From Laolu Akande New York
NIGERIA’S donation of a whopping $500,000 to the military junta in Myanmar few weeks ago is raising questions at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. An official of the Presidency arrived New York two days to Christmas to deliver the check at a hurriedly put together bilateral meeting between the Nigerian Ambassador, Prof. Joy Ugwu, and her Myanmar counterpart at the UN building.
But for the invitation to few members of the UN press, the event would have passed unnoticed and branded a secret deal. Even Nigeria’s former Foreign Affairs Minister who is a UN’s top official on Myanmar was not aware of the donation. A source at the Nigerian mission disclosed that even top Nigerian diplomats at the UN could could not explain the transaction any better than, that the whole affair was an “order from the headquarters (Abuja).”
Professor Ogwu only said that the money was Nigeria’s own contribution to the “ongoing relief efforts in the country, following the devastation caused by cyclone Nargis in May 2008,” in Myanmar.
But observers are however wondering why Nigeria’s own contribution came some six months after the tragedy and why a presidency official had to be specifically detailed to deliver the cheque instead of any of the senior Nigerian diplomats in New York. The other question is why the Federal Government chose to make the money directly available to the Myanmar government when the UN had set up a special fund to warehouse international donations to help victims of the Myanmar cyclone.
Media reports quoted Ambassador Joy Ogwu as saying UN Special Envoy on Myanmar, Nigeria’s Professor Ibrahim Gambari had no role to play in the donation. Gambari’s office at the UN also confirmed this saying he “had no prior knowledge of this transaction or the motive, if any, on the part of the Nigerian Government,” adding however that Professor Gambari does not object to the donation
A reporter with Inner City Press in New York, Lee reported that, “Nigeria gave its money directly, in US dollars, and apparently with no requirement to report back on how the funds are used. This is the type of hard currency for which Senior General Than Shwe is desperate.” He wrote that Nigeria would be seen to be supporting a military dictator by making such a donation “with no strings attached.”
On ther hand, some transparency and accountability on how the money would be spent would have been possible had the money been donated through the United Nations. When contacted for comments, a top Nigerian diplomat simply said the Foreign Affairs Ministry wanted the money to be handed over to Myanmar directly.
Why Nigeria would seek to please one of the few remaining military tyranny in the world is an issue that baffles many at the UN. A retired top Nigerian diplomat who had represented the country at the UN said it is simply shocking that Nigeria would do such a thing without passing through the normal diplomatic channels of the United Nations, since it was the UN that had called for international support to Myanmar.
The Abuja dole is coming at when the the UN and the global community are telling the Myanmar military dictator to move faster with democratic reforms. For instance, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has postponed plans to visit the place and there are no scheduled visits in the foreseeable future by the UN Special Envoy Gambari, who has been working round the clock to advance democratic reforms in Myanmar.
Ki-Moon said last month at the UN that he was “disappointed by the unwillingness of the government of Myanmar (Burma) to deliver on its promises for democratic dialogue and the release of political prisoners.”
By donating half a million bucks to Myanmar and doing it without the knowledge of the UN, Nigeria may be indirectly courting the enmity of those in the international community who are insisting that an iron hand be applied on the Myanmar dictatorship. The timing of the donation according to a source is also an indication, of “bad planning” by the Foreign Affairs Ministry in view of mounting international against the military junta in Myanmar.
One report said that there are as many as 112 former heads of state and government from more than 50 countries urging the UN scribe to help to secure the release of all Burmese political prisoners by the end of the year 2008.
Led by Kjell Magne Bondevik, the former prime minister of Norway, the group told Ki-Moon that, “If the Burmese junta continues to defy the United Nations by refusing to make these releases by the end of the year (2008 ), we urge you to encourage the Security Council to take further concrete action to implement its call for the release of all political prisoners.”
The Federal Government of Nigeria made its donation of half a million dollars to Myanmar less than two weeks after these world leaders called for Security Council action against the Myanmar dictatorship.
What is more, the White House, last month, issued a statement urging the international community and the United Nations not to remain silent to oppressive, anti-democratic measures of the Burmese junta. The statement by Press Secretary Dana Perino, said “Brave Burmese patriots such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and Htay Kywe were among those who have been sentenced to 65 years imprisonment for their peaceful participation in the August 2007 protests, in which Burmese citizens, including monks and activists, called on the regime to address the basic needs of the Burmese people.”
At the donation on December 23, Prof Ugwu said Nigeria took the “opportunity to express our unflinching solidarity with the government and people of Myanmar for the concrete actions being taken to address the sitution”- referring to the cyclone tragedy. There are also those who see the gesture as part of Nigeria’s support of the South to South Integration at the UN, which seek to encourage stronger ties among the less developed countries of the world.