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By M. Babajide-Alabi
It must have being a moment of pride for the newly sworn in President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, as he took his place among selected leaders of the industrialised world last weekend. It was in far away Germany where they were meeting, under the auspices of the G-7 Summit, to discuss global economy as well as on key issues regarding foreign, security and development policy, among other topics.
President Buhari had been invited along with six other African heads of state to be guest attendees. Their attendance was an opportunity to meet with the G-7 leaders on the sidelines and raise their countries’ “problems” with them. The invited African leaders were those with common problems of insecurity, “jihadism”, and poverty.
For Buhari, there could not have been a better time for him to meet these leaders and highlight his programmes to them and in the same breath solicit for assistance to get his broken country mended. Just two weeks after his inauguration, Buhari had the honour of “presence” in the “kitchen” of world leaders.
Besides Nigeria’s problem with the infamous Boko Haram terrorists, the president also has the task of convincing the world generally that Nigeria is now open for business under a new management. For Buhari as he prepared for the summit, the main thing on his mind will be to be accepted by these leaders, as a “new breed” “sheriff” with a mission to effect change in the way business is conducted in Nigeria.
So armed with a “wish list”, a heart full of prayers and three trusted aides – the former Lagos State Governor Raji Fashola, Borno State governor Kassim Shettima and Abdulrahman Danbazzau, a former chief of army staff – Buhari headed for Munich on Sunday June 7, full of confidence.
Buhari was his characteristic straight face as he walked gingerly through the guard of honour mounted by the Bavarian soldiers. However, give it to him, an ex-soldier he is, he did not misplace a foot. An occasional wry smile at the reception organised and hosted by the Minister-President of the state of Bavaria could well have been a good disguise for the butterflies in his stomach.
You wonder what was on Buhari’s mind as he got a welcome handshake to the summit from the host, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel the following day. Towering above the smiling Merkel, Buhari, in dark shades, was in his serious “mode”, as he denied the chancellor a reciprocal smile, even if only for the photo opportunity. It will be recalled that Merkel, the leader of the G-7, was the brain behind Buhari’s invitation to the meeting. Hopefully, President Buhari did not greet her as “President Mitchell of West Germany”.
For the other G-7 leaders, It was not a difficult task to spot the “new boy on the block”. He made appearance in a black traditional flowing kaftan dress, with a matching hat, which easily gave him away among the “suit-cladded” world leaders. He was not alone, as the Liberian President Sirleaf also came representing in her native dress. Buhari looked sharp and very athletic – everything the opposite of the image of an African leader, many of whom are synonymous with bulging tummies and rosy cheeks.
His straight face in place, he did not miss photo opportunities with these leaders. Buhari’s appearance with them reminds one of primary school days, when a new student joins midway into the school term. On the playground the new student is lost in “protocol”, not knowing what group to identify with, what to say or who to say it to. In this process, he hovers around all the “gangs” of old students, assessing them and hoping one of them would take notice of him and take him into the group.
It does not take long before the new student finds himself in the middle of a group telling his life story. At this stage, every student wants to know who he is, how intelligent he is and if he is worth associating with. They hang on to every word of the new student, while weighing if he is worthy enough to join the “inner circle”. This is called the “playground politics”.
Buhari must have felt like one new student at this meeting. This was his first meeting with the group of world leaders after his inauguration. He might have been an head of state in the eighties, remember he was a military dictator who was not allowed to walk in the corridor of venues where leaders of democratic countries met.
After the “breaking of ice”, these leaders would have been all over Mr President, asking various questions, some bothering a bit on the personal. The mischievous among them would have asked for his secret of political tenacity, coming back to win the election after three unsuccessful attempts. Yet, others would have teased him about his party’s popular sound bite – change.
At every “hello”, the president would have probably attempted a false smile. He is getting notorious for finding it hard to smile nowadays. And as if on cue, would have gone into his well practiced “pick up mode”, convincing the leaders that Nigeria is on a new journey and would need all the assistance that it could get from these leaders. The icing on the cake for Buhari would be the number of leaders he persuaded to “invest” in him to effect the change Nigeria urgently needs.
As a refrain though, the president would have warned the G-7 leaders not to expect him to turn the fortunes of Nigeria around overnight. And jokingly add that he is no magician and if they think otherwise, their IQ must be same as that of ordinary Nigerian citizen.
No doubt, the pressing issue on the president’s mind was Boko Haram, and particularly the ISIS “partnership”. It would be recalled that earlier this year, the retreating terrorist group operating in the North Eastern part of Nigeria, announced its allegiance to the ISIS. At a one-on-one meeting with the French Prime Minister Francois Hollande, Buhari raised this issue and asked for more intelligence to be shared on the evil links between these two groups.
Hollande was said to have promised Buhari that France shall support Nigeria and the coalition forces in the fight against the Boko Haram threat.
Apart from this official meeting with the French Prime Minister, there seemed not to be much on the itinerary of the President. His media aide Garba Shehu however informed Nigerians that Buhari was able to discuss with the leaders of Canada and Germany who assured Nigeria of their readiness to cooperate and help in its developmental efforts. Buhari seemed to have spoken to the other leaders on the “playground”.
It is understandable though if Buhari did not push for more one-on-one meetings with the likes of President Obama or David Cameron. He definitely was preoccupied with the “fire he left on the roof” before he left Nigeria – the inauguration of the 8th National Assembly and the election of the officials.
Published in Sunday Vanguard June 14 2015