The Failed Exhibition At The United Nations

It appears that presidential speech writers forgot the audience was not the poor Nigerians, who are used to being fed with anything as an achievement, but were world leaders who have the benefit of objectivity, insight and comparison.

President Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

At this year’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, the speech by Nigeria’s President, General Muhammadu Buhari, should cause us all to ponder if he understands Nigeria’s place in the world and position in Africa.

The speech delivered at the 76th Session of United Nations General Assembly is that from a nation that has lost confidence and clout, unable to assert itself, looking for help at every opportunity from a world that understands that Nigeria’s problems are self-inflicted and resolvable.

It is a speech that should cause every Nigerian a grave concern, for there is no further evidence required to prove that Nigeria’s head is bowed and that it is a shadow of the so-called giant of Africa.

This country has lost all the glamor and is now a nation that needs outside help to eat.

The evidence was not just in the speech; other reports mention private meetings where President Buhari went around with an Almajiri plate, looking for crumbs from the affluent nations.

Nigeria’s loss of pride is not illogical but stunning and demoralising all the same.

It is heartbreaking to see a nation with so much promise losing its ambition, dignity, honor and prestige so quickly.

It appears that presidential speech writers forgot the audience was not the poor Nigerians, who are used to being fed with anything as an achievement, but were world leaders who have the benefit of objectivity, insight and comparison.

Beginning with the theme of the assembly on the global COVID-19 pandemic, President Buhari bragged about Nigeria’s achievements before begging for help.

But his swagger was that of a village boy in a city.

He said, “In this connection, from a mere four laboratories with testing and detection capacities, we ramped up the facilities to over 140 centres today.”

There are a few problems with just that statement.

First, how come Nigeria had just four laboratories to start with?

The largest economy in Africa that is rich in petroleum and other resources should have done better in public health long before COVID-19.

The lowering of standards to the ridiculous and unacceptable, which we have become used to within Nigeria, has gone global

Secondly, it is ludicrous to expect just 140 centres to serve a population of 200 million people.

That is exactly one test centre to 1.43 million Nigerians.

The world heard that with some leeriness and chuckling, I suppose.

The things that should normally be shameful are now a source of pride.

The lowering of standards to the ridiculous and unacceptable, which we have become used to within Nigeria, has gone global.

It is pathetic.

On a recent visit to Mexico, I saw on a single street in Cancun more than 10 test centres; without counting hotels which had set up their own test facilities for tourists.

Mexico is a nation with just about the same rating on the scale of development and prosperity as Nigeria, but would not have gone to the UN boasting about 5,000 test centres.

The president’s account of Nigeria’s COVID-19 achievements did not present Nigeria as a success story.

Instead, he presented the nation as a tiny republic with meager resources before a world congress.

If Togo, Sierra Leone or Burundi presented such unmeaningful statistics as achievements, it would be forgivable.

The self-deprecation continued.

“Nigeria remains grateful for the assistance received from our partners and friends all over the world. …We fully support the COVAX initiative from which we have benefitted. We also thank the United States of America, Turkey, India, China, European Union, and others for the vaccines provided.”

For Nigeria to rely on the help of India, when India has two home-grown vaccines while its pharmaceutical companies feed the developed world, is a testament to Nigeria’s retrogression.

India has no oil and fundamentally should be assisted by Nigeria.

But bad management has caused major pharma to depart from Nigeria while India has grown its own industry to the extent that they are setting up factories in North America and Europe.

For those who may not know, COVAX is an international charity for COVID-19, which has been donating Covid19 vaccines to poor nations.

When President Buhari boasted that “as a result of the renewed vigour of our military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,” he failed to confess that there was secret financial inducement of criminals involved

Nigeria has not been able to afford to buy vaccines, and every dose of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines administered to our people were donated.

Evidently, Nigeria could not buy vaccines and was lumped with poor nations.

An Almajiri nation.

The lack of awareness in the speech did not stop with COVID-19.

President Buhari also had the temerity to ask world leaders combat conflicts, while leaving discord and anarchy unsolved at home.

“These include poor and undemocratic governance, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, injustice and inequalities.”

For the leader of a country that is largely falling apart, the call smacks of hypocrisy and lip service.

When President Buhari boasted that “as a result of the renewed vigour of our military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,” he failed to confess that there was secret financial inducement of criminals involved.

He also dodged the truth about issues with the justice at home.

While Nigerians are crying for fairness and social justice, in the face of nepotism, official brutality, he made this statement: “Nigeria has been steadfast in safeguarding human rights… the promotion of fundamental freedoms through all legitimate means.”

It is exactly one year ago that innocent youths were gunned down in Lekki, Lagos, by armed soldiers, regardless of the official version, when they protested against police harassment and violation of human rights across Nigeria in the #EndSARS movement.

Nigerians are not free to protest and every attempt is being made to gag the press.

The President has also glaringly been supportive of the violation of the rights of farmers, land owners and other Nigerians who have become victims of criminal Fulani nomads.

Nigeria has not been able to afford to buy vaccines, and every dose of the first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines administered to our people were donated

While the nation begs him to protect their rights, every action of this president has been directed towards enforcing the right of movement of the pastoralists, who are his kinsmen.

The narration about Nigeria was inaccurate and our government’s demand was mere diplomatic posturing.

The hypocrisy at the United Nations is nauseating to well-meaning Nigerians.

The fairy story to world leaders was crowned with mendicancy, as Nigeria begged the rich nations for debt forgiveness.

With the pressure mounting at home against heavy borrowing since his administration came to power, President Buhari sought a way out.

“On the issue of debt, we have seen that developing countries have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of new wave of deepening debt,” he lamented, before demanding “a review of the eligibility criteria for debt suspension, including outright cancellation, is needed for countries facing the most severe challenges.”

The fact is lost on President Buhari that the outside world does not consider Nigeria a poor country; just a corruptly-ruled country.

Nigeria is on the list of emerging economies just like India, Mexico, Brazil and Malaysia, none of which has been going to the UN with an alms basket.

With the strongest economy in Africa and its oil wealth, the President will have to try harder.

He was once a Petroleum Minister as well as the chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund under the Abacha regime.

The President understands that Nigeria is in the class of nations such as UAE, Kuwait, Algeria and even Angola, who have made a fortune from oil resources.

Why would anyone want to forgive our debts when we keep piling up as if we would never have to pay back?

Mr. President, the credit card is dangerous.

It is sweet when you use it, but almost impossible to pay back. Debt has never been free money and the attitude of this administration to debt should be a matter of national concern.

Overall, the speech represented an account of Nigeria’s failure; rather than success.

It was simply a failed exhibition. It represented an admission that Nigeria has lost control and an appeal to the world for help.

Countries that beg for everything like President Buhari did have lost their prestige.

In international relations, prestige is one of the three triangular needs of every country, with the others being economy and security.

Nigeria has none of the three.

The economy is in a shambles, the security is worse and the prestige crumbled when that speech was read to a world audience.

Will it ever be clear that the path to Nigeria’s revival lies in cutting down on wastage, reducing the size of government, creating opportunities for employment and unleashing the energies of the young population?

Development cannot happen when a federal legislator earns 100 times more than a medical doctor.

It cannot happen when the president wastes hundreds of millions of naira on healthcare abroad while his daughter takes a presidential aircraft on a weekend photo shoot.

Nigeria has become an international beggar because our leaders want to keep living like Hushpuppi when they need to be as modest as Tai Solarin.

Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.