Image from article, with caption: Presidents Muhammadu Buhari and Francois Hollande of France
Hometruths By Adeola Akinremi, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In diplomacy, phrasing of statements is important to gaining strategic advantage. President Muhammadu Buhari’s public diplomacy in London this week fell short of standards.
It was the reason The Telegraph made a banner headline out of it. When reporters start to ask pesky questions around terrorism and immigration, they try to puzzle you to get out the strong words for their headlines. It is what we are trained to do. In the end, it is your words.
But the pounding received by President Buhari this week wasn’t necessary as the President’s interview with The Telegraph in London didn’t indicate any blanket statement with regards to the reputation of Nigerians being criminals.
When queried by The Telegraph’s Colin Freeman, about immigration issue with specificity to asylum claims by Nigerians in the United Kingdom, Buhari responded without measure: “Some Nigerians claim is that life is too difficult back home, but they have also made it difficult for Europeans and Americans to accept them because of the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking. I don't think Nigerians have anybody to blame. They can remain at home, where their services are required to rebuild the country."
As Nigeria’s president the responsibility of placing the country at an advantage is important, so when President Buhari is being ambushed to speak at international meetings by reporters, he must understand the questions and the intent before he decides to respond. This I think must be a take-home lesson on his words in The Telegraph.
It’s clear that Buhari is angry about the lopsided situation of things in the country and he uses every forum he finds to speak out his mind. But Buhari needs to understand that his role outside the country goes beyond that of an emotional spitfire president who’s anger against the sordid act of the Peoples Democratic Party’s henchmen or President Goodluck Jonathan sometimes makes his speeches vacuous when he responds to issues.
Admittedly, he carefully used the word ‘some’ in the interview with The Telegraph, but the subsequent words did damage to the careful use of the word ‘some’.
Here is the sentence that killed the gospel: “...the number of Nigerians in prisons all over the world accused of drug trafficking or human trafficking.”
In public diplomacy, Buhari has scored zero with this statement, because it fails to address what I think should be his foreign policy direction: globally active and recognisable Nigeria.
For a country struggling with economic diplomacy, a sound foreign policy with a goal to strengthen the reputation and recognisability of Nigeria as an important nation is something the government should strive to do in the international environment.
Rather than concerned himself with providing explanation on how the image of Nigeria became battered over the years, Buhari should deliberately lead the foreign policy of relations with foreign publics in a way that will build their confidence in our economy and the Nigerian state in general.
Now, it is not clear which government agency is delivering our messages and services abroad as the government strives to rebuild the economy, cage corruption and expand social benefits to citizens.
For the Americans it’s clear what their public diplomacy seeks to achieve and that’s clearly stated on the state department website. “The mission of American public diplomacy is to support the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals and objectives, advance national interests, and enhance national security by informing and influencing foreign publics and by expanding and strengthening the relationship between the people and Government of the United States and citizens of the rest of the world,” the statement reads.
Another good example in public diplomacy is the visit to Nigeria this week of the United Kingdom's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Baroness Anelay.
Baroness Anelay is not in Nigeria to talk about the crisis in the Labour party or Knife crime that is up by at least 18%, after years of falling in the UK.
I can bet it that Anelay will not open her mouth to talk about the cheapness and the ease of laundering dirty money through UK-based banks that has now given London a key role in drugs trade.
She will rather concerned herself with projecting the better image of her country by discussing funds coming to Nigeria from the UK to support the campaign against Boko Haram insurgents and how to better ensure the protection of civilians in the fight against the insurgents.
Sadly for Buhari, his statement in London has turned to hunt him with the ongoing scrutiny of the 2016 budget. For instance, Premium Times, an online publication has called Buhari’s budget a “massive fraud.” The newspaper questions Buhari’s integrity on the huge amount budgeted for State House Clinic and the Presidential Villa.
According to Premium Times, the mathematics in Buhari’s budgetreveals “a collection of fraudulent and frivolous allocations, many of which are clearly meant to support the opulent lifestyle of public officials.”
Really, no one can jump into hasty conclusion about the budget as there have been reported different versions of it in the past, but we can take the words of the Minister for Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, that the smuggling “rats” is to blame for the inflated figures in the budget.
But Buhari must realise that public diplomacy in an era, when digital diplomacy has been added to international relations, such that presidents and governments now use social media to pass their messages to foreign countries, there’s need for circumspect [.]