The Nigerian President is different things to different people, depending on the prism from which he is being considered. To some people, Muhammadu Buhari is a father figure. At 77 years old, he qualifies. To some others, he’s the greatest crowd pulling politician the country has seen for some time, and may yet see for a long time to come. True. And yet, to some others, he’s the strict man of discipline and integrity, who sets his face as flint against all forms of graft and avarice. Very true.
President Buhari is all these, and even more. But how does the international community see him? How do leaders of other countries, and people of weight and reckoning see the man who is a gift to the Nigerian nation?
For those of us who travel with the President round the world, it is sheer delight to see how the Nigerian Leader is venerated, and held in high esteem by the international community. Never to be forgotten are the words of the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, when he met with President Buhari at the sidelines of the 74th United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States of America, in September, 2019.
Inviting the Nigerian President to Euro-African Forum that his country was to host, de Sousa said: “Please come and declare the event open, even if it’s for half a day. We have been waiting for you to visit for three years. Many African leaders have come, but we want Nigeria.”
Truly, President Buhari is that Nigerian Leader that is in demand not just in the West African sub-region, where his colleagues virtually compelled him to be Chairman of Ecowas in July 2018, in Africa, where he was made Champion of Anti-Corruption by the African Union (AU), and in the uttermost parts of the world.
One of his earliest international visits was to America in July 2015, just two months after assumption of office for the first term. He was guest of the then American President, Barack Obama, who said of him during a bilateral meeting at the Oval Office:
“President Buhari came into office with a reputation for integrity and a very clear agenda, and that is to make sure that he is bringing safety and security, and peace to his country.”
In September of 2016, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, President Obama said of the Nigerian President again: “I am very pleased that we have been able to build a very strong working relationship with President Buhari, and he’s come in and initiated some very bold efforts at reform.
“On the security front, because of President Buhari’s leadership, he has been able to reform the Nigerian military.”
What of President Donald Trump, who succeeded Obama in office? At a meeting during an official visit by the Nigerian Leader in April, 2018, he declared: “I especially want to thank President Buhari for Nigeria’s partnership and leadership in the fight against terrorism. He’s been a real leader.”
And never to be forgotten is that meeting between Presidents Obama, Buhari, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, during the Nuclear Summit in America in May, 2016.
President Obama introduced the Nigerian President to Trudeau, saying; “Have you met President Buhari? He’s doing a good job.”
Every good Nigerian felt proud of his President round the world, at that endorsement.
Let’s go back in time to London, May 2016. The Queen of England had just turned 90, and after a thanksgiving service, she was in conversation with the then Prime Minister David Cameron, and Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. It was in the build up to a summit on corruption that London was hosting, and unknown to Cameron, a microphone was picking their conversation. He said: “Actually, we have got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain. Nigeria and Afghanistan- possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
But the Archbishop interjected, talking of Buhari. “But this President is not corrupt.”
Another fine moment in praise of integrity.
President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China: “Under the leadership of Your Excellency, the Nigerian people have been committed to safeguarding the nation’s stabilization, development of economy, and elevation of livelihood and achieved gratifying outcomes.”
At another time, President Jinping said: “ President Buhari is as decisive in dealing with terrorism as China.”
Thabo Mbeki, former South African President: “Here you have a person whose principle and practice is hostile to corruption. His detention (in 1985) was not for corruption, but for standing against corruption.”
Dame Patricia Scotland, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth: “Nigeria’s effort to combat corruption has been awe-inspiring. Thank you, Mr President.”
And Rex Tillerson, then American Secretary of State: “President Buhari’s work has resonated across Africa with his recent recognition as the African Union’s anti-corruption champion.” That was in March, 2018.
How about a fellow African leader, Dr Hage Geingob, President of Namibia? “A brave son of Africa is here, who has declared war against corruption.”
Many other testimonials trail President Buhari from different parts of the world, but this piece won’t be complete without mentioning the inspiring words of the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, about Nigeria’s exploits against the global plague, Covid-19. And it was all under the leadership of President Buhari.
“Nigeria is a developing country that has shown a remarkable capacity to respond to the Coronavirus… I was quite impressed to see, for instance, Nigeria putting in place and immediately establishing a hospital. And I saw difficulties in countries that are much more developed to do quickly the same.”
Of a truth, Nigeria is blessed to have President Buhari at a time like this. His footprints are surely already left on the sands of time. Indelibly.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity