The pains of Jonathan’s avian diplomacy By Jaafar Jaafar’

Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar

Unless President Jonathan is trying to find our lost NigComSat 1 satellite, these frequent air travels should stop immediately.

I’m piqued, seriously. Just as I was trying to beat the deadline, news reports say nearly 30 students were shot dead in Mubi, Adamawa State. This forced me to remodel the primer of this article to reflect the latest woe.

Like the title of one of iconic Wole Soyinka’s books, Climate of Fear, Nigerians especially those in the northern part of the country, are living in a climate of fear. Our dreams crumble like our businesses. Like breathing, deaths occur every second. But where are we heading to for goodness’s sake? Are we all heading to Golgotha? With all these maladies at home, you wonder what benefit our president’s foreign trips will provide the country. Peace? No.

But President Goodluck Jonathan appears to be in competition with former President Olusegun Obasanjo; whom late Gani Fawehinmi said visited 52 countries in one year. And Jonathan seems so determined to break the record.

Whenever the president travels abroad, at least millions are spent on luxury hotel bills, estacode, choice drinks, shopping, honoraria, logistics, among others.

While the nation internally grapples with Boko Haram insurgency, spate of kidnapping, armed robbery and oil bunkering, the same nation is battling with diplomatic crisis on the international stage. Recent diplomatic challenges Nigeria finds herself in have punctured the country’s foreign policy, which was ballooned out of proportion by the president’s spin aides.

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The deportation of 125 Nigerians by South Africa in March, the stoning of the president in Kampala, the failure of the government to secure clemency for 17 Nigerians sentenced to death in Indonesia, the defeat of President Jonathan when he contested the presidency of AU, the inability of government to re-open Bakassi file, and recent deportation of 1,000 Nigerian pilgrims to this year’s Hajj only show the weakness of Nigeria’s foreign policy. The deportation of women pilgrims is now the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Do you think Saudi authorities will quarantine and bundle out the citizens of America or any other serious country the way we were treated? I think any Saudi official who dares prevent an American envoy from visiting Americans is obviously risking a jail term.

It seems for President Goodluck Jonathan, diplomacy means junketing around the world with dozens of aides to attend events that are far from dispensing the tonic of Nigeria’s systemic ailment. What relevance is a nuclear summit to a country that cannot produce helmets or military boots? What would a country that cannot explore its vast hydropower potentials for electricity say at a nuclear summit? What will a Nigerian president tell a UN summit on Rule of Law when he is dining with subsidy thieves at home? You see, it’s just that the president has become a sucker for Eagle One, the Boeing Business Jet (737) that transports Nigerian president.

Despite the fact that Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has three ministers, the president’s territorial instinct and crush for skies make him pocket their junketing roles, reducing them to mere visa negotiators.

Having had, perhaps, swimming as his childhood pastime, President Jonathan’s new romance is flying around the world. And despite Jonathan’s penchant for flying, Nigeria has one of the worst aviation industries in the world. Since the president’s primary interest is flying, one would expect Nigeria to attain stardom in the aviation stage. Alas, our aviation industry is deteriorating by the day.

Punch editorial of September 26 doesn’t seem to hold any punches when it criticised the president’s travels. “The doubtful value of the trips,” said the newspaper “is underscored by the poor judgment in the choice of places to visit, timing and the utterances of the President. It was in poor taste, for instance, to have attended the inauguration of Yoweri Museveni for a record fourth presidential term even after he had manipulated Uganda’s constitution to abrogate term limits, spent 26 years in office and had been accused of electoral abuse, provoking mass protests. Jonathan would have saved himself the discomfort of being caught in Museveni’s convoy when it was pelted with stones by irate Ugandan voters in Kampala.”

On the president’s much-criticised trip to Brazil, the editorial says, “[t]he timing of the President’s trip to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the Earth Summit in June was insensitive. Terrorists had just struck in Kaduna, Kano and Yobe states in a weekend orgy of bloodletting that left over 70 dead. But as Nigerians mourned, their President travelled for a summit that the environment minister could well have handled. The President’s entourage is also excessive and wasteful.”

But early this month, the Special Adviser to the president on media, Reuben Abati dissipated energy in penning a hagiography about the president’s foreign policy. He said in his opening remark that, “The gains of President Jonathan’s diplomacy are often overshadowed by misrepresentations of the size of his delegation.” A point Abati missed is the fact that the sheer size of the entourage and frequency of trips is not yielding any pragmatic result.

When President Goodluck Jonathan travelled to little-known countries like Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica early August for their Emancipation Day and Independent Anniversary respectively, one expected to see a pride of heads of government moving majestically into Aso Rock to celebrate our 52nd Independence anniversary – however low-key the event was. None was seen.

Jonathan needs time at home to concentrate on our internal problems that are threatening our existence as a nation. He needs to sit tranquilly and find the clue to the corruption slipping our oil industry into abyss. The president also needs to study his proposed 2013 budget to go in synch with his “austerity measure” and to avoid the embarrassment last year’s N1 billion Aso Rock food budget caused.

Unless if President Jonathan is trying to find our lost NigComSat 1 satellite, these frequent air travels should stop immediately.

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