President Goodluck Jonathan has come and gone. His visit, though brief, was incredibly significant and a far-cry from his predecessor former President Olusegun Obasanjo's visit during ex-President Tejan Kabbah's government. I recall, with nostalgia, during former President Obasanjo's visit in 2007, just a few days to the elections, he remarked on "continuity of governance", a statement the then opposition APC did not augur well. Obasanjo made this statement when he was officially opening the skills training centre at Hastings, named after him, and repeated it at State House.
President Goodluck, on the other hand, completely distanced himself from this position. In fact, when his aircraft landed at Lungi Airport, though he was received by President Koroma, his first port of call was to address all political players at Bintumani Hotel. He displayed a neutral posture and even spent more time parleying with politicians at the Bintumani Hotel. Hear him... "I'll spend 80 percent of my visit with all the political parties and 20 or...[laughter]...15 to 20 percent with others". Meaning, he laid emphasis on exhibiting Nigeria's commitment to free, fair and credible elections to all the political players present at the Bintumani hall. At the interactive session, Dr. Jonathan exhibited diplomatic and political prowess with the National Electoral Commission [NEC], Political Parties Registration Commission [PPRC] and the various political parties' representatives. The various parties' chieftains and flag-bearers welcomed the Nigerian President and pledged their commitments to the codes of conduct of the elections, as laid down by NEC and PPRC. President Jonathan later went to State House to receive his award, the highest in the land -Grand Commander of the Republic of Sierra Leone - GCORSL, as a sign of appreciation to him and the people of Sierra Leone. The significance of the outcome of Goodluck's visit is two-fold: unlike former President Obasanjo's visit in 2007, Goodluck Jonathan has demonstrated Nigeria's neutral stance among political players and the enhancement of democratic principles and norms in African politics. By so doing, Nigeria is exhibiting a new fashionable democratic characteristic in modern democracies. By spending 80 percent of his visit with all political stakeholders and less than 20 percent with his host [President Koroma], President Goodluck has set the pace of exhibiting a neutral posture in proving a level playing field to all the political actors during this transition period.
This is what democracy is all about! In whatever political spectrum one views it, certainly, is a plus to Nigeria's foreign policy profile. To demonstrate an impartial stance, only 19 days to the elections, Goodluck is demonstrating to the world that Nigeria is neutral and does not support any sitting government in power during elections, anywhere in the world, a far-cry from former President Olusegun Obasanjo's open display of "continuity of governance" of ex-President Kabbah's hopeful - Solomon Berewa, on the eve of the 2007 elections. Obasanjo may have fumbled, but Jonathan has certainly repositioned Nigeria's democratic profile among the international comity of nations. Any discerning political observer of President Goodluck Jonathan's visit can easily fathom the new trend of Nigeria's foreign policy objectives vis-à-vis the upliftment of modern democratic principles and an impartial stance during democratic elections period. Obasanjo may have blundered during the elections period in 2007 but Jonathan has rectified and instituted an impartial posture during his visit which, certainly, in my estimation, is a high-fly foreign policy thrust of the present administration in Nigeria, the most populous black nation in the world.
The Jonathan visit, evidently, has put paid to the fact that foreign policy engagements during a transition period in any country are people-focused and not government-focused, to ensure a peaceful and democratic transition period. The fact that President Jonathan spent more time addressing all the political leaders and less time with President Koroma at State House for the award is a clear indication of the apolitical stance of the present administration in Nigeria.
Abubakar Hashim is former West African Bureau Chief of the African Concord, now a Media Consultant