President Goodluck Jonathan admitted Friday that he did not speak on telephone with the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, as claimed last week by Nigeria’s foreign affairs ministry, an apparently false claim that sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries with Morocco recalling its ambassador.
The president ordered a full investigation into the scandal and promised to sanction the foreign affairs official who made the false claim, a statement by presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, said.
Mr. Jonathan was “shocked, surprised and highly embarrassed by the controversy that has erupted over whether or not he had a telephone conversation with His Majesty, King Mohammed VI of Morocco,” the president’s office said.
Diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Morocco worsened Tuesday after the North African country recalled of its ambassador from Abuja, following the telephone call row.
The controversy began after Morocco revealed last week that its leader rejected a request from Mr. Jonathan for a telephone conversation.
The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said the request was a devious move by Mr. Jonathan to curry electoral favour than a genuine diplomatic move.
“The request by Nigerian authorities for a phone conversation between HM King Mohammed VI and Nigerian President was refused by the Monarch who deemed it inappropriate on grounds of the upcoming elections in Nigeria,” the statement read.
However, on Monday, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement refuting the claim of the Moroccans.
The Nigerian foreign ministry claimed that King Mohammed IV of Morocco spoke to President Jonathan from France where he had gone for a visit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also denied that the phone call was intended to confer electoral gains on Mr. Jonathan who faces a crucial electoral challenge from an invigorated opposition in two weeks.
“Since the King was in France and not in Morocco, both leaders spoke extensively over the telephone on matters of mutual interest and concern that have nothing to do with the conduct of re-scheduled elections in Nigeria.
“It is therefore preposterous to suggest that Mr President’s telephone call to the Moroccan monarch was intended to confer any electoral advantage on the President,” the statement read.
The North African nation responded furiously Tuesday, denying the claim by the Nigerian authorities, and recalling its ambassador from Nigeria.
The office of Mohammed VI denied the king ever spoke to the Nigerian president. It issued a statement describing Nigeria’s claim that a discussion took place between King Mohammed and President Jonathan as “unethical practices”.
The statement said it wished to state in the “clearest and strongest terms” that “there has never been a phone conversation” between the two leaders.
“The King’s Office categorically denies the false allegations made by Nigerian authorities about an alleged phone conversation between the Sovereign and Nigerian President,” the statement said.
A statement by Reuben Abati, the spokesperson for Mr. Jonathan, said the furore generated over the matter was due “entirely to misinformation as President Jonathan has neither spoken with King Mohammed nor told anybody that he had a telephone conversation with the Moroccan Monarch”.
“It is true that President Jonathan has been speaking with some African leaders to seek their support for Nigeria’s candidate for the position of President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).
“In continuation of his efforts in support of the candidacy of the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina for headship of the AfDB, President Jonathan indicated that he would like to speak with the King of Morocco, the President of Algeria and the President of Egypt.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was consequently directed to make necessary contacts with the embassies of the three countries and arrange for President Jonathan to speak with their leaders.
“Since that directive was given, President Jonathan has spoken with the Prime Minister of Algeria and subsequently sent Vice President Namadi Sambo to Algiers as Special Envoy to follow-up on his discussions with the Algerian Prime Minister on support for Nigeria’s candidate in the coming elections for the AfDB Presidency.
“The President has, however, not yet spoken with King Mohammed VI and President Al-Sisi of Egypt as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must know.
The statement said President Jonathan has ordered the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aminu Wali, to urgently undertake a full investigation of the claim which emanated from the Ministry that the President spoke with King Mohammed VI.
“The investigation is to identify all those who were responsible for the unacceptable act of official misinformation which has resulted in an unnecessary diplomatic row with another country and national embarrassment,” the statement said.
“It is also expected to unveil the motives of the culprits.
“President Jonathan has also ordered that prompt and commensurate disciplinary action be taken against the culpable person or persons.
President Jonathan also criticised the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, which has since called for an investigation over the matter.
“While awaiting the outcome of the investigations, President Jonathan urges Nigerians to disregard the vituperations of opposition elements, who have, true to type, latched on to the regrettable faux pas as a fresh opportunity to unpatriotically denigrate the government of their country and advance their irresponsible quest for victory at any price in the coming elections,” the statement said.
Nigeria and Morocco have a history of frosty diplomatic relation due to the former’s support and recognition of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the separatist group, the Polisario Front.
The Polisario Front, which is backed by Morocco’s neighbour, Algeria, seeks an independence for the Western Sahara region of Morocco, a move the Monarch has violently resisted.