The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) representative to the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) has criticised Nigeria over its abstention during a UN vote on Palestinian statehood last Tuesday.
In a statement quoted by the Ma’an news agency, the representative Muhannad al-Akluk, said Nigeria’s move was a “big disappointment”, adding that voting against “Palestine” despite being a member of the OIC was a “clear contradiction”.
He also claimed that Nigeria’s abstention violated numerous resolutions passed at the Islamic organisation’s summits. The PA’s resolution calling for Israel to withdraw from Judea and Samaria by 2017 was defeated at the UN Security Council when it received eight votes, one short of the number required to pass it.
Reports said it was Nigeria which made the difference in the resolution failing to pass, as it had been expected, to vote in favour but then decided to abstain.
Al-Akluk added in his statement that the United States’ stand against the “Palestinian cause” and the resolution were not a surprise, but that Nigeria’s abstention from voting was a “shock” and a disappointment for Palestinian Arabs. The representative also said in the statement that such attitude stood in opposition to the Islamic context and must be dealt with inside the OIC, highlighting the “unacceptable” contradiction that a member state of the group abstained from voting while European states voted in favour of the resolution.
Nigeria maintains close ties with Israel. President Goodluck Jonathan visited Israel twice last year, marking the first time that a Nigerian president visited the Jewish state. During the last visit in October, Nigeria and Israel signed an agreement allowing direct air travel between both countries. Several months ago, Israel sent two anti-terror experts to Nigeria to join the search for a group of schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Nigeria for its abstention at the vote. He also thanked Rwanda, another country that abstained, saying the two countries’ leaders personally assured him they would not support the PA’s bid.
On the same note, the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) yesterday condemned the decision by the federal government to abstain from voting on the US resolution on Palestinian statehood.
Secretary General of the NSCIA, Professor Is-haq Oloyede, who spoke with journalists in Ilorin described the action of the federal governemt as a step against freedom. According to him, “The council was amazed that Nigeria would abstain from a move to end a 66-year-old crisis.” He said that the NSCIA was sad at the turn of events and accused the federal government of betraying the people of Nigeria. “What Nigeria has done is not only a summersault on its foreign policy but also a slap on the lovers of freedom all over the world and such action is condemnable,” he said.
Oloyede recalled the historic position of Nigeria in terms of fighting for freedom and liberty all over the world, adding: “You know that Nigeria has always been on the side of justice, on the side of liberation. “From South Africa to even Bosnia and all the rest, Nigeria’s position had always been very firm on the path of liberation and freedom of the people.
“We were therefore surprised, amazed at the turn of events at the Security Council where nine votes were required for the endorsement of freedom for the people of Palestine, only for Nigeria to turn around to abstain from voting in this historic resolution on the 66-year-old crisis.
“The Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs is very, very sad about this situation and we feel that the Nigerian government has betrayed the people of Nigeria and has created a very, very serious problem for our foreign policy.
“We believe that what Nigeria has just done is not only a summersault in terms of its foreign policy, it is also a slap on most people who are lovers of freedom all over the world.
“One cannot explain why this ought to be so. It is inexplicable except that we believe the Nigerian government is carrying its divisive domestic policies to foreign policies and this is very sad.
“As the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, we want to register our strong condemnation on the decision of the Federal Government of Nigeria and to say that whatever must have influenced this position is condemnable by all lovers of peace, all lovers of liberation all over the world.
“We are very, very sad about this and we believe that we should let the Nigerian people know that Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs is opposed to this and we believe that those who are at the helm of affairs at our Foreign Affairs Ministry would have to explain to the Nigerian people why they have betrayed them.”
In a pivotal foreign policy shift, Nigeria on Tuesday night had abstained from voting on a crucial United Nations Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood. Nigeria’s position marked a departure from the past when the country always voted in favour of Palestine and had always thrown its weight behind a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Foreign policy analysts who spoke to THISDAY on the issue on Wednesday said Nigeria’s change in policy may not be unconnected to the recent tangible assistance given by Israel in the war against Boko Haram in the North-east.
Israel, as opposed to the United States, Britain and other traditional Western allies, which have been engaged in semantics, has given Nigeria concrete assistance in the form of drones, arms, military advisers and training that has helped Nigerian troops in the push back against the insurgents in recent weeks.
The UN resolution had called for new talks on Palestinian statehood on the basis of territorial lines that existed before Israel’s occupation of the territories in 1967, and was the culmination of three months of campaigning by the Palestinians at the UN and had the backing of Arab states.
The Palestinians required nine votes from 15 permanent and non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. Nigeria is currently one of the 10 non-permanent members, with its tenure expiring in 2015. Chad and Rwanda are the other African members.
However, Palestine got eight votes, one vote short during the vote which took place on Tuesday night. The United States and Australia voted against the resolution, while Russia, China, France, Luxembourg, Jordan, Argentina, Chile and Chad voted for the resolution.
Nigeria, Britain, South Korea, Rwanda and Lithuania abstained. Nigeria’s role stood out because until shortly before the vote, diplomats had expected the resolution to get nine “yes” votes, with Nigeria believed to be in support.
But at the last minute, Nigeria’s UN envoy, Prof. Joy Ogwu, abstained from voting, echoing the position of the US that the ultimate path to peace between Israel and Palestine lies “in a negotiated solution”. Reacting to the outcome of the vote, Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, said he personally spoke to Jonathan and received his assurance of support.
“I would like to voice appreciation and thanks to the United States and Australia, and also special appreciation for the president of Rwanda, my friend Paul Kagame, and the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan.
“I spoke with both of them. They told me and promised me, personally, that they would not support this resolution. They kept their word, and that’s what clinched this matter. I think this is very important for the state of Israel,” the PM said.
However, Palestinian officials who had lobbied Nigeria for months to back the vote and had received assurances from its officials, expressed shock at the change of heart.
Speaking to THISDAY on Wednesday, the Ambassador of the State of Palestine to Nigeria, Dr. Montaser Abu-Zeid, expressed surprise at Nigeria’s action. Our attempts to get the official position on why Nigeria changed her foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestine conflict proved unsuccessful, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, did not pick calls to his phone, neither did he respond to a text message on the issue.
However, a source in the foreign affairs ministry said Nigeria’s decision to abstain was “strategic at critical juncture for us, as we have been battling the insurgency for six years”.
He added, “The Israelis have offered us concrete assistance and we cannot turn our backs on them. However, we will continue to support Palestine as a long-standing ally and strengthen relations with both countries,” he said.