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COLUMNIST, Inside the Presidency

A Tale Of Two Presidential Visits

Posted: May 17, 2015 at 1:50 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

TWO foreign leaders were guests of President Goodluck Jonathan at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa last week. They came at different times and the visits threw up interestingly different scenarios, including dramatic endings.

The first visit was on Monday by President Idris Deby Itno of Chad. He is not a frequent visitor to Aso Rock Villa, unlike some of his West African counterparts. All the same, he noted that this was one opportunity he could not let go by. He said having collaborated, though not optimally, with President Jonathan on the fight against Boko Haram insurgents in the northeast of Nigeria, as well as on other issues of bilateral and multilateral regional interests, he felt it was proper to come and bid the leader of his neighbour-state, Nigeria, farewell.

The second visit was from the President of Republic of Benin, Boni Yayi. He came for similar reasons – to congratulate the Nigerian President for conducting peaceful elections, conceding to his opponent without rancour and for the massive assistance to Benin Republic.

Regarding the first visit, it was only natural that the issue of Boko Haram insurgency would come up. Chad was, and still is, very strategic in Nigeria’s quest to rout the terrorists who have ravaged the country’s northeast in the past four years with murders, kidnappings and arson. Preferring to speak in French, the Chadian leader reeled out the usual commendations now reserved for Jonathan since he conceded victory to president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari. There was a drawback though. Idris Deby lamented that Boko Haram’s rampage would have been checked a long time ago if his country and Nigeria had engaged in better collaboration in the military offensive against the insurgents.

Despite that, the urgent need to successfully prosecute the war against the terrorists warranted the hiring of some foreign mercenaries to train Nigerian troops on the use of new military equipment, as contained in some foreign media reports. Seeking more information on this development from the Chadian President however, became the ‘undoing’ of a State House correspondent of the German Radio, Deutsche Welle, Ubale Musa. A miffed Aso Rock promptly questioned the journalist and thereafter withdrew his access identification card to the Presidential Villa. This was shocking to many people, particularly Ubale’s colleagues who felt his question was harmless.

But in a closed security environment that the Aso Rock Villa is, defining what is harmful or harmless becomes the exclusive preserve of the authorities. So, although the German government has formally written to the Nigerian government over the incident, Ubale remains barred from the Villa ‘until further notice’.

It was a less tense situation three days later when President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic came calling. Although he commended President Jonathan for fighting off Boko Haram, Yayi focused more on appreciating the Nigerian leader for all the good things he did for him, Benin Republic and the West African region. Repeatedly describing Jonathan as a great statesman and good brother to him, the Beninoise leader who is a frequent visitor to Aso Rock, almost became emotional in stressing how much he would personally miss Jonathan’s presidency, which terminates in a few days. In what was meant to be brief remarks to journalists before he departed from his host, the bi-lingual Yayi who preferred to speak in English, even disclosed how Jonathan once granted him a vacation in our famous Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort. The extraordinary parting bear hugs were another evidence that Yayi, who has been frequenting the Villa since the Obasanjo and Yar’adua days, is definitely going to miss Jonathan.

Afterall, is it not possible that having heard some stories about Nigeria’s president-elect, Yayi may just have concluded that the days of bliss in Obudu are over?

Anyway, there was no opportunity for questions this time around. Apparently in view of the ‘Ubalegate’, no questioning of the visiting president was allowed by the authorities during this visit. So, no journalist was equally questioned or marched out of the Villa thereafter.