SATURDAY INSIGHT STORY
By Femi Fani-Kayode
â€œNigerian herdsmen donâ€™t carry AK 47â€™s. They only use sticksâ€ – President Buhari to President Donald Trump, The White House, 30th April 2018.
â€œWeâ€™ve had serious problems with Christians who have been murdered, killed in Nigeria. Weâ€™re going to work on that problem and work on that problem very, very hard, because we canâ€™t allow that to happen.â€– President Donald Trump to President Muhammadu Buhari, The White House, 30th April 2018.
Despite all the smiles, banter, pretensions, diplomatic niceties, doublespeak and pleasing words, these two assertions, from the bully and the big man respectively, remain the most relevant in the historic meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and President Donald Trump at the White House.
The fact that Buhari, like a naughty little schoolboy standing before his intimidating headmaster, had to tell a pernicious and specious lie about the weaponry (or lack of it) of the Fulani herdsmen and attempt to absolve them of any blame for the horrendous genocide that is being perpetrated against Christians in our nation in order to escape being spanked speaks volumes.
And the fact that Trump, not fooled by the lie, like a wise old headmaster, had to issue a stern warning to the schoolyard bully about the killing of Christians says even more. That, to me, was the meat of the historic meeting. All the rest that was said was nothing but diplomatic doublespeak, fake smiles, meaningless platitudes and dross.
Particularly nauseating were the servile and downright embarrassing questions that the Nigerian journalists that accompanied Buhari asked President Trump. In my entire life, I have never seen a journalist ask a President when he intends to visit his or her country at a major world press conference where the questions and the number of questioners are limited or ask whether he can release â€œjust two helicoptersâ€ to help Nigeria out. This is shameless and unprofessional. It is for the Nigerian President to ask his American counterpart such questions, albeit privately, and not a member of the Villa press corps.
I see Shehu Garba, Buhariâ€™s media assistantâ€™s magic hand in all this. He sat directly behind the Nigerian correspondents like a bulldog, breathing down their necks and quietly warning them not to ask any difficult questions about their own country at the White House and in a foreign land.
The whole scenario was sickening. The Nigerian journalists were completely cowered. One of them called me afterwards and said it was hell and that they had been well-schooled and warned to behave, mind their manners and words.
I bet the seasoned, hard-nosed and experienced American White House correspondents who also covered the event and members of the White House Press Corps shook their heads in pity and whispered to themselves, â€œwhat a country, what a people!â€Â Yet for the sake of posterity more needs to be said about the meeting itself. Permit me to add the following.
In a contribution titled PMB and The USA State Visit, Chief Joseph Okonkwo captured the moment by writing the following.
â€œIf Buhari did not lobby the American President to buy our crude oil which is our major (95%) source of earning foreign exchange, why then did he go to America? He did not persuade him on AGOA, he did not ask that Nigerian citizens be treated fairly like others both at their border posts and inside and he did not defend the Nigerian nation on the allegation by Mr. Trump that Nigeria has a bigger reputation for corruption, then, what was the agenda for this state visit? He only thanked him like a boy-boy for his acceptance of a whopping $496m in cash for the sale of 12 Tucano war jets that shall hitherto be delivered to Nigeria in the year 2020. Buhari did not canvass his achievements in the fight against corruption and insecurity which he brandishes as a mantra because he is aware that the American Government has their dossier on the massive corruption going on in his government.
â€œThey are also aware of the failures of our military in countering the insurgency of the recalcitrant Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen incursions. Buhari went to the United States to defend the herdsmen again. He said that they donâ€™t bear arms and that the killers come from Libya. He is asking Nigerians to provide grazing lands for militants from Libya? What an irony! He did not say when Leah, the only Christian girl among the Dapchi abductees, shall be released by Boko Haram.â€
Okonkwo has hit the nail on the head. Yet, if we really wish to â€œchange the changeâ€ far more work has to be done and we must endeavour to convince the world that Buhari is far from being our messiah. The truth is that the progressive forces, the official opposition and leaders of the resistance in Nigeria failed to put out the correct narrative about Buhari to the international community and international media over the last 3 years.
Consequently Buhari escaped thorough international scrutiny. Apart from that Trump failed us. He chose economic gain and the juicy prospect of a massive Nigerian market for American goods, products and commodities over human rights and decency. The good news is that Trump may be the biblical Cyrus (and I really do believe that he is) but he is not God. We never looked to him. We look to God. And God will deliver us despite our inherent weaknesses, accursed fears, petty divisions and monumental cowardice.
Finally hear this. If the opposition does not roll out its best guns, get its act together, unite, stop playing childish games, stop the petty bickering and present one credible and acceptable candidate in 2019, Buhari will be back for another four years. The choice is ours.
Permit me to share a final word about the meeting between the bully and the headmaster at the White House.Â My younger brother, Babatunde Gbadamosi, wrote: â€œBuhari went and got Nothing. We must now buy two helicopters and agricultural produce from them. This is beyond incompetent.â€ Tunde, as always, is absolutely right.
Again, as Pastor Bayo Oladeji pointed out, â€œMr Buhari was asked during Mondayâ€™s joint press conference about a report in January that Mr Trump had complained about immigrants coming to the US from â€œshithole countriesâ€, specifically referring to Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations. His diplomatic response was: â€œIâ€™m not sure about, you know, the validity of whether that allegation against the president is true or not. So the best thing for me is to keep quiet.â€
This was a golden opportunity to tell the world, in the presence of its most powerful man, that, whether Trump had said so or not, Nigeria is not a â€œshithole countryâ€. Yet sadly Buhari refused to take up the challenge and defend the honour of his people.
Permit me to end this contribution with a word from
American Congressman Chris Smith. He released the following statement after President Trump met with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the White House: â€œI reiterate my strong concern over the religious and ethnic violence in Nigeria targeting Christians, perpetrated in large part by Fulani herdsmen.Â I am heartened to hear that President Buhari, in his meeting with President Trump, admitted the need for his administration to â€˜stabilizeâ€™ this situation, though I am concerned by his attempt to downplay the culpability of those perpetrating the attacks.
â€œWhile the United States must acknowledge the role the Obama administrationâ€™s disastrous foray into Libya had played in the inflow of arms to the Sahel and Nigeria, ultimate responsibility for quelling the violence and fostering inclusion among Nigerians of all religions and ethnicities falls upon President Buhari. Unless President Buhari takes stronger measures to end the violence starting now and continuing through the February 2019 Presidential election, I fear we will see intensifying chaos that leads an even greater displacement and outmigration of Nigerians.Â This in turn will be a field day for human traffickers.
â€œIn 2001, I went to both Nigeria and Italy, a destination country for many who have been trafficked from Nigeria, in order to work with both governments to help put an end to the trafficking and smuggling of Nigerians; in subsequent years, I went to Italy and Nigeria as well as other countries where trafficking is prevalent. My fear is that whatever progress has been made in combatting these crimes over the past decade will be overcome by the sheer number of extremely vulnerable refugees seeking to escape violence if matters take a turn for the worseâ€.
I thank God that many in the international community, like Congressman Chris Smith, are seeing things clearly and are not fooled by President Buhariâ€™s diplomatic clap trap and his friends.