By Owei Lakemfa
BY my estimation, it was one of the largest meetings in contemporary times; of Nigerians committed to change in a sister African country.
It was reminiscent of the anti-apartheid days when meetings were held on how best Nigerians can contribute to the liberation of that country. This time, it was a meeting of like minds under the Civil Society Forum for the Liberation of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic.
They came to strategise on how best to champion the cause of Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony; that part of our mother continent occupied by Morocco, a sister African country with the backing of some European countries like France and Spain.
Western Sahara’s decolonization process from Spain after 91 years of colonialism was arrested by Morocco and Mauritania who made sovereignty claims on it. It is like Nigeria seizing Benin Republic on the basis that major sections of it used to belong to the Oyo Empire. Or Cameroun occupying Nigeria on the basis that large chunks of it, especially in the north, used to be part of German and French Cameroun.
The International Court of Justice (IJC)had by 15 votes to 1, ruled on October 16, 1975 that Morocco had no territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara, but imperial Morocco refused to yield the territory. African countries under the Organisation of Africa Union(OAU) in 1982 told Morocco the truth; that colonialism had become unfashionable, more so when it is by a sister African country.
But rather than listen to advice, Morocco pulled out of the OAU, and has not returned even now with the successor African Union(AU). Nigeria had in December 1984 recognised Western Sahara as a sovereign state. Nigeria’s principled position on Western Sahara has been taken to greater heights by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration which last month hosted President Mohammed Abdulazeez of the SADR to a state visit.
But while most Nigerians were surprised that a part of our continent was still under colonial rule, and others expressed indignation and anger at such injustice, the Civil Society decided to take concrete actions. The meeting in Lagos was to plan these actions.
The crowd came from 47 main organisations, including civil society coalitions like the United Action for Democracy (UAD), the Campaign For Democracy (CD) and the Joint Action Forum of Civil Societies. There were also some of the largest and oldest human rights organisations in the country; the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) as well the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG) founded by the late icon, Dr Beko Ransome-Kuti, now run by Dr A.P Balogun.
There were also new ones like the Ayodele Awojobi Foundation and the Bola Ige Centre For Justice. The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) was present as were leading lawyers like Gbolahan Gbadamosi, American-based Kayode Oladele who had brought former military dictators like General Abdulsalami Abubakar to justice in the American courts and Femi Falana, the immediate past president of the West African Bar Association. There was Joseph Evah, leader of the Ijaw Monitoring Group.
Labour was represented by the two centres in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress(NLC) and the Trade Union Congress(TUC) and by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) the Non-Academic Staff Union (NASU) and the Agriculture and Allied Employees of Nigeria (AAEUN)
Falana whose expansive chambers in Lagos hosted the meeting said the right of Saharawis to self determination is not negotiable and urged Nigeria to play the same central role it played in the decolonisation of countries like Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Visiting SADR Minister of Culture, Khadija Hamdi said that the values of democracy and human rights are universal and not geographically located, so the colour of the colonialist does not matter.
“We as Africans fought anti-colonial wars against the French, British, Portuguese and Spanish; but this will be the first time that an African nation will be fighting a liberation war against another African nation.”
With that, the meeting commenced and we jointly resolved that the continued occupation and colonisation of Western Sahara by colonial-minded Morocco is a challenge to the African people, and that Nigerians have the historical responsibility to play a decisive role in its decolonisation.
We also adopted the IJC’s judgement in addition to the various United Nations(UN) General Assembly and African Union resolutions that Morocco has no territorial sovereignty over Western Sahara. The meeting also condemned the repression of unarmed Saharawis by the armed forces of Morocco, and demanded that Morocco frees all Saharawi political prisoners and vacates Western Sahara.
We urged the UN to expand the mandate of MINURSO, its mission in Western Sahara to include the protection of Saharawi human rights, and additionally be decisive in ensuring that the referendum to determine the future of Western Sahara is held without further delay.
The gathering also expressed solidarity with the 20,000 Saharawis camping in protest outside the occupied city of Layounne and called on the international community to act and protect them against continued Moroccan police attacks.
The assembly demanded that France which has a history of fighting for equality, liberty and freedom in its territory should stop obstructing the moves towards the decolonisation of Western Sahara and that Spain should actively resume its responsibility towards the complete decolonisation of Western Sahara.
Additionally, we asked the European Union to stop its member countries from further plundering in connivance with Morocco, the resources of occupied Western Sahara especially its fisheries and minerals.
To show Nigerians anger at the continued colonisation of Western Sahara, we resolved to picket the embassies of Morocco, France and Spain to pressurise them to stop the continued occupation of Western Sahara.
Of course, we were happy that our government has maintained its principled and brotherly position on the Western Saharan decolonisation but want it to take a further step by leading the isolation of the Moroccan colonialists as it did in the case of a South Africa.