- Category: Politics
- Published on Wednesday, 14 April 2010 08:05
- Written by Omololu Ogunmade
- Hits: 997
All things being equal, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to end his four-day visit to the United States today.
The visit, according to reports, is historic because it is unusual for any American President to meet with any foreign official who’s not a substantial president of his country. Jonathan is currently leading Nigeria in acting capacity following the protracted illness of President Umaru Yar’Adua
The Acting President left the shores of Nigeria at the weekend to attend a summit which also offered him the opportunity to meet US President Barrack Obama. The meeting, according to reports, was considered crucial to the overall interest of both countries – Nigeria and the US. Although Nigeria is US largest business partner in the sub-Saharan Africa, the relationship between both countries had not been cordial since the advent of Yar’Adua on May 29, 2007. The highpoint of the perceived strained relationship was Yar’Adua’s cancellation of a proposed meeting with Obama in September last year.
Yar’Adua had been invited to attend the 2009 United Nations’ General Assembly meeting after which he would be opportuned to meet with the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon as well as Obama. While the US, the leadership of the UN as well as notable persons in Nigeria looked forward to the meeting with the Nigerian leader, Yar’Adua suddenly cancelled the appointment and instead headed for Saudi Arabia. There were insinuations that the perceived strained relationship between Nigeria and the US since 2007, threatened the latter’s business prospects in the country.
There were also insinuations that the US inability to court Yar’Adua fuelled its anger with Nigeria, which culminated in Nigeria being listed as a “country of interest” following the December 25, 2009 attempted terrorism by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, a 25-year old Nigerian who attempted to bomb an American aircraft belonging to Delta Airline. It was also alleged that the threat to US business in Nigeria culminated in the US vehement criticism of the failure of the President to hand over to Jonathan upon his departure to Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009 for medical attention.
A top government official told this reporter in Abuja in February that US passionate backing for Jonathan was prompted by the expiration of 26 oil blocks most of which belonged to the US oil companies, Chevron and Shell Petroleum Development Company. The official revealed that the US believed that it would be easier to get the oil blocks renewed through Jonathan than Yar’Adua.
However, Jonathan’s visit to the US on the invitation of Obama for a Nuclear Summit has been viewed as appropriate, moreso that both countries seem to need each other for the advancement of their interests. While the US needs Nigeria for the continuity of its business, Nigeria also needs the US to relieve it of the credibility crisis authored by its being listed early this year as a terrorist nation. Thus Jonathan had reportedly tasked Nigeria’s Ambassador to the US, Professor Adebowale Adefuye to ensure the delisting of Nigeria’s name from the terrorist list ahead of his visit.
Expectedly, one of the first demands made by Jonathan upon meeting Obama on Sunday was the delisting of Nigeria’s name from the terrorist list. Jonathan was also asked if he intended to sack the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, ahead of the 2011 poll, a question which Jonathan answered in the negative.
To affirm that the meeting was considered essential, a former Permanent Secretary in the Foreign Affairs’ Ministry, Joe Keshi, gave a blow by blow analysis of the meeting, but cautioned Nigerians against high optimism from Jonathan’s trip. According to him, it should not be expected to be a miracle visit. He nevertheless, described it as an impetus to move the nation forward.
Keshi said: "I can understand the excitement of Nigerians over (Jonathan's) trip to the US, but there is the need to put the visit in its proper perspective such that we are not carried away. First, this is not a state visit and strictly speaking, it is equally not an official visit. Jonathan is in the US at the invitation of Obama to attend a conference on nuclear disarmament and like many other world leaders, he would utilise the opportunity to discuss some bilateral issues especially with the US. There are over 100 world leaders honouring Obama's invitation and if he agrees to grant all audience, which l doubt, it will be, as we say in diplomatic parlance, within the margin of the conference.
"In terms of its significance and coming against the backdrop of what has transpired in this country in the last couple of months, this is an important trip especially for Jonathan who is undertaking his first trip abroad. His presence at the conference will assure the world that Nigeria has sort of resolved its embarrassing leadership crisis precipitated by the ill-disposition of President Umaru Yar'Adua and is again in a position to assume its global responsibilities.
"Politically for Jonathan, this is a plus, depending on how his officials spin the outcome of the visit. I expect, if all goes well, as l hope and expect, that he would return with an enhanced status and determination to seriously move the country forward."
Pundits have however, argued that the reason for Jonathan’s invitation to the Nuclear Summit, besides America’s prospects, is not far fetched. The US escaped another round of tragedy when the terrorist plot by AbduMutallab fell through late last year. In a renewed bid to fight the scourge of terrorism world over, Jonathan who leads the country where the terrorist suspect hails from, would no doubt be an expected stakeholder. It was therefore not surprising when Obama’s depth of discussion at the meeting involving Jonathan focused on nuclear security and terrorism, with issues on democracy among others.
