America’s richest man, Bill Gates, has cancelled his scheduled March 27 official visit to Nigeria, in response to the controversial pardon granted by President Goodluck Jonathan to ex-convicts Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama.
Mr. Gates was due in Nigeria March 27 and 28 to meet President Goodluck Jonathan, state governors and officials of the Federal Ministry of Health concerning the aggressive polio eradication campaign his Bill and Melinda Foundation is undertaking in the country. That trip, authoritative diplomatic sources said, has now been cancelled, two days after the U.S. government expressed disappointment with its Nigerian counterpart for pardoning convicted money launderers and warned it might cut aid meant for the country. “I can confirm to you that Mr. Gates won’t be coming as scheduled".
“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 ostracized in all ways possible.” Our sources said Mr. Gates has already instructed his staff to inform the Nigerian presidency, the secretariat of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and the Federal Ministry of Health that he was no longer coming.
Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, did not answer or return calls seeking comment. Contacted, the Director General of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Asishana Okauru, said he would have to check with his staff whether any such communication had come from Mr. Gates’ office. He did not answer or return subsequent calls. Mr. Gates’ office is not opened as at the time of this report as calls were unanswered.
But checks by this newspaper indicate that the U.S. government has dissuaded Mr. Gates from coming to Nigeria. “The State Department has advised him that Nigeria is not conducive for such visit at this time,” another source said. “We hope that the Nigerian government will get the message and return to the path of sanity.”
The controversial pardon granted Messrs Alamieyeseigha and Bulama had on Friday sparked fierce diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United States, with the Americans threatening to punish Nigeria over Mr. Jonathan’s action and Nigeria accusing the Americans of meddlesomeness. “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 future of the country obviously,” State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, had told reporters in Washington.
“We have made clear to the Nigerians that this puts a question mark on the kinds of work that we’ve been trying to do with them.” The U.S. is the world’s top donor. In 2012, it spent about $226 million on health and governance programmes in Nigeria. And about $600million has been requested for 2013, according to U.S. government data. That is apart from what American private foundations such as Mr. Gates’ spend on Nigeria’s government and non-governmental organisations.
Mr. Gates is the biggest foreign supporter of the campaign to eradicate polio in Nigeria and has worked consistently with the Nigerian authorities since 2009 over the matter. His foundation has developed a six-year strategy through 2018 that will help combat polio in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan and has set aside $1billion per annum for the purpose. The bulk of that money is meant for Nigeria which currently has the highest cases of polio in the world. Mr. Gates’ efforts has seen improvements which helped Pakistan reduce the number of polio cases from 198 in 2011 to 56 in 2012; and Afghanistan from 80 to 35 during the same period. The situation in Nigeria worsened during the same period, increasing from 62 in 2011 to 119 in 2012.
Mr. Gates last visited Nigeria in November 2012. During that visit, his foundation entered into a four-year alliance with the Dangote Foundation which promised to provide funding, equipment and technical support to the Kano state government to strengthen polio immunisation. He had scheduled this March’s visit to consolidate that alliance, meet with President Jonathan, state governors and other stakeholders with a view to generally revving up the war against the pandemic.