Tinubu in Paris: Matters Arising

(Tinubu’s latest trip to France remains a blessing to Nigeria)

By Reuben Abati

Every country makes its own sovereign choices and defines its own priorities. Nigeria is not under any obligation to speak at any forum except as it deems fit.

The point has been made that President Tinubu did not speak at any major forum. Nigeria as a sovereign state has every right to choose what serves its purpose. In any case, among all the African Presidents at that Paris Summit, Tinubu is the youngest in order of emergence.

Protocol and etiquette require that he cannot speak ahead of Presidents that are ahead of him until his proper introduction at the regional and continental level, where he is properly admitted into the body of Heads of States and Governments. Going to Paris was also Tinubu’s first international outing, after his election as President.

I disagree with those who claim that his attendance at that Summit was a lost opportunity. There is too much mush on social media.

My view is that the Paris trip was a great outing for Nigeria and for Africa, and especially for President Tinubu. You all must have seen him bouncing, and sprinting like a teenager at the events that he chose to attend and the great photo opportunities that he had. I was so drawn into the atmosphere I had to confess that I would also like to become President of Nigeria someday.

There is clearly something magical about that office that purifies the person, and gives your system a little bounce. Can anyone imagine that the same Tinubu that critics used to ridicule is suddenly looking like he can take Anthony Joshua’s place and challenge Dillian Whyte to a fight? It is the magic of that spiritual place called the Nigerian Presidency.

I digress. I intend to say that those who claim that Tinubu’s trip to France was a poor outing are factually wrong, unnecessarily sentimental and unfair. He did well. It is also the height of emotionalism to compare or reduce the performance of the President of one’s country to the level of the Presidents of other countries which on a good day look up to Nigeria.

In this matter, I think we all need to be reminded that campaigns and elections are over, we are now in the season of governance. Except the courts decide one way or the other, my take is that we are now in the season of governance, and this whole matter cannot be left alone to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its mob.

We have a responsibility to get involved in how this country is run. It is no longer about APC or Tinubu. It is about us. Less than a month ago, everyone talked about Muhammadu Buhari. I have not seen him on the front page of any newspaper since he packed his things out of Aso Rock and relocated to Katsina state. We have all simply moved on with our lives. This I think is the point that can also be taken from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s statement that “Nigerians should please relax”. Indeed, we all need to relax!

I began with Tinubu’s trip to Paris. Now, let me end with that. His first official international outing. Good. Good. For the benefit of those who claim that Tinubu did not secure a deal, I accuse them of ignorance.

Deals are not secured by word of mouth. Summits provide an opportunity for interaction and engagements and sound bites. What follows thereafter is more important, the ability of the country involved in diplomatic relations at either bilateral or multinational level to follow through.

Zambia may have secured a commitment for debt repayment rescheduling from China but it means nothing if it remains at the level of expectation. It is the same argument for the pledge by the global North to provide up to $100 billion for climate adaptation financing. This is at best an aspiration. It may never happen. Didn’t they make similar promises at Glasgow, Scotland (COP 26) and Sharm el-Sheik (COP 27)?

Nigeria’s participation in the Paris Summit is strategic and appropriately so. Nigeria was clear about its purpose: to woo the international community to invest in Nigeria, and to make just enough appearances to show that there is a new Sheriff in charge of Nigeria.

The Lagos City Boy who is now President of Nigeria did not disappoint. He was sprinting and hugging and laughing, putting up a good show on the soft diplomacy side. He demonstrated wisdom by not over-pushing himself in people’s faces at his first major outing as a newly-elected President. And it is not true that he went there to take photos. He held strategic meetings, and secured serious commitments.

Mr. Dele Alake, Presidential spokesman, my beloved junior in that office, has reported copiously on this: President Tinubu’s meeting with Professor Benedict Oramah of the African Export and Import Bank (AFREXIM) who gave a firm commitment that the development bank will invest more in Nigeria, and the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) who was told pointedly by Tinubu that it would be perilous for the world to ignore Nigeria. The EBRD lady concurred. Tinubu also met with Presidents of other countries. International diplomacy is not simply about making speeches at the podium where everyone says more or less the same things; it is more about commitments secured on the sidelines. Tinubu did very well in the latter regard. The only caveat I attach to that is that there is need for follow-up, and follow-through. Tinubu has to work on that.

Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is too busy organizing protocols and ceremonies, nobody in that Ministry pays enough attention to the nexus between diplomacy and statecraft. The golden age of that Ministry ended. Tinubu must revive it.

Tinubu’s critics have further objected to his decision to travel from Paris to London. I am amused by the comments. The beauty of democracy is that even persons who cannot buy enough data credit on their phones or who cannot run their own lives believe it is their right to dictate to the “oga on top”. Democracy is not too much of a departure from dictatorship, Only the character is different.

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