interviewBy Abiodun Oluwarotimi
New York — Professor Adebowale Ibidapo Adefuye is the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States. Born 63 years ago, he got his First Degree in History at University of Ibadan, in 1969. He also bagged a Ph.d in 1973 and started his career as a Lecturer II in the University of Lagos where he rose to the position of a Professor and Head of History Department in 1985; a position he held for 3 years before becoming the Nigerian High Commissioner to Jamaica(1987-1991).He later became the Nigerian Deputy High Commissioner in London, in charge of Nigeria's relationship with Commonwealth, UN, EU and others before he joined the Commonwealth in 1994 as the Deputy Director of Strategic Planning. In 2008, he joined the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS where he served as an Adviser for 2 years and four months.In this exclusive interview with ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI in Washington D.C, Adefuye speaks on the Nigeria-US relationship,the new government in Nigeria,his achievements and other vital issues. Excerpts:
Sir, how will you assess the government of President Goodluck Jonathan?
I think we have what is called a round peg in a round hole. This is a man we can call a right man in the right place and at the right time. I had the privilege to be with him during his last working visit to the US. You will realise that this is a man who sems to have prepared for the job for a long time because he was able to do so many positive things when he came.
Dr. Goodluck, is a very learned person, who knows the problems Nigeria is facing. He knows what to be done to the country to make it better and now he has the opportunity to act. He made himself the Minister of Power and Steel because he knows that Nigeria is facing Power problem. During the time he visited the US, you will feel very proud of him as President. He was the only Head of State I have seen in Africa who in four days, was able to see President Obama, he was able to see Vice-President Biden, he met with the World Bank President, the United Nations Secretary-General personally invited him to a meeting to get to know him. He was received in audience by the Congress of the Black Caucus, he addressed the four powerful organs of the United States. In all these meetings, he presented a very good account that would make everybody trust him that he was truly representing the good interest of Nigeria. He seems to have a full grasp of the situation and I am very sure that he is the kind of person who will do us proud. This is why all of us feel very comfortable that we are working with this kind of leader.
How will you react to his choice of Governor Namadi Sambo as the vice-president?
I have never met the man before. I only read about him in the Newspapers. I am sure that President Jonathan must have seen some potentials in him before he chose him to work with him. Dr. Jonathan is a good judge of men and characters and I trust his judgement about the nomination.
Still on Mr. President.How will you react to the calls that he should run for the presidency in 2011 general elections?
I will not want to make any political statement here. I have my own views. Those calling on the president to contest in 2011 must have seen the potentials in him. President Goodluck Jonathan on his own knows what is good for Nigeria and he will take his own decision on what to do when the time comes.
Can you enumerate your achievements since you assumed duty as the Ambassador of Nigeria to the United States?
We had a very good start. Five days after i presented my letter of accreditation to the US government, the country of interest list by which Nigerians were experiencing special search at the airports was changed to the one that now emphasises individual profile rather that citizenship. So Nigerians are no longer subjects to any special scrutinity at the airports. We made our case known to the United states authority in Nigeria. During the episode of Mutallab, the Ministries of Information and Foreign affairs made a lot of efforts but then there was no Ambassador on seat to send that message to defend Nigeria and what I did when I came in was to make the points that we are not terrorists.We made them realise that Nigeria has made several efforts to wage war against the act of terrorism at the ECOWAS, AU and UN levels. I made the US government know that there is a Bill at the National Assembly which is to galvanise actions against terrorism and that Bill was drafted even before the December 25 event. Secondly, we have signed the Bi-national agreement with the united states. This is the highest level of strategic co-operation. This agreement will help Nigeria in so many areas. The united states signing this agreement with us means that they are fully prepared to co-operate with us to achieve our goals on vision 2020. The meeting on the Bi-national agreement is going to take place later this month and I would be travelling to Abuja to attend the meeting.Also, the recent visit of Mr. President has brought so many agreements and investment promotions, and all these will help us build a Nigeria of our own dream.
There is this speculation that the Passport Section of the Embassy charges a certain fee outside the one stipulated on the Embassy's Website. Is this at your instance?
No. I dont know about that. Nobody is allowed to charge any fee outside the stipulated one and anyone caught in this act of corruption will be disciplined. I think this is just a mere speculation because I have not heard about it but, all I need is just one single evidence that this illegal fee is being charged and the authority of this Embassy will deal with whoever is involved. The Mission that I want to run here has no space for corruption and indiscipline.
Sir, is it true that you met the Embassy in a very poor state when you came in?
The Embassy here was not in a very bad situation when I came. We can do with more funding. I have made the issue of funding known to Mr. President. He is aware that the Embassy should be adequately funded. They are working on it. I am going to follow it up when I get to Abuja for the forthcoming Bi-national meeting. I can assure you that we will provide all the amenities needed at the Embassy once we have the appropriate funding from the federal government.
Is it true that you could not trace the financial records of the Embassy due to mismanagement when you came?
This i s just a speculation.Like I told you, we can do with more funding. There was a case of properties being bought and sold before I came. The official residence of the Ambassador was sold and a new one was bought. The house they bought is a very good one. Honestly, I dont know the details on how much the new one was bought and how much the old one was sold. That is why people are speculating that the old one was undersold and new one was too expensive.
All I am concerned about is the base where I started from and I want this place to be adequately funded so that we can achieve our goals and I will insist on my integrity and accountability in whatever I do as the Ambassador.
If you look at the records, you will discover that my predecessor got an official approval before he sold the old house and bought the new one. The argument about prices is not my business because I was not here then but I assure you that I will do everything to perfect some certain things and I am ready to open the records for Members of the House of Representatives if they want to come here to investigate the case. It is left for them to judge if there was any irregularity during the transaction.
Let us talk on Mutallab. Is the federal government doing anything about his case?
We are still waiting for instructions from the federal ministry of justice in Abuja as to what to do. Mutallab is a Nigerian and we will ensure that he gets whatever rights that are due to accused under any law of jurisdition. He committed an offence and he should be responsible for his own defence in accordance with the laid down rules of the United States.
What do you think about the Obama Administration and Nigerians in the US?
The Obama administration is very good to us. We value thier friendship and co-operation but we will not as a result of that do anything that will be against the interest of Nigerians. We shall continue to watch and guide our interests jealously.
As the Ambassador, what are the aims you want to achieve here?
We have already started. We want to change all the negative impression that people have about Nigeria. We will eradicate anything that will have negative effect on the good image of Nigeria. I am going to work on the issue of passport. I will ensure that all the Nigerians living in the United States have the new ECOWAS Passport. We are already working with the department of immigration on that so that there will be no case of Nigerians being harassed at the airports or anywhere again. My mission is to protect and fight for any Nigerian who is denied of his legitimate rights in this country. We will make a way for Nigerians who are ready to go home to serve the country and we shall use everything at our disposal to ensure that the expertise of the US are used to realise our Vision 2020.