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I apologise, I did not speak with the king

By Babajide Alabi

The story that the King Mohammed IV of Morrocco declined a phone request from Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan is no longer news. This broke early last week and has been widely publicised both in print and broadcast media, in and outside Nigeria. At first “contact” with the news, I had reservations about the authenticity. This probably was because I saw it first on the social media.

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan

The initial thought on sighting the headline was that “GEJ enemies” probably have cooked up another interesting story to embarrass the Nigerian government. You can question me on this, but with the rate false stories are peddled right, left and centre in all the political camps no one can really blame me for this thought. I have read some stories recently that are nothing but what we call “fable” in my neck of the woods.

My doubt on the veracity of the story was put to rest when the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a statement that contrary to the news making the rounds, Mr President actually spoke with the Moroccan king. This was when I concluded that this was not a “figment of imagination” of the opposition group or the works of “fifth columnists” in the government.

The telephone conversation refusal was initially made public by the Moroccan Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement that the request by Nigeria authorities was refused because an election is coming up in Nigeria and the King does not want to be “a pawn” in the game. It stated that the refusal was necessary because a telephone conversation between the two might suggest a rapprochement where there is none. The King was particularly piqued by “the repetitive unfriendly and hostile positions of the Nigerian Government, regarding the issue of the Moroccan Sahara and the sacred Arab – Muslim causes, particularly that of the brotherly Palestinian people,” the statement said.

The country accused President Jonathan of not interested in normal diplomatic relationship, but a means of getting “back the muslim electorate…”

The story was number one on the Nigerian social media circles last week as there were so many shares on Facebook, blog, Twitter, etc. The run up to the 2015 elections has brought out the online “sharing” ability of Nigerians as we strive to keep up with breaking news stories. The only down side to this is we love to share negative news about our country but complain when international media focus mainly on our poverty, rather than developments. Do you blame them?

There have been comments and opinions on the telephone conversation refusal. The opposition groups and supporters seized the opportunity to condemn the government of Jonathan as lacking “respect” in the international community. In less than 24 hours it became a campaign “issue” on social media, and also crept into the mainstream media.

A few patriotic Nigerians however, cautioned that the subject of the story should not be a source of celebration for the opposition, rather it should call for sober reflections for all Nigerians. It was argued that although the timing of the request for a telephone conversation with the Moroccan King by the President may be suspect as “tool” for electioneering purposes, the underlying reason for refusal is the perceived Nigeria’s opposition to the Palestinian cause. Have we paused for a moment to reflect on this aspect of the statement?

The authorities in Morocco raised glasses and saluted themselves for the courage to refuse a telephone conversation request from the President of the most populated black country, completely unaware of what the Nigerian government would come out with next. And it was a shocker. In reaction to the snub claim of the Moroccan, the Foreign Affairs ministry issued a statement claiming that President Goodluck Jonathan actually had a telephone conversation with the king and both spoke “extensively” “on matters of mutual interests” to the countries.

The Moroccans dropped their drinking glasses, mouth agape and shocked out of their “shells”, at Nigeria’s claim of a telephone conversation between the two leaders. The Morroccan foreign affairs ministry in a swift reaction denied the King ever spoke with Mr President, talk less of “extensively” on any issue. They condemned, in not palatable words, how the Nigerian government has twisted a phone conversation that never took place. Understandably, “in anger”, the Moroccan monarch ordered the immediate recall of the country’s ambassador to Nigeria.

Nigerians and the world generally were very confused as to what part of the story they should believe. The Moroccan officials were however very empathic that there was never a telephone conversation, while the Nigerian officials repeated “their song”. The question of who was lying did not go away.

However, events took a strange twist late Friday when a statement was released from the Presidency that Jonathan was “shocked, surprised and highly embarrassed by the controversy that has erupted”. There was a huge sigh of relief from everybody that finally we know who was telling the truth. Undoubtedly embarrassed by the turn of events, the Presidency promised an investigation to unravel the mystery. The foreign minister was charged with the responsibility of “playing the detective” in this “episode”.

This latest turn has brought to fore the handling of state affairs in Nigeria and has got every right thinking Nigerian worried about governance in Nigeria. There are many questions that beg for answers from the Presidency, the Foreign Affairs Minister and his staff. What prompted the official that released the initial statement confirming a telephone conversation between these two leaders? Did he or she act alone or in a team? Did he or she make any attempt to clarify with the Presidency if Mr Jonathan actually spoke with the Moroccan king?

What was the role of the foreign minister in this embarrassing situation? Is he a fifth columnist in the Jonathan government? Was he aware of the first press statement before it was made public?

And for the Presidency, why did it take this long before a clarification was issued? The “diplomatic tension” could have been easily diffused if the Presidency had come clean immediately, “hands raised” as sign of humility and deny the Foreign Affairs Ministry statement. Was the Presidency playing along in the “game” until it turned “unfriendly” and had to look for a “scapegoat” to lay the blame on?

Not that Nigerians care much about their government’s response. Going by comments and reactions on social media, Nigerians, from the “word go,” believed the Moroccan side of the story. They know the Moroccan king is not shy to take a stand when there is need to. King Mohammed IV, by history seem to be a man of “short temper” and an implacable individual who picks his fights with whoever he sees as enemy of his country or fellow Arab brothers.

Unfortunately, the Nigerian government seemed to have picked a wrong leader to rumble with. The former Israeli President Shimon Peres had a “taste” of the King when he had to cancel a state visit to Morocco after it emerged the king would not see him.

From both sides, the last had not been heard of this “telephone conversation” debacle. I can assure you it will rear its head once again in the nearest future.

 


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.