By ANTHONY HARWOOD (London) -Nigeria has called for the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar to be lifted saying it is against such extreme measures that cause hardship.
Foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said his country had come under pressure from both sides to support them in the dispute.
But it had decided that the blockade, now about to enter its fourth month, was ‘not the way to go’.
Nigeria’s call for an end to the row came after other African countries opted to either to stay neutral or bow to Saudi pressure by calling back their ambassadors from Doha.
Senegal, Chad, Mauritania, Eritrea and Niger all cut off diplomatic relations with Doha following the announcement of the blockade in early June.
But in North Africa Saudi Arabia’s search for support has failed with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya opting not to take sides.
Observers said these regimes viewed the quartet coalition – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt – as a threat to regional security and moved to strike a balance with the weaker player, Qatar.
Apart from Nigeria, Somalia is the only country to take a defiant stance.
Not only did the Mogadishu government refuse to break off relations with Qatar, but it also continued to allow Qatari planes to fly through its airspace, despite protestations from Riyadh.
In June the quartet launched a diplomatic and transport blockade accusing Qatar of cosying up to Iran and supporting terrorism in the region, which Qatar denied.
The move has led to Qatar importing food from Turkey and Iran as well as flying in milk from the UK.
It also caused mixed-nationality families to be split up as Qataris found themselves kicked out of the boycotting countries who recalled their own citizens under threat of having their passports taken away.
Among the more extreme demands was the closure of the Doha-based TV network, Al-Jazeera.
Mr Onyeama took issue with the main planks of the Saudi case against Qatar – Al-Jazeera, Iran and terrorism.
In a telephone interview Monday evening, Onyeama said: ‘As a country we don’t have an issue with Al-Jazeera. We have a policy in this country of freedom of information. We don’t really believe as a government in interfering with the media.
‘As of now there’s nothing that has been brought to the attention of the Nigerian government showing definitively that Al-Jazeera is promoting terrorism.
‘To call for the shutting down of a station, especially one with such a profile as Al-Jazeera, we haven’t seen anything to lead us to believe that this is the way to go.’
On Tehran, Mr Onyeama disagreed with the quartet’s view that Iran was a pariah state who should be shunned in the region.
Qatar recently came under fierce criticism for restoring diplomatic relations with Tehran, and Iran’s foreign minister visited Doha today (Tues).
‘Iran is a member of the United Nations,’ he said. ‘Most countries have diplomatic relations with Iran, so doing so does not to our minds mean you are supportive of terrorism’.
He also called out threats made to Qatar over its support for Muslim Brotherhood which the Saudi-led alliance also claimed supports terrorism.
Mr Onyeama added: ‘ However distasteful it might appear to some, the Muslim Brotherhood were a recognised government in Egypt at one time, voted in democratically, so the fact is that at some point there might have been engagement between Qatar and a democratic party when they were a democratic government in Egypt.’
He said Nigeria has not seen any evidence to support a blockade of Qatar and, on that basis, it should be called off because it was only causing hardship.
‘The measures that have been taken are very extreme. Maybe they just don’t like Qatar doing its own thing, but that’s for them to say.
‘We feel that the hardship that’s caused to ordinary Qataris and others is most unfortunate and our position has been that we would invite them to an international forum where they talk to each other. The air blockade, and things like that, is a bit extreme.
‘Qatar is a very small country and the alliance against it is much bigger and there is tremendous pressure being exerted.
‘But they are brothers, more or less, the Gulf states. There must be some other way of sorting out their issues.’