Outgone ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Nigeria, Mr Saheed Kozechi finally exited Nigeria bringing his hate campaign against the state and its institutions to a welcome end. Fortunately for him, he still got the valedictory visit to President Muhammadu Buhari, who did not fail to highlight the bright prospects of relations between Iran and Nigeria particularly in view of a much needed diversification from a mono-economy. What that speech should have also implied is that the country should also diversify its friendship base in case Iran decides to send another Kozechi.
Whatever assignment the Iranian government decides to give Mr Kozechi next – an outright sack, posting to another country or a desk job that would mothball his career, would be immaterial in view of the damage he attempted causing for Nigeria. What Kozechi owes other diplomats in his mould is to author a volume on “How Not to Be a Diplomat in a Friendly Nation”. He may possibly find redemption by spilling on what made him embark on the kind of the voyage he underwent during his deployment here.
Within weeks of President Buhari visiting Iran, which should suggest some level of friendliness between both countries, Mr Kozechi all but declared war on Nigeria, the administration of the president and the Nigerian Army. His supposed grouse was that the military clamped down on militant members of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria, which is the Shiite Sect in the country.
Even though his country is the world’s main hub for Shism, it was no justification for what was to follow the December 2015 faceoff between the sect’s members and the military after they were reported to have made an attempt on the life of the Chief of Army Staff. A follow up military operation that left several dead is still the subject of several probe panels and investigations. Kozechi never exercised the restraint becoming of a diplomat as he constituted himself into a supreme authority to pass a guilty verdict on all other parties to the crises while not only exonerating but also instigating IMN members to further violence.
Beyond sitting in judgment, he passed his own resolution – over and above what the United Nations would have attempted even in war torn countries. Had he been allowed such licence he would have jailed every single person wearing military uniform or even executed them. Anyone not familiar with the situation would be forgiven if they had thought that Nigeria is a vassal of Iran. A less friendly state would have not only expelled such envoy but would go a step further to severe relations with the nation that the ambassador represented.
As if encouraged by the coolness from the Nigerian side, Kozechi upped the ante by actively running the propaganda wing of the IMN. He granted multiple interviews in which he did not stop with simply condemning the Army but was also demanding the release of key suspects apprehended in the military operation after the assassination bid. In one particularly jarring outing he hinted that Nigeria will burn if Mr Ibraheem El-Zakyzaky, leader of IMN who was arrested in that operation was not released. At the same time, articles resplendent with his style were appearing with the by-lines of those defending IMN and criminalising the military. The Islamic Human Right Commission was brought into the fray and in this the Kozechi signature peeped out a couple of times.
This perhaps was triggered by some youth groups and NGOs that wrote several protest letters and street protests to demand that the government expel him for his role. Part of their contention was that running the IMN propaganda was the least of Mr Kozechi’s sins as they accused him of having links with the cache of arms found in the group’s enclave during the military operation. They also suggested that he used his position to send Nigerian youths abroad for radicalisation under the guise of schooling abroad.
In all these, at the height of his unethical conduct around the IMN debacle, Mr Kozechi initially had what appeared to be the backing of his government as some senior regime officials initially held press briefings that appeared to reinforce his position at that time but they tapered off after a while but the controversial ambassador did not let off. It remained to be seen if the fence mending that Iran will do with his departure will distance the Islamic Republic from that misadventure.
In the event that Iran makes it clear that interference in Nigeria’s internal affairs was never its policy but that of a cowboy ambassador then future relations should grow to become robust since, as President Buhari rightly observed, Nigeria has a couple of things to learn about how that country survived the sanctions years without oil revenue. But if the reverse is the case Nigeria would have to shop for new friends as friendly relations is not the same as handing over a nation’s sovereignty to another.
Iran’s commitment to not interfering in Nigeria’s affairs would also be defined by its choice for Kozechi’s replacement. If he talks, acts and behaves like Kozechi then it would be Kozechi all over again. Whoever his replacement is must read up on some basic information on Nigeria before leaving Tehran: a secular state where the Shiite is just another sect not above the adherents of other sects and faiths whose experience with terrorism makes any form of extremism and radicalization unacceptable.
In the meantime, Goodbye Mr Saheed Kozechi, perhaps the mischief makers you groomed will miss you.
Fomson is National President, Northern Inter-Faith and Religious Organisations for Peace.