January 20, 2023

Presidential candidates and Chatham House runs

One day, one trouble

By Adekunle Adekoya

MR Peter Obi, presidential candidate of the Labour Party is the latest aspirant for our nation’s highest office to go to Chatham House, England, to give a talk. He had been preceded by the APC candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the Chatham House run. In 2015, incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari was also at the British think-tank to speak, where he made promises, most of which he failed to fulfil.

That is not my beef today. What I am concerned with is the necessity of going abroad to foreign think-tanks to sell political agenda by our leaders during campaigns. If all our 18 presidential candidates have to go to Chatham House, that think-tank will almost have nothing else to do than receive Nigerian presidential candidates.

I have always wondered why we need to do this, why our politicians need to seek endorsement of our past colonial masters. We do have a few think-tanks of our own that churn out policy directives for our governments, even though our governments have been run largely by leaders who don’t listen to their own people. In any case, it has not happened that British politicians seeking to become prime ministers come to our Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, to speak on their plans for the British.

Neither has the Japanese PM hopefuls, or American presidential aspirants, or leaders of other countries in the world for that matter. Despite the fact that many Indians have lived all of their lives in Nigeria making piles of money for the benefit of their home economy, no Indian PM hopeful has come to Nigeria to speak on his/her political agenda ahead of any election. Why do Nigerian politicians do this?

Maybe it’s an African thing. I cringe in revulsion each time African leaders jet out to attend a summit called by a major power. In the last one year, the US-Africa Summit held, at the instance of the US government. Heads of States/Governments of African countries jetted out to Washington to attend the summit.

The United States–Africa Leaders Summit 2022 was an international conference held in Washington, D.C., from December 13–15, 2022. The summit was hosted by United States President Joe Biden, and attended by leaders from 49 African states, as well as the head of the African Union Commission. Imagine the costs of travel by the delegations of 49 African leaders of government.

I wondered why the summit couldn’t hold anywhere in Africa, if the agenda of the meeting were really about Africa. Earlier than that, the China-Africa Summit also held, an event that saw the continent’s leaders trooping to Beijin. If that was also about Africa, why didn’t the summit hold on the continent?

It seems the major powers are hosting African leaders to summits in a renewed bid to perpetuate the underdevelopment of Africa. Presently, many African nations, Nigeria included, are neck-deep in debt to multilateral institutions and  Western governments, in addition to China. If these fellows can’t put on their thinking caps and devise a viable future for Africa and Africans, must they be clowning around the world junketing from one summit to another.

Those nations calling the summits have their reasons, chief of which is the national interest of the host government. What are the reasons African leaders have for attending? Many African leaders attending these bogus summits do so with pecuniary motives as the chief driver of their attendance, with the well-being of the people over whose affairs they preside coming distant on their scale of preference.

Back to the Chatham House runs. Of what benefit to the Nigerian voter are the appearances at Chatham House? What does the voter stand to gain? My take is that most of the voters still do not know what each party has in store for them, beyond sloganeering. I think the politicians should spend the resources committed to the Chatham House runs to making voters get their PVCs, as this seems to be a major problem now.

What impact will a Chatham House speech have on safeguarding electoral materials. How will a Chatham House speech address the issue of voter apathy, which has characterised many elections in the past? Apart from jibes and abuses, the on-going campaigns are almost lack-lustre; the media is almost bereft of political messages by the contesting politicians. And those messages are for the voters. If they can’t get them from the local media, is it through Chatham House Nigerian voters will get messages from politicians?

I think we should take care of the home front before taking issues out, if truly, charity begins at home. We do not need appearances at foreign think-tanks to deliver political messages.