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Tuesday, 27 June 2023 03:55

[OPINION] Tinubu in Paris: Matters Arising - Reuben Abati

 

“See Paris and die!” We used to hear that as young persons. Paris was meant to be the most exotic spot of European civilization, an intellectual capital and the reference point for the Renaissance – Francis !1, Cardinal Richelieu, Loui XIII, Louis XIV, and the ideas-driven salons of Paris. But that was in the past. Nobody goes to Paris to die these days, or to look for big ideas at salons. The history is still there, the legacy is apparent, but there is no big deal anymore about Paris. Most people go there for tourism, lovers travel to Paris to take pictures at some of the most memorable legacies of world heritage: at the la Tour Eiffel, the Louvre Museum, the Seine River, the Versailles, the Mussee d’Orsay and particularly at the Arc de Triomphe where lovers take pictures after, or before visiting the Eiffel Tower to show that they have been to Paris.

 

It is particularly tragic for France that from being the centre of culture and civilization at a time in history it is now more important as a centre for romance, conferences and tourism, even if France has sustained its status as one of the seven most powerful countries in the world as a member of the G-7. Between June 22 and 23, France was again in the spotlight when it hosted the summit on a “New Global Financial Pact” which as President Emmanuel Macron pointed out was to develop a new architecture for global financing to the advantage of the global South with particular focus on. Climate adaptation, equity, justice and respect for the sovereignty of states. The Summit was attended by more than 50 representatives from countries, that is Heads of States and Governments, the private sector and international development/multilateral agencies. It was France’s means of asserting its continuing relevance as a world super power. None of the G-7 countries would ever give up easily in claiming their own space in the global arena, with regard to diplomacy and influence. President Macron has been particularly determined in carrying the French torchlight in the global space.

 

That said, let me pivot a little. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s new President and his entourage participated in the New Global Finance Pact Summit in Paris For those who do not understand the context, there has been so much talk about a new global financial architecture in the international space when countries of the global South, that is the developing countries began to ask for a New International Economic Order as far back as 1974. Developing countries were not at the table when the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions were formed after World War II. Nor were they at the table after World War I and the negotiations that led to the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Post-war, the world has been trying to grapple with the challenges of peace, security and stability, but with that has come the challenges of equity, justice and state sovereignty. Article 1 of the UN Charter talks about the sovereignty of states, but we live in an unbalanced world and an inequitable world. The disparity between the Global North and the Global South has therefore led to s a situation whereby the poor developing countries of the world have consistently asked for a seat at the table, either at the UN Security Council, or for trade not aid, and reforms at all levels and a greater commitment of the North to the South. France as we have seen, and other countries of the North – Japan, China, Russia, the United States have tried to seize on this through annal summits at which they announce grants for developing countries,

 

Much of it is just sheer hypocrisy though. Whether it is Japan, China, the US, the UK or France, these Global North countries are basically looking out for their own interests. In France, the developed countries for example promised a $100 billion fund for climate adaptation. We heard much of that at COP 26 in Glasgow Scotland, and also at COP 27 at Sharm-el-Sheik in Egypt., and again at the African Development Bank Anniversary at the same venue – Sharm el-Sheik most recently. In Paris, the rich nations pledged about $100 billion for climate adaptation to help developing countries, but has progress been made (?), given the fact that an outsized role is given to private investment and multilateral development banks. The truth is that the global North is not yet ready to input fairness, justice and equity into its relationship with the global South – that, sadly, is the extant international economic order. Zambia’s President Hichilema may have been able to secure a debt deal with China with the help of France’s President Macron but that doesn’t really mean much. Zambia, the copper-rich nation was the first Africa country to default on its debt prepayments in 2020. It is indebted to China for up to $4billion out of a debt profile of about $6 billon. The loans may have been taken by Hichilema’s predecessor – Michael Sata and Edward Lungu, but Hichilema succeeded in getting a reprieve on debt repayment from China, with President Macron facilitating the deal. I don’t think that is a lot to crow about. Zambia is in a very bad place economically. It has also been said that the. Presidents of Ghana, Kenya, Barbados reportedly made statements on behalf of the developing world about fairness, equity and justice in the proposed new global financial pact. What does anybody expect them to say? The big issue about North-South relations has been exactly about the same issues, the original basis in particular for Africa, demanding “trade, not aid”.

 

I have given this background to lead up to the point that has been raised by some Twitter analysts, those I call the 140-word intellectuals who have been saying that whr5eas some other Presidents from developing countries took the podium and made some noise with regard to striking some deals, President Tinubu only got promises from the Paris Summit and did not make any big statement. What big statement is anyone looking for? Comparing President Tinubu to President William Ruto of Kenya, or the Presidents of Ghana or Zambia is an act of self-abnegation on the part of those who have done so. 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!

 

The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was accused of not posting her pictures with President Tinubu in Paris whereas she posted on social media pictures with other Presidents that are not her own. She was then accused of making a political statement. The truth that is lost on the complainants is that Tinubu does not need Dr. Okonjo-Iweala’s validation. It is not an issue. And she put her finger on it when she pointed out that those complaining have sadly shown “the depth of polarization in our society”. She has told us correctly: “Let’s unite to build our country, not attack.” The censorious mode into which the opposition in Nigeria has plugged itself is unhealthy for us as a country, nor is it of any help to the sub-region. In Sierra Leone where presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections were held last Saturday, it is shocking to see that Sierra Leoneans are beginning to behave almost exactly like Nigerians. The ruling party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), claiming victory is already telling the main opposition party, the All People’s Congress (APC): “Go to Court”, Go to Court”. The judiciary is obviously not only in the eyes of the storm in Nigeria as the Nigeria Bar Association-Special Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SWIDEL) resolved at a summit last week, it is embattled everywhere. Again, I digress.

 

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.

 

My only point of criticism about the Paris Summit event would be as follows. President Tinubu met with Nigerians in Diaspora at an event in Paris which is a good thing, Nigerians in Diaspora are major stakeholders in the Nigerian enterprise- many of them are even far more concerned than the Nigerians at home. But Tinubu made the mistake of saying at the forum that the country’s financial system was rotten under Godwin Emefiele as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He gave his audience more details. That was wrong. Emefiele was arrested on June 8, and has been in the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) since then with the claim that he is still being investigated. President Tinubu must refrain from making prejudicial statements. Emefiele has rights under the laws of Nigeria. He should not be crucified through Presidential proclamation. 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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