London — Nigeria wants to see an end to the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, now entering its fourth month, according to Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama.
The boycott is causing undue hardship and is "not the way to go," he said in a telephone interview last week.
Nigeria has come under pressure from both sides to support them in the dispute but has decided that another way must be found to resolve the dispute, the foreign minister said.
Nigeria's appeal comes after most other African countries opted either to stay neutral or to bow to Saudi pressure by recalling their ambassadors from Doha, the Qatar capital. Senegal, Chad, Mauritania, Eritrea and Niger cut diplomatic relations with Qatar following announcement of the blockade in early June.
But Saudi Arabia's search for support has failed with four north African governments - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, which have chosen not to take sides. These regimes are thought to regard Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt - the quartet coalition behind the blockade - as a threat to regional security.
Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the diplomatic and transport blockade in June, accusing Qatar of cozying up to Iran and supporting terrorism in the region, which Qatar has strenuously denied. They also are demanding closure of the Doha-based TV network, Al-Jazeera
We don't see why Al-Jazeera should be shut down - Nigeria
Apart from Nigeria, Somalia is the only country to take a defiant stance and oppose the Quartet's blockade. Not only did the Mogadishu government refuse to break off relations with Qatar, but it also continued to allow Qatari planes to fly through its airspace, despite protestations from Riyadh. Latest reports suggest Somalia has decided to hold firm, despite receiving £37m in new aid from Saudi Arabia.
The move by its neighbors forced Qatar to import food from Turkey and Iran and fly in milk from the United Kingdom. Mixed-nationality families have been split, as Qataris found themselves expelled from the boycotting countries who recalled their own citizens from Qatar under threat of having their passports taken away.
Onyeama took issue with the main planks of the Saudi case against Qatar – Al-Jazeera, Iran and terrorism.
"As a country we don't have an issue with Al-Jazeera," he said in the interview. "We have a policy in this country of freedom of information. We don't really believe as a government in interfering with the media," the foreign minister said. "To call for the shutting down of a station, especially one with such a profile as Al-Jazeera, we haven't seen anything to lead us to believe that this is the way to go."
Onyeama also said he disagreed with the quartet's view that Iran was a pariah state which should be shunned. Qatar has been faulted for maintaining ties with Tehran, and Iran's foreign minister visited Doha on Tuesday.
Nigeria favors an international forum to resolve the Gulf states' disputes
"Iran is a member of the United Nations,' Onyeama said. 'Most countries have diplomatic relations with Iran, so doing so does not to our minds mean you are supportive of terrorism'.
He also rejected condemnation of Qatar for ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Saudi-led alliance claims is backing terrorism. "However distasteful it might appear to some, the Muslim Brotherhood were a recognised government in Egypt at one time, voted in democratically."
The actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the other states are "very extreme," Oyeama said. "Qatar is a very small country and the alliance against it is much bigger and there is tremendous pressure being exerted," he added. He said the Gulf states are like brothers and called on them to resolve their differences. "We feel that the hardship that's caused to ordinary Qataris and others is most unfortunate and our position has been that we would invite them to an international forum to talk to each other," the foreign minister said.
Anthony Harwood , a former foreign editor of the (London) Daily Mail, who currently contributes to various news outlets, including Newsweek, The Independent and International Business Times .