From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The election of officials of the African Union Commission has come and gone. However, not only did Nigeria lost out, the country would not be heard in the AU, for the next four years.
In this interview, Group Captain Sadeeq Shehu (retd) who was a Deputy Head of the security department at the AU blamed it on lack of preparation and lack of patriotism, insisting that President Muhammadu Buhari was misled into endorsing a green horn, Fatima Kyari Mohammed despite Nigeria having retinue of well qualified Nigerians.
The African Union elections just held and Nigeria lost out in the leadership positions. What do you think happened?
I need to put on record that here I am commenting as someone who has followed national issues, who has served at the African Union for about two years as deputy head of national security and who has some knowledge on how the AU politics is played. As a Nigerian I’m very disappointed that once more we have made the mistake that we always make. This loss at the African Union was self inflicted injury we did not learn anything from our past mistakes and I make bold to say that those who advised government on this issue were either dishonest or unpatriotic and unserious. Even though I left African Union for over year now, I still have colleagues there and we have a big crop of Nigerians that are working at the African Union and we see ourselves as brothers and sisters and so when things come up like this, we get to discuss and know what is happening.
This election I can bet you that no Nigerian who is working at the African Union will tell you that he or she is surprised that we lost this election. The question to ask then is, how come with such crop of professional Nigerians working in the African Union, the Nigerian policy makers could not harness these ready- made materials in the African Union and ECA office in Addis Ababa. I told you earlier that it is a self inflicted injury on many levels.
How do you mean?
One, like we normally do in Nigeria we don’t prepare until it is too late. We believe that we can come at the last minute and then throw money at the problem. That is where we made the mistake. Secondly, it is the question of the candidate we selected, we did not tell ourselves the truth. To be honest with you, with all due respect to the young lady that was selected to represent us – Fatima Kyari Mohammed, she is a green horn and lacks the experience needed for the position we were going for. After the chairperson of the African Union Commission, probably the next most important position is the Commissioner for Peace and Security Architecture even though there is the position of the vice chairperson. This is because unfortunately, Africa is a continent of conflict so the issue of peace and security is always taking forefront. To be honest with you partners and international community tend to relate more with the Commissioner for peace and security than they do with any other official.
Now, that being the case, people know that Nigeria is a strong country on the West Africa sub-region; we are a strong country on the continent. However, we insult people’s intelligence when in the name of being the elephant in the room we think we can carry any candidate and shove down the throat of the African Union. At the background of this election, some senior AU officials have made the remarks that Nigeria is taking them for granted by bringing such a green horn to contest that election. Compared to other people she contested the position with, she was the one with the least experience or qualified, yet Nigeria still went ahead with that candidate. As you know, every country is meant to present their best for the election. For the first time even before the election, the African Union decided to contract a panel of independent experts to assess the candidate. But that is not to say that if you are considered weak you cannot contest or you are asked to pull out. But they did that to provide information for countries who want to vote and show the weight in terms of experience and qualification of each candidate. When the result of that analysis came out, our candidate was the sixth out of the six candidates assessed. If we are serious and sensitive, that was the time to make another strategic move and save ourselves this embarrassment. I mean what were the chances having been adjudged the least? Yet Nigeria went ahead and pushed her candidacy, I don’t know what they told Mr. President that made him succumb to such an embarrassing move.
When was the result of that assessment released?
It came two months or so before the election. The election was held in January and the result was released either end of October or in November. On that panel were former Nigerian ambassadors who were recognized as experts to judge. I would have thought anybody who advises this government honestly, that was the time to do a re-check. In such elections there are two ways to go about it, sometimes you don’t even have to present a candidate, you can withdraw and support a candidate and then extract a promise because four years in an international organization is not such a long time, that in the next election you will get the support of the country whose candidate you withdrew for. To tell you honestly, is a shameful thing to be defeated in such an election and countries recognize that and that is why sometimes they withdraw their candidates and shift their support to you and encourage their supporters from other countries to do same with a caveat that you please note that in the next election we are interested in this or that position. When you get such a diplomatic Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), you can then withdraw your candidate. But sadly despite the opinion of these experts Nigeria still went ahead to push for Fatimah Kyari’s candidacy.
I told you earlier that I have been following this election right from time and I can tell you authoritatively that Nigeria was indecisive. I will not like to mention some names out of respect but you know there is this unwritten law that the Big Five – South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Egypt and Libya will not go for the position of the chairperson but South Africa broke that deal by contesting the last election that produced the last chairperson, Madam Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Nigeria was initially thinking of going for the position of the chairperson and so was Algeria. Nigeria finally decided not to go for the chairperson but for Commissioner for Peace and Security Architecture, after a long time of ding dung. Again, it is important to stress that before the election, we had a Commissioner for Political Affairs in the person of Dr. Aisha Laraba Abdullahi. In the history of the AU, it is almost automatic that all the commissioners serve two terms unless something happens or you opt out of your own volition. So one would have expected that since the assessment result revealed that our candidate for the position of Commissioner for Peace and Security Architecture was weak and the least experienced, we should have settled for Dr. Aisha Abdullahi and support her to return for a second term because she not only has the experience but she has garnered enough clout, it would have been easier to sell her but for one reason or the other she did not get the support, this is sad.
When this decision was made, there is one lady in ECOWAS Commission, Hajia Salamatu Sulieman I don’t know if you have met her, she is Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security in the ECOWAS commission and was the first person to be touted to go for this position of Commissioner for Peace and Security Architecture at the AU. She was told to prepare by the government to contest the election, she had started mobilizing both governments and individuals but midway through the process, the government or should I say officials of ministry of foreign affairs or should I say some advisers to Mr. President because we really don’t know nor have the facts but somehow interest was lost in supporting her candidacy for the AU position. I have it on good authority that she was not even contacted to stop her mobilisation; she was somewhere probably doing her mobilization when someone hinted her that she was no longer Nigeria’s candidate for that position. The next person they picked was a Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but along the line again he was dropped and then from the blues Fatima Kyari Mohammed emerged as the candidate of choice. I have it on good authority that she was somewhere in another African country when she was called to head to Addis Ababa that her name has been dropped as candidate to contest for the position of Commissioner of Peace and Security Architecture. Let us look at it critically; even psychologically, she was not prepared, not to talk of her inadequacies which were made known by the Board of ECOWAS not me.
Let me be honest with you, those Nigerians I spoke with in Addis Ababa believed she was the wrong candidate. My real question is, I will like to know how much Mr. President knew about this election because to be fair to him he cannot be everywhere and that is why he has advisers and ministers. He relied on some so called diplomatic guru. But for me, the failure of Fatimah Kyari Mohammed did not come as a surprise to us, but it is very sad.
But what does this loss mean to Nigeria, considering the country’s contribution to AU Commission?
Well, Nigeria contributes 15 percent of the AU budget. So when you multiply 15 by five that is 75 percent from the Big Five countries and the remaining 25 percent comes from the remaining 49 countries on the continent. This is just the budget contribution. But in between, Nigeria contributes to other programmes or issues to be addressed on the continent by the Commission if they have no money to execute, that one cannot be calculated or quantified. But let me shock you further, the money that was spent on this wild goose chase by a country in recession can only be imagined. I have it on good authority that Nigeria’s delegation from the Vice President, to ministers in pursuit of this election, sometimes fly out in presidential jet and other times in commercial flights even when we knew that we had a weak candidate, one, we knew was not good enough, was that fair to Nigeria?.