against politicians in the mid-1980s. Fawehinmi was never a man to fight shy of taking on erstwhile comrades. Had he been alive, I wonder what he would think now of Buhari’s more regular international trips?

Yet, one cannot blame Buhari for travelling more often. He cannot remain stolidly at home as if sitting on his palms and expect to find solutions to the problems that ail us. But he would do well, especially in these early days of his administration, to be very selective of which international trips to embark on. Done too often and without any specific gain to the country, these trips can only lead to significant erosion of the little that is left of our national and international prestige.

He should be seen to be taking on the very mundane but critical problems facing Nigerians in a more frontal manner. Our problems of constant power cut, fuel scarcity and joblessness may have international dimension, but they do not necessarily need the intervention of the international community. The long vehicular queues for fuel that have remained with us in the last one month neither need the intervention of the Queen of England, nor President Hollande or Barack Obama.

While some of the trips the President has undertaken may look important, not all of them are of strategic importance to Nigeria’s interest. Even those of strategic interest must be undertaken in style. Indeed, our presence at some of them increasingly cast us in the role of a bench warmer.

International events like CHOGM may provide opportunities for Buhari and others before him to discuss matters of common interest with their counterparts from other parts of the world, but they amount to mere sight seeing where there are pressing national issues that call for presidential intervention. The increasing frequency of the presidential trips is appearing to be indicative of our irrelevance in the international circle. Which makes the trips embarrassing. The President may need to be guided to realise that he doesn’t need to honour all and every international invitations.

Time was when a Nigerian head of state’s speech at international forums were looked upon with great expectations. A Murtala Muhammed’s speech at an OAU meeting was hardly something to be treated with levity. Such speeches were dissected for their policy thrust, national and regional relevance. They spoke of our role and relevance as a regional power house.

These days, especially in the wake of our return to so-called democracy, our presence at similar forums is just as an addition to the number of countries in attendance. Our leaders go to these forums to make very jejune and ordinary pronouncements. If all that could be reported of President Buhari’s presence in Malta are the teary stats on Boko Haram’s depredation, he was better off not attending at all. He could have passed the same message to the international community without going abroad.

Of course we cannot command the attention of the world if we are as corrupt and self-destructive as we’ve been in the last many years. We can’t force others to respect us when we can’t be seen to be acting respectably. But what this calls for is not more international trips. Rather, we should try to build Nigeria from within with all our heart and mind. Our leaders have to be inward-looking. When we do the important things the world will notice and will show their readiness to partner with us.

For now we are below the international radar. As with recent trips by high profile world leaders, Pope Francis bypassed Nigeria to Kenya, Uganda and the restive Central African Republic on his recent visit to our continent. Obama has visited South Africa, Egypt and Kenya whose president was until recently wanted for war crime.

Obama, the first African-American president, has not deemed it necessary to visit the most populous Black nation on our planet. What further proof do we need of our plunge into irrelevance? Yet our way out of the valley of international snub lies at home and not in frequent presidential trips abroad.


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