By Ejikeme Omenazu, Lagos
WITH the May 29 inauguration of Nigeria’s President-elect, Muhammed Buhari, drawing closer, pressure is mounting on the White House and President Barrack Obama on who to represent the United States at the event.
Information available to Daily Independent on Monday May 18, 2015 indicated that while the immediate past U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, Johnnie Carson, was said to have President Barack Obama to send his Deputy, Vice President Joe Biden, to lead the American delegation to the event, a pro-Africa U.S. lobby group in Washington DC and the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) were requesting him to attend the event in person.
In a statement issued over the weekend, Carson, who had advised Obama, as the most senior government official on Africa (after the Secretary of State) until late 2013, however, requested that the U.S. President visits Nigeria in July while heading out to East Africa as already announced.
However, there were indications that the U.S. President was not yet ready to announce a delegation to the Nigeria’s presidential swearing-in ceremony on May 29, according to Natalie Wozniak, a White House spokesperson.
But, such an announcement could be done in the forthcoming week, based on traditional practices by the White House.
There had been reports and claims that Obama was planning to send a high-powered, presidential delegation possibly led by his wife, the VP or the U.S. Secretary of State.
Specifically regarding the Buhari-Osinbajo inauguration, Carson stressed that “President Obama should send a high level delegation to President Buhari’s inauguration in Abuja on May 29.”
According to him, “this delegation should be led by Vice President Joe Biden, who engaged with both President Jonathan and President-elect Buhari in the run-up to the presidential election.”
The former U.S. official said if Biden “is unable to go, Secretary of State, John Kerry; National Security Advisor, Susan Rice; Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, or Agriculture Secretary, Thomas Vilsack, should lead the delegation, which should include senior officials from several cabinets departments, including the Department of Defense.”
In a similar vein, CANAN and another leading U.S. group released separate statements asking the US President to be personally present at the May 29 event in Abuja.
The group – Constituency for Africa – is one of the leading organisations in the U.S, “committed to educating and mobilising the US public on matters pertaining to Africa.”
Its president, Melvin Foote, in the statement, argued that “last month, Nigeria completed its election process in a peaceful and transparent manner. While the U.S. applauded this positive feat, our involvement cannot conclude just yet.
“In fact, in some ways, it is only just beginning, which is why I strongly urge President Barack Obama to attend the inauguration of President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, on May 29.”
He added: “President Obama’s presence at this historic inauguration would send the right signal at the right time.
“This election was a landmark victory for democracy in Africa and for struggling people elsewhere around the world, and his participation would make a powerful statement of hope and renewal.
“Nigeria is in the balance. While it is dealing with a brutal terrorism campaign in the north, and multiple other development challenges elsewhere across the country — still it is the largest economy in a very important part of the world and – is poised to achieve much more in the years ahead.”
CANAN, in its own statement, asked Obama to consider attending the Buhari-Osinbajo inauguration as a means of further spurring the democratic fervour and ferment which is currently at play in the country.
According to the National Secretariat of CANAN, “while with the help of the Lord, Nigerians take the lead in the credit for the successful elections, the role of the US President and government cannot be over-emphasised.
“We remember how President Barack Obama took time to personally record and send an official White House video message to Nigerians ahead of the presidential elections, saying all the right things.
“By attending the inauguration personally, Obama will cap the whole affair graciously and end the controversial fallouts of the exclusion of Nigeria in his prior visits to Africa.
“CANAN wishes the President takes a very deep reflection on this matter and add a great spur to the ferment of change that is ongoing in Nigeria by being personally present at the Buhari-Osinbajo inauguration on May 29.
“It will set a new tone not only in US-Nigeria relations, but in US relationship with Africa as a whole.”
In his statement urging Obama to visit Nigeria in July when he is scheduled to visit Kenya and Ethiopia, Carson said “it would be deeply troubling for many Nigerians to see Africa’s largest democracy snubbed at this important moment in its history.
Carson, who advised Obama on Africa all through his first term in office and beyond, conceded that “relations between Abuja and Washington have frayed over the past two years, largely over security issues and differences over the handling of Boko Haram.”
He suggested that by sending a high powered delegation to the presidential inauguration in Nigeria and then dropping by in Nigeria on his way to East Africa in July, Obama could bring about a new beginning between Nigeria and the U.S. with the emergence of the Buhari-Osinbajo presidency.
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