United States richest man and philanthropist, Bill Gates, has cancelled his planned official visit to Nigeria scheduled for March 27.
Gates’ action, it was believed was part of an unfolding diplomatic row between the US and Nigeria following the controversial pardon granted by President Goodluck Jonathan to ex-convicts Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Shettima Bulama.
Diplomatic sources said the trip was cancelled, two days after the US government expressed disappointment with the Federal Government for pardoning convicted money launderers.
Gates was reported to have 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.
“The State Department has advised him that Nigeria is not conducive for such visit at this time,” a 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 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 the 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.
Gate 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 $1bn per annum for the purpose.
He had scheduled this March’s visit to consolidate on that alliance, meet with Jonathan, state governors and other stakeholders with a view to generally revving up the war against the pandemic.
Director General of the Nigeria Governors Forum, Mr. Asishana Okauru, said on Monday that the visit had been rescheduled.
He said, “As far as we are concerned, the visit has been rescheduled. But I cannot say when that would be. It would be make known as soon as we get a new date.”
Also, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyewuchi Chukwu, said, “I am not privy to Mr. Gate’s itinerary”
Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ogbole Ahmedu-Ode said he was not aware of the visit.
Meanwhile, a civil society organisation, Anti-Corruption Network, on Monday reacted to the cancellation of Gates’ proposed visit to Nigeria.
The Founder/Executive Secretary of the ACN and former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dino Melaye, in an interview with The PUNCH said the President should “realise that he is President of Nigeria and not the Ijaw nation.”
Melaye said, “This is a demonstration of a failed government, the world is now a global village. Therefore, no country can hide under the cover of non-interference on domestic matters to perpetrate the evil of corruption. This again have exposed the myopic, porous and parochial advisers of Mr. President. By this unpardonable pardon, the President has finally announced his romance, marriage and union with corruption.”
Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, also said it was an indication that Nigeria was a failing state.
He said, “This is an indication that Nigeria is a failed state. Granting amnesty to a criminal, who jumped bail and declared wanted in saner clime, mocks our sensibility as Nigerians and is also a slap on the nation where the accused is standing trial.”
Meanwhile, the Presidency on Monday said it was not true that the planned visit of Gate to Nigeria was cancelled because of the US opposition to Alamieyeseigha’s pardon.
Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, said this in an interview with State House correspondents.
Abati said contrary to the reports, his interaction with the Bill and Melinda Foundation showed that the planned visit was put off because of the inavailability of some partners.
Abati said, “The foundation said that 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.”