- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NIGERIAN RECALLED

Nigeria sacked its ambassador to the United States, after less than a year in Washington, following a bitter conflict between the envoy and the country’s foreign minister, according to reports from the West African nation.

President Umaru Yar’Adua ordered Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi, a retired brigadier general who arrived here in April 2008, to return to Nigeria by the end of March. Baba Gana Wakil, the deputy chief of mission, will run the Nigerian Embassy on International Court until a new ambassador is appointed.

The recall followed months of tension between Mr. Rotimi and his superior, Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe, and culminated in a diplomatic dispute when Mr. Maduekwe arrived in Washington for President Obama’s inauguration last month, according to Nigerian news reports over the weekend.

At inaugural functions, Mr. Rotimi snubbed Mr. Maduekwe by introducing a lower-ranking official as head of the official Nigerian delegation. Later he broke diplomatic protocol by refusing to accompany Mr. Maduekwe to Dulles International Airport for his return trip to Nigeria.

The spat between the two men grew bitter last year when Mr. Rotimi disparaged Mr. Maduekwe in a letter in which the ambassador called the foreign minister a “tribalist,” an insult in Nigeria where rivalries among the nation’s 400 tribes have often spilled over into violence. Mr. Maduekwe holds the rank of a chief among the Ibo people, one of the main tribes. Mr. Rotimi is a Yoruba, another major tribe.

In is letter, Mr. Rotimi also referred to his military leadership in the Biafran war in the 1960s that put down a rebellion led by Ibo tribesmen seeking independence.

“I have dealt with people like you in the past,” Mr. Rotimi wrote to Mr. Maduekwe, according to a report in the Nigerian newspaper, This Day. “I was the adjutant-general of the Nigerian army that thoroughly defeated your ragtag Biafran army.”

In another letter, the ambassador also accused the foreign minister of “unwarranted, malicious and untruthful” remarks to the president in memos in which Mr. Maduekwe questioned Mr. Rotimi’s ability to run the embassy, according to saharareporters.com.

Mr. Maduekwe responded with a letter to the president and enclosed Mr. Rotimi’s letter.

“His memos to me drip with fundamental contempt for my person and office,” the foreign minister said. “The innuendoes and direct insults are so clear that I refrain from dignifying them with contempt.”

RELIGION AND CHINA

An independent federal agency dedicated to promoting religious freedom is urging Hillary Rodham Clinton to raise the issue of religious persecution Friday when she makes her first visit to China as secretary of state.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom asked her to “speak as eloquently about religious freedom and related human rights in China as you did about the human rights of women at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women.”

“Many religious adherents and human rights defenders in China are subject to severe and ongoing repression,” the commission said in a letter to Mrs. Clinton last week.

The commission cited discrimination against “unregistered” Christians, noting reports that 637 Protestants of unlicensed churches were arrested last year. The commission called for an end to “religious discriminations” against Uighur Muslims and said that repression of religion in Tibet “may be worse now than at any time in the commission’s 10-year history.”

Mrs. Clinton left Sunday for stops in Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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