Yerima sent students to Sudan for Jihadist training – Former Ambassador
One of Nigeria’s foremost diplomats, Ambassador Bola Dada in an interview with Saturday Punch has revealed that al-Qaeda was in Nigeria as far back as 2001.
He also exposes how Osama bin Laden was able to grow a terrorist training network in Sudan before it was dismantled by Bill Clinton and how former Governors like Ahmed Yerima sent students to Sudan for Jihadist training.
So, why were you sent to Sudan?
I could not explain it. In fact, at a stage, the Minister of Foreign Affairs then, Alhaji Sule Lamido, tried to offer some explanations. He said he believed it was an act of carelessness or sloppy attitude of some officers in the administration department. Otherwise, if they had been doing their work well, they should have seen my posting records. Since I had served in Morocco, I should never have been sent to other African countries, especially an Islamic country. Since I once served in Morocco, an Islamic country, why did they send me to another African and Islamic country? Lamido said, “Dada, don’t worry, I will make redress. Now tell me as we are now any country of your choice. I know they have robbed you and I am ready to intervene in my capacity as the Foreign Affairs minister. Right here on this desk, I can post you to any country you like. Just mention it.” When he gave me the offer, I told him, “Your Excellency, don’t worry. They might have posted me out of wickedness or sloppiness, but I believe it is the work of God. Nothing happens to a man that God does not know. Don’t worry yourself; I don’t blame any officer. So I am ready to stay here. I want to fulfill that purpose.” Besides, I had been there for barely six months; so if he had sent me somewhere else, it would have affected my family, especially my children. They were yet to settle down, just adapting. They were little then. He wanted to compensate me by posting me to the United States, but for my children, I stayed.
Was it the government of Sudan that was worried that you knew too much and therefore sent you out?
That is why the minister also thought of making such explanations and to offering consolation… maybe out of complaints from the northern elements from within and outside the office because the ambassador was an Islamic fundamentalist from Kano. In fact, he boasted that he was in total control because he was the stenographer to the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello. The embassy was single-handedly opened by the Sardauna with the help of Mohammadu Ribadu. So the ambassador believed the embassy was his legacy and that of the Hausas and Muslims. In fact, Sudan was our first embassy after Britain and New York. Sudan was next after those two countries because it was the main focus of the Sardauna and the Hausa/Fulani Muslims. If you look at the map, Sudan is enroute to Mecca. It is the shortest route to Mecca from Kano. So it was a strategic Islamic portal for the Hausa/Fulani Muslims. As a result, at that time when late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikwe both focused on London and opened their embassies there, Sardauna opened his own in Sudan. He had no interest in the West but in the Islam/Arab world. The building was a four-storey structure; it served as an embassy and hotel to pilgrims. He stayed more in that hotel in those days. As a result, most of our ambassadors were Hausas and Muslims.
Did you have any clash with the Head of Mission there, or what really happened?
There was a clash of interest. I was doing what I was supposed to do as a diplomat – to send political and economic reports. And when he was not around, I also sent ambassadorial dispatch. But whenever he was around, I was expected to pass my reports through him as the Head of Mission. I did not care he had no clue about diplomacy because before he became I went to Sudan in 2000 and met him there. Anytime I sent my reports through him, which was quite professional, he would pick holes in them, even though I had experience in International Affairs for 24 years. He would pick a quarrel and sit on it because it was always different from his own expectation. As an ambassador, he too was expected to write reports. Ambassadors used to send dispatch two or three times in a week but political reports were sent once in two months or so. At times, he would send my reports to the host country which was not allowed in international diplomacy Due to this clash between us, I was sent out for my safety and that of my children because later, I became a target of the host country. They could have framed me or eliminated me. So it was going on like that until a director in the African affairs then visited and reported the case to the ministry. So it was Ambassador Femi George who advised that I should be sending my reports to the headquarters but that I should still give him my drafts.
Did you discover anything inimical to the interest of Nigeria in the reports of your boss?
Many! He was actually being selective in his reports. At that time, the war between the Northern and Southern Sudan was on and he was always behind the North who were Muslims. I discovered he was pro-Northern Sudan. He picked whatever he liked, never giving the true picture. On two or three occasions, former President Olusegun Obasanjo invited him and asked if he was still Nigria’s ambassador. He asked him how many embassies Sudan had. At that time also, Sanni Yerima, former governor of Zamfara State was in Sudan for two weeks and underwent indoctrination. He was exposed to all the training camps of Osama Bin Laden, who was my neighbour. In fact, Osama Bin Laden’s office in Sudan was just a few blocks away from our embassy. No report was made. Our embassy never reported Osama Bin Laden. In addition to having his headquarters in Sudan, Osama Bin Laden also had many firms and industries which he only used as a façade because he was actually using those firms as training camps for Al-Qaeda. Among his trainees were many Nigerians from the North. They would leave Nigeria as if they were going to study but were at the training camps of Osama Bin Laden. I got wind of all these things and told them, but my reports were dismissed. It was a policy of “see nothing, say nothing” because they were working for Muslims. They were not able to draw the line betweenArabisation and Islamisation. What Sudan was practising was both Arabisation and Islamisation which led to the breakaway of the South from the North. That was the dangerous part of it which was also my major concern. In fact, that was the main concern of Mo Ibrahim, the richest Sudanese. That’s why it pained him seriously up till now that Sudan must not have divided just because of religion. And it’s one of the reasons why he established the Mo Ibrahim prize. That is the motive behind the prize. Up till today, the man is still pained.
Are you saying what was being practised in Sudan was exported into Nigeria?
When Sudan came under pressure during the US Bill Clinton era, they sent Bin Laden away. Osama Bin Laden had established himself there. In fact, one of his wives was the daughter of the Speaker. So when Sudan was under pressure to send Osama Bin Laden away, he decided to divide his Al-Qaeda army into three; he took the first team to Afghanistan and kept the second team in Sudan; the third group he sent out to be disturbing the whole world, including Magreb which is close to Mali, Chad and Niger. I raised an alarm in 2001 that Al-Qaeda was in Nigeria – that Al-Qaeda had penetrated Nigeria through Chad. You know Chad has a border with Borno State. We have about eight million Nigerians in Sudan: people who settled there after pilgrimage. Many who couldn’t reach Saudi Arabia just settled there. And Al-Bashir (Sudanese president) was a descendant of Borno State. I reported all these, including the fact that Yerima was there at that time but I was ignored. Yerima got back to Nigeria and the following day, he declared Sharia. And from then, they were sending students for Jihadist training. Then when I got wind of the distribution of Osama Bin Laden Al-Qaeda groups, I reported. I told them to check our borders between Mali, Niger, and Chad – that Al-Qaeda was on the move. It got to a stage that it became evident that my report was becoming a concern to our permanent secretary then who incidentally had intelligence security background as a former director of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency. His name is Ambassador Heart. He brought in his NIA background into the Foreign Service. He knew what was sensitive and newsworthy. So he took the case seriously and played his part. But instead of our government sending inspectors were to check the veracity of my reports, they didn’t do that; they would just call the NIA man there who was also a Borno man who would refute anything I said. He would tell them not to mind me because I was a Christian and a religious bigot. In fact, he said Obasanjo deliberately sent me there to spy on the ambassador. That was how they usually dismissed my reports.