Diplomat and ex-Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, has narrated how ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo 1991 lost out in the race to become the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Gambari revealed that Obasanjo’s military background disqualified him from being selected by the countries with veto power.
He stated this on Wednesday at the public presentation of the biography of the first African UN Secretary-General, the late Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who assumed office in 1991 but served only one term till 1996.
The book, the first historical biography of the Egyptian diplomat in English, was written by Prof. Adekeye Adebajo and titled Boutros Boutros-Ghali: Afro-Arab Prophet, Pharaoh, and Pope.
The book launch, held at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs on Victoria Island, had Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi as the reviewer.
Also present was the NIIA Director General, Prof. Eghosa Osaghae.
Reminiscing on the event leading to the choice of the late Boutros-Ghali as the US Secretary General in 1991, Gambari said he recalled how some envoy told him: “Your candidate (Olusegun Obasanjo) has no chance in hell of becoming secretary.”
He said, “I asked: ‘What do you mean? He is the most qualified former head of state, handed over power voluntarily to civilians, and was head of the group that led to the process of the end of apartheid.’
“He said ‘No. Listen carefully, when we, the big ones, are looking for a Sec Gen, the emphasis is on the secretary and not on the general.’ A very profound statement.
“The thing was that the veto ruling power wanted somebody they could dictate to, not a general, who would be giving them orders. Sometimes they think they are getting a secretary but they end up getting a general.
“Ghali, who they thought would be a secretary turned out to be a general and Koffi Annan, who they thought was a secretary turned out to be a general.
“When you turn out to be different from what the big powers want, they do something about it. Boutros-Ghali was not given a second term, and Koffi Annan was nearly forced to retire over frivolous charges.”
Gambari described his relationship with the late Boutros-Ghali as ‘up close and personal,” adding that apart from being the first UN Secretary-General from the African continent, he was also the first Post-Cold War Secretary General but encountered difficulty organising a security council meeting that had all the heads of states as delegates.
“He hardly had a meeting of the security council where the chief delegates were the heads of states of those member states.”
Gambari also touched on the high and low points of Boutros-Ghali’s career, saying the 1994 Rwanda genocide was the low point of his career.
He said, “It was under his watch that the UN failed to respond adequately and to prevent genocide and when it was happening, the big powers also did nothing.”
The author, Adebajo, explaining the reason for the title of the book, said Boutros-Ghali acted as a peace-making prophet in terms of being the de-facto foreign minister of Egypt during the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel between 1977 and 1981.