North America

Controversy trails cancellation of Bill Gates’ visit to Nigeria

Bill GatesUnited States of America dealt a hard blow on Nigeria, yesterday, with the cancellation of a planned visit to Nigeria by one of its richest men, Bill Gates, to the country, following the controversial pardon granted the former Bayelsa State Governor, Dieprieye Alamieyeseigha, by President Goodluck Jonathan, last week, and the lack of safety of health officials in  the north.

The US, it was learnt, is still peeved that Jonathan ignored the feelings of Nigerians and went ahead to pardon his former master, who was convicted of money laundering amounting to billions of Naira, thereby setting the anti-corruption war backwards.

The US is also angry that Nigeria summoned its envoy for questioning for daring to voice concerns over the pardon to corrupt persons.

Meanwhile, Presidency yesterday said the report in some news media that Bill Gates had cancelled his proposed visit because of the presidential pardon granted to some Nigerians was not correct.

Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said told newsmen in Abuja: “The visit was rescheduled because of other commitments by Bill Gates.

He said: “I have read the report in some sections of the media insinuating that Mr. Bill Gates has cancelled his planned visit to Nigeria because of the recent pardon granted some Nigerians.

“I am in touch with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and I can say that this report is not true and that it exists only in the imagination of the writers.

“The foundation said Mr. Bill Gates’ travels are often dependent on the schedules and availability of many other people and partners and that in this particular case, because these other people and partners will not be available at the time he is presently scheduled to visit Nigeria, they have to reschedule the visit.”

Vanguard further learnt that the cancellation has to do with concerns over the lack of safety of medical staff, who handle polio immunisation in northern parts of Nigeria, which is one of the biggest recipients of US aid in Africa.

Why Gates shunned Nigeria

Bill Gates, authoritative diplomatic sources said, cancelled his trip two days after the US government expressed disappointment over the pardon.

The sources said: “I can confirm to you that Mr. Gates won’t be coming as scheduled,” sources reportedly claimed yesterday morning. The body language of Washington D.C. does not support his travelling to Nigeria.

“The thinking here is that the Nigerian government has high tolerance level for corruption and should be ostracised in all ways possible.”

It was learnt that Gates had already instructed his staff to inform Aso Rock, the secretariat of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the Federal Ministry of Health that he was no longer coming.

Last year, the US gave Nigeria about $226 million in development aid and is expected to spend $600 million this year.

Gates, who has been working with the Nigerian authorities since 2009 to combat the ravages of polio, a childhood disease that has been dusted by other countries, was scheduled to meet with some governors in the country, whose states were still being buffeted by polio, officials of the Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria’s billionaire, Aliko Dangote.

Health Ministry source

A top official of the Health Ministry confirmed to Vanguard last night that they had received a notice from the Bill Gates Foundation cancelling the trip to Nigeria.

The official said there was nothing they could do than to put off necessary arrangements being made for the visit.

“Yes, it is true that the trip has been put off,” the official said. Competent diplomatic sources said the foundation opted to suspend the visit barely two days after the US government expressed disappointment with its Nigerian counterpart for pardoning convicted money launderers and warned it might cut aid meant for the country.

It was learnt that the cancellation of the trip had already been communicated to the Presidency and other stakeholders in the health sector in Nigeria.

In Lagos, US embassy said there was a lot of concern about the safety of medical personnel, who handle polio vaccination in some parts of Nigeria, especially the mindless killing of vaccination workers in Kano last month.

It said: “We know that Bill Gates Foundation was disturbed that the safety of polio-vaccine workers is not guaranteed in some parts of Nigeria but most importantly by the fact that there is no serious effort to promote mass education of the value of the programme to saving lives in endemic regions of the country.”

On Obama’s July visit

Media reports last weekend said US President Barack Obama may also shelve his planned July visit to Nigeria. US government considers the pardon to the former governor a setback to Nigeria’s anti-corruption effort and threatens to cut aid to Nigeria following the presidential pardon granted Alamieyeseigha.

Speaking on the seeming diplomatic face-off between Nigeria and the US over the comments of the US Consul-General in Nigeria, Mr. Jeffery Hawkins, US Embassy Consulate in Lagos said the misunderstanding was borne out of presentations of points of view.

A source said: “We are concerned about the handling of certain issues at this crucial stage of Nigeria’s development. But beyond that, I must tell you that there are lots between Nigeria and the United States that we cannot allow any rupture in the relations between the two countries.

“You may be aware that there was a US business delegation in Nigeria last week and far-reaching contacts were made in the areas of infrastructural development, investment in the power sector and even provision of private funding for infrastructural development in Nigeria through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC.

“The US recognises the position of Nigeria as a major economic power in sub-Sahara Africa. We see a lot of growth in the economy and we also see success of the Bi-National Commission and above all, we know that Nigeria has a crucial role to play to bring peace to the Sahel region.”

“We keep to our democratic tradition of openness and transparency in governance, which are the hallmarks of the democratic traditions that you took away from our presidential system of government.

“The system has no double standards and our expression of our concerns must not be misconstrued as meddling in the domestic affairs of Nigeria. We cannot dictate to government, but we cannot keep silent and allow errors that can be avoided from the onset.

“We are concerned about peace, security and development in Nigeria, which is a major partner to US in the war against terrorism.”

Presidency woos Nigerians

Nigerian government has, however, been making spirited attempts to assuage Nigerians over the pardon given to Alamieyeseigha, insisting that he had shown enough remorse for his “sins.”

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said last week that the pardon was meant for people like Alamieyeseigha, who committed criminal offences and pleaded with Nigerians to understand with the President over the gesture.

But the US state department spokesperson fired back at the presidential action, saying “we see this as a setback for the fight against corruption, and also for our ability to play the strong role we’ve played in supporting rule of law and legal institution-building in Nigeria, which is very important for the country’s future.

“We have made it clear to Nigerians that this puts a question mark on the kinds of work that we’ve been trying to do with them.”

… accuses US of meddling

Rather than try to appease the US, which is a major buyer of its oil, the Nigerian government accused it of meddling into its internal affairs and summoned the envoy for questioning, a development that angered the Americans the more.

In 2012 alone, the US spent about $226 million on health and governance programmes in Nigeria, while Nigeria is requesting for over $600 million for 2013, according to US government data.

The amount is in addition to what American private foundations such as Mr. Gates’ spend on Nigeria’s government and non-governmental organisations.

Gate, who is renowned as the biggest foreign supporter of the campaign to eradicate polio in Nigeria, has been working with the Nigerian authorities since 2009 to tame the monster that has claimed the lives of thousands of children in the country.

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