I was chased out of Sudan when I raised the alarm about Boko Haram – Ambassador Bola Dada
Ambassador Bola Dada shares his experiences in international affairs as a former diplomat with ADEOLA BALOGUN and JESUSEGUN ALAGBE
When did you retire and how are you spending your time now?
I retired from the federal civil service in June 2009, and since my retirement, I have been working in the farm. I am a farmer as well as a consultant. I consult for people on oil and gas and on any business connected to any of the countries where I worked before. I provide information and materials to anybody who is interested in businesses in such countries like Iran, which is the last country I was posted to. I am now into snail farming.
Apart from Iran, where else did you serve?
I started my posting with what was called attachment in those days. When I joined the federal service, it was still very fine and well organised. I joined in 1976, just four months after my National Youth Service Corp. The country was still nice then. In fact, by the time we finished, jobs were already waiting for us. Then we were divided into three groups. Some of us that had degrees in Political Science were sent straight to the Institute of International Affairs to obtain a diploma in International Missions. That was when Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was the Director General and late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi was Executive Secretary. We spent about one year in the institution to become full-fledged diplomats. Some of us were sent straight on attachments to various missions. We were about six. Others were retained at the headquarters. My first attachment was supposed to be for one year, but I spent 15 months, and that was in Madrid, Spain. While in Madrid, I also covered the Vatican because countries didn’t normally send their envoys to the Vatican directly as you could not have two ambassadors in a country. We had an ambassador in Rome, but an ambassador in Rome could not cover the Vatican. They were two different entities. So, it was our mission in Spain that covered the Vatican. After that I came back to our headquarters. I was posted to the Passport Office in Abeokuta. By that time, our ministry was considering how to hand over the Passport Office to the Immigration. So 12 of us were sent to 12 states as Passport Control Officers. I was the Passport Control Officer for Ogun State. Then passport officers were sent to their states of origin.
Where were your next overseas postings?
My next overseas postings were to Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies, then to Morocco, and from Morocco, I was posted to Sudan. I was chased out of Sudan for knowing and talking too much. I was then sent to Uganda. From Uganda, I covered Rwanda and Burundi. Funny enough, right from when I was in Morocco, I had always been the deputy head of missions, even as a junior officer. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, I was the second-in-command even though I was a junior officer. From Uganda, I was sent to Iran which was my last posting. So you could see that out of the six countries that I covered, I was made to serve in three Arab/Islamic countries, which you could say was a deliberate way of turning me into an Arabian and Islamic expert by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – which was not supposed to be so. Also, I was made to serve in three African countries which was not supposed to be. Normally, a diplomat is not supposed to serve in one continent twice, let alone three times. I was not supposed to be sent to Sudan when I was posted there. I started from Spain (Europe), then to the West Indies (America), then to Morocco (Africa); then to Sudan (another African country).
So, why were you sent to Sudan?
I could not explain it. In fact, at a stage, the Minister of Foreign Affairs then, Alhaji Sule Lamido, tried to offer some explanations. He said he believed it was an act of carelessness or sloppy attitude of some officers in the administration department. Otherwise, if they had been doing their work well, they should have seen my posting records. Since I had served in Morocco, I should never have been sent to other African countries, especially an Islamic country. Since I once served in Morocco, an Islamic country, why did they send me to another African and Islamic country? Lamido said, “Dada, don’t worry, I will make redress. Now tell me as we are now any country of your choice. I know they have robbed you and I am ready to intervene in my capacity as the Foreign Affairs minister. Right here on this desk, I can post you to any country you like. Just mention it.” When he gave me the offer, I told him, “Your Excellency, don’t worry. They might have posted me out of wickedness or sloppiness, but I believe it is the work of God. Nothing happens to a man that God does not know. Don’t worry yourself; I don’t blame any officer. So I am ready to stay here. I want to fulfill that purpose.” Besides, I had been there for barely six months; so if he had sent me somewhere else, it would have affected my family, especially my children. They were yet to settle down, just adapting. They were little then. He wanted to compensate me by posting me to the United States, but for my children, I stayed.
