Posted by Olaniyi Abodedele on Monday, February 3, 2014 Under: News Stories

Sir, in all your businesses you have met with a lot of people and Nelson Mandela was one of the people that you actually met and had fruitful time with at the diplomatic level, what do you fondly remember about Mandela in those times when you had to discuss with him particularly during the negotiations?

Well, I first met Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor prison in 1986, but I came to work closely with him from 1990 when I became Secretary General. The last time I met with him was when I came here 5 years ago to receive South Africa’s highest national honor for a foreigner and I brought my family with me, we had a very happy occasion with Madiba in his house. I suppose that in my 10 years as Secretary General of the Commonwealth interacting with heads of Government of 54 commonwealth countries, I have no hesitation whatsoever in saying that Nelson Mandela was an exceptional statesman. During the period of the negotiations in South Africa which were launched on December 1 1991 and concluded on 17th November 1993, I interacted with him throughout that period and I regard him as an exceptional human being because of his way, charity and magnanimity, he showed after the end of Apartheid, this was very un-usual.

There were quite a lot of commonwealth nations who were not very fast or to say the least quick to endorse some of the principles which your country Nigeria stood for. What was the immediate reaction of the other commonwealth members to whom you were responsible to as Secretary General?

I think the entire Commonwealth including Nigeria rejoiced at the release of Nelson Mandela from prison because they had all been working and campaigning for that, so they were happy that he was released and those of them in a position to give him support during the negotiations did so. I recall during the negotiations when I called some Government to provide me with policemen who will come here and help South African police authorities in reforming their practices to be more conscious of the demand of community policing, I sent 30 policemen from all over the commonwealth here and their governments readily provided them, and more so during the negotiations there was a time when the negotiations seemed to be threatened by incidence of violence following the mascara of ANC activist in a place called Ball partong, I came here and negotiated with state president F. W Der klerk and others about sending statesmen from commonwealth to be here as observers in the believe that their presence will help to dampen tension and reduce the incident of violence. I had ready co-operation from the government of the Commonwealth that I served.

You said something very unique about Mandela; you called him a very pleasant exceptional statesman. What lesson do you suppose that African leaders, and Leaders from all over the world should garner from Mandela’s handling of his situation as an individual and what eventually came to be a national issue?

I believe that the first and most important lessons that leaders elsewhere should learn from Mandela’s legacy is the lesson and importance of reconciliation, importance of extreme recrimination, importance of more friendly and more collaboratory politics.

In the years that Apartheid lingered, Nigeria stood out as a nation that gave materially and towards the liberation struggle and became a member of the frontline States despite its geographic location. To what extent would you say as a Nigerian and as a diplomat that was necessary, seeing for instance, that Nigeria didn’t place any conditions as so many people would have expected to say; ok, South Africa is going to be free we want so and so participation in this area of its economy?

 Nigeria supported South Africa and earned the respect of the frontline States who declared Nigeria a frontline state out of Nigeria’s commitment to the morality and principle of freedom and end of racism in Africa. Nigeria did all it did in furtherance of its national belief that Africa must be free and that racial discriminations against Africans must stop. Nigeria did that without looking for terms of reward because it was an expression of the Nigerian spirit.

Today if you go around the streets of South Africa and ask the average South African what he/she knows about the sacrifices made by particularly Nigeria and the other African nations, you will hardly find anyone who would say they know, and it’s not because they don’t want to know, it is because they have not been told sort of. How would you want this issue to be visited so that at least history can be put right as to the role of African nations, the commonwealth and the other very supportive member of the international community in resolving the Apartheid issue and maintaining healthy relationship?

Well, I suppose that I don’t live here but from what you say, if what you say is the general attitude of lack of knowledge or ignorance of role played by the frontline states, number of whom suffered from their role in supporting anti Apartheid movement and in fighting against the Apartheid government. I suppose the answer would lie first in historians documenting, writing about this things. And I would hope and expect that the South African schools curricular should record these things, but not to encourage looking back to the ugly days of Apartheid, rather to record what happened. I can understand that in some quarters there may be some unspoken reluctance to do that because you don’t need to keep reminding people of the cruelty of Apartheid because that will tend to work against the reconciliation and magnanimity of which Nelson Mandela brought to bear after the end of Apartheid.

Nelson Mandela has slept with his ancestors and South Africans need to move on so that the legacy of Mandela would be sustained?

My simple advice to South Africans would be to follow the principles and legacy laid down by Nelson Mandela because those principles and legacy were harbored by him in the interest of the future of this country. I believe that as long as this country follows those principles and legacy, this country will continue to do well.

Nigeria’s international relations system, would you support or would you accept that the same method, the same attitude displayed in Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, that is ensuring freedom in places where there were entanglement including Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, would you say this should be allowed to continue ?

Well, I think the situation on the continent has changed; there are no longer places where there is colonialism or racial discrimination. Nigeria, as I said, in fulfillment of its commitment to being the largest black nation and so feeling a sense of responsibility to the black communities around the world doing the duty of fighting against oppression and racism against black people, that is now finished and I think Nigeria should now pay more attention as it is doing on foreign relations that are mutually beneficial to Nigeria, foreign relations that would serve Nigeria’s own national interest.

Sir, your advice to the Nigerian Voice newspaper?

I haven’t read the publication but in principle if you are engaged in publishing a material for the Nigerian community in South Africa that’s a good thing. I hope that in your publication, you should be guided by what would serve the mutual interest of Nigeria and South Africa that should be the underlining policy. 

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