Wednesday, June 17, 2015

G7 and Nigeria's Wish List...

I listened to Mr. President’s very first speech after he was declared winner of the April 11, 2015 Presidential election. He was effusive and full of praise for everyone, including his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, in their contributions towards making the elections free, fair and largely devoid of the much-expected post election rancor. As I listened, I realized that Mr. President was really trying hard at being humble and at being reciprocal in his acknowledgement of these contributions from friends and from foes.
But there was one acknowledgement that I found slightly patronizing and eminently condescending. It was his recognition of President Barack Obama, US President, contributions to the Nigerian elections. I did not understand the extent to which Mr. Obama contributed to the success of the Nigerian elections, and why Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari, was acknowledging him. If my records are correct, Mr. Obama has visited close to eight African countries since he became president – Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa (twice), Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania. But he has never come here, Africa’s biggest economy and home to the largest concentration of black people anywhere on the face of the earth. The best he did when we were preparing for the elections was a political science lecture, straight from the confines of his office and sent through to us via YouTube. My friends who wasted their time to listen to his phonetics were excited at that insult but he added salt to the injury when he sent a secretary of state and a spent basketball star to President Buhari’s inauguration.

The point here therefore, is that the people that Mr. Buhari hopped on the plane to see in Germany have the metaphorical and attitudinal character of Mr. Obama. They asked our President to come with a wish list and he did. ‘You will recall that I was personally invited to the G-7 and I was impressed with the tremendous sympathy they have for this sub-region, Lake Chad Basin Commission…I also advised my colleagues to be prepared to produce their logistic requirements so that after the AU meeting, we will agree on what to send to the head of G-7, President of Germany’, Mr. Buhari reportedly said. But from that point on, I knew that henceforth the circle of condescension would continue to gyre. No self-respecting nation or its representative would attend a meeting wherein he would be asked to come with a wish list. And there would be no discerning foreign nation granting the wish list of another nation, particularly one with the biggest market in Africa, for free. That is why, to me, the G7 wish list meeting that our president attended was a failure beyond reckoning and a waste of public funds. It was just an image-laundering ego trip that did not produce any concrete resolution apart from the half-hearted assurances that the G7 people gave our president. The real issues that were getting discussed at the G7 were largely antithetical to the issues Nigeria has saddled itself with, and for which Nigeria was not being invited. While Nigerians are interested in ‘bouncing’ back to international reckoning as the giant of Africa, the G7 were more interested in climate change mitigation and adaptation and imminent debt and tax problems in Europe particularly with Greece. The G7 also took time to look at the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), meaning that as Nigeria is the biggest country on the continent, these G7 people see prospects of exploitation rather than what met the ordinary eye. At the end of the day while we were exulting that our president posed with G7 leaders in a photo-shoot meant to be an image laundry project, the G7 had already released a communiqué that seeks to block our source of income as a nation. I beg to reproduce the G7 statement which says that “we commit ourselves to play our part in achieving a low-carbon global economy in the long-term, including by the development and use of innovative technologies and will strive for a restructuring of the energy sector by 2050’. In plain terms, the G7 were saying that they would do their best to ‘wean their economies off carbon fuels and support a global target for limiting the rise in average global temperatures to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial levels’. [Reuters].

If anybody considers this a victory for Nigeria, I would say yes in a certain hesitant manner and an emphatic no. Yes, it is a wake-up call on us to do the needful quickly. And no, because while the rest of the world is thinking in this other direction – climate change, reduction on reliance on fossil fuels, adaptation, mitigation and serious state and non-state alliances aimed at restructuring our commitment to our environment, here we are the giant of Africa angling at dividing legislative and political positions that stand on the oil that the rest of the world is anxious to be rid of.

So, here’s my wish list to Mr. President. Hop on the plane less and cease going to moan to these advanced economies about our problems and about Boko Haram – they have their own issues with terrorists, so why should they clean up our mess for us when theirs subsists? If you ever find yourself in their company again, talk more about the real issues – climate change, capacity building for Nigerians, a new foreign policy that places Nigeria, not Africa, as the nucleus of that policy. This entire hullabaloo about corruption and how you are the Hercules or the messiah who will sweep away the shit at the Augean stable is arrant nonsense. That’s because you can’t, and you won’t succeed if you start. Use other methods – we have suggested a truth commission on political corruption wherein politically exposed persons who have stolen from Nigeria can return the funds, together with the proceeds they have acquired with the funds they have stolen – and avoid jail. We presented this idea at a certain Workshop last month but a lot of participants lampooned and derided it as a gesture that would promote impunity. But the World Bank, together with many sensible organisations today involved with the recovery of stolen funds is working with a Voluntary disclosure programme, VDP, to recover stolen public funds. Our government should look at it as well. Traditional and systemic structures aimed at fighting corruption in Nigeria have failed. They have failed because the spirits of the culture behind executive, legislative and judicial arms of government have already tied Mr. President’s hands. Our courts and judicial systems couldn’t jail the former governor of Delta state. Indeed, if a former governor has stolen N2.9billion, would putting him in jail for the rest of his life bring back the N2.9billion and the proceeds from that heist? And such heists are not peculiar to this governor. Some of them who funded the March and April campaigns are culpable as well. So, with monies of that kind in the hands of these people, they could hire as many SANs as they want and within the entire tenure of Mr. President, the cases would be in court. On the other hand, if those amounts of money get into government coffers, recovered via an arrangement brokered between the thief and the government, government can guarantee that more than ten million school children would get free education, free text books and two meals daily.

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku is Communications Manager, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ,  Benin City.

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