Oops, President Misses the Murtala Moment! By Garba Shehu
The shocking abstention by Nigeria at the United Nations Security Council, on the question of whether Palestine should be free within a timeline of three years marks a major reversal in our foreign policy tradition. For the President, Dr Jonathan Goodluck, it was far more disastrous, leading to the loss of a once-in-lifetime opportunity to write his name in the annals of global diplomacy as a problem solver.
Reports said it was Nigeria which made the difference in the resolution failing to pass, as it had been expected. Our country had resolved to vote in favour but then decided a few hours to the vote to abstain.
I chose to call it the “Murtala Ramat moment” because the late Nigerian and African legendary hero, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed found himself at the same historical moment as did Dr Jonathan last week. What did they both do with it?
In the case of Murtala, it was Angola’s independence that was at a stake.
When they took power in 1975 in a bloodless coup against the wobbly Gowon administration, they reappraised the foreign policy and they didn’t like what it looked like. The notion of “Nigeria first” orientation, which ironically characterizes this country’s foreign policy disposition at present didn’t suit what Murtala wanted because it “was to the disadvantage of other African countries. “
The Nigerian government led by that progressive administration resolved to discard “neutrality” as the country’s posture want. They chose an activist posture in international affairs. The shift in orientation became apparent with respect to Angola. This country had previously worked with the Organization of African Unity, OAU to bring about a negotiated reconciliation of the warring factions in the former Portuguese colony, the same way Americans are doing to no avail with the Palestinian question. Out of this frustration, late in 1975 Murtala Muhammad announced Nigeria’s support for the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola,PMLA,in direct reaction the then South Africa’s racist regime’s support for the reactionary National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). As a consequence, this realignment strained relations with the United States and Britain but it was a timely move that decisively shifted the tide in favor of the patriotic MPLA and a resounding defeat for the collaborationist UNITA who would have perpetuated imperialist rule by other means. His speech at the OAU left a daunting legacy on the continent and for which Murtala became an aspirational figure for generations that have followed. Nigeria gained an instant recognition as a Frontline State leading the charge for the decolonization of Southern African countries such as Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and other territories.