Was it the government of Sudan that was worried that you knew too much and therefore sent you out?
That is why the minister also thought of making such explanations and to offering consolation… maybe out of complaints from the northern elements from within and outside the office because the ambassador was an Islamic fundamentalist from Kano. In fact, he boasted that he was in total control because he was the stenographer to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello. The embassy was single-handedly opened by the Sardauna with the help of Mohammadu Ribadu. So the ambassador believed the embassy was his legacy and that of the Hausas and Muslims. In fact, Sudan was our first embassy after Britain and New York. Sudan was next after those two countries because it was the main focus of the Sardauna and the Hausa/Fulani Muslims. If you look at the map, Sudan is enroute to Mecca. It is the shortest route to Mecca from Kano. So it was a strategic Islamic portal for the Hausa/Fulani Muslims. As a result, at that time when late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe both focused on London and opened their embassies there, Sardauna opened his own in Sudan. He had no interest in the West but in the Islam/Arab world. The building was a four-storey structure; it served as an embassy and hotel to pilgrims. He stayed more in that hotel in those days. As a result, most of our ambassadors were Hausas and Muslims.
Did you have any clash with the Head of Mission there, or what really happened?
There was a clash of interest. I was doing what I was supposed to do as a diplomat – to send political and economic reports. And when he was not around, I also sent ambassadorial dispatch. But whenever he was around, I was expected to pass my reports through him as the Head of Mission. I did not care he had no clue about diplomacy because before he became I went to Sudan in 2000 and met him there. Anytime I sent my reports through him, which was quite professional, he would pick holes in them, even though I had experience in International Affairs for 24 years. He would pick a quarrel and sit on it because it was always different from his own expectation. As an ambassador, he too was expected to write reports. Ambassadors used to send dispatch two or three times in a week but political reports were sent once in two months or so. At times, he would send my reports to the host country which was not allowed in international diplomacy Due to this clash between us, I was sent out for my safety and that of my children because later, I became a target of the host country. They could have framed me or eliminated me. So it was going on like that until a director in the African affairs then visited and reported the case to the ministry. So it was Ambassador Femi George who advised that I should be sending my reports to the headquarters but that I should still give him my drafts.
Did you discover anything inimical to the interest of Nigeria in the reports of your boss?
Many! He was actually being selective in his reports. At that time, the war between the Northern and Southern Sudan was on and he was always behind the North who were Muslims. I discovered he was pro-Northern Sudan. He picked whatever he liked, never giving the true picture. On two or three occasions, former President Olusegun Obasanjo invited him and asked if he was still Nigria’s ambassador. He asked him how many embassies Sudan had. At that time also, Sanni Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State was in Sudan for two weeks and underwent indoctrination. He was exposed to all the training camps of Osama Bin Laden, who was my neighbour. In fact, Osama Bin Laden’s office in Sudan was just a few blocks away from our embassy. No report was made. Our embassy never reported Osama Bin Laden. In addition to having his headquarters in Sudan, Osama Bin Laden also had many firms and industries which he only used as a façade because he was actually using those firms as training camps for Al-Qaeda. Among his trainees were many Nigerians from the North. They would leave Nigeria as if they were going to study but were at the training camps of Osama Bin Laden. I got wind of all these things and told them, but my reports were dismissed. It was a policy of “see nothing, say nothing” because they were working for Muslims. They were not able to draw the line between Arabisation and Islamisation. What Sudan was practising was both Arabisation and Islamisation which led to the breakaway of the South from the North. That was the dangerous part of it which was also my major concern. In fact, that was the main concern of Mo Ibrahim, the richest Sudanese. That’s why it pained him seriously up till now that Sudan must not have divided just because of religion. And it’s one of the reasons why he established the Mo Ibrahim prize. That is the motive behind the prize. Up till today, the man is still pained.
Are you saying what was being practised in Sudan was exported into Nigeria?
