King Mohammed VI of Morocco extended a hand of friendship to President Muhammadu Buhari late 2016 when he was at the head of a 300 member delegation on a state visit to Nigeria. After signing some bi-lateral economic and diplomatic agreements, the Moroccan monarch personally requested the Nigerian leader to pay him a state visit.
About eighteen months later, specifically this month, Buhari was in the state of Morocco where he was accorded a superb royal treatment.
This visit was historical as such was the first official visit by a Nigerian President.
From