By Prudence Arobani
President Muhammadu Buhari would be hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday at the White House to discuss issues, including fighting terrorism and economic growth.
Buhari, during the one-day official working visit to the U.S. at the invitation of Trump, would have bilateral meeting with the U.S. president and a working lunch.
“President Trump looks forward to discussing ways to enhance our strategic partnership and advance our shared priorities: promoting economic growth and reforms, fighting terrorism and other threats to peace and security, and building on Nigeria’s role as a democratic leader in the region.
“The relationship of the United States with Nigeria is deep and strong, and Nigeria’s economic growth, security, and leadership in Africa will advance our mutual prosperity,” the White House said.
International affairs experts say Buhari’s U.S. visit is strategic on many fronts, especially in view of the fact that the Nigeria-U.S. relationship was not too good prior to the inauguration of Buhari as president.
They say Buhari, being the first democratically-elected African President that would be hosted by Trump since his inauguration and also being the first African leader Trump spoke to on phone following his inauguration as the U.S. president, speaks volumes.
They also note that former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Nigeria in March in a first five-country African tour embarked upon by any official of the Trump administration.
These historic events, the experts say, apart from reaffirming Nigeria’s strategic position in Africa, raised a lot of expectations and opportunities during the visit.
The Special Adviser to Buhari on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, highlighted some of the expectations and opportunities.
“The meeting is to discuss ways to enhance the strategic partnership between the two countries and to advance shared priorities, such as promoting economic growth, fighting terrorism and other threats to peace and security.
“The meeting will further deepen the U.S.-Nigeria relationship as the United States considers Nigeria’s economic growth, security and leadership in Africa to be critical aspects of their strategic partnership.
“Later in the day, President Buhari will meet with a group of business persons in agriculture and agro-processing, dairy and animal husbandry,” Adesina said.
Ahead of the visit, meetings were scheduled between senior Nigerian Government officials and executives of major U.S. companies in the areas of agriculture, aviation and transportation.
The presidency said the Nigerian officials would be meeting with Boeing, the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world, on the National Carrier Project.
On agriculture, the Nigerian delegation will also meet with large equipment manufacturers with focus on harvesting and post harvesting equipment.
In the area of transportation, the officials will meet with the GE-led consortium for the implementation of the interim phase of the narrow gauge rail concession.
A substantive concession agreement will be negotiated and finalised, to provide the consortium the opportunity to invest an estimated two billion dollars, to modernise the rail line from Lagos to Kano and from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.
In addition, the concession framework and the interim phase framework agreements are expected to be signed during the visit.
The Nigerian officials will also meet with U.S.-EXIM Bank and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation to explore competitive financing arrangements.
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, said the Buhari-Trump meeting “will be a very high level meeting; it will help the U.S. to also understand Nigeria’s projection”.
“There will be independent conversation on security, governance, the Lake Chad Basin and Nigeria’s role as a democratic leader in the region,’’ Symington said.
Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, also described the visit as a sign of the growing cooperation between the U.S. and Nigeria.
Mohammed said: “There will be independent conversation on security, governance, the Lake Chad Basin and Nigeria’s role as a democratic leader in the region.”
“The meeting between President Trump and President Buhari will centre majorly on security and the economy and I think it’s not by co-incidence and I think it’s quite important.
“He (Buhari) is the President of the most populous country in Africa, the president of the country with the largest economy in Africa.
“And this is quite important because it is going to offer the opportunity for the two countries to reset their ties.
“And I think it’s probably the fact that the world is now understanding that Nigeria is very strategic not just to the sub-region but the entire Africa,” Mohammed said.
Amb. Hakeem Balogun, Nigeria’s ambassador to Indonesia, sees a very positive outing, saying the Nigeria-U.S. relation has improved greatly since Buhari became president and described the relationship as “very warm”.
“The Nigeria-U.S. relationship is quite good. It’s been very warm and lovely ever since the coming of this administration.
“Prior to President Buhari’s ascendancy, the relationship was sort of lukewarm following the American’s complaints over Nigeria’s handling of security issues, human rights allegations, issues of corruption, issues of governance.
“These are issues which the present government has come in to make the focal point of its administration. And no doubt, even since then, our relationship has been very robust.
“Our relationship has entered the fulcrum of the Bi-National Commission and based on that, it has formed the bedrock of our relationship; the bi-national commission is the foundation, the basis of the relationship between both countries.
“Well within the bedrock of that bi-national commission, are issues of good governance, corruption, security and others, which formed the basis of our relationship with the United States.”
On corruption, Balogun, who was Nigeria’s former Charge d’ Affaires in U.S., said the U.S. was quite impressed with how far Nigeria has gone in the fight against corruption under Buhari.
“They (U.S.) really have this belief that the person of Mr President was okay to handle the issue of corruption in Nigeria and that he’s been doing well.
“So I can definitely tell you that the United States is pleased with what we’ve been doing at that level, ditto the efforts to revive the economy,” Balogun said.
To corroborate Balogun’s assertion, Trump, during his phone conversation with Buhari in February 2017, discussed the strong cooperation between the U.S. and Nigeria, including on shared security, economic, and governance priorities.
Trump underscored the importance the United States places on its relationship with Nigeria, and he expressed interest in working with Buhari to expand the strong partnership.
The leaders agreed to continue close coordination and cooperation in the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and worldwide.
The U.S. president, particularly expressed support for the sale of aircraft from the U.S. to support Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram.
Trump thanked Buhari for the leadership he has exercised in Africa and emphasised the importance of a strong, secure, and prosperous Nigeria that continues to lead in the region and in international forums.
Balogun also said Buhari’s visit would be a win-win for both countries considering Nigeria’s ability to rally Africa on any issue at the international stage, a diplomatic advantage, which U.S. desperately needs.
“The U.S. recognises Nigeria as the leader on the continent. It shows that if they (U.S.) have to have a foothold in Africa or to do something in Africa, anything positive, they need the support of Nigeria.
“All our activities in the troubled spots in Africa – the championed peace on the continent and even beyond the continent; we’ve always been there on peaceful missions around the world,” Balogun said.