Olugbenga Ashiru: Nigeria’s place in Africa is clear and assured

by Olugbenga Ashiru

My reading of the various articles in the print and electronic media on the outcome of the recently concluded 19th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from July 15 to 16, 2012, can easily tempt me into focusing on the singular issue of the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission. However, I will not fall into this temptation. The purpose of this article is to give my broad perspectives on Nigeria at the African Union and what the country expects from its membership. I am aware that this confers on Nigeria some privileges and responsibilities.

Since the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the successor African Union, Nigeria’s place in Africa has been very clear and assured. By sheer endowments, destiny and disposition, Nigeria has always used its strengths responsibly in defence or pursuit of peace, interests and well-being of all people of African descent, irrespective of geographic boundaries. Against this background, I was disappointed to read some of the articles that focused on the singular issue of the election of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission rather than look at the wider and positive outcome of the Summit.

The events in Africa in the last two years revealed the weakness of the continent and the desperate need for leadership and direction. In particular, the crisis in Cote d’Ivoire in 2010 and its aftermath, as well as the events in Libya, Niger, Guinea Bissau and Mali, challenged Africa’s ability to speak and act as one. In this milieu, the role of Nigeria was not only clear but consistent with the core principles underpinning its foreign policy. Indeed, Nigeria under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan rose to the challenges posed by these conflicts and is satisfied with the very positive contributions it made at the regional level in ECOWAS, the African Union and the UN Security Council.

Nigeria’s support for the promotion and consolidation of democracy, good governance and human rights in Africa is not in doubt. This is anchored on our firm belief that a stable and democratic Africa is in Nigeria’s national interest. Consequently, Nigeria has ratified and deposited the instrument of ratification of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance with the African Union. In furtherance of this hallowed principle, Nigeria has provided material and other forms of support to the democratic electoral processes in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Liberia, Ghana, Niger, and other countries in Africa. Of greater importance is Nigeria’s leadership in providing ideas for the transformation and renewal of our continent, including Africa’s engagements with the rest of the world. This is in contrast to the quest for positional leadership, which played out at the African Union during the last Summit in Addis Ababa.

The unity and solidarity of the continent are also key considerations that underpin Nigeria’s policies and actions at all times since independence. For this reason, the country seeks to build consensus and play a moderating role at critical moments. Our support for Dr. Jean Ping of Gabon, for instance, was informed by this cherished principle. I have therefore found the commentary on the recent elections at the AU Commission lacking in one critical area namely, Africa’s demonstrated capacity to settle the question of the leadership of the African Union Commission at its last summit. In this connection, some well informed writers have written passionately and presented objective reports to their readers on the outcome of the election. While others, bereft of a sound understanding of what constitutes Nigeria’s core national interest and the wider issues involved in the Summit, have written from a position of ignorance or inadequate appreciation of the facts. Needless to say, my Ministry has articulated the facts in its statement, which was carried by The Guardian newspaper of August 2, 2012 and Sunday ThisDay of August 5, 2012. These facts remain unchanged.

With regard to the election of the AU Commission Chairperson, it is too early for Nigeria to review its principled stance against the Big-Five financial contributors seeking to occupy this position. Notwithstanding South Africa’s decision to act otherwise, all Nigeria did was to unequivocally express strong support for the unwritten norm. The necessity to promote inclusion, sense of belonging and accommodation irrespective of size and endowment would impel the encouragement of medium and small African countries to occupy that position to ensure greater unity and solidarity. Now that South Africa has broken the age-long tradition, she must bear the burden of acting urgently to heal the wounds that its action has brought, and in the same vein, take positive steps to consolidate unity on the continent.

In 1983 when Africa was confronted with an electoral deadlock similar to our recent experience at the AU, Nigeria chose the path of honour by resisting all entreaties to field its highly qualified and respected diplomat, Dr. Peter Onu, of blessed memory, to contest the vacant post of OAU Secretary General. Dr. Onu, being the most senior Assistant Secretary General at the time, was appointed in an interim capacity as Acting Secretary General of the defunct OAU from 1984 to 1985, after which, he ceded the post. Beyond the symbolism and hype of South Africa’s victory at the AU elections, it is important to emphasize that the Chairperson of the Commission derives his or her powers from the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government. Even among Commissioners, the Chairperson is only first among equals and must act within the confines of the Constitutive Act in close collaboration with other Commissioners. Other organs of the AU such the Executive Council, Permanent Representatives’ Committee (PRC) and the Peace and Security Council (PSC) also provide guidance and give directives to the Commission.

Contrary to some expressed views, Nigeria participated at the just concluded Summit with some specific interests and objectives in mind, which were pursued with vigour and commitment. These include the desire to secure the endorsement of the AU of Nigerian candidates wishing to contest upcoming elections into some international organisations. Dr. Kanayo Felix Nwanze, Executive President of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) based in Rome, Italy, was endorsed for re-election as AU candidate; Dr. Bernard O. Aliu was endorsed as Africa’s candidate for election in 2013 as President of the Executive Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) based in Montreal, Canada; Mrs. Theodora 0by Nwankwo was also endorsed at the Summit to seek election into the UN Commission on the Elimination of All forms Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). She has since been elected into the Commission. Also Dr. Kolawole Aduloju was elected on the margins of the Summit as Assistant Secretary General of the Pan African Postal Union (PAPU).

Missing in most of the media commentary is the significance of the election of Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Guinea (Conakry) as AU Commissioner for Political Affairs responsible for promoting democracy, good governance and elections in Africa. After three unsuccessful attempts, Nigeria finally broke the electoral jinx at the AU for the first time since the formation of the organization 10 years ago. This comes on the heels of another Nigerian, Mrs. Salamatu Sulaiman, former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, assuming the post of Commissioner (Political, Peace and Security) at the ECOWAS Commission. These two reinforcing positions occupied simultaneously by two Nigerian diplomats, which would play pivotal roles in our quest for peace and security in our region and the continent, place on Nigeria the responsibility to provide direction, vision and leadership in the implementation of Africa’s peace agenda. By any stretch of imagination, these are no mean achievements in the life of a single administration. Indeed, they give credence to the success of our foreign policy and President Goodluck Jonathan’s commitment to promote gender equality in Nigeria, and by so doing, provide Africa with a good example to emulate. Against these impressive gains, I am surprised that some analysts have failed to celebrate Nigeria’s victory. Instead, writing from their narrow vision and prism, they have drawn the misleading conclusions of the “failure of Nigeria’s diplomacy”; “declining role of Nigeria” and “Nigeria’s diplomacy in a free fall” in their commentaries. This is most unfortunate.

I had the singular honour to lead Nigeria’s delegation to the 19th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union and to partake in some of the historic events that took place. It is said that history is best told by the actors themselves and the Summit deliberations benefitted immensely from Nigeria’s interventions. I would expect writers and analysts, in the true spirit of accuracy and professionalism in journalism, to always cross-check their facts before rushing to the public gallery with their opinions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the arrowhead of Nigeria’s foreign policy, is proud of its modest achievements at the AU and elsewhere and would continue to ensure Nigeria’s relevance in African and world politics. We will, at all times, continue to put Nigeria’s national interest first and work assiduously to project her best image and profile abroad. We will also do our utmost to ensure that qualified Nigerians are appointed or elected into international posts abroad. It is in Nigeria’s enlightened self-interest to do this.

*Ambassador Ashiru, MFR, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria.

*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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