By Garba Shehu
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a joint news conference with his South Sudan's counterpart Salva Kiir in Juba, April 12, 2013. (Andreea Campeanu/Reuters)
The African Union Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria tagged “Abuja + 12” has come and gone but it does appears the controversy engineered by the “wanted” Sudanese leader, General Omar Al-Bashir’s presence on Nigerian soil will continue.
The meeting had been called by the African Union, AU to seek ways of closing the 50 per cent gap in funding the fight against malaria.
Al-Bashir came here to participate in the AU Summit and Nigeria being host country was in no position to decide for the AU who to attend and who not to attend. I think Dr. Emeka Anyaoku, the former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, has made this point very clearly.
The controversy on Al-Bashir arose against the background of two warrants issued for his arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 and 2010. Al-Bashir is being accused of committing war crimes over the conflict in the old Sudan’s Darfur Province.
Critics of Al-Bashir’s visit to Nigeria, who are made up mainly of activists and human rights groups had called for his arrest and handover for trial by the ICC. A similar advocacy had been made in the course of visit of Al-Bashir’s visit to Uganda last year. As to be expected, that country’s leaders ignored the cacophony championed especially by the BBC. Such has been the effect of the ICC warrant that General Al-Bashir hardly goes anywhere without evoking these kinds of negative sentiment.
Three main reasons account for why Nigeria did not have to effect the foreign leader's arrest. One, as already cited above is that Nigeria was not in a position to determine who attended the Abuja + 12 Summit because the AU was the convener.
Second is that the AU, of which Nigeria is a frontline member, had discounted the arrest warrants on Al-Bashir on the conviction that the ICC was unfair and discriminatory. The AU has since formally rejected those war crimes charges. Nigeria is of course bound by all resolutions by the AU.
The third reason Nigeria had to ignore the pressure to embarrass the Sudanese leader with arrest may have been political. Foreign countries, particularly Britain and the United States which have been outspoken on the issue, as well as the European Union, EU, including the Human Rights Watch are merely preaching hypocritical values. The US along with Israel are not signatories to the ICC charter. But America which has never accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC nevertheless continues to exercise significant influence on the ICC.
The U.K and the U.S. are notorious for turning their backs on international agreements and resolutions of the UN whenever in their own perception, their national interests are at a stake.
What moral right do they have to seek to force Africans to act against a fellow leader on account of far less atrocities than they have committed elsewhere? Take the invasion of Iraq for instance. The U.K. and the U.S. lobbed missile after missile on military and non-military targets and made sure that the UN Security Council was reduced to no more than an onlooker as they carried out the greatest assault ever on an independent state. It was clear from the beginning, and until the end of the Iraqi war that there were no weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam Hussein. Where is the justification for the destruction of that country, and the killing of hundred of thousands, perhaps millions of people?
Consider also the well-documented roles of two world leaders who played frontline roles in this war, to wit Blair and Bush. The two were so committed to this private war of their’s that neither of them needed domestic approval which -they could not have obtained – nor that of the UN, on account of which they chose a dubious sobriquet – the “coalition of the willing” as the vehicle for the war. Did the ICC ever contemplate the trial of Blair and Bush?
Another EU giant, France under successive leaders, backed Bouteflika in Algeria to first of all deny victory to a legitimately and democratically elected government of Islamists, and then went on to wage an endless war that officially claimed 63,000 citizens. Where was the ICC in Algeria? Why is it silent on France and Bouteflika?
As if to prove that neither the U.S. nor Europe believe in the virtue of restraint, they just pushed the Eyptian Army to throw out yet another democratically elected government, Morsi’s government in Egypt. Who knows what Egypt is going to turn out into as a consequence? Russians are already predicting a civil war.
Then, talking about the Russians. Who dares question them about the goings-on in Chechnya? Does anyone care about the outrightly blatant refusal of Europe to cooperate in the arrest of war criminal, Milosovic?
Based on these alone, it is important to note that the Nigerian government, which foreign policy seemed to wobble from time to time, gained traction and commendably stayed the course by resisting those pressures. But besides all of these hypocritical virtues by those pushing for the arrest, Nigeria has her own national interest at a stake. I am sure it is for those interests that our leaders sent troops to help keep the peace in Darfur, while the U.K. and the U.S. did not.
In Sudan as it currently exists, there are no less than five million Nigerians who have made that country their home. There are parts of their capital, Khartoum you will go and think that you may have missed your way into Kano city. If Sudan should throw those people out, they would destabilize not only Nigeria but the neighboring Chad and Cameroon. This is no ancient history.
Nigerian groups that jump at an idea because it is fanciful need first of all to know what constitutes their own national interest. Unless they know it, they cannot rise to its defence whenever a foreign country tries to assault it.
As citizens of Nigeria and of Africa, our activist groups will have the support of well-meaning country folks if they focus on bringing the administration of our country and the rest of the continent up to international benchmarks. Of course this is easier said than done. But when they see hypocrisy and double standard as in the case of Sudan, they must fight it with equal vigour and passion.
This article was first pulished on Premium Times.