By Ada Anioji, with agency reports
Fresh facts are emerging as to why United States President, Barack Obama, is pulling out all of the stops in ensuring a very sumptuous reception for Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, who begins a three day state visit to the United States, Monday.
Accordingly, Obama will be breaking his administration’s tradition when President Muhammadu Buhari arrives in Washington D.C. Accordingly, the American leader will host President Buhari as his personal guest at the Blair House, right opposite the famous White House.
This is in clear departure from the American government’s attitude to visiting Heads of State, particularly Nigerian leaders through the years. It is also in demonstration of Obama’s admiration of President Buhari and to support the Nigerian leader’s acclaimed frugal lifestyle and disdain for ostentatious lifestyle.
Instructively, a foretaste of Obama’s taking to Buhari was demonstrated when only days after Buhari’s re-emergence on the global leadership arena, the former military dictator was invited to jaw-jaw with the influential G-7 group of which America is a leading light.
Equally significant to the US authorities at this time is the fact that the decision to host President Buhari in the official Guest House of the United States President will not only cut down the cost of the trip but also allow time for informal discussions by both leaders.
Buhari is said to have pegged his entourage at 32, a clear departure from the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan who was once reported to have embarked on a two-day trip with a team of about 100 persons. It was also learnt that though the Nigerian protocol unit had planned the trip to be for two days, the US government offered to accommodate the visitors for three days.
During official visits to Washington D.C. while in office, former President Jonathan and his entourage usually stayed at the Westin Grand Hotel. At other times, he booked Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Pierre Hotel. During the coming visit of the Nigerian new leader, according to sources, Presidents Buhari and Obama will exchange “wish lists.” These will contain the requests of both leaders from each other, as well as firm pledges on how they plan to come to each other’s aid. It was learnt that top on the US government’s pledges is greater assistance in the fight against terrorism.
In return, the US government wants Nigeria to show greater commitment to war on corruption, particularly transparency in public service.
The Blair House is located at 1651–1653 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., opposite the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House, off the corner of Lafayette Park. The main house was built in 1824. The original brick house was built as a private home for Joseph Lovell, eighth Surgeon General of the United States Army. In 1836, it was acquired by Francis Preston Blair, a newspaper publisher and influential adviser to President Andrew Jackson. It would remain in his family for the following century.
In 1859, Blair built a house for his daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Blair Lee and Captain Samuel Phillips Lee, at 1653 Pennsylvania Avenue, next door to Blair House at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue. Captain Lee (later an admiral) was a grandson of Richard Henry Lee and third cousin of Robert E. Lee. The houses have since been combined, and the complex is sometimes referred to as the Blair-Lee House, though Blair House is the official name today.
Observers say that three factors among others account for the cosy preparations being made by the American side for this visit. One, Obama intends to make a valedictory statement to counter long-running insinuations that he had largely snubbed Africa in the course of his tenure in office.
Being nice to Africa’s disputed giant, Nigeria, at this time, would hopefully make that point.
Second, he is doing his utmost from weaning Nigeria from the rising cluster of Islamist states.
And third, the US administration is hoping to persuade Nigeria to drop her harsh anti-gay laws.
Commentators say that perhaps the most difficult of subjects that will be discussed at the summit will be that of gay rights which has in the past pitted both nations on different sides of the sexuality rights divide.
Only on Monday, top administration officials from the US side were still insistent that the US will in the course of the visit make another case asking the Nigerian government to repeal its law against same-sex unions.
According to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, her nation would continue to pressure Nigeria until it legalises same-sex marriage. Thomas-Greenfield revealed America’s plans during a live-web chat with journalists in Washington DC. US recently legalised gay marriage, a development, which sparked off mixed reactions across the globe.
Thomas-Greenfield, who said the US had adopted the protection of the rights of same-sex people as part of its foreign policies, vowed that Washington would continue to mount and sustain pressure on Nigeria and other countries to reverse their laws against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) community.
She said: “As a government, it is one of the highest priorities and strongest values that discrimination against anyone based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is wrong. We believe human rights should be available to everybody. “As a policy, we will continue to press the government of Nigeria, as well as other governments which have provided legislation that discriminate against the LGBT community.”
Thomas-Greenfield, who did not agree that pressuring Nigeria to reverse the anti-gay law amounted to interference, said Nigeria and Uganda have the hardest legislation on the gay community. She said: “This is very much a work in progress, but I think you will agree with me that the law in Nigeria really went far in discriminating against this community but also people who associate with them. So, we will continue to press the government, to press the legislature to change these laws and provide human rights for all Nigerian people regardless of their sexual orientation.”
She was optimistic that the US would win the fight to protect the LGBT community. She continued: “With what is happening in the US, you can determine how far we are willing to go. We strongly believe human rights for all people and we are particularly opposed to legislation that actually targets the gay community for discrimination. “So we are prepared to push this as a policy, not just in Africa but across the world.”