Obama said: "If al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations acquired nuclear weapons it would have no compunction at using them. The single biggest threat to US security, both short-term, medium-term and long-term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is something that could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come.
"If there was ever a detonation in New York City or London or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. We know that organizations like al-Qaida are in the process of trying to secure nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction and would have no compunction at using them."
The Nuclear Security Summit was attended by no fewer than 40 world leaders with the intention to secure "loose nuclear material." Obama had held one-on-one meetings on Sunday with some of the invited leaders including Jonathan. At the meeting, Obama had stated that world leaders had made "very specific approaches to how we can solve this profound international problem."
While he hailed South Africa for giving up its nuclear programme, Obama said the country "has been a strong, effective leader in the international community on non-proliferation issues. South Africa has special standing in being a moral leader on this issue."
Obama who had earlier approved a new nuclear policy for the US, expressed happiness over “the degree of commitment and a sense of urgency that I have seen from the world leaders so far on this issue, adding: “We think we can make enormous progress on this and this then becomes part and parcel of the broader focus that we've had over the last several weeks."
Although for different reasons, Jonathan’s visit to the US has elicited reactions from groups and individuals in Nigeria. While some have criticized some issues which accompanied the visit, others described it as ill-timed. For instance, a coalition of civil society organizations expressed anger over a suggestion of Iwu’s sack by Assistant US Secretary of State, Johnnie Carson, describing it as another manifestation of neo-colonialism. The coalition, led by Mr. Ali Abatcha, warned the US to decline from attempts to dictate to Nigeria how it should be ruled.
"It is in view of this sovereignty and the right to self determination that we, the 41 coalition of civil society groups condemn, in very strong terms, the ‘Iwu-must-go’ statement credited to Johnnie Carson, a senior US official," the group said.
Jonathan was also asked by a panel of experts at the Council on Foreign Relations’ Think-tank, if in his electoral reform move, he would sack Iwu. But in his reaction, Jonathan said: "I've given clear directives to the INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) that we will not accommodate any wrongdoing," adding: "I'm convinced that INEC, the president of INEC, can conduct elections in Nigeria (that are) free and fair."
Also reacting to the trip, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na'Abba, criticised Jonathan's visit to the USA, saying the acting president should have rather sat down and faced the enormous task of repositioning the country. He insisted that it was wrong of Jonathan to have left Nigeria at such a “critical time" like this.
He challenged him to cogitate on how he could govern the country efectively, bearing in mind that there is no vice president, while enormous challenges which need to be addressed abound in the country. He described the visit as inappropriate and nothing but a misplacement of priority.
"He should take time to think on how to administer this country in a situation whereby a sick and substantive President is side by side with him, a situation whereby there is no Vice President and a situation whereby there are so many weighty things waiting to be attended to within the country.
"I thought going out to attend a meeting which I understand is on nuclear weapon for our President is ill-timed and I must advise the acting President to sit down and face the most important domestic problem before him," Na’Abba said.
At any rate, Jonathan in the course of the visit, summarized his administration’s domestic focus to include electoral reform, delivery of peace dividends to the Niger Delta and vehement fight against corruption. On the global scene, Jonathan said Nigeria was determined to restore its image and traditional role as a key member of the international community.
“In an increasingly uncertain world, Nigeria is a key partner in our collective efforts to maintain peace and security in Africa and beyond. Nigeria will reiterate its commitments to fight terrorism and rededicate our efforts to promote development, democracy and a shared value for human progress,” he said.
Fielding questions on the recent outbreak of violence in Jos, Plateau State, he dismissed the crisis as “purely ethnic,” saying outsiders had wrong perceptions about the violence. “The conflict has come up between the settlers and the natives,” he said, adding that settlers in the area dominate the economy of the area. “There is no conflict between the Christians and the Muslims. . . . The conflict is not a religious conflict,” Jonathan insisted.
Jonathan disclosed that the Federal Government would not set up any commission to look into the killings, explaining that it is the prerogative of the state affected to set up its own commission, besides the commission set up by law enforcement agencies.
“The police must do their work. . . . Anybody who was directly or remotely involved in the crisis must be arrested and prosecuted,” he said. Despite disputing that the violence had been religiously motivated, Jonathan said government officials were meeting with religious leaders in the area on a weekly basis.
By and large, as Jonathan returns to the country, it is left for both the Presidency and the generality of the people of Nigeria to examine the nitty-gritty of the visit and conclude whether it holds any prospect for the country or not.