When Sudan came under pressure during the US Bill Clinton era, they sent Bin Laden away. Osama Bin Laden had established himself there. In fact, one of his wives was the daughter of the Speaker. So when Sudan was under pressure to send Osama Bin Laden away, he decided to divide his Al-Qaeda army into three; he took the first team to Afghanistan and kept the second team in Sudan; the third group he sent out to be disturbing the whole world, including Magreb which is close to Mali, Chad and Niger. I raised an alarm in 2001 that Al-Qaeda was in Nigeria – that Al-Qaeda had penetrated Nigeria through Chad. You know Chad has a border with Borno State. We have about eight million Nigerians in Sudan: people who settled there after pilgrimage. Many who couldn’t reach Saudi Arabia just settled there. And Al-Bashir (Sudanese president) was a descendant of Borno State. I reported all these, including the fact that Yerima was there at that time but I was ignored. Yerima got back to Nigeria and the following day, he declared Sharia. And from then, they were sending students for Jihadist training. Then when I got wind of the distribution of Osama Bin Laden Al-Qaeda groups, I reported. I told them to check our borders between Mali, Niger, and Chad – that Al-Qaeda was on the move. It got to a stage that it became evident that my report was becoming a concern to our permanent secretary then who incidentally had intelligence security background as a former director of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency. His name is Ambassador Heart. He brought in his NIA background into the Foreign Service. He knew what was sensitive and newsworthy. So he took the case seriously and played his part. But instead of our government sending inspectors were to check the veracity of my reports, they didn’t do that; they would just call the NIA man there who was also a Borno man who would refute anything I said. He would tell them not to mind me because I was a Christian and a religious bigot. In fact, he said Obasanjo deliberately sent me there to spy on the ambassador. That was how they usually dismissed my reports.
What did Obasanjo do when he got wind of your reports?
I wouldn’t know what he did but I guess some of the reports did not get to him. One of such was about a Sudanese consulate in Kano who spent 50 years as a consul-general in Nigeria. That is not allowed, but in the case of Sudan, because of the close relationship with Ahmadu Bello and Muhammadu Ribadu, they allowed Sudan to open a honorary consulate in Kano and instead of putting a Nigerian there, they put a Sudanese. I drew attention to this anomaly and by the time I left the place in December 2001 before I was sent out to Uganda, the Sudanese man was spending his 50th year there as a consul-general in Nigeria. Where does that happen? I knew of it from a Sudanese official himself at one party at the Ghanaian embassy. I sent a report asking why they would allow a consul-general to spend 50 years in Nigeria. Meanwhile, his activities had nothing to do with consular job; it was mainly for Islamic purposes. That is why Sudan is being kept on the US watch list as a terrorist country. And this is a country that our country is romancing.
Do you see a link between the Boko Haram insurgency and what happened then?
There is a lot. As far as I am concerned, Boko Haram is an offshoot of Sharia. Meanwhile, in 2001, I learnt from a Southern Sudanese while I was there that at Khartoum sometime in 1994, some Sudanese officials were lamenting that the then presidents of Nigeria were not radical Muslims; they were lamenting that the golden days of Islam had gone. They were not happy that General Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari did not follow in the footsteps of Ahmadu Bello. So they planned on strategising again. They went to Kano to do that. Whatever the strategy they made that time, there is a link to what is happening now. Meanwhile, Babangida compensated them by dragging Nigeria to the Organisation of Islamic Countries, still they were not satisfied. Also, there was a kind of covenant between Sudan and Libya to destabilise Nigeria to promote Islamisation. So, what is happening to President Goodluck Jonathan now may have something to do with that pact. They call it Afikaya, a doctrine that all African states must be governed by Muslims only. Gaddafi fought for it rigorously before he died – that all African presidents must be Muslims and in any African country where by error a Christian is there, they should make life difficult for that person until he is deposed. I got wind of it in one document. I read it with my eyes that all African countries must be governed by Muslims and any country that is mistakenly being ruled by a Christian, they should make life difficult for him. They said it’s the injunction of the Quran. I read it. Boko Haram insurgency may have stemmed from such injunctions and as a result of the faulty policy of ambassadorial appointment and deployment. According to the Nigerian Constitution, ambassadorial appointment must be 75 per cent career-oriented and 25 per cent political. Ambassadorial jobs should be given to people who have experiences related to such jobs, not just anybody. That’s the constitution which was violated many times. In fact, the greatest violator was Babangida.
