Ribadu, El Rufai, Imohe, Keshi: A Tale of Diplomatic Power play

NIGERIA – The controversial renewal of international passports to citizens Nuhu Ribadu and Nasir el-Rufai has been fought, won and lost.

Yet, what remains is the untold story of how the complex relations between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) quietly played out, compounded and later resolved the human rights issue challenge.

Earlier reports indicated that the Permanent Secretary, Foreign Affairs Ministry, Ambassador Joe Keshi and former Director-General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Emmanuel Enarune Imohe, were solely responsible for the policy advice that led to the near tragic denial of renewal of international Passports to Ribadu and el-Rufai.

However, investigation shows that there was a mystery security chief, whose approval led to the memo Ambassador Imohe reportedly wrote on September 15, 2009.

The presidency is trying quietly to unravel the role of the “dark horse” top adviser in the aborted plan.

Besides, a letter The Guardian obtained at the weekend reveals that but for the strategic diplomatic counter advice, which Keshi wrote September 29 to Imohe, who had reportedly issued a memo on the need to deny el-Rufai and Ribadu; the President would have been misled by some top advisers, who had always decided on sensitive issues and attributed same to the president.

Thus, a weeklong extensive inquiry gave an insight into the complex web, which reportedly led to the dramatic end to the diplomatic career of Ambassador Imohe last week. The origin:

On September 15, 2009, a memorandum, referenced SR.28/VOL.13 from the Office of the Director-General, National Intelligence Agency (NIA), was dispatched to the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Its import was: “Withdrawal of Consular Assistance to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam el-Rufai.”

The letter, signed for the Director-General (NIA) by Mr. S.U Abdulazeez, reads in part:

“I am directed to convey that the attention of Government has been drawn to the continuous and unyielding campaign of calumny against the Federal Government abroad by Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, former FCT Minister and Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, former EFCC boss.”

Paragraph two of the letter also reads in part: “el-Rufai has reportedly run out of blank pages on his E-passport. Consequently, he has approached the Nigerian High Commission in London to apply for a new Passport.”

Paragraph three conveys the killer punch: “A decision has been taken at the highest level that all Nigerian Missions are to henceforth deny the duo consular assistance of any form. Concerning el-Rufai’s application, the Nigerian High Commission in London should be directed not to issue him with a new Passport. Doing so will further aid and abet his foreign travels and junketing, during which he has taken every opportunity to put Nigeria on the spot, while portraying a sanctimonious view of himself and his ilk.”

The last paragraph of officer Abdulazeez’s memo reads: “Please, accept the assurances of the Director-General’s highest consideration and esteem.”

Consequently, as earlier reported, Ambassador Keshi dispatched the directive from the NIA Director-General’s Office to Nigeria’s High Commission in UK and “Repeated to All Missions” on September 17, 2009 through the Ministry’s Overseas Communications Department.

To emphasise the priority attention government reportedly attached to it, the dispatch contained insertions such as “Insert Emergency, Immediate, Priority or Routine….”

The Guardian, however, confirmed that the toxic memo had hardly been dispatched to all the Nigerian Missions abroad when top officials of the Foreign Affairs Ministry began their own debate about the expediency and indeed grave implications of the letter.

The debate was reportedly led by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Ambassador Keshi, who was recalled from Nigeria’s Consulate in Atlanta, Georgia as Director-General, Nigeria’s Volunteer Service, coordinating among others, Nigerians in the Diaspora.

It was said that the Ministry’s top officers had concluded that the letter to deny the two citizens Passport would be counter-productive.

Accordingly, Ambassador Keshi dispatched another strongly worded letter dated September 29, to the same Director-General of NIA that dispatched it on October 5, 2009.

In the letter, entitled, “Withdrawal of Consular Assistance to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mallam El-Rufai,” Ambassador Keshi had observed:

“I write to acknowledge receipt of your letter Ref No 28/Vol.13 dated 15 September, 2009 on the above subject and to attach herewith a copy of the action taken in compliance with your letter mentioned above.”

But the counter-letter reads in part: “However, having implemented the content of your letter, under reference, I am directed to raise some concerns of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose advice on the issue would have been useful in the first instance.”

Paragraph two of the Memo reads: “The decision not to renew the former Minister’s passport may unwittingly portray the Federal Government in bad light within the international community as a government that is too sensitive to criticism.”

The third paragraph continues in part: “The decision could engender more sympathy for him, which he could utilise to greater advantage especially if he opts to pursue the matter in court. That sympathy could also, as in the past, lead to some sympathetic country granting him temporary travelling documents, which will in the end defeat our purpose and render our action irrelevant… Equally, is the view that the criticism of the Government could increase resulting in an unnecessary distraction that Government could do without at the moment.”

The counter-memo’s fourth paragraph has this to convey to the Government: “The best antidote to the Mallam el-Rufai menace is to generally ignore him, monitor his movement and where necessary respond without delay to some of his most stringent comments. It is our silence and inability to respond promptly, extensively and effectively to his numerous comments since he left Nigeria that has hurt us most than the things he has said….”

The memo states further: “As it is said in Washington, ‘a story not denied within 24 hours, is believed to be true,” hence the White House information managers are on duty 24 hours and they do not fight shy of taking on the Government’s opponent all the time.”

The conclusion of the last memo is: “The essence of this letter therefore is not only to inform you of the implementation of your letter, but to hope that based on the above, you may wish to reconsider the issue, which I have no doubt would show the maturity of the Federal Government.”

It was learnt that this letter by Ambassador Keshi received the blessing of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe and it was believed to have affected the passion of the President, who reportedly ordered that the Passports be issued to the two Nigerian citizens living abroad but who had been declared wanted by the Federal Government.

Some top diplomats in the Foreign Affairs Ministry described the development of a paradox.

“It was a paradox that Ambassador Imohe, who has been a very thorough diplomat, has been caught in the web of this misadventure.

“The former DG NIA has been an experienced, seasoned and brilliant officer. He has been more careful than most of us in our complex relationship… Yes, Imohe has been extra-careful,” one of the sources said.

Another top source said: “There is need to find the ‘dark horse’ that authorised the memo to the Foreign Affairs Ministry…

“A top minister, who has been browbeating, looking for ways to nail the two former officers, is still looking for ways to implicate the officers even in the law court.

“Then, there is still a mystery top security chief, who also asked Ambassador Imohe to release the letter. But the officer has been shielded.

“However, Imohe, too, played into their hands by asking for extension since he should have retired peacefully in September 2009 when he clocked 60.”

Two weeks ago, the NIA chief reportedly asked for extension till December 2009. His application was actually turned down and made a scapegoat in the confusion that had attended the reported denial of Passports to Ribadu and el-Rufai.

It was gathered that Ambassador Imohe has taken the development calmly and not ready to name and nail the senior officer that allegedly compelled him to issue the noxious memorandum that raised the dust the President had to intervene to clear.

Source – the guardian


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