Thursday, April 22, 2010

When Acting President Goodluck Jonathan Visited Washington D.C.

I saw Acting President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday. And I am still reminiscing about meeting him. Yes, he sat just an arm stretch from where I sat taking photos. It was an exciting opportunity to experience first-hand the Acting President’s visit to D.C. He was well received at the international stage, among his peers and he was able to articulate his vision and plans for Nigeria to all who probed his agenda. Obviously, a lot of focus was on the forth-coming election- 2011. Everyone, well almost everyone, wanted to know what strategies he was putting in place to ensure a free and fair election when the time comes.

During the discussion forum hosted by Nancy Birdsall, President of Center for Global Development, Acting President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan offered his perspective on several of the key issues affecting Nigeria, including electoral reform, consolidation of the gains of the Niger Delta Amnesty, the fight against corruption, and improvement to the power and energy sectors. Birdsall who said the US was interested in helping Nigeria manage her oil said the world wants to see a more active and engaged Nigeria. She expressed how disappointing it has been that Nigeria missed several opportunities to serve on the global stage. “Despite Nigeria’s great wealth, too many Nigerians are still in poverty” she mused. What will it take to move Nigeria from its introverted and stalling progress towards the level it deserves? Africa needs a strong Nigeria, one that is focused on improving lives.

In response, Goodluck Jonathan said that he felt honored to have been invited to attend the Nuclear Security Summit. He noted that Nigeria has indeed enjoyed 11 years of uninterrupted democratic governance. He said that he hopes to strengthen the economic relationship between Nigeria and the United States in line with Private Sector Partnership- supply of crude oil and non-oil business relations and US support in improving power generation and supply. He also said that the Amnesty program is on course in Niger Delta, to help youths stop antagonizing their government through violence.

Acting President pointed out that one of Africa’s challenges is controlling the illicit transfer of weapons from West to Africa. “Why must Africa be a dumping ground for small arms and light weapons?” he asked. When these small arms are dumped in Africa, it gets into wrong hands thus threatening lives and disrupting security. “These are the real weapon of mass destruction” he said.

He was asked about his ambition in the non-oil States, especially on Agriculture. But to my dismay, the question was lost while attempting to elaborate on his plans to ensure an electoral reform before the next election. I wonder if Mr. Acting President step back sometimes to ponder on why the oil sector is becoming overrated. Whatever happened to Agriculture? Whatever happened to efforts by government leaders to make Public Service as sexy as other sectors?

In a later event, during the launch of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center (Atlantic Council), the first question Goodluck Jonathan was asked was how he plans to engage the next generation during his administration. Acting President said there is room for the next generation who are ready to work hard. One of his strategies is to instill into every youth a value system that will allow us think more about the good of Nigeria instead of individual gain.

Goodluck did not falter in articulating his goals to Senator Chuck Hagel, Chariman of Atlantic Council; Mr. Fredrick Kempe, CEO of Atlantic Council; Dr. Nancy Walker, moderating the discussion and the rest of us, key stakeholders with or without vested interest in Nigeria’s development.

He explained his ambition to build infrastructures; create investment opportunities, put in place a solid base for education, employment and good governance. As for 2011 election, he said that he would ensure electoral justice and accountability.

“Nigeria is rising and our rise will be for the good of all…” he said. And to the US he chided, “As friends we must be honest with each other”. Why pat Nigeria on the back as a partner with one hand and put its name on terrorist watch list with the other?

Meanwhile, hope you understand why I am particularly pumped about all of this? My friend Chinyelu Odunze, a first generation Nigerian-American studying at American University, and I attended the two events. All we had to do was RSVP and there was no backlash on the list of attendance. During the Center for Global Development event, we sat beside the President'sSpeechwriter and listened to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan speak. I also saw the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomole; The Vice President of the African Region of World Bank, Oby Ezekwesili; and other actors in the Nigerian political and economic sector.

The Acting President’s speechwriter asked us if the speech was good. We nodded in affirmative. Honestly, the speech was really thorough, punctuated with good humor. However, I realize we don't need impeccable Political speech from our government leaders. We need to see our leaders take positive action.

As if reading my mind, our Acting President emphasized the areas where he is hoping to take action. Again, he said that he would use his tenure to improve power generation and supply in Nigeria, sustain the amnesty program on course in Niger Delta and work to control the illicit transfer of small arms and light weapons from the West to Africa.

Yes, we got a good impression of the Acting President’s visit to Washington. To resonate what my friend, Professor John Kline of Georgetown University said in an email response to my enthusiasm, “I hope the elections will provide an opportunity for real leadership toward unity rather than factional division. (Perhaps it needs an inspired youth journalist to help guide it in that direction?)”

There was a rare traffic jam in the Capital city. Notice of parking restrictions for the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit was in effect until 12pm on Wednesday, April 14. Intermittent road closures in some areas of D.C. were expected and everyone was notified in advance. World leaders came to Washington D.C. and this time, Nigeria’s presence was not in oblivion, Acting President Goodluck Jonathan was neither in silence nor in derision. There is hope for Nigeria.

(As reported for the Nation newspaper)

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