OPINION: Lest I Forget: History And Gambari

Date: 2020-05-13

In this discourse, Badejo Nurudeen, a public affairs analyst, offers kudos and knocks in a critical review of the recently published memoirs of Ambassador Oladapo Fafowora, Lest I forget: Memoirs of a Nigerian Career Diplomat

Ironically, the recently released memoirs of Ambassador Oladapo Olusola Fafowora entitled Lest I forget: Memoirs of a Nigerian Career Diplomat reflects a degree of forgetfulness and inaccuracy of recollection. For a book based on the power of memory, it is interesting that Fafowora, 71, muddled up historical facts and misrepresented some realities of the past. I must state that my primary interest in this discourse is scholarship as an international relations scholar. Perhaps the most fascinating section of the book is 'Night of the Long knives', which deals with Fafowora's premature retirement from the country's foreign service in 1984 at the age of 43 with 17 more years to go in his career. It is worthy of note that Fafowora never accused Prof Ibrahim Agboola Gambari of being responsible for his untimely retirement. However, he claimed to have it on good authority that Gambari leaked the news of his retirement to Tunde Thomspon, a senior diplomatic reporter with The Guardian newspaper.

I have read Thompson's book-Power and the Press on the gale of retirements and Ambassadorial re-postings in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In his account Thompson did not mention his source (as the ethics of journalism demands). But given that Fafowora is not a journalist and the fact that this issue happened almost 30 years ago, I see nothing wrong in naming his sources, which he failed to do. It is unfair to hang an innocent man for allegedly leaking information when the act was perpetrated by a military Head of State who could approve a name written in pencil. In my candid opinion, Fafowora's enemies in this matter are General Muhammadu Buhari, Lawal Rafindadi and Major-General Joseph Garba who regrettably were influenced by ethnic considerations. For what it is worth, Fafowora had rightly observed in his book that neither Gambari nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was part of his sudden retirement from service. Gambari as Foreign Minister had to abide by this decision on the governmental principle of collective responsibility despite the glaring non-involvement of the Foreign Affairs ministry.

For an idea of Gambari's personality, there are books written by distinguished diplomats that provided useful clues. Amb. Olujimi Jaloso wrote in his autobiography, In the shadows: Recollections of a Pioneer Diplomat that his last assignment before retirement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave him the best chance to know Gambari's personality. He described Gambari as dynamic but much misunderstood, who having settled down to his job learnt quickly and indeed was determined to succeed and would have left quite a creditable and enduring mark on Nigeria diplomacy but for the needless military coup of 1985. Jolaoso, a pioneer dipomat and ranking ambassador, worked directly with Gambari the then Foreign Minister. Similarly, Prof Gabriel Olusanya, former Director-General of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and Nigeria's ambassador to France, in his book, Memoirs of a Disillusioned Patriot confirmed that he had a harmonious relationship with Gambari as a minister, different from his experience with Gambari's successor, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi. I can also cite the autobiography of Prof Jide Osuntokun, Abidakun in which he gave an account of Gambari's fellow-feeling. According to Osuntokun, when he was recalled home as Nigeria?s envoy to Germany, Gambari while commiserating with him on the death of his brother, advised him in connection with his recall and shared with him his own experience in similar circumstances.

On the issues of Gambari's visit to Fafowora in New York in 1982 where he had sought his assistance to be included as a non-permanent delegate to the 1982 UN Special Session, and Gambari's observation in his report to former President Shehu Shagari on Nigeria's Mission in UN not attending meetings of Islamic States' delegation (inspite of our country's huge Muslim population), it is proper to view these from an intellectual perspective. In my opinion, the secularity of this country should mean dealing in equal measure with religious groupings in the UN. Fafowora, as a career diplomat with vast experience in foreign policy formulation and implementation indeed should have seen things from the view point of taking advantage of the opportunity to be in equal partnership with different religious groupings because we have a lot to gain in trade and multilateral diplomacy. For whether we like it or not, the huge Muslim population in our country will always draw us into partnership with Islamic states. And truly foreign policy implementation at the level of United Nations should be more inclusive; all regional groupings and interest-based groups should be courted in order to achieve a country's aspirations. In this case, Gambari did nothing unusual as a scholar in promoting Nigeria's interest in the comity of nations. It is instructive that Shagari appointed Prof Gambari as the Director-General of NIIA in October 1983, a confirmation of his belief and confidence in Gambari.

