Monday, April 10, 2017

Quintessential Diplomatist

    Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Sulaimon Lasun, His Excellency, Sheikh Fahad Abdullah Sefyan, and Hon. (Dr) Abdullahi      Salame

Nigeria has not seen a better representative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bn Abdulaziz, than His Excellency, Sheikh Fahad Abdullah Sefyan - humble, conscientious, - a diplomat per excellence.  

This brilliant diplomat’s career and his 20-month stint in Nigeria came to an end last week with his retirement and subsequent return to Riyadh on Friday, March 31, 2017.

When I answered His Excellency’s summons at the beginning of his sojourn in Nigeria sometime last year, I went into the Saudi Arabian Embassy with the feeling that my first encounter with the then new Ambassador would be uneventful.  I met the door to His Excellency’s office wide open. ‘Come in Ustaz Abubakr.’ Said a voice in an avuncular tone. Sheikh Fahad, after shaking my hand warmly, urged me to sit on the sofa next him, and personally served me qahwah (Arabian green coffee laced with cardamom) and dates. I was deeply touched by his simplicity and humbleness even when I called to mind the Prophetic dictum ‘the leader is the khaadim..(one who serves)..’ Whenever I drained my cup, he replenished it to the brim. Sheikh Fahad’s speech, though a diplomat, was reminiscent of a khutbah interspersed with ayaat and ahaadeeth delivered by an ‘Aalim conversant with world politics and current affairs.  

In a very short time during that first encounter I became relaxed and confident to speak freely with my host, especially as he encouraged me by telling me my ‘command of the Arabic language is good’; whatever that meant. The discussion drifted towards my writings which I reckoned the subject of the summons. 

’As a Muslim scholar, a writer and a columnist with LEADERSHIP Newspaper,’ the Ambassador said, ‘you should be objective, as you have been, in what you relate to your readers. I have read some of your articles; I concur with some of the sentiments you express, and take exception to some. But that is life. People are bound to disagree on certain issues; call it, if you please, divergence of perspectives.’  At my insistence, he mentioned some of the areas in certain articles I wrote to which he took exception. I gave my reasons on why I held the position I did and promised to send him more write-ups published years before he came in support of my constancy in upholding the opposite of what he thought.  

‘My office,’ His Excellency finally said, ‘is open physically and metaphorically.’ Of course, when I came in it was wide open. ‘You are welcome anytime.’ he assured me. 

I went out of the Saudi Embassy that day wondering what type of man this new Ambassador was. Obviously he did not like my approach to certain issues; he made his objections apparent in a very diplomatic phraseology which left no bad taste in one’s heart or rancour. His demeanour at once subtly urges you to attune to his words and encourages you to voice out a different opinion in case you see the point from another perspective. That is a man you meet, befriend and love instantly. 

From that first meeting and instant friendship, Sheikh Fahad invited me to almost every function organised by his office - Saudi National Day Celebrations, seminars sponsored by the Embassy or another Saudi agency, dinner in honour of visiting dignitaries at his residence, and whatnot. I was able therefore, to know firsthand the way he conducted himself in his office as well as in his residence and at public functions. Guests at any function he hosted have done honour to him, and not the other way round; that was his philosophy. Thus he would exert his utmost to serve his guests personally however much his retinue  were averse.

His blissful tenure aimed at one thing - strengthening of relations between Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - which he has achieved, a crowning glory to his calling as the representative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques in Nigeria.  Even President Muhammad Buhari attested to improved ‘relationship between the two countries’, during Mr Sefyan’s farewell visit to the State House. 

It was during Ambassador Fahad’s tenure that President Muhammad Buhari undertook that state visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was followed shortly after, by another visit by members of the Nigeria-Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship Group to the Shura Council in Riyadh. Ambassador Fahad facilitated this ‘return visit’ of Nigeria’s National Assembly Members which was occasioned by an earlier visit of a delegation from the Shura Council of Saudi Arabia, led by Prince Khalid Abdullah. This has advanced bilateral ties in trade and investments, parliamentary cooperation and exchange between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.

He personally went out of his way to see to the comfort of the visiting members of the Federal House of Representatives led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Sulaimon Lasun. This left such a lasting impression in the minds of the lawmakers that they organised an unprecedented send-forth dinner in his honour. No outgoing diplomat in Nigeria has been so honoured.

Ambassador Sefyan brought a fresh outlook to the way the Saudi Embassy in Abuja was run. He was open to suggestions and he was accessible. He thought up many projects to help the poor and indigent; some of which he confided in me. It is with mixed feelings one has to accept that he has retired. Naturally, his retirement should delight him, and as a friend, I should be happy for him. However, his departure means some of these lofty plans may never come to fruition, for he has left us. 

If you are a regular reader of my column, you will recall that I wrote a column titled Guardian of the Orphans, about Hajiya Uwani Yusuf Waziri, also known as ‘Uwar Marayu’ (Guardian of Orphans), a resident of Unguwar Kaji, Kaduna. She rescues abandoned babies (calling them motherless is callous and untrue) and nurtures them. A Saturday Trust article had brought this woman’s selfless devotion to the attention of His Excellency, the Ambassador. After reading the article, he called me and asked to get access to the woman so that he could give his widow’s mite. I arranged a meeting between Hajiya Uwani and the Ambassador. It was an emotional moment when the old man looked at one of the orphans, Baby Zainab, pointed at her and said words that are forever etched in my mind, “This has done no wrong for coming to the world. It is blameless.” He tried to control his emotions but was overcome. As he wept, all of us wept too. If you are reading this, Your Excellency, Zainab did not make it. She passed away recently. I could not bring myself to tell you, seeing the empathy you displayed that day.

Ambassador Sefyan was keen about the unity of Muslims. In another earlier article I titled, Darika in Izala Conference, I mentioned the successful of hosting of the respected scholar and Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Sheikh Abdul Mohsen. What I did not mention was the role Ambassador Sefyan played. He worked behind the scenes with the Izala leadership to include as many darika leaders as possible. He wanted to build  as many bridges as possible with Muslims of contrasting ideologies, schools of jurisprudence and leanings without contradicting anything of his own doctrines. He understood Rudyard Kipling’s words in the epic book, The Jungle Book, where he said in part:

“Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”

We are comforted in the knowledge that although we shall miss His Excellency, Sheikh Fahad Abdullah Sefyan a lot, he left behind a capable hand. During his tenure, just like the Prophet Musa (peace of Allah be upon him) had the Prophet Harun (peace of Allah be upon him), Allah blessed the Ambassador with the second in command, Dr Yahya Ali Mughram. Remembering that the highly intellectual and energetic Chargé d’Affaires is still with us gives me some comfort. Dr Yayha is indeed a part of the success story of the last Ambassador’s tenure.

The sweet relationship between the two nations, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, is something which should be nurtured, grown and sustained. The Saudi government sent some its finest to represent it in Nigeria these last few years; it should continue. Of course, there are those for whom that is a problem, votaries of the worship of prophetic descendants that they are. They should ruminate over Surah Aali Imraan, Q3:118-119. I am sure they will be comforted. 

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