Postscript of Buhari’s US Visit

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President Buhari’s visit to the United States of America (US) has come and gone. And its outcome has meant different things to different people depending on the angle from which it is viewed.

Broadly speaking however, there is no doubt the nation stands to gain from such engagements given the globalization of the world economy and the prime role of the US in its affairs. It was also significant in the sense that it represented a demonstration of confidence by that government in the capacity of our democracy to endure.

Of course, his hosts gave assurances of assistance in the war against the Boko Haram insurgency; the repatriation of looted funds stashed in the vaults of other countries by marauding leaders and such other measures that will aid the nation’s economic development.

But there were two issues in the course of the visit that should not and cannot be glossed over. This is because they seemed to have cast some slur on the overall success of that visit. The two saw the presidency issuing statements ostensibly to contextualize what was said in the course of the event. The first was the statement credited to the President while answering questions from journalists. He had said “going by the election results, constituencies that gave me 95 per cent cannot in all honesty be treated on the same issues with constituencies that gave me five per cent. I think these are political realities. While certainly there will be justice for everybody but the people who voted and made their votes count, they must feel the government has appreciated the efforts they put in putting the government in place”.

The second came from his prepared speech at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). It read, “unwittingly and I dare say, unintentionally the application of the Leahy Law amendment by the US government has aided and abated the Boko Haram terrorist group in the prosecution of its extremist ideology and hate, the indiscriminate killings and maiming of civilians, raping of women and girls, and in other heinous crimes. I believe this is not the spirit of the Leahy Law”.

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On both scores, the Special Adviser to the president on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina was quick to issue statements either clarifying what the president actually meant or canvassing positions urging the public to be wary of misconstruing what was actually said. Curiously, in all these interventions, he did not say the president was misquoted but only sought to place the statements within the context he would want them to be understood.

But in doing these, he inadvertently created two sets of problems. The first is the presumption that the larger public is incapable of properly contextualizing both statements and therefore needed to be helped out.  How he came about that conclusion remains largely curious. Second, the clarifications also created the impression that either the presidency was very uncomfortable with its position on the two issues after they went public or it was under pressure from some unseen quarters to defend them. There is also the third suggestion that the president only realized the full purport of the statements after they had gone public. The extent to which those seeming clarifications achieved the desired objective remains largely illusory.

Before we go into the context of those statements, it will be helpful to bring into focus Adesina’s clarifications on them. The objective is to fathom if there are any differences between them and what the president actually said.

On how the president will treat those who voted for him, Adesina admitted that what was attributed to the president actually came from him. But then, he contended that the president also said the constitution has guaranteed the rights of every part of the country. According to him, “what this means is that those who voted five per cent will get their due and will not get things commensurate with five per cent votes”. He accused unnamed persons of not balancing the entire statement. The first flaw here is with the concept of what is due to those who voted five per cent. It cannot definitely be the same with what is due to those who voted 95 per cent. There is problem because of the introduction of ratio or proportion. Having brought in this exogenous variable, the clear interpretation is that it will be the prime yardstick for the distributions of the spoils of office. There is absolutely no ambiguity in this. Buhari even went further to admit this consideration as political reality. There are thousand and one angles from which the president could have approached journalists’ question on the matter without bringing in the matter of ratios.

The argument that the constitution guarantees the rights of every part of the country or that there will be fairness for everybody on that account, cannot mitigate the harm in that position. It could even be further developed to imply that but for such constitutional guarantees, the percentage of votes cast in the last elections would be the only determinant of the president’s relations with parts of the country.

If you ask me whether the president should have gone into such comparisons, my answer will be capital No! He could have referred his audience to his much acclaimed inaugural statement that he belongs to nobody and belongs to everybody. That could have sufficed. It was therefore a huge contradiction and monumental error to be talking of percentages in the presence of that international audience. By extrapolation, the president succeeded in saying that he belongs to those who massively voted for him in that election. He has to live with that foreboding reality, attempts to clarify it notwithstanding.

His aide also said in respect of the Leahy Law, the president’s statement was misconstrued. According to him, it should be seen as a passionate appeal to the US government to soften on the law to enable Nigeria intensify action and win the war against Boko Haram. The aspect of the written statement that is said to have been misconstrued and those who misconstrued it is hazy. What that portion of the written speech said is very clear.  Being a written speech, the president must have taken time to go through it and possibly agreed with its content before going public. It is a different ball game if the disputed section was not laced in diplomatic niceties; conveyed unintended meaning and thus inappropriate for that audience. The problem with the statement is in its sweeping assertion that the Leahy Law amendment by the US aids and abets the Boko Haram terrorists group.  The Leahy Law does not aid and abet the Boko Haram terrorists.  Boko Haram is propelled, reinforced and sustained by weird fundamentalist Islamist ideology and the army of their unseen sympathizers. The law only imposes some constraints in the prosecution of the insurgency war. That is the proper perspective. The blame for this vague presentation is still that of the presidency. It was at liberty to have expunged that section if it was sufficiently satisfied it would create doubts for the administration.

Be that as it may, the discomfort of the government with that portion could possibly have arisen from fears from two quarters-one from the host government and the other from the home country. The US was bound to show discomfort with the statement given the wrong impression it created. On the other hand, the presidency is bound to be scarred by its likely interpretation at home. The second plank is more so given the politicization of the issue of human rights abuses in the war against Boko Haram. Before now, much of the reservations of the US government on that war had hinged on this singular issue. It is for the same reason it refused to sell categories of arms and ammunitions to the last regime. Discomfort could have been aided by the fear that the new regime was about to fall into the same trap.

There is also the issue of local propaganda. Those who opposed the previous regime had made issues out of its purported human rights abuses. Amnesty International has also been notorious for levying copious allegations along this line without regard for the grave human rights abuses by the fundamentalist group. It would appear this dialectic is at the heart of the current discomfort.

Source: Sam Omeihe in thenationonline

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