November 10, 2011 02:10PMT
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The “coup” so long associated with the process of government in Nigeria has meant either overthrowing government by armed force or walking in to your boss’ office and telling him he is under arrest as Aliyu Mohammed Gusau, Director of Military Intelligence, did to General Wushishi, the then Chief of Army Staff in the coup that brought to an end a democratically elected government. Gusau played an important role in the coup that ousted President Shehu Shagari on 31 December 1983 and brought General Mohammed Buhari to power. Aliyu Gusau was also player in the coup of 27 August 1985, when Babangida replaced Buhari. And on 17 November 1993 Gusau along with Sani Abacha and Oladipo Diya, ousted Chief Ernest Shonekan.
Is it any wonder then that the word “coup” sends a tremor up the spin of politicians in Nigeria?
The latest coup for Nigeria is a coup of quite another kind.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan took a decision to participate fully in the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) that preceded the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, Australia, last week. Like all coups the decision had been taken quite some time before, in this case in October 2010. The strategy was well planned. On each of the three days of the CBF there was a major event involving Nigeria. On each evening there was also an event prominently featuring Nigeria.
On Day 1 President Jonathan attended a reception by Mr Colin Barnett, the Premier of Western Australia, who went to considerable length to point out the desire for strategic business partnerships between Western Australia with its long history of minerals development and Nigeria which is now embarking on new era of solid minerals development.
That evening President Jonathan and the First Lady were guests of honour at a business partners’ dinner at the Royal Perth Yacht Club, famous for winning the America’s Cup from the US who had held it for 132 years. The business dinner partnered Nigeria’s business leaders, ministers and governors with their Australian counterparts. Before the evening was half over Nigeria’s Minister for Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, and his Australian counterpart, Trade Minister Craig Emerson, had agreed in principle to form the Australian and Nigerian Trade and Investment Council (ANTIC). This initiative was subsequently agreed by Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard and President Jonathan who publicly signed an announcement to that affect. Many other encouraging business discussions took place that evening in areas including solid minerals, oil and gas, financial services and agriculture.
On Day 2 President Jonathan delivered the presidential address to all delegates. This was the only occasion on which all delegates were addressed in one forum. President Jonathan’s speech, “Unleashing Africa’s potential: A new Vision” set out a strong case for African nations and was received with overwhelming applause. Later in the day President Jonathan had bilateral discussions with Australia’s Prime Minister, which was followed by a state reception for President Jonathan.
By the end of Day 2 many of the other 53 nations were asking why President Jonathan was receiving such a seemingly disproportionately high degree of attention. The answer was simple: preparation, strategy and focused execution to achieve Nigeria’s goals – solid business and government relationships that will enhance and support Nigeria’s economic stance and security.
Day 3 featured two country roundtable sessions for Nigeria: Nigeria-Australia Minerals Roundtable followed by the Investing in Nigeria Roundtable. Some sections of the media in Nigeria have voiced criticism that President Jonathan did not appear at or host these roundtables. Let me be clear on this point: it was rightly the place of ministers to host these roundtables and both Minister Sada (Mines, Metals and Steel Development) and Minister Aganga (Trade and Investment) were precisely the right persons to host the respective roundtables which they did admirably. President Jonathan was well occupied leveraging diplomatic engagements for Nigeria whilst also catching up on matters of state from Nigeria.
The comment that overseas engagements equate with holidays or a relaxing week is misplaced and too often mischievously exploited by some unscrupulous commentators. This sort of comment can only come from someone who has never been closely involved in such trips. The flight from Nigeria to Australia requires 20 hours of flying with the immediate challenge upon landing of launching into meetings without being jet-lagged. The rigorous schedule of engagements must be balanced with time to attend to matters at home in Nigeria as well as making time to meet Nigerians in the Diaspora. It can be a gruelling schedule.
In approaching the CBF and CHOGM Nigeria did its homework better than any other nation and scooped the advantage with business relationships and diplomatic engagements.
The challenge now is to build on and leverage the prime position Nigeria has managed to secure through its engagements at the CBF and CHOGM in Perth. That will take more planning and well co-ordinated action by all ministries in a well planned strategy by the Presidency.
There can be no doubt that the Commonwealth Business Forum and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting were a diplomatic and business coup for Nigeria executed with precision by President Jonathan.