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Western Sahara: As Nigeria Canvasses For Africa’s Last Colony

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Nigeria have taken bold step to put to an end the continuous occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco calling for a total self-determination of the Sahrawi people and ready to fight it out with anyone who tries to interfere. SUZAN NWACHUKWU takes a look at some of the issues bothering on the continued occupation of Western Sahara and Nigeria’s effort at liberating Africa’s last Colony.

The role of freedom in the development of any society cannot be overemphasized, freedom scholars believe that freedom cannot be granted but demanded through a struggle. Western Sahara is the last colony in Africa and obviously has had its fair share of colonisation, first from the Span and now from Morocco. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) for now is a partially recognized state that controls a thin strip of area in the Western Sahara region and claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara is rich in mineral deposits, especially phosphates, uranium, iron, natural gas and oil. The fishing grounds are also very rich. There are large French and Spanish economic interests in the area, which have important strategic aspects (the oil routes).

The mineral-rich country on Africa’s north-west Atlantic coast is bounded by Morocco in the north, Mauritania in the south and Algeria to the east. All three countries have taken an active interest in the fate of the Sahrawi – not always altruistically. Spain, the former colonial power, relinquished the territory in 1975 to Morocco, which has formally claimed the land since 1957.

The long-running dispute over the region in the northwest edge of Africa has dragged on since Morocco took control over most of it in 1975 following the withdrawal of former colonial power, Spain. The Polisario Front, which claims the territory belongs to ethnic Sahrawis, fought a rebel war against Morocco until a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in 1991.

Despite the brokered cease fire, the Moroccans have continued to plunder the vast natural resources of the Sahrawi people. They brutalise Sahrawi men, women and children on a daily basis. They violate the rights and dignity of a people with a proud history and rich culture.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said earlier this month that he would restart U.N. efforts to reach a solution after visiting camps in Southern Algeria for the Polasario Front leadership. A visit which have angered Morocco prompting a march to protest against UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon’s use of  the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s presence in the region since 1975, chanting “The Sahara is ours, the king is ours”.

The International Court of Justice unequivocally stated the position of international law when the General Assembly sought its advice. It declares that Western Sahara (Rio de Oro and Sakiet EI-Hamra) was a territory belonging to no one (terra nullis) but the Saharawi people. It is not a territory waiting to be grabbed.

However the Saharwi people have accused the UN of paying lip service and not sincere in the fight for the Sahrawi people as past efforts have not produced concrete results.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (as Amended). According to Section nineteen (19), sub-section (a, b, c, d and e titled “Foreign Policy Objectives” of the Constitution among other things states that the Nigerian state “shall promote African Unity as well as total political, economic, social and cultural liberation Africa”.

Like the big brother, Nigeria has decided to pressure for the total independence of Western Sahara. In the build-up to this, President Muhammadu Buhari threw his weight behind the people of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), saying that Nigeria would ensure the realization of their self-determination and independence.

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“In my maiden outing at the UN General Assembly last September, the issue of Sahrawi was in my speech.  You have no cause to doubt our commitment.  We stand with our African Union colleagues on this issue. Nigeria will maintain focus till everything is finally resolved positively,” he said.

Following this, , stakeholders gathered on Abuja over the weekend to inaugurate the National Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara; a Nigerian coalition to among other things contribute substantially to the struggle by the Sahrawi people to seek total freedom from Moroccan colonial subjugation.

President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) Dr. Nasir Isa Fagge in his presentation noted that it is disheartening that despite the efforts of the UN and African Union, effort to get Morocco to conduct a referendum on the future of Western Sahara is yet to see the light of the day and unless the struggle for the freedom of the Saharawi is intensified from both within and outside, the much needed change may be far-fetched.

“Our desire for the freedom of the Saharawi people will certainly not come on a platter of

gold. We in ASUU are resolved to do all within our capacity to support the Nigerian Movement for the Liberation of Western Sahara as a platform for intensifying the struggle

from the outside. Given the calibre of the leadership and members of this Movement, we are convinced that the platform has what it takes to contribute meaningfully to the restoration of the dignity of the Saharawi people and their rights to self-determination in socio-cultural, economic, political and scientific matters.” he said.

In his key note address prof. Ibrahim Gambari said the pivotal role Nigeria played in recognizing SADR and successfully admitting it as a member of the OAU / AU in November, 1984 cannot be discussed in isolation.

“Indeed, after 45 years on the UN agenda, it is regrettable that Western Sahara’s decolonization is still incomplete and that the Sahrawi people are still denied their basic and legitimate right to decide their own future”

“As we now live In a world where the relentless forces of globalization and the threats to national, regional, and global

security are growing on a daily basis. A threat to peace and security anywhere should be seen as a threat to peace everywhere and thus demanding collective response. The continued denial of the exercise of the right of self-determination by the Saharawi people constitutes a threat to international peace and security.” he said.

The Nigeria Movement noted that the problem of Western Sahara is that of decolonization, the right of self-determination of the Western Sahara is inalienable and amounts to the right of the Saharawi people to independence.

They called for the continuous boycott against companies and multinationals that do business with Morocco in Western Sahara, canvassing for the dismantling of the Moroccan wall of shame that divides Western Sahara into two, declare a special day of solidarity with the struggle of the Saharawi people, build a Pan African movement to end colonialism in Africa and reject political parties and companies that do business involving Morocco.

Notwithstanding the role of Nigeria in firmly supporting the right of self-determination in Sahrawi, the international community also need to ensure that a final and lasting decolonization process is achieved in Western Sahara.

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