By Owei Lakemfa
WE gathered in Abuja. A crowd of activists, academics, unionists, diplomats, students, lawyers and conscientious Nigerians. We were complemented by a platoon of ambassadors. It was Saturday March 12, 2016. The mood was sombre; tinged with the painful realisation that we were gathered to strategise against the monarchical elite of a brother African country who had decided to covet the riches of a sister country.
We were faced with a situation in which the Morocco Goliath had rampaged like a drunken bull through tiny Western Sahara; an underage David that has refused to yield to the bully or give up the fight to defend his homeland. But for greed and a sense of ancient glamour, I wonder why Morocco is occupying Western Sahara. I have travelled in beautiful Morocco. My favourite site is the magnificent architectural master piece; the 23-year Hassan II Mosque which protrudes into the loving arms of the Atlantic Ocean. In building the seventh largest mosque in the world with its 60-storey minaret and retractable roof, King Hassan II had said in 1980 that his objective is for the faithful “… to praise the creator on firm soil (and) contemplate God’s sky and ocean”
Two years ago, I travelled by road from Casablanca through breathtaking landscape to beautiful Marrakesh. I wonder why a country so blessed with fantastic cities like Rabat would covet Laayoune which is the largest Saharawi town.
As the conscientious intellectual and fighter for oppressed peoples, Dr. Dipo Fashina told us “ The situation is a bit confusing because the Moroccan Government has been fraudulently passing off products from Western Sahara as Moroccan. The bulk of canned fish by various names, sold in Nigeria today, is packaged in Western Sahara yet they are labelled ‘product of Morocco’. The phosphate which Morocco mines in Western Sahara is claimed to be a product of Morocco as well”.
The issue of phosphate came up repeatedly as Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the symbol of Nigerian entrepreneurial skill, is about being conned by Morocco to buy phosphate stolen from Western Sahara. I told friends at the gathering that I am sure Dangote is unaware that he is being offered stolen goods by Morocco; now that he knows, he needs to distance himself and his business from a country that preys on a smaller country.
A father figure at the gathering was the intellectual and former Chair of the United Nations (UN)Security Council, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari. He was Foreign Affairs Minister in November 1984 when Nigeria granted the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara) diplomatic recognition. In his Keynote Address he paraphrased former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan who argued that there can be neither peace nor development anywhere on earth unless people have the right to decide who will rule them, and their human rights are fully respected.
To him, the issues in Western Sahara can be summarised thus: First is that it is a Decolonisation Question, hence the goal is total freedom. Second, is the issue of peoples sovereignty over their territory. Third is, given Nigeria’s central role in the Africa Union admitting the Saharawi as its 51st member, our country has the unfinished task of getting colonial Morocco to vacate. Fourth, after forty five years on the UN Agenda, the global body has clearly failed the Saharawi People, so it is left for Africa to take the lead. Fifth, that aggressive diplomacy by Morocco is undermining African solidarity. So what is required is redoubled efforts to set the last African colony, free.
Prof. Gambari warned that “The alternative to a peaceful solution will be the resumption of hostilities and the destabilisation of the whole West Africa, Africa and the world as a whole.”
The Academic Staff Union of Universities ASUU) which put the gathering together, has taken concrete steps to assist in the liberation struggle. It awarded post graduate scholarships to three Saharawi in Nigerian universities, is helping to develop curriculum and fund mobilisation for the take-off of a Law Faculty at the University of Tifariti, Western Sahara, and in collaboration with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)organised the 2015 international conference on Africa’s Last Colon, in Abuja. Its President, Dr. Nasir Fegge Isa retold a story he heard from a diplomat that Morocco was like a thief caught with a stolen wallet with the judge (UN) asking the owner (Western Sahara)and the thief to go out and settle. Only for the owner to find the thief spending the stolen money, and discovering that the thief had also stolen his pin number and was withdrawing money from the victim’s account. Yet the judge insists on out-of-court settlement.
Comrade Ayuba Wabba, the NLC President said Congress will soon open a Western Sahara Solidarity Fund and called on Dangote not to go ahead with doing business with Morocco especially on the stolen Saharawi phosphate, or face opposition from workers and be included in a Roll of Dishonour. He added that a people determined, cannot be defeated.
Noted Pan African intellectual, Professor Adele Jinadu said the struggle to decolonise Western Sahara is an opportunity for Africans to build bridges across the Sahara linking Northern and Southern Africa, and extending it to Africans in the Diaspora. Biodun Aremu, the Joint Secretary of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) who spoke on behalf of the Civil Society urged government and Nigerians to stop Dangote doing business with Morocco and cut all links including sporting with that country. He urged students and youths to establish chapters of the newly inaugurated Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara. Ambassadors who made solidarity speeches included those of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Ghana, Botswana, Cuba and Algeria.
The leadership of the Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara was inaugurated by the Saharawi Foreign Minister Mohammed Salem Ould Salek assisted by its ambassador Oubi Bachir, under the chairmanship of former NLC President, Ali Chiroma. The President of the Movement is Prof. Gambari ,Prof Adele Jinadu, Vice President, Dr. Dipo Fashina. Sokoto State University Vice Chancellor, Prof. Nuhu Yaqub and I were among the Ex-Officio members sworn-in. For me, it is a call to serve.