News of former president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s demise reached Nigerians from a hospital bed in Saudi Arabia in May 2010. From Chatham House four years later, presidential wannabe, Muhammadu Buhari, laid out his plans for his countrymen and women if he was elected president. Soon after becoming president, Buhari fell sick. Nigerians got a blow-by-blow account of his recuperation from a London hospital in 2015. Prior to the presidential poll in 2019, Atiku Abubakar and his loyalists were ensconced in a Dubai hotel from where they strategized on how to win. Just last month, Nigerians got to know of clandestine meetings of politicians in London concerning the 2023 elections. Former prez OBJ was there. So was presidential hopeful Bola Ahmed Tinubu and a phalanx of supporters. Governor Nyesom Wike of River state kept pace, a retinue of loyalists in tow. There were no fewer than two to three dozen Nigerian politicians in attendance at different venues thousands of kilometres from those they were taking decisions on behalf of – making overtures, forming alliances or making promises for future ones. Nigerians only got to know days after, prompting THEWILL to ask whether such out-of-country jaunts are necessary. Michael Jimoh reports…
The story goes that room service staffers in fashionable London hotels look forward to being on duty when Nigerian politicians come to lodge. Guests from Nigeria, especially politicians, are ever more than generous with tips, supposedly more than Saudi princes, Russian mafia or Ukrainian Arms dealers.
There was the case, for instance, of former governor of Plateau state, Joshua Dariye, gifting hotel employees with unbelievable sums of money as tips in a couple of days far surpassing what they earn as income for months.
Ecstatic beneficiaries spread the word of the Nigerian governor’s unusual and unexpected largesse. It continued each time he came around. Of course, word of his scandalous behaviour got to then President Olusegun Obasanjo through the British authorities. That was the beginning of Dariye’s exit from State House Jos, his eventual trial and sentencing for wasting state resources and embezzlement in millions of dollars and pounds. (Dariye was recently pardoned by the Buhari Administration.)
Top level politicians from Nigeria bee-lining it to some European capital for medical check-up, treatment, for strategic meetings and holidays is as common as Danfo buses plying Lagos routes. The London parley between Tinubu, Wike and scores of prominent Nigerian politicos is a recent example. OBJ himself was the presiding/ mediating officer in some, or all, of the meetings.
That will not be the first and certainly not the last. From now till next February when the general elections will hold, Nigerians are sure to read of another batch of politicians holding clandestine meetings in one or two European capitals. Why this odd preference on the part of ruling class isn’t quite clear.
It is understandable when a sick president or governor flies to Paris for an urgent surgical operation, understandable because they have made a mess of the medical structures in their own country. But what is baffling is their penchant for holding meetings in faraway London or Parisian hotels on matters concerning their own citizens and country.
Are there no swank hotels in Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt where they can converge and hold meetings? Why would politicians jet out to foreign capitals just to hold meetings when they can do the same in Nigeria?
Honourable Abdul Oroh is a lawyer, politician and was member of House of Representatives from 2003 – 2007. When THEWILL spoke with him last Friday evening, he reasoned that politicians going abroad for meetings “are trying to de-market the country, to destroy Nigeria’s image.” But the question to ask, Oroh said is “do those politicians from America, Britain or Ghana come to Nigeria to campaign?”
THEWILL cited an instance back in 1983 after Obafemi Awolowo lost, yet again, to former president Shehu Shagari. He granted an interview to a journalist with International Herald Tribune baring his mind on a number of issues including the flawed elections. Senior columnist with The Guardian then, Sonala Olumhense called out Awo, wondering how he could have settled for a foreign media at the expense of the local press.
“Well, it’s possible that journalist came to him. But leaving here to go abroad is the issue that worries me.” As for Olumhense’s piece in The Guardian, the former law maker says that the journalist “saw it (Awo’s interview with a foreign media) as the wrong thing to do. But I think if a journalist came to Awolowo he had to speak out. Probably he didn’t want to turn down such request for an interview. If somebody came to you and says, ‘can I interview you?’ Awo probably didn’t want to reject such request. But going abroad, raising funds abroad is not even legal. You’re not supposed to collect money from foreign donors.”
Mr. Kunle Adebajo is not a politician. He is a playwright and has been past chairman of the Lagos chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors. In his view, the politicians are just showing off by going to London for meetings that can conveniently hold here. “It is just ego,” Adebajo told THEWILL midweek. “They’re just showing off, just showing off and flexing their muscle.”
Continuing, the dramatist whose play Bandits and Beggars was recently performed at Epe and will be staged in Lagos this September, insists that, for the politicians, “it is something of pride and the press is blowing it up as something fantastic.” After all, he went on, “they could have had the same meeting in Lagos or any of the state capitals, even Abuja. So, why go to London?”
It takes lots and lots of money for politicians to jet off to London from Nigeria – from flights to hotel reservations and extracurricular activities in the sideline. For instance, a source told THEWILL that a stay over at Carleton Ritz venue of the BAT, OBJ and Wike meeting costs as much as N3 to N4m. They were there for days. Of course, there was a retinue of aides and tagalongs. So, do they spend tax payer’s money on such trips? Adebajo says they spend the security vote governors collect.
Like Oroh, he thinks Nigerian politicians campaigning abroad and soliciting for donations are clearly on the wrong path. For one, elections will hold in Nigeria and not outside the country. “All the voters are in Nigeria, they’re not in London.” If Nigerian politicians are fascinated with going abroad for meetings or whatever, Adebajo suggests, it is because “we are still in the early stages of democracy.”
Ancient Mali Empire was not a democracy when Mansa Musa called the shots in his kingdom in the Sahel. His decision to travel to Saudi Arabia was arbitrary and by the time he departed for the near east, he had a caravan of slaves carrying gold and other valuables. It is said he sprayed them on those he met along the way and sprayed even more by the time he reached his destination – all that while his citizens where being eaten alive by crocs and rats.
Did Mansa Musa’s profligacy presage the current crop of politicians’ obscene display of wealth outside Nigeria? In his seminal publication, The West and Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers and the African Elite, Chinweizu argued that Mansa Musa’s trip was not so much a vulgar display of wealth as a diplomatic ploy to up his and his empire’s status. In other words, to be seen as an equal of the surrounding kingdoms. Egypt, the Afrocentric scholar averred, was a dominant political power at the time, easily dwarfing Mali Empire and so the king felt diminished.
What to do?
Embark on an unforgettable and historic journey to a foreign land for recognition or, as Adebajo has said “just to show off.” In that sense, one can conclude that for Nigerian politicians and many others from the African continent, there was always a precedent. Hold meetings outside their own domain so as to be recognised by the outside world.
What did BAT, OBJ, Wike, Makinde of Oyo state and his counterparts from Benue and Abia, Ortom and Ikpeazu, hope for if not world attention? Mansa Musa got his in his day. Nigerian politicians are getting theirs now. And nothing suggests such showiness like Dariye’s, such craving for world attention will discontinue anytime soon – as long as Nigeria politicians are here with us.