Home / Arts & Entertainment / When going to France is not pragmatic By Alabi Williams
President Tinubu

When going to France is not pragmatic By Alabi Williams

05 February 2024
Eight months into office, Buhari had to spend six days in London for undisclosed health needs. Four months later, he went for 10 days to treat some ear infection. On his next trip, he asked to be away for 10 days, but spent 50 days. After that, details of other visits were undisclosed because they arrogantly thought the people didn’t deserve to know what ailed their president or what he did with the official manhours he contracted with Nigerians.

Yet, his media handlers did not fail to titillate the people with mundane pictures of a lounging Buhari, as he welcomed a flurry of loyalists who scampered for clownish photo-ups. Very nauseating. They had no iota of shame, that their indiscretions constituted immense damage to the reputation of Africa’s biggest economy, whose president could not attend to his health needs at home.

Some citizens who invested a lot of hope in President Bola Tinubu were certain he would be far smarter and different from his predecessor in many ways. With his well-advertised grooming and education in Chicago State University, citizens expected his government to bring on board world’s best practices on issues of transparency and running an open government.

In sane countries, presidents don’t abandon home for foreign private visits, only to be seen somewhere with aides, watching football, eating exotic foods and wine, and incurring bills for their home countries. Some emerging leaders in Africa will avoid such folly but Nigeria hasn’t shown any example. Many had thought that Tinubu could show one or two examples in prudence.

Besides, Tinubu’s Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, had boasted that this Federal Government will no longer deploy propaganda in dealing with Nigerians. In a declaration in August 2023, at the yearly general meeting of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) in Abuja, he said: “You’re aware that the focus of government now is how to restore the confidence of the governed in government and its institutions…Transparency is the currency that builds credibility. While authenticity is the foundation upon which lasting relationships can be built.”

He added: “Let me assure my colleagues, the Renewed Hope Agenda of Mr. President, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, shall be anchored on transparent and accountable information dissemination to Nigerians.” Unfortunately, Idris was not on hand to tell Nigerians why Mr. President had to embark on a private visit to France, leaving citizens guessing and speculating.

Yet, if President Tinubu had decided officially to go on a break after eight grueling months in office, away from failing naira and crippling inflation, he is entitled to it. If he manages to escape the poverty and insecurity at home, to spend just two lavish weeks at some Grenada tax haven, he should enjoy himself. But if it’s private, let him pick the bills.

Let the president’s media managers be smart to know that when you announce it as a private visit, you need to let it remain simple. Deliberately circulating pictures of the president at lounges, bars and gyms to propagate a metaphor of fitness is deceitful. If you did not involve citizens in the details of the visit ab initio, you do not communicate seriousness with those graphics. You’re jesting.

The president apparently has a liking for France as a place for private getaways. Even as the presidential candidate of his party, he had traveled to France for what a media aide claimed was for “important meetings.” While there, he met some local businessmen and politicians. It was insinuated that he also met former Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, to broker a political deal. That was later denied. Several meetings took place in foreign capitals, across political parties, not for anything productive, but on how to grab political power.

The forex expended on those wasteful private trips could have been saved for today. Now, the naira is paying dearly for it and managers of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), are looking all over the place for the ‘culprits.’

But after becoming president, and now Nigeria’s number one citizen as well as that of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), Tinubu’s attachment to France, for undisclosed reasons, is raising curiosity and that should bother him. As the leader of Africa’s largest economy and the most populous black nation on planet earth, let him not traverse that indecorous and unaccountable path once treaded by his predecessor, Buhari. Buhari rode roughshod on Nigerians, his military boots were never replaced.

Let Tinubu know that if Nigerians don’t matter to him and his political party, ECOWAS and Africa ought to matter. If they think they do not owe Nigerians any explanation regarding their where abouts and in what country they go for private visits, ECOWAS citizens deserve to know. An ECOWAS leader cannot sneak into France and think Francophone Africa don’t matter.

On June 20, 2023, three weeks after resuming office, Tinubu joined other world leaders in France, for the Paris Summit to chart the New Global Financial Pact. That’s official and well accounted for. In September 2023, Tinubu spent five days in France on his way back from the 78th United Nations General Assembly, which took place in New York, United States.

His current visit does not have any official alibi. All we heard was: “President Bola Tinubu will today depart Abuja for Paris, France, for a private visit. He will return to the country in the first week of February, 2024.” Just like that: not even the most brash of military rulers will dish out such communication, taking into account the diplomatic and security implications for the government and for entire country and sub region.

The leader of a small family unit cannot just wake up and announce to the household he was going somewhere for a private visit, without details. In these days when citizens are murdered inside hotels where they are lodged, the need for full disclosures is key and that is the impression the leader of a country should pass on to citizens, not that of a father who takes off and returns at will. No accountability. It’s simple and rudimentary, but it begins at home, a good home.

Leaders in liberal societies are leading by example. The U.S. Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, last week, apologised to American people for failing to fully report his whereabouts when he went in for prostate cancer surgery. He is just the equivalent of a minister, not the head of state or prime minister of a country.

He admitted to being a very private person but has realised now that he is no longer private. His humility will soften Republicans who thought that could be a good handle to traduce the Biden government over developments in the Middle East. That is unfolding.

But here, we’re arrogant. We do not think we owe anybody an explanation. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP) tried to query the indiscretion in President Tinubu’s private visit to France. They suggested it was not the best of times to abandon the country, bearing in mind the monstrous levels of insecurity across the country. Perhaps, if there was some cogent explanation for the trip, the opposition parties might show understanding. They were told to shut up.

On Mr. President’s choice of France as the preferred resort for private visits, perhaps, this is where the real implication lies for the leader of economic community. As chairman of ECOWAS, the President ought to know more than anybody that relations between France and the governments of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have gone sour.

France and the governments of the three former French colonies have severed diplomatic and military ties. It’s a bloody nose for France and severe economic squeeze for the Sahelian countries that are landlocked. These countries have been suspended from ECOWAS for embracing military regimes and have been heavily sanctioned by the regional body. By implication, relations between these countries and Nigeria are not good.

Tinubu ought to have that at the back of his diplomatic mind before going to wine and dine in France. If the ECOWAS leader goes to France, which is now an enemy with the three African countries, it means Nigeria is in league with France against these countries. They’re not happy.

Were Tinubu to have consulted widely before going to France, perhaps, he would have been properly counseled to try Cote d’Ivoire, where he could watch the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) matches first-hand and still imagine a similitude of France in the language and picturesque ambience of Yamoussoukro.

The point is this: Nigeria has lagged too far behind in expressing herself as the leader of Africa and ECOWAS. Nigeria once led Africa and ECOWAS from the front, not as an appendage of France or of any western country. Now we are lean and begging for foreign investment everywhere and we have no gravitas at home and in the global community.

The handling of the coup in Niger by the ECOWAS leadership was poor. Nigeria was in a hurry to apply force simply because of fear of contagion, having a weak governance system at home. Let Nigeria get back her economy and foreign relations.

To those three countries and their young military rulers, let them remember that all politics is local. There is a huge sense in regional coalitions and that was demonstrated when ECOWAS saved Liberia and Sierra Leone from the ruins of civil wars.
Let them not forget the brotherly assistance Nigeria has offered to ECOWAS in her season of glory. That glory shall return.

About Global Patriot Staff

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