What do you do during a flight that lasts nine hours
and six minutes? You read. You sleep. You wake, and
sleep again. You eat. You pray (if you are the praying
type). You discuss with your co-passengers. And of
course, you ruminate about your destination. What
you’ve heard, or read about the place, particularly if
you were visiting for the first time.
But first, due credit for this headline. ‘A Passage to
India’ is the title of a literature text I read in the
university some 32 years ago. It was a 1924 novel by
the English writer, E.M Forster. The book was on the
struggle for Indian independence from British colonial
rule, and the book is today regarded as one of the 100
Great Works of the 20th Century by the Modern Library,
while Time Magazine also includes it in its ‘All Time
100 Novels’ list.
A Passage to India. That was what I embarked on,
alongside my principal, President Muhammadu Buhari,
who was billed to attend the 3rd India-Africa Forum
Summit, scheduled for New Delhi, the Indian capital,
between October 27 and 30,2015.
What had I heard about India? You probably heard
those childhood tales, too. India, the land of potent
talisman. India does not take part in world soccer
competitions, because the world football ruling body,
Fifa, had banned it for life. What was the offense?
Well, France had met with a country that nobody
knows, in a game of soccer. But instead of depending
on natural skills, India deployed its famed talisman.
The opponents kept kicking the air, because the
Indians had made the ball invisible. While the
opponents did all the gyrations, however, the Indians
did all the scoring. When the game ended at the end of
90 minutes, India had scored 90 goals.
Blue murder, Fifa screamed! This is unnatural, and
would bring the beautiful game into disrepute. So it
banned India for life. Well, that was the story we heard
as young boys. Believe it, and you’d believe anything.
And what of athletics. The International Athletics
Federation had to ban India for life, too. What
happened? It was an Olympics Games (nobody
seemed to know what year, and who the host country
was). India was competing, and ended up winning
gold medals in all the races. You would see all the
athletes at the starting blocks, and the moment the
whistle is blown for the race to begin, Indian athletes
would already be breasting the tape at the other end.
Talisman at work!
This is unfair competition, the rest of the world
screamed. So the athletics federation banned India
again. And that was how the country was left to play
cricket, hockey and other such games. But the question
we did not ask ourselves was; if talisman worked with
soccer and athletics, why doesn’t it work with cricket
and hockey? At least, India gets defeated in those
games. Some imaginations are simply fertile.
Well, we were passing to India, and it was for serious
business. India and Africa had found common
grounds, and were cooperating for development in
what Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister calls
“partnership beyond strategic and economic benefits.”
We landed in the land of film stars, beautiful damsels
(hope my wife is not reading this) and, of course,
medical tourism, at nighttime. Straight to Lalit Hotel,
where our President and his entourage were to stay.
Lalit. You need to hear a bit about the story of the
hotel. It was part of the Lalit Hospitality Group,
established in 1988 by Mr Lalit Suri, a very successful
businessman and politician, who represented his
people in the Indian parliament.
Lalit Suri had the Midas touch. The hotel chain was
very successful, and can be found today in most major
Indian cities. He had great plans for expansion, and
was growing steadily towards the goal. But in 2006,
while on a trip to London, Lalit suffered a massive
heart attack, and died. He was only 59. But his wife, Dr
Jyotsna Suri, took up the gauntlet, and is today
keeping her husband’s dreams alive, along with their
four adult children.
A day before we travelled, a massive earthquake had
occurred in Afghanistan, and the tremor was felt both
in Pakistan, and New Delhi. But the organizers of the
summit said ‘no shaking,’ that delegates had nothing
to fear. There were presidents and top government
officials from more than 41 countries, and it was,
indeed, a great outing for India and Africa.
Wednesday began with a bilateral meeting between
President Buhari and Prime Minister Modi. Discussions
focussed mainly on three areas: strengthening
relations between the two countries, oil business, and
helping Nigeria and Africa to develop their potentials.
India would be quite willing to cooperate with Nigeria
on the military front, the PM said. She had helped set
up the Nigerian Defence Academy in the early 1960s,
provided instructors, and also took in Nigerian officers
in its military academy. In fact, President Buhari was at
the Defense Services College, Wellington, between July
22 and November 24,1975.
India wants Nigeria’s oil on government to government
transactions, and President Buhari said the request
would be considered in the context of ongoing reforms
in the industry.
Back to Wellington. The alumni of the academy paid
the Nigerian president a courtesy visit at the Lalit Hotel.
Led by Gen V.K Singh, it was time to go down memory
lane. The then Lt Col Buhari had been described thus
in a confidential report by H.W Kulkam, the Chief
Instructor of the College:”Tall, slim, and well-turned
out, Buhari is a quiet, unassuming and honest
Major General S.P Malhotra, Commandant of the
College, on his part, had written: “Sober and balanced.
