by Niyi Odebode, Fidelis Soriwei, Ihuoma Chiedozie, Olalekan Adetayo, Abuja; and Tunde Odesola, Osogbo
Civil rights groups, opposition parties, the Trade Union Congress and eminent Nigerians on Friday took a swipe at President Goodluck Jonathan over his overseas trips.
The groups, including the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Congress for Progressive Change and the Campaign for Democracy, warned the President against following in the footsteps of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
They said that Jonathan’s overseas trips were becoming too frequent and counter-productive.
The President, who arrived from Brazil on June 22, where he attended the UN Earth Summit, left for Belgium on Wednesday for the Summit of the World Customs Organisation.
Opposition parties had last week criticised the President’s trip to Brazil amid bombings and reprisals in Kaduna State and gun attacks in Yobe State.
But the President on Sunday dismissed the criticisms, saying he had no regret travelling to Brazil.
He had said, “One of the tactics of terrorists is to strangle government. If they hear that the President of Nigeria, the Vice-President of Nigeria wanted to travel but they couldn’t travel because they struck, they are going to celebrate it.”
The CPC spokesman, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, in an interview with SATURDAY PUNCH, said that charity should begin at home.
He stated, “It is conventional wisdom that charity begins at home. Unfortunately, President Jonathan has not imbibed this Where did the incessant shuttles of Obasanjo’s eight years lead us to in terms of foreign investment? Did it positively affect our balance of trade?
“Maybe because President Jonathan had spent billions of naira purchasing comfortable planes, he finds it extremely pleasurable travelling out of the country.
“If he has to board Arik aircraft just as David Cameron boards British Airways everywhere he goes, there will be serious checks on these frivolous journeys.”
The ACN National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, said that happenings within the country should dictate the propriety of Jonathan’s overseas trips.
Specifically, Akande said it was wrong for Jonathan to travel abroad when some parts of the country were under siege by the Islamic sect, Boko Haram.
The national chairman, who spoke through his media aide, Mr. Lani Baderinwa, on Friday, noted that Jonathan was following in the footsteps of Obasanjo with his frequent overseas trips.
According to Akande, who is a former governor of Osun State, the President should have sent Vice-President Namadi Sambo to Belgium for the customs conference.
He said, “Both Obasanjo and Jonathan believe in the same political philosophy. Obasanjo installed Jonathan; so, you should not expect anything less than frequent travels when the country is facing security challenges.
“We are not saying he should not travel abroad, but the mood of the country should dictate his sojourn abroad. The Brazil summit is likely to benefit Nigeria, but of what use is the summit when Nigerians are being killed on a daily basis?
“You don’t play to the gallery when your house is burning. There will be no Nigeria if Boko Haram has killed all Nigerians before he returns.
“The Syrian president did not attend any of these summits because of the problems facing Syria. That should have applied to Nigeria; President Jonathan should have suspended the travels.”
Also, the Campaign for Democracy president, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, noted that when Obasanjo was embarking on his frequent trips, the challenges of the country were not grave.
She stated that Jonathan’s new found love for overseas trips could not be rationalised with the current insecurity in the country.
Okei-Odumakin said, “He is creating his own footsteps really. As Obasanjo was with foreign trips, the challenges of the country were not as grave as they are today.
A“There is no explanation for what he is doing than the fact that he does not understand the call of his duty.”
lawyer and social critic, Mr. Fred Agbaje, expressed his reservations about Jonathan’s visit to Belgium a few days after he returned from a very controversial trip to Brazil.
Reacting to the development in a telephone interview with our correspondent, Agbaje said, “I am not too surprised that the President is travelling again after the hullabaloo that greeted his last journey.
“If you know where the President is coming from; he is an offshoot of the Obasanjo administration, you can’t expect any difference.
“Has any of the trips that the President has embarked on impacted on the lives of Nigerians?
“I think the man should sit down and address the challenges facing Nigerians instead of gallivanting all over the place.
“There are so many problems on the ground that he should sit down and address.
“Nobody would have quarrelled with him if Nigerians had been getting the benefits of these foreign trips.”
An economist and manufacturer, Henry Boyo, in an interview, said that Jonathan was following in the footsteps of Obasanjo, who, he said, spent about 50 per cent of his two terms on overseas trips.
“We didn’t see the results of the investment drive that Obasanjo promised us from his trips overseas and it is difficult to see how Jonathan’s investment drive will attract investors to Nigeria,” Boyo said.
He advised Jonathan to put his house in order first before looking for investments from outside the country.
He said, “It is clear that travelling abroad to look for foreign investments may not be the right way out.
“What we need to do is to create an enabling environment that will attract investments on its own. We need to fundamentally change our monetary policy model…what we have now is a model that ensures that we get poorer the more dollars we earn (from crude oil sales).
“If we attract Foreign Direct Investments now, it will only go into treasury bills and bonds. To get FDI, our inflation rate must not be more than 3 per cent, and the cost of borrowing should not be more than 7 per cent. Investors won’t come into an environment where it is clear that there is instability in the system.
“While insecurity is an issue (the US and European countries still invest in places like Libya), it is not as critical as creating the enabling environment that we’re talking about.”
Boyo cautioned the government about isolating any sector of the economy for investors to come in.
Rather, he said the government should institute a monetary policy that will make the naira stronger by allowing the component units of the federation get their income in the currency it is earned.
Also, a former Commissioner of Police in Lagos State, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, urged the President to spend more time in the country to solve the security challenges threatening the existence of the country.
He said that the President should have cut short his journey with the aggravated security situation to ensure that things were in order.
Tsav said that Jonathan should have taken further steps to confront the security challenges after sacking Gen. Owoye Azazi as the National Security Adviser.
He advised the President to stay in the country in order to seek a solution to the security issue as he would not be able to delegate his responsibilities.
The President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Peter Esele, said the President could only embark on travels that were of serious economic significance to the country.
He called on the President to reduce such visits that were lacking in economic value.
Esele said that the oversea travels of the President should reflect the economic reality in the country and even the global economic situation.
He recalled media reports that the last trip of the President to Brazil had over 100 people in the entourage.
He said that it was unacceptable for the President to have such a huge entourage in country with serious economic challenges
However, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said those accusing the President of travelling abroad too often were unkind and unfair to Jonathan because none of his overseas trips amounted to junketing.
Abati urged Nigerians to ignore those who are holding such erroneous position, noting that such people were known for playing politics with everything.
He said all the overseas trips undertaken so far by Jonathan were made absolutely in the interest of Nigeria.
He said, “For instance, the President went to Brazil recently to attend the UN Summit on the state of the earth and climate change. Over 180 world leaders were in attendance.
“The recent flooding of Lagos and Ogun states are indications that that summit was relevant to Nigeria.
“He also attended a session on Lake Chad, which is important to Nigeria.
“He was in Belgium to give a keynote address at the 119th/120th Summit of the World Customs Organisation, which has over 177 countries as members. For all his foreign trips, the President was on duty and they were not frolics or junkets.”
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