The presidency on Tuesday downplayed the non-recognition of President Goodluck Jonathan as one of the world leaders to pay tribute at the funeral of Nelson Mandela as a “complete non-issue.”
It was a feeling of embarrassment for a cross-section of Nigerians when Mr. Jonathan was not selected to speak at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, venue of Tuesday’s memorial service, in spite of Nigeria’s unquantifiable assistance to South Africa and support for Mandela during the fight against apartheid in that country.
The world leaders chosen to give tributes were United States President, Barack Obama, President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Vice-President Li Yuanchao of China, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, President Pranab Mukherjee of India, and President Raúl Castro Ruz of Cuba.
Other leaders billed to give tributes were the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the African Union Commission Chair, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
While reacting to the hoopla generated by the non-selection of Mr. Jonathan, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, said, “This is obviously a further indication of a rising minority tendency to read the negative into every official item.
“It was made clear at the occasion that the Chairman of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma will speak on behalf of African leaders. And she did. I do not agree that Nigeria was insulted in any way. It was good that President Jonathan attended the Memorial service and that Nigeria is in solidarity with the South Africans”.
However, contrary to the presidential spokesman’s claims, Ms. Dlamini Zuma was not the only African leader that spoke as President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia was also selected to speak.
The development was viewed by many observers as a snub of both President Goodluck Jonathan and a belittling of Nigeria’s efforts against apartheid.
Recall that Gov. Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State had on Monday in a chat with journalists lamented the apparent ill-treatment of Nigeria and its leader by the South African authorities.
“There are more questions to answer. When you look at the part of the world where ovation is now the loudest, it was the part of the world the pain was the most vicious. In a very cruel irony, history is being revised.
“The people, who collaborated with the government that enthroned apartheid at that time, are the people that are paying the biggest tributes now. But I ask myself: is this not the time for deep reflection? I doubt if (any) African country expended as much time, as much money and as much commitment as the Nigerian Government,” the governor said.
Mr. Abati, however, said it was impossible for all leaders present at the funeral to be allowed to speak.
“There were many other leaders at the event, whose countries have strong historical and political ties with South Africa, but who did not speak. I have not heard their compatriots crying like babies.
“This is a classic case of much ado about nothing. The question of President Jonathan not speaking at the Mandela funeral which you claim is giving some of your readers headache is a complete non-issue. The late Madiba’s burial is not a United Nations debating session. It is what it is a burial: a solemn, national ceremony.
“Leaders from all over the world attended the Memorial Service to pay their last respects and to identify with South Africans in their hour of grief. It was certainly not meant to be an occasion for political grandstanding or the waving of flags. Out of about 100 world leaders who attended the event today, only six spoke at the ceremony,” he said.