by Nicholas Ibekwe
The Moroccan monarch, King Mohammed VI, has rejected a request from President Goodluck Jonathan for a telephone conversation, saying it was an “inappropriate” move by the Nigerian leader to curry electoral favour just weeks before a crucial poll.
Mohammed VI snubbed Mr. Jonathan’s request last week, saying it was more of an attempt to seek electoral favour than a genuine diplomatic act, the country’s foreign ministry said Friday.
“The request by Nigerian authorities for a phone conversation between HM King Mohammed VI and Nigerian President was refused by the Monarch who deemed it inappropriate on grounds of the upcoming elections in Nigeria,” the Moroccan Foreign Affairs ministry said in a statement.
The statement explained that the monarch rejected the request for a phone chat and the sending of a Nigerian envoy to the country because Mohammed VI viewed the overture as an attempt by Mr. Jonathan to take advantage of Morocco’s influence to secure Muslim votes in the forthcoming election.
Confronted by an increasingly popular opposition, in perhaps the closest election in Nigerian history, Mr. Jonathan is frantically exploring unusual avenues for support, particularly from the largely Muslim northern region of the country.
Mr. Jonathan’s closest rival, Muhammadu Buhari, comes from Northern Nigeria and has a cult following in the region.
A move to patch the diplomatic relation with the influential Moroccan monarch is seen as a potentially impressive step that may endear the president to some Muslims.
Relations between Nigeria and Morocco have been anything but cordial for years, largely over Nigeria’s decision to support the independence of the Western Sahara region of Morocco.
Nigeria recognises the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the separatist group, the Polisario Front.
The Algeria-backed Polisario Front has led an armed insurrection against the Moroccan government for decades. Western Sahara is a largely desert region but rich in petroleum and phosphate deposits.
Nigeria has lobbied the United Nation to set up human rights monitoring group to investigate right abuses by Moroccan forces in the area, a position the Moroccan monarchy frowns at.
The Moroccan foreign ministry made it clear in its statement that Mohammed VI refused to speak to Mr. Jonathan partly because of “Nigeria’s positions regarding the sacred national, Arab and Islamic causes”.
The Moroccan monarch is one of the two surviving sovereign monarchs on the continent.
While the monarch’s decision appears popular in the North African country, some Moroccans have also questioned the judgement of the King in apparently discarding a fresh opportunity to normalise relations with Nigeria, and win over a strong ally.
“If the Palace’s foreign affairs’ advisers recognize the role Morocco can play in Nigerian politics, why haven’t they use it to persuade the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan to change his hostile positions on the Western Sahara?” asked Hassan Masiky, a Washington-based Moroccan blogger.
“Notwithstanding the fact that Abuja is strong supporter of Algerian positions, in reaching out to King Mohammed VI at the height of a close presidential election, Nigerian officials show how much they value the role the Monarch could play in their country,” Mr. Masiky wrote in an article published by the MoroccanWorld News.
“Moroccan diplomats give the impression that they don’t have a plan on how to use the Kingdom’s religious clout to advance ethnic and religious reconciliation in Nigeria. If Rabat takes the initiative once the political uncertainty ends, it will certainly offset Algeria’s plan in the region and create an opening for a smoother relations with Nigeria’s next president,” he added.
Mr. Masiky also criticised the Moroccan authorities for not offering “aggressive and vocal…religious advice and assistance to the Nigerian authorities in the fight against the extremists of Boko Haram”.