By Emmanuel Aziken
There are indeed few Nigerian leaders who can reckon with President Muhammadu Buhari’s adventures in foreign diplomacy; for good or for bad.
As military head of state, and subsequently, as twice-elected civilian president, Buhari’s passions and posers outside Nigeria have left lasting legacies.
He unwittingly started shaping himself in that arena in the late seventies after General Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as the federal commissioner for petroleum, a position that opened him to the diplomatic circuit of the international oil trade.
However, he effectively stamped his name in international reckoning when as military ruler in 1984, he authorized what could be considered as about the most daring engagement by Nigerian spies abroad. That was the attempted kidnap of his loquacious critic, Alhaji Umaru Dikko from the streets of London.
It was an audacious kidnap attempt of a man who had at that time taken to international radio and other channels to mock Buhari. Dikko was rescued after he had been packaged in a crate set for delivery to Lagos because his secretary happened to have looked out at the window at about the time he was seized.
29 years after on his return to power as civilian president, Buhari was better prepared against another loquacious London-based critic, Nnamdi Kanu.
Just as Dikko slipped from soldiers after Buhari came to power, Kanu had mysteriously fled from Nigeria when Buhari’s soldiers arrived for him in his Imo State base only to resurface in London.
He had just like the late politician also used his base from London to wage ferocious attacks on Buhari.
He mocked the persona of the president as a ghost and invented what many considered as the ludicrous myth of a double from Sudan as Nigeria’s president.
Now better prepared, Buhari was able to give Nnamdi Kanu the Umaru Dikko treatment in 2021, ferrying a mystified critic into custody at the DSS headquarters in Abuja from Nairobi, Kenya.
Besides his legacies on Dikko and Nnamdi Kanu, Buhari’s foreign adventures have also enriched our vocabulary and romantic syntax with an understanding of the use of “The Other Room.” That was a phrase that he expressed during a press conference with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
For a man who is not given to much words, taciturn as, as we hailed him in the past, Buhari’s activities outside Nigeria have not been much evaluated. Either for the positives or the negatives.
He may have now excelled to the position of the most travelled Nigerian president, keeping regular attendance at inaugurations, burials, seminars and delivering speeches on security across the globe.
What has lately brought home the perception on Buhari’s adventurism abroad is the disbursement of N1.14 billion for 10 state of the art cars to the government of Niger Republic.
Understandably, many have gone up in arms against the action of the president pigeonholing the approval to cronyism for his foreign Fulani kinsmen across the border.
The umbrage has come against the assertions of Nigeria’s bad economic position and the dire straits of the populace at home.
However, many overlook the fact that what Buhari has done may have been in the country’s best interest; to wit, to keep brotherly relations with a neighbour.
It is a fact not publicly stated that before Buhari, that many of our immediate and remote physical neighbors have depended on Nigeria for bailouts in one form or the other.
Our official aircraft are used to carry the foreign leaders to some of their foreign destinations.
Indeed, it is possible that President Buhari went back on his campaign promise to reduce the Presidential Air Fleet for the purpose of sustaining this particular patronage.
So, President Buhari’s gesture to Niger could be considered in that likewise. After all, Niger has a border of 1,608 kilometers with Nigeria.
However, that is where the defence of President Buhari stops.
Many are saying that for President Buhari his hospitality seems to start from abroad. And there are many examples to push that narrative including interfacing with ordinary Nigerians only abroad.
On the donations of the vehicles, if it were a matter of foreign policy necessity, the president could have caused Nigeria branded vehicles to be sent to Niger.
If he had looked within, he could have gotten the cars at a cheaper rate and removed the import and freight duties and other costs which will bolster the economy of Japan while further sinking the Nigerian economy.
Even more, many question the amount executed in purchasing the vehicles as laced with corruption and wonder how the president could have approved such figures.
Even more, many also question the preoccupation of the president with everything Niger Republic, the source of much grief in the land. It is now being alleged that the billions of untraced ransom payment for kidnap victims are now being used to develop Niger Republic.
In an interview session the president was quoted as saying that he indeed may have relatives across the border.
One of the most controversial acts many have attributed to Buhari as military leader was the report that he in 1985 voted for Niger Republic’s Idi Oumarou to be Secretary General of the defunct Organisation of African Unity, OAU against the Nigerian born, Peter Onu who was then the acting scribe.
These are stoic actions of a man of strong convictions and beliefs. But whether Buhari’s beliefs and actions advance the interest of Nigeria or Niger Republic are indiscernible to many. Not even his hardworking spokesmen can say where his priorities lie, because actions speak louder than words.
Indeed, for a man who could strike at Nigerian critics in London and Nairobi, the wonder is why he is restrained against foreign and local terrorists hibernating across the Aso Rock fence in Abuja?