Nigeria ‘embarrassed’ over diplomatic phone row with Morocco

Morocco recalled its ambassador to Nigeria and accused President Jonathan of trying to drag the king of Morocco in electioneering

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Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan admitted Friday he has not spoken to the king of Morocco, Mohammad VI, as claimed last week by the Nigerian foreign affairs ministry, adding that he was “highly embarrassed” by the controversy that erupted.

Earlier this week, Morocco recalled its ambassador to Nigeria and accused President Jonathan of trying to drag the king of Morocco in electioneering, reported the BBC.

His office released a statement saying President Jonathan was "shocked, surprised and highly embarrassed by the controversy that has erupted" and that he had ordered his foreign affairs minister to find out how it had occurred.

"The regrettable furor that has developed over the matter is due entirely to misinformation as President Jonathan has neither spoken with King Mohammad nor told anybody that he had a telephone conversation with the Moroccan monarch," the statement said.

Jonathan said he wanted the investigation "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."

Last week, the Moroccan royal palace said the king had declined a request for a telephone conversation with the Nigerian president.

Nigeria's foreign ministry denied the snub on Monday and said the two leaders had spoken extensively.

The Nigerian foreign ministry had said on Sunday that "both leaders spoke extensively over the phone on matters of mutual interest and concern."

Jonathan, a Christian from southern Nigeria, will face former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim northerner, in elections on March 28. The election is expected to be the most closely fought since the end of military rule in 1999.

Nigeria's population is roughly split between Christians and Muslims. Both parties, the ruling People's Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress, have been using religion to bolster support.

"Morocco confirms, in the clearest and strongest terms, that there has never been a phone conversation between the King Mohammad VI and the president of this country," a statement from the Moroccan foreign ministry said.

The Nigerian foreign ministry said it was "preposterous to suggest that Mr. President's telephone call to the Moroccan monarch was intended to confer any electoral advantage."

A spokesman for the ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the recall.

Morocco cited "the hostile, recurrent and unfriendly positions of the Nigerian government with regard to the Moroccan Sahara issue and the sacred Arab-Muslim causes" as a reason for declining Jonathan's call.

Nigeria is one of the main supporters, along with Algeria and South Africa on the continent, of the independence movement Polisario Front in the disputed Western Sahara.

The territory is a tract of desert the size of Britain that has lucrative phosphate reserves and possibly oil, is the focus of Africa's longest-running territorial dispute, between Morocco and the Polisario guerrillas.

(With Reuters)