Ojo Maduekwe is Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Like other Nigerian government officials who have the fortune/misfortune of an audience, he can be very interesting to listen to. Maduekwe is notorious for publicly stating that the unfortunate 'child witches of Akwa Ibom' were frauds, paid to put on a show. He once famously and incredulously claimed that there were no homosexuals in Nigeria, an assertion that only one man has ever been able to make in the recent past - Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And, right before the Abdulmutallab suicide bomb attempt that has created a diplomatic problem for Nigeria, Ojo Maduekwe defended the N2.7 billion he spent solely on travel by claiming Nigeria needed the "visibility" that his many foreign trips afforded the nation.
DID MR. VISIBILITY DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
It must be said that during scandals of international proportion, a swift offensive response is always the best defense. Abdulmutallab's suicide bomb attempt occurred on December 25th, 2009. Nigeria was publicly placed on the "Terror Prone" list ten days later on January 3rd. As the Foreign Minister, and considering the President's 'absence', Maduekwe would have done well to start giving interviews earlier than mid-January. After all, Dora Akunyili, Nigeria's Minister of Information was on many a show, expressing her disappointment and frustration, sometimes a little too forcefully, but clearly nonetheless. Yet, it is a good thing that finally, a high ranking official sat down to answer questions about what exactly, if anything, is going on in Nigeria's hallways of power. It is regrettable that just like his boss, he chose to give that first long interview to a foreign news outlet - a significant miscalculation that should not be easily forgiven.
"Without being immodest about it, when this President chose ... his Foreign Minister, he chose a Minister who has had considerable experience in government. Ten years, consistently. This is my third outing as a minister. So the important thing is to understand the President's policy, his vision, his goals...And he believes this Foreign Minister understands what those visions are..."- Ojo Maduekwe on BBC Hardtalk (January 21, 2010).
Although Maduekwe was able to dodge a few direct questions, he did not do as well as he should have considering the serious situation Nigeria and its citizens are presently in. Admitting that he is yet to speak with President Yar'Adua, who many believe is no longer alive despite a phone interview with him, was the death knell that discredited everything else he had to offer. No matter what Maduekwe thinks and/or wants the viewing audience to think, a Minister cannot replace a President, not even if their brains are synced to each other. Maduekwe's proclamation that he knows the wishes of Nigeria's missing President, despite said President's absence and lack of communication, came across as aloof, inexperienced and pompous.
"The more dignifying thing to do is to ... ensure that his absence is not, in any way, putting the momentum of government's activities at a low ebb..."- Ojo Maduekwe on BBC Hardtalk (January 21, 2010).
Maduekwe's attempt to deflect questions on the lack of transparency regarding Yar'Adua's condition was infantile. His apparent conviction that the President's disappearance and lack of communication was "not unusual in history" illustrate that he no longer is suited for any form of public office. It is unacceptable to claim that one is doing better than before when one is doing miserably and that simply because one is doing better than before, they should not be expected to do more. These basic tenets go for Nigeria, its president, its government and mouthpieces, as well.
When the interviewer attacked with a statement that there was a failure of intelligence in Nigeria with regard to Abdulmutallab, Maduekwe failed miserably. There was no need for the long winded response about "collective responsibility" on his part. A simple answer pointing out that Abdulmutallab was introduced to radical Islamic thought in the United Kingdom and specifically at the United College of London, an institution very familiar to the London-headquartered BBC and many of its viewers would have sufficed. Adding to that, the fact that Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen by terrorists released from Guantanamo Bay by US former President George W. Bush would have been enough to pivot from such a loaded and biased question. Plus, a comment about how American officials had information on the matter that they did not share with Nigeria would have been a crucial tool to create a diversion in the line of questioning by illustrating that Nigeria, America's ally, was erroneously left out of the loop. Maduekwe could have thrown in the fact that in the last few years many admitted and captured terrorists were countrymen of the interviewer and many of his British peers, not Nigerian. He did, however, note that the airport in Amsterdam failed to use adequate devices that would have caught Abdulmutallab's bomb-laced knickers.
Despite all this, Maduekwe did emit a quotable notable - "facts are sacred, opinions are free." One can only hope he will remember that statement as it will undoubtedly haunt him. But, his comment that he would not have encouraged President Yar'Adua to discuss the diplomatic problems with his counterpart in the White House is frankly disturbing. That he is a minister with at least 10 years experience in government and that he is currently a Foreign Minister fuels the 'lack of vision'-argument that President Yar'Adua has been consistently accused of. Diplomacy and the very history Maduekwe oft quoted, has procedures and precedent for situations such as when a Nigerian citizen was found to be a terrorist. Diplomacy requires that President Yar'Adua communicate immediately with the American President to convince him/her that Nigeria's President, not a Vice President (with little executive power) or a Minister (no matter how 'experienced') takes the matter of terrorism seriously and will work tirelessly as a partner in investigating and preventing a possible repeat. But, alas, Nigeria's President remains absent during these times of confusion and so, the Minister of Information can make statements that only serve to deepen the growing diplomatic rift. And, the Minister of Foreign Affairs appears before the foreign press and does not do as well as he should have.
From the Archives:
- Nigeria's President Absent During Crisis
- Nigeria Placed on "Terror Prone" List
- African Travel Post Abdulmutallab
- A Nigerian Terrorist & A People's Passivity
- 'Is Nigeria A Breeding Ground For Terrorism' (May 2007)
- America Speaks...Does Nigeria Respond?
- How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot With Al Qaeda
- More Yar'Adua Health Uncertainty
- Yar'Adua Health, Resignation & Nigerian Cost
- Yar'Adua And The Continuing Heath Issue
- The Consequences of Yar'Adua's Mysterious Health
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