By Zainab Suleiman Okino
In the first year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, he travelled to about 30 foreign countries, some of them world powers and the most developed, among which are US, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Asian giant, China.
Although the trips attracted criticisms from Nigerians, the presidency justified these and said the shuttle diplomacy was part of efforts by the government to attract investment for the growth and development of the country; shore up Nigeria’s image and solicit support for the war against terror, and Boko Haram in particular.
Sadly, and despite signing bilateral agreements with these countries, Nigeria is still in the saddle; our image has hardly changed; development has eluded us, while Boko Haram is yet to be defeated.
This last weekend alone, Boko Haram attacked Madagali in Adamawa State and killed over 50 people, while two suicide bombers died in a failed mission before getting to their targets.
If the foreign trips are not paying off, what are the parameters for their failure? They manifest in the lack of commitment to mutual deals signed, because it could mean loss of businesses by some of these countries.
For example, Nigeria imports over 100 billion dollar worth of goods from China annually without any record of exports from Nigeria.
The kind of MoUs signed with smaller and less influential countries these days also matters. Two weeks ago the Buhari government played host to King Mohammed VI of Morocco. The outcome of that visit was the signing of a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Morocco, mainly on the agriculture ecosystem.
Others are the agreement between OCP and Dangote Group to develop fertiliser business and strengthen the local blending capabilities of Nigeria, exemption of visas for diplomatic and official service passports, bilateral air service and marine fisheries cooperation agreements
The agreement on fertiliser was said to be meant for food security, employment generation, as well as to address problem of rural-urban migration. According to Femi Adeshina, “more than two million tonnes of fertiliser are to be sent to Nigeria in the next three years before the fertiliser plant to be built by Dangote goes into operation…” This is about the most bizzare agreement.
In the almost two years of this government, we have been talking agriculture. This country used to have vibrant fertiliser plants that provided employment and produced for Nigerians. A government of change should have revived it to feed the local agriculture business and provide employment. Now it had to take almost two years to think out an agreement on fertiliser supply.
The last time I checked, Morocco was a tourism destination for those who want to explore North Africa. Morocco has a population of over 33 million and has phosphates, iron ore, manganese, lead, zinc, fish and salt as natural resources. We have all these and more, and it is that country a giant (with clay feet anyway) had to run to for succour.
The China-Nigeria deals were the most celebrated as they were greeted with fanfare. Nigeria went with over 100 businessmen and sealed MoUs with about 300 Chinese companies, including to construct a 300 megawatts solar power plant in Shiroro, construct and equip a granite mining plant, invest to develop a Greenfield expressway for Abuja-Ibadan-Lagos, construct an ultra-modern 27 storey highrise, develop the Lagos Metro rail transit, establish a high-tech industrial park in Ogun State, among others. One wonders how China would help us develop the electricity sector, when we are a huge (or only) market for their generators.
The icing on the cake was that transactions would henceforth be in Yuan, the Chinese currency, in order to bypass the dollar, which was rising astronomically. Months after, we are yet to see the benefits of all these deals. Those who want to import from China are still looking for dollars and not Yuan.
When Buhari came in newly, he had a groundswell of goodwill and people hungered for the change he promised. Initially, some of the regime’s missteps were even excused on the basis of learning the ropes.
The developed countries of the world were ready to do business with his government. There was a flood gate of opportunities for his government to grab. Almost two years after, the Nigerian narrative is yet to change positively. It is rather disappointing that the nation’s fortune is actually dwindling.
When, therefore, the country went into another partnership with a low-rated third world country like Morocco the other day, it was like the chicken coming home to roost. What do you expect from a government that has lost relevance abroad and now derided at home.
The economy is in shambles, the naira is in a free fall never seen in the history of this country, yet there are no creative ways to address these myriad of problems. It is doubtful if a MoU with Morocco can restart either agro-business or other sectors. I hope very soon, we won’t have to go cap in hand to The Gambia, Benin Republic, Niger Republic, Chad and Somalia to beg them to come and rescue us?