Buhari’s US Trip: Obama’s Visit to Nigeria Will be on the Table
With 3-day bi-national meetings, who will represent Nigeria if Buhari’s ministers are not in place?
By Nduka Nwosu in New York
An invitation to President Barack Obama to visit Nigeria, insecurity, bilateral and multilateral co-operation will top the agenda of the proposed meeting between Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria during the latter’s next month’s visit.
A State Department source, who disclosed this to THISDAY, said Buhari’s invitation to the White House is an affirmation of the strong and cordial relationship between Nigeria and the US
When contacted by THISDAY on phone, Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US, Professor Ade Adefuye was reluctant to respond to questions on Buhari’s White House invitation beyond stating that “we are happy it is happening about now,” adding that “details of the programme are being discussed with Abuja and Washington.”
According to Adefuye, “much as the Nigerian Embassy is working very hard to make the visit a great success, our ultimate goal here is to get President Buhari to receive Obama at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.”
Also on the table will be a review of the strategic dialogue known as the US-Nigeria Bi-national Commission earlier brokered between former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Nigeria’s former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Yayale Ahmed, designed to expand mutual cooperation across a broad range of shared interests with emphasis on economic cooperation especially on non-oil exports.
A 3-day bi-national commission meeting has been scheduled to hold during the visit. However, questions are being raised as to who would represent Nigeria in those high level meetings with US officials if Buhari’s ministers are not in place by that time. Already, Senate, saddled with the constitutional responsibility of screening ministers, has adjourned its sitting, to reconvene on July 21.
If Buhari is to have ministers for the meeting with the US, the ministerial list has to be in place by next week which will give the National Assembly two weeks to screen the nominees because July 16 is Sallah holiday.
Meanwhile, a White House source told THISDAY that Buhari’s visit would be an opportunity to re-state the commitment by both countries on areas of bilateral and multilateral cooperation in particular the deepening of democratic ideals given the successful and peaceful transfer of power from the previous administration to the present one.
The source said there were the issues of alleged human rights abuses currently being investigated by the government and the subsequent unwillingness of the US to go against its constitution and sell needed arms in the fight against Boko Haram as well as the drop in the volume of business between the two countries since the US stopped buying Nigeria’s oil.
Beyond these issues which would receive robust attention and discussion, the source stressed, Nigeria and the US remained strong partners who for years have fought for the promotion of democracy, regional and continental peace and economic prosperity.
He added that President Buhari’s invitation to the White House has opened the way for greater dialogue and co-operation between the two countries, stressing that this time, an invitation to President Barack Obama to visit Nigeria would receive a positive response.
According to the State Department and White House sources, the Nigerian Embassy had tried to get Obama to make a stopover in Nigeria on his way to Kenya and when that failed, the ambassador used his contacts in Washington circles to press for the invitation.
It noted the White House had followed the progression of the Nigerian President since inauguration, his consistent pronouncements and moves made in the fight against Boko Haram, his invitation at the G7 Summit and the steering of his government along a transparent, anti-corruption leadership.
The Embassy through the Corporate Council for Africa (CCA) and the US Chambers of Commerce has been promoting a non-oil export economy through the organisation of investment fora on Agriculture, Power and Solid Minerals in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and believes a consolidation of these efforts would go a long way re-defining a proactive business relationship between the two countries.
The Commission, the source noted, is a collaborative forum to build partnerships for tangible and measurable progress on issues critical to the United States’ and Nigeria’s shared future.
Four working groups which have met severally in Abuja were formed to address areas of mutual interest including:
*Good governance, Transparency and Integrity, which supports robust progress on electoral and election preparation in order to achieve free, fair, and peaceful elections in Nigeria; and to build Nigeria’s institutional capacity to fight corruption through improved prevention, detection, investigation, and prosecution.
*Energy and Investment which seeks to improve transparency, administration and performance of power generation and the hydrocarbon sector.
*Food Security and Agriculture aimed at increasing reliable access to food and trade policy in Nigeria and the sub- region.
*Niger Delta and Regional Security Cooperation – to support plans to provide tangible development and economic opportunity to the people of the Niger Delta as well as augment partnership on regional security.
With regard to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the source noted there would be emphasis on the rehabilitation of the North east region for which a special investment forum was held last year with many US companies and investors indicating interest to flood the area with huge investments once there is peace and an atmosphere of security with the elimination of Boko Haram.
This was after the hosting of the World Economic Forum during which Nigeria was recognised as the centrepiece of development in the African continent now and in the years ahead.
The US, the State Department source said, would be interested in ensuring it helps in all ramifications to eliminate Boko Haram terrorism by supplying the country with needed arms and intelligence support.
It is not clear if President Buhari would use this opportunity to honour the earlier invitation to a public lecture by the US based Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as well as the CCA.
A THISDAY call to the Centre’s Director of African Programmes, Ms Jennifer Cooke, was not returned just as Ambassador Robert Perry, the Vice-President of the prestigious Corporate Council for Africa (CCA), which was earlier scheduled to host Buhari at a luncheon.
Although both the CSIS and the CCA may not have stated obviously their reasons for inviting Buhari for an interactive session, a Nigerian lobbyist in Washington circles Paschal Mbawuike had hinted that at that time both bodies did not want to be caught off-guard in the event of a Buhari victory and now that the President has the highest attention of the White House, he has become the toast of the big corporate guns-and decision makers in Washington DC.
Ms Cooke had envisaged an event that would attract a large audience of US policymakers, academics, business leaders, and Nigerians in the Diaspora.
On whether the President’s schedule would accommodate an interactive session with Nigerians in the diaspora especially in the District of Columbia, Adefuye said it is the practice of the embassy to get Nigerians to see their visiting Presidents at the Chancery noting “the programme would likely include an interactive session with the President at the embassy.”