Ambassador Bulus Z. Lolo, the immediate past Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently spoke with Journalists over a publication alleging his involvement in a Nigerian, Salamatu Sulieman lost out in African Union seat. He also spoke on some mind bugging issues as it affect Nigeria’s Foreign Policy, compensation for those affected by the xenophobic attack, and many more. Raphael Oni was there for Peoples Times.
Sir, you must have heard about the loss of the election in the AU by Nigeria and you are allegedly being accused to have issued a note while you were the permanent secretary saying that Nigeria is supporting the Algerian candidate and that a director involved had been queried and that they are going to sanction you and the other persons. What is the truth?
The said article that you mentioned as well as the publication may be referring to me or not. Since neither writer mentioned any name for that matter, I want to leave it as a matter that the newspaper, Daily trust and others can best answer.
I left service about 7months ago, I was permanent secretary in the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, I am happy that I had the opportunity to serve in that capacity. But as to the elections at the AU and what happened, I think we must
separate matters because you cannot mix orange and apple. So let us separate facts from fictions and I believe that there are so many fictions that are being fed to the public, for what reasons I do not know.
I happen to read that article by a person called Bolanle Francis and my first question, after I read that article was that was there really someone called Bolanle Francis or as people sometimes do, you dish out materials but you use a pseudo name; so the truth today is hard to tell.
This even came out the more in blazing headline by Daily Trust newspapers, Ex Perm Sec, Director in trouble over AU seat loss was the title but the entire story nothing missing was the exact copy of the article by Bolanle Francis. The article by Daily Trust that gave the headlines was written this time by Ishiaka Wakeem, what is going on about plagiarism? What is going on about professional integrity and conduct? That Daily Trust newspaper will use material verbatim and attribute it to someone else.
Furthermore, the paper also changed the article and tried to make it look like a dialogue, you are a journalist, please do the comparison and let the world know that this is the highest of what I regard as professional misconduct because it is indefensible that in trying to make a case, a paper of
the standing of Daily Trust will descend so low as to sacrifice not only objectivity but they are also sacrificing authenticity.
So, verbal note was issued sometime in June or July of 2015, that was before I left the ministry, I left the ministry 1st week of August and at that time government took a decision to withdraw the then candidate Mrs Salamatu Sulieman who has indicated her interest, whose name has been communicated to the AU and she was on the ballot to contest the election
that was to take place in July of 2016.
So when that decision was taken that her candidacy should be withdrawn naturally, we are bound to convey that decision through the normal diplomatic channel to the AU. Now if in doing so, somebody else went beyond their limit, it is different matter but certainly we couldn’t have called the AU by phone to say that Nigeria was withdrawing Salamatu Sulieman, it ought to have been through the normal channel of communication.
Whether or not we sent and communicated with Algeria, the truth of the matter is Nigeria and Algeria have been strategic partners. There was a mechanism for consultation at the African Union (AU) that brought together Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Nigeria; that group was referred
to as the group of four (4)or G4 for short.
Through that G4 mechanism a lot was achieved. The four countries working together with the exception of Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Algeria, together with Libya and Egypt are the largest contributors to the AU budget and if you have three of these large contributors; Libya and Egypt
are the largest contributors to the AU budget. And if you have three of the large contributors working together, consulting closing in order to ensure that the agenda and programme of the continent was on the right track, I don’t
think it was a wasteful exercise.
Now to find Nigeria competing for an elective post against Algeria, I think, I am not going to make a personal comment, that let intellectuals and analyst comment on this; what does it show, that friendship has become a rivalry and does that go down well for our reputation and diplomacy? I doubt it.
So, we thought that at the point of withdrawal, we could make some capital out this act by reaching out to Algeria to say that Nigeria was withdrawing her candidate but that is even a separate matter today because regardless of that fact government went ahead to re-enter the race brought in another candidate. Whatever decision that led to this candidate emerging I had left government and to this day I am not privy. So I cannot comment beyond what I know.
For those who wants to make any capital out of the issuance or none issuance of the note, the note was in conformity with our normal diplomatic practice, it was inconformity with the routine we follow and indeed was the best way to convey the decision of withdrawing Salamatu Sulieman from the race.
The withdrawal of Mrs Salamatu Sulieman was it taken by the Presidency or by the ministry or was by out of political pressure or out of what you consider friendship to Algeria?
Certainly not friendship to Algeria, certainly not. There was a thinking in government and I hope you understand your use of the expression Presidency. The presidency is comprised those units that has so many parts to it, that it can either be generic or specific. But, generally if you refer to the presidency, it is regarded as all those entities that are controlled and administered through the office of the secretary to the government to the federation.