He made a level 10 officer an ambassador at that time when we had level 15, 16, 17 officers. How could you make a level 10 or 12 officer an ambassador? It’s wrong. He made Ladan Baki, a level 12 officer an ambassador simply because it was the man that saved his life. Baki was an NIA man who leaked out to Babangida the plan of Buhari to sack him. That’s why he compensated him. Otherwise, Babangida would have been sacked and forgotten today. Another violation is that he appointed a Muslim as an ambassador to the Vatican. How could you make an Alhaji to be an ambassador to the Vatican? He also appointed late Saka Fagbo to Saudi Arabia because the man had terminal ailment and as a Muslim, he believed that once he died in Saudi Arabia, it’s Aljanastraight; and he gave directive that he must be buried in Saudi. Is that the purpose of ambassadorial appointment? So, many of these people go there for something else rather than performing ambassadorial duties. That’s why we have all these problems today.
Did you choose to go to Iran?
I never chose to go there. I don’t know why they deliberately posted me to Iran, after serving in three Arab/Islamic countries. I am a Christian but I was sent to Islamic countries to serve.
Was there any religious affinity between Northern Nigeria and Iran like what you observed with Sudan?
Actually, I did not stay long there. I did not really have the time to find out. But I think there is a bond between Nigeria and Iran too because exactly one year after I made my concern known, that was the time when the security operatives arrested some men smuggling containers of arms into the country from Iran.
What do you think Nigeria can do about the Boko Haram issue?
It has its roots in Sudan and has connections with Libya. So, let’s start to tackle it from the root. I think the government is already doing something about it through the help of France, because most of these countries are Francophone countries. If they would not listen to us, they would listen to France. By the time France talks to countries like Cameroon, something good will come out. Let’s deal with the problem from the root. We need France’s assistance. Our traditional and political rulers should also change their bullish mindsets about Nigeria. Also, no part of the country should think they can bully the other parts or that it’s their right to rule the other parts.
Are you aware if the Sudanese consul-general who celebrated his 50th anniversary is still there in Kano?
That should be the work of the State Security Service. I left the place in 2001. But I am sure the SSS should know. At a time, that man was used for a different purpose apart from being a consular. They were operating an airline then – Sudan Air, which apart from carrying passengers, was also a cargo airline. I don’t know what they were carrying. I raised the dust to investigate, but I don’t know if they are still operating.
Do you think the National Conference can solve all these issues?
I believe so, if they would allow it. That’s why some people are working against it. Like I told you, when Nigeria was amalgamated, it was born out of bad faith and evil spirit which is still hunting us today. Nigeria is a product of evil spirit. When Lord Luggard amalgamated us, he didn’t plan to build a nation, but to build a colony to loot for the benefit of Britain. When the Nigerian politicians took over, they continued with that spirit. The spirit entered our politicians and that’s why our politicians loot today. Our problem is not leadership, it’s our weak foundation. No one can govern Nigeria successfully now because of the faulty foundation. So the foundation has to be pulled down before we can see any way out. The confab is the only way out for Nigeria.
Do you think Nigerians can live together?
We have always been living in peace, so we can. Once the evil spirit is chased out, we can. All these issues must be addressed at the National Conference before any progress can be made. But strangely, many of the people who are at the conference are old people. I don’t know what they are doing there.
How did your job then affect your family?
My family was always safe. They were not really affected. Government made provision for them. They went to American schools there. So they were not negatively affected.
Compare your life as an ambassador to life now as a farmer
I thank God. Now, I’m able to stay with my people and family. I have time to come closer to God now through my church. I know my church and they know me too. Now as a farmer, I eat organic food; food that are natural and fresh. I enjoy my life better now.