Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nigerian Envoy [Ojo Maduekwe] Has Personal Links To Canada


As a former foreign minister, Ojo Maduekwe dreamed up a new binational commission, the signing of which he would then witness years later as high commissioner.

BY CARL MEYER/EMBASSY

Nigerian High Commissioner Ojo Maduekwe in his office on Oct. 19.Photo: Carl Meyer/Emabassy

Nigeria’s new high commissioner already has three unique connections to Canada.

First, Ojo Maduekwe, who holds the title of elder in the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, attends St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, just a block from Parliament Hill—a church run by Andrew J.R. Johnston, who Mr. Maduekwe says is the son of a founder of his former church in Lagos, Nigeria.

Second, when Mr. Maduekwe was accredited by Governor General David Johnston, he was delighted to discover that Mr. Johnston’s secretary, Stephen Wallace, served in northern Nigeria as part of a development agency, and even had a daughter born there.

Third, as Nigeria’s former foreign minister from 2007 to 2010, Mr. Maduekwe visited Canada in 2009, and then again when he took part in a retreat of Nigerian diplomats abroad.

“I’ve been in love with this place,” he told Diplomatic Circles on Oct. 19 from his office in downtown Ottawa.

In fact, the 67-year-old, during his time as foreign minister, provided the initial momentum behind a Canada-Nigeria binational commission—one that he would eventually, as high commissioner, witness being launched by Foreign Minister John Baird and Nigerian Foreign Minister Olugbenga Ashiru on Oct. 8 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The commission is a forum for co-operation on a wide range of bilateral issues including security and development.

Mr. Maduekwe said after his work with his then-counterpart United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Nigeria in 2009, he became inspired to create a binational commission with Canada.

If such an institution was important enough to have with the US, then surely it should be important enough to have with Canada, he said he thought at the time.

“When I left, two successive foreign ministers maintained a great deal of commitment in that direction,” he said.

He first met Mr. Baird when Malaysian High Commissioner Hayati Ismail and her husband Abdullah Sani Bin Abdul Ghani hosted a national day reception on Aug. 30.

“A very fascinating man, a hands-on guy, very personable,” he said of Canada’s top diplomat.

A few weeks later, after Mr. Maduekwe was officially accredited in September, he would meet Mr. Baird again, as part of the signing ceremony trip to his country.

Watching the binational commission document get signed, he said he “felt a certain sense of fulfillment.”

Burgeoning bilateral ties

The bilateral relationship is getting a lot of attention recently, with the Harper government sending Mr. Baird and International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino to Nigeria this fall, and with Trade Minister Ed Fast scheduled to visit in early 2013.

The increased attention comes as bilateral merchandise trade has risen 300 per cent since 2009, according to the government, making Nigeria Canada’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.

But the consistent message of trade and growth is set against a years-long narrative of retreat from the continent by critics and outgoing African diplomats, who have cited Canada’s periodic cutting of countries as aid partners and closing of missions.

Mr. Maduekwe said he wanted to be pragmatic about the situation, and highlighted the unprecedented number of ministers coming from Ottawa to his country.

“If the narrative is true, then there’s a paradox to it all, in the sense that never before in the history of Nigeria-Canada relations has there been this huge, high-profile traffic.”

As well, the government’s enthusiasm for Nigeria is tempered by its concern over the country’s sectarian violence, such as that carried out by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram. Canada most recently condemned an attack on Muslim worshippers on Oct. 14. The country has a Muslim-dominated north and a Christian-dominated south, with both sides almost perfectly balanced in size, around 70 million each.

Mr. Maduekwe says the problem is not the religious dynamics of the country’s population, but the influence of “religious extremism that manifests itself in this very, incredibly ugly spectre of terrorism.”

“I believe that there was a certain kind of naïveté on our part in Nigeria, after 9/11, that it wouldn’t happen in our territory,” he said.

But Nigeria has made big leaps in interfaith relations, and as a Presbyterian elder he has had a personal interest in moving that along, he added.

Mr. Maduekwe, who was born in Ohafia in southeastern Nigeria, is a lawyer by practice and a member of the Nigerian and international bar associations.

He served as Nigeria’s transport minister from 2000 to 2003 and Nigeria’s culture and tourism minister from 1999 to 2000.

He was also the deputy director general in Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential campaign in 2011, worked as the national secretary of Mr. Jonathan’s party from 2005 to 2007, and was a presidential adviser from 2003 to 2005.

He’s clearly excited about his work as a high commissioner to Canada, and says he feels well adjusted to life in the Canadian capital.

Perhaps the biggest piece of evidence in this regard is that, shortly after arriving in Canada, he went out to buy a bicycle at Canadian Tire, and has been riding the famous bike trails around the capital region.
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