Straightforward, simple and mature.” Memories are
made of such.
In almost all the countries he has visited, President
Buhari always spared the time to interact with
Nigerians in the Diaspora, at the grounds of the
Nigerian Embassy or High Commission. It was not
different in New Delhi.
Ambassador ‘Sola Enikanolaiye, the acting High
Commissioner of Nigeria to India had put together an
impressive assemblage of professionals, post-graduate
students, businessmen, indeed, Nigerians from all
walks of life. He reeled out the many ways in which the
High Commission supports Nigerians in India, and
from the way he was repeatedly hailed, he seems quite
popular with the people.
Nigerians asked many questions. The President
answered them all. And he gave them his usual charge:
be law abiding. Don’t lord it over your hosts. Obey the
rules. Be good ambassadors of Nigeria.
From the High Commission, it was time to meet with
the CEOs of Indian companies, particularly those who
do, or are aspiring to do business in Nigeria. All the big
names in pharmaceuticals, telecommunications,
construction, manufacturing, power, oil and gas,
agriculture, and many other sectors, were there. They
spoke earnestly. The President responded frankly. New
vistas were opened, promises were made. A very
rewarding session, if you ask me.
That parley did not end without President Buhari
warning the Indian businessmen not to connive with
unscrupulous people to send sub-standard food and
pharmaceutical products to Nigeria. To show how dear
this was to the heart of the Nigerian president, it
formed part of his paper at the plenary session of the
summit the next day.
Thursday was the main day, in which 41 heads of
government gathered at the Indira Gandhi Stadium for
the high point of the summit.
After a colorful opening session of cultural display,
Prime Minister Modi took the floor. He underscored the
raison detre of the summit:
“The dreams of one-third of humanity have come
together under one roof. Today, the heartbeat of 1.25
billion Indians and 1.25 billion Africans are in rhythm.”
He said further:”india is honoured to be a development
partner for Africa. It is a partnership beyond strategic
and economic benefits. It is formed from the emotional
bonds we share, and the solidarity we feel for each
Modi backed his position with statistics. In the past
few years, trade between Africa and India has more
than doubled to over $70 billion. India is now a major
source of business investment in Africa, and 34 African
countries enjoy duty free access to the Indian market.
The country has equally committed $7.4 billion in
concessional credit and $1.2 billion in grants since the
first summit held in 2008.
In the immediate future, according to Modi,
concessional credit of $10 billion would be given to
Africa within five years, while grant assistance will
total $600 million.
The presidents spoke one after the other. Trust Robert
Mugabe, who spoke in his capacities as Zimbabwean
president and chairman of African Union, he used the
opportunity to fire darts at the West.
According to him, one-third of the world’s population
must be respected, therefore, the United Nations must
become the United Equal Nations, with its Charter
Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana
Dlamini Zuma, submitted that Africa and India could
no longer be rationally excluded from the permanent
seat of the UN Security Council, a position supported
by almost all the presidents.
One thread ran through the presentation of nearly all
the African leaders. This was a good time to promote
cooperation between Africa and India. South-south
cooperation must not just be political slogan, but an
opportunity for the countries to to meet their growing
“Africa needs mutual partnerships leading to
development, rather than aids,” submitted King
Mohammed VI of Morocco.
Idris Deby Itno of Chad said India and Africa had had
mutual exchanges since time immemorial, stressing
that partnership will help achieve the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs).
President Muhammadu Buhari said India and most
African countries have similar historical experiences,
and the summit was an opportunity to review what
had been achieved since 2008, stressing:”India and
Africa must develop new spirit of solidarity to confront
He equally brought the message home, saying:”as a
government, we have demonstrated our strong
determination to change the direction and content of
governance, including the management of our
resources through accountability, transparency, and
result-orientation in governance. We are confident that
India, as a tested friend and dependable partner, will
always stand shoulder to shoulder with us in the
discharge of the mandate entrusted to us by our
With the summit over, and planning to return home, I
sent text messages to my friends in Nigeria, saying
since I was in the land of talisman, they should
indicate the type they wanted. The responses were rib-
cracking, but you can’t beat this one from Steve
Nwosu, Deputy Managing Director/Deputy Editor-in-
Chief of The Sun Newspapers. He wrote:
“Get me a money doubling ring. They call it evergreen
pocket. Every money you spend finds its way back to
your pocket. Hahahaha.”
No doubt, India and Africa are onto a strong
partnership that may be enduring, mutually beneficial,
with strong implications for development. That is the
true talisman.Ever potent, ever sure.
What do you do during a flight that lasts nine hours