So if you ask me was it the presidency, was it the ministry or was it external, I debunked the notion that any one external to Nigeria had a say in it. But yes, it was then conveyed to the ministry that indeed government and who is
the government? Which is the government of the party today in power, the federal government has decided.
And remember when you are in the Civil Service, you don’t question when they say government has decided, it is outside the norm to insist that you want to know who in government is giving you the instruction, so long as it comes through a recognized laid down channel and someone who has the
authority to do so, that you would do.
So it came through the appropriate channels in the ministry and that was what informed the decision to issue the note.
At this point now, do you think it is been instigated?
I wouldn’t say with me because my name has not been mentioned. But I think there is a general reaction to the loss at the AU commission that the background being the only Nigerian ever to have been elected was not presented for re-election but government in its wisdom felt that somebody
else should go for different seat.
And by the way, it may interest you to know that Nigeria has attempted at previous elections into the AU commission and I think on two or maybe three occasions, they failed in their bid. The only time that they succeeded was in 2012.
And if by your question you are asking that I am being targeted, I can say with pride today that it was under my superintendence that indeed that election was campaigned and won; the only time we have won was when I was ambassador to Ethiopia and I am very proud of that achievement and no
one can take that from me.
The non-presentation of a candidate, do you see that as a tactical error on the part of the government?
I don’t know sir. I really cannot say a tactical error because by talking of a tactical error; it would go into the whole processes that were used going into the election. Here you have to question, was the timing right? You have
to question, was the strategy right? You have to question what action plan did they put into it? How did they deploy their resources, human and financial?
And by the way in the 2012 election, the ministry of foreign affairs did not give one dime to me in Ethiopia to pursue that campaign. Today, I am aware that government gave money for the last election, how much money like I said I have left government; how the money was utilized I am not aware. But
definitely the support that the last bid got was a thousand times better than the support I received in 2012 yet the results are different.
And so I think the reaction of the public, one may say is to be expected. A country like Nigeria, a great financier to the AU, largest economy on the continent, what are we made of when it then comes to seeking elective posts. I think this should be a topic for a seminar or a workshop, if I was to suggest.
Was there a follow up question to ask why such a directive was made when we are not sure of getting a new one, why do we have to throw away the ones we are holding?
Remember, that the elections did not take place as earlier planned ,till July of 2016, if not we would have lost the opportunity to field even a substitute candidate all together.
Do you think Nigeria is really getting the benefits of its investments into the AU?
Let the review of our foreign policy lead to a conclusion, I cannot on my own give you an answer on this because you must look into a number of factors when you want to assess whether our investment is commensurate with the gains we are getting, rather what informs what you do at any given time when you act, how are you doing it, what is the objective, what aims are you pursuing? If you can respond to that, then you can say okay I have given this quantum of aid to Sao tome, this is what I expect from Sao tome or Guinea
Bissau, this is what you are expecting from Guinea Bissau.
But on the whole this is the room to conduct a comprehensive review of Nigeria’s foreign policy, to look at the processes, procedures, as well as what we get from our external exertions. In 2015 I undertook how such as affected
the ministry when I organized a three day retreat for the ministry. But it is about time that we have such foreign policy review.
And I think so called Bolanle Francis in his article here said that there are lessons to be learnt from the experience that instead of blames and accusations, it should lead to constructive national debate to help government refocus its diplomacy and recalibrate the foreign policy drive. I think I agree with that suggestion.
Taking a review of our foreign policy, we had this xenophobic attack in South Africa recently; do you think the Nigerian government handled the issue properly?
Remember that in the wake of the xenophobic attacks, the National Assembly stepped into the fray and what one would ask, I think I read an article in the last few days written by Ambassador Sulieman Dahiru, were in he asks, who speaks on foreign policy? That question is germane, who speaks on Nigerian foreign policy; is it the National Assembly? Is it the ministry of foreign affairs? Is it an aid to the President? Who really speaks?
So there is that issue that needs to be addressed and in fact need to streamline pronouncement on foreign policy as well as better coordinate our foreign policy activities. It was not a very good outing to have the American embassy refute what the special assistant to the President on foreign affairs and Diaspora had alleged regarding the banning of Nigerians by the Trump administration, they said there was no such thing. Equally the minister had to come out and said it was the ministry that was mandated to speak on foreign policy.
Then after this, the whole drama in the National Assembly between the House of Reps and the Senate whether they should have a joint team or a separate teams? Indeed if they had gone separately it would have been a disaster for our image in my view.
Therefore the mandate on foreign policy should be brought out again so that everyone would know that foreign policy in its nature, in its implementation; it is the exclusive preserves of the executive arm of government, and there should be no debate about it.
In saying this, I am not unmindful of the fact that the National Assembly and other arms of government can contribute to the making of foreign policy decisions. And tangentially too, all of us by our conducts are agents of foreign policy which is why we must act with decorum at every given opportunity.
And that brings me to your follow up question which is, is government doing enough to protect Nigerians? In the first place, we cannot send a detachment of any law enforcement arm from Nigeria to go and protect Nigerians abroad, it is not done. Rather it is the conduct of Nigerians abroad that should be the focus. How are Nigerians conducting themselves abroad?
You are expected to respect the laws of the country you find yourself. You are expected to conduct yourself with the highest level of integrity and decorum, you are expected to be goof ambassadors.
But if on the other hand you have ran away from your country as an economic migrant seeking greener pastures where you discovered that the pastures are actually dryer than what you have left at home because in abroad everything you do would be in the currency of the place you are in.
And the rand in South Africa is a strong currency, stronger than the naira. Ordinary water that you would drink, you would have to use the rand to buy and if you don’t have a legitimate income, you don’t have the capacity to
support yourself, what happens? You either become destitute or in your destitution you resort to desperate act or you quit.
Many of the persons that we have seen on TV, if you ask them how they got to South Africa in the first place, you would not be proud knowing how they got there, what they are doing in south Africa you would not be proud. So the minute you engage in a criminal activity, you almost immediately
renounce your right to descent treatment because you’re a criminal. And that is why the laws wherever they’re made are intended to check against crime and to checkmate those who may be tempted to engage in crime.
So what government is doing to protect our nationals, of course the existence of Nigerian missions is to provide consular support. Any Nigeria that is arrested, whatever crime you commit, you’re entitled to consular protection. Someone from the mission should visit in order to ensure that the treatment meted out to you is consistent with the obligations of the state you find yourself, in this case south Africa.
South Africa is a signatory to the UN charter on human rights, Africa charter too on human and people’s rights as well as numerous other international charters that are binding on them. So that support would be given to you.
And in years past, government used to provide resources to extend help to destitute Nigerians abroad; for so many years due to budgetary constraints, I think that vote has not received any allocation and as a result missions abroad are unable to extent financial support that is commensurate with the needs of the people.
You saw the minister just a few days ago engaging his foreign counterparts in South Africa and in fact they agreed to set up an early warning mechanism; that is an immediate and direct response to this in order to ensure that future
occurrences do not happen.
May be if you ask the question today, the series of attacks that have taken place in South Africa in recent times, how much has the South African government done to curtail such attacks because it is their responsibility. Have there been any convictions? Has there been any compensation to anyone? I think these are the questions we need to ask.
And in our engagement with South Africa, Nigeria should insist persons should be held accountable and that victims should also be compensated especially non South African nationals. I am speaking as a Nigerian and foremost, for would be Nigerian citizens who are victims of such attacks.
Talking about the delay in posting ambassadors to our missions, how has it affected especially direct investments and in direct investments and other image of the country?
I think your question is better directed at the present leadership in the ministry. I am a retiree waiting to collect my pension, let me eagerly await that little support that retirees need than to dabble into what I am well equipped to comment.
But, certainly the absence of ambassadors for almost 2years running, by June of 2017 it would be exactly 2years since a directive was given to recall non-career ambassadors from their diplomatic missions.
So you are looking at a period now of about 21months ago, Nigerians have not been led in some missions by substantive ambassadors. In fact very few embassies today are headed by substantive ambassadors and the bulk of them, they are just so few. I don’t want to mention the figure.
So the delay I hope can be addressed whatever the factors may be responsible; as you are aware they sent the ambassadorial list in 2 batches and one batch has been cleared and I don’t know if today the Senate cleared the second batch or not, I am yet to be informed but I hope that sooner than
later the processes would be completed so that our missions can be headed at the highest level abroad.
And yes it is confidence and morale booster if we have a substantive ambassador. But as long as you have a residence diplomatic mission but you can say that business continues.
The issue of Morocco’s application to join ECOWAS; Do you think they should accept such a request?
Morocco wants to join ECOWAS, maybe because Mauritania withdrew. If ECOWAS seizes to be the Economic Communities of West African States (ECOWAS) and assumes a different name, then reasonably one can justify Morocco joining ECOWAS. But if ECOWAS is a geographic body, defined by the location of the members, well it is not for the first time, the Southern region for instance, which is the South African Development Community boast of membership rather as it admit Congo DRC. So, we may borrow a leaf and admit convenience members because it would be a membership for convenience for Morocco to join.
But the caution I would want to sound on that is a simple one; what is driving Morocco to want to join ECOWAS? Unless we are satisfied that Morocco wants to join ECOWAS for altruistic reasons then we should take their application with extreme caution.