It should be said that Gambari, 68, remains one of the country's finest products. Following his removal as Foreign Minister after the military overthrow of Buhari/Idiagbon Government, he rejected on principle the post of Minister of Education because his former bosses were still in detention. Apart from being the longest serving Nigeria's Permanent Representative in United Nations till date, he has served in the second most important office (as Under-Secretary General, Political Affairs) in United Nations. He was a member of Nigeria's delegation to the UN General Assembly on 10 consecutive occasions. He led over six peace missions for the United Nations including Angola, Myanmar (formerly Burma), International Compact with Iraq and recently as AU-UN Special Joint Representative in Darfur in troubled Sudan.

Angola and particularly Myanmar bore his diplomatic imprints, leading to the freedom of the legendary Aung San Suu Kyi and her election into parliament today. He was the last chair of United Nations Committee on Anti-Apartheid, overseeing the collapse of the official racist ideology in South Africa, and the presentation of UN's congratulatory and admission letter to former President Nelson Mandela at his inauguration. In connection with this role, Gambari was in October 26th 2012 honoured by the government and people of South-Africa with the highest decoration reserved for foreign recipients. His contribution to international peace and development is well documented. He was recently appointed the pioneer Chancellor of Kwara State University, (KWASU) Malete, by Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed. And he is a recipient of the Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (CFR).

The other aspect of Fafowora's book is the usage of words and presentation of incorrect historical facts. There are two very important instances where Fafowora chose to play with the word 'few' or used that word to promote his narration. I cannot fathom the use of that word in connection with the fate of the late Prof. Ishaya Audu, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Permanent Representative in UN, who was arrested and unjustly detained by the Buhari/Idiagbon military regime, and later as set free in 1985. Twenty years later, Audu was diagnosed with cancer, and he eventually died in August 2005. How can one call 1985 to 2005 (a period of 20 years) a few years? But that is what Fafowora did. Another instance is the case of the late Amb. Gabriel Ijewere, a fine and cerebral diplomat who was retired at the same time with Fafowora (1984) and died in 1999. Why Fafowora chose to refer to between 1984 and 1999 (15 years) as a 'few' years with a picture of Ijewere's broken heart baffles me.

As for glaring mis-representations, the case of Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the former Secretary-General of Commonwealth is a worthy example. Fafowora claimed in his book that Anyaoku was the Secretary General of Commonwealth at the time of his appointment as Foreign Minister in 1983 when he was indeed a Deputy Secretary General at the time. Anyaoku was elected scribe of Commonwealth in 1989. Even more surprising is the Fafowora's claim that Anyaoku was staying at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, at the time of Buhari/Idiagbon coup and that soldiers came to hustle him out of the hotel. But to go by Anyaoku's account in his book-The inside story of Modern Commonwealth Fafowora's claim is incorrect. Again, he claimed that Osuntokun was arrested at the airport on his recall, which is contrary to Osuntokun's account in his book - Abidakun. The same amazing error of fact can be observed in Fafowora's claim concerning the appointment of Alhaji Hassan Adamu as envoy to Washington, which was done by Abacha rather than Obasanjo as Fafowora stated. Also incorrect is his claim that Bola Ige had left Obasanjo's government before his murder.

It is not clear whether Fafowora failed to cross-check his information despite the availability of relevant literatures or he did not make his manuscript available to his publishers for proper editing before going to press. However, even more confusing is the fact that Fafowora's book was published by the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), the nation's foremost foreign policy think-tank, with its array of research fellows and massive library. What happened? These errors are far much beyond the typical typographical mistakes or printer's devil.

Despite the observed shortcomings of Fafowora's memoirs, he certainly deserves kudos and commendation for documenting his rich experience in diplomacy, unlike a former foreign affairs minister, Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, who reportedly said he would never write his diplomatic memoirs because he didn't want to break confidences, thereby denying the public the benefits of his experience.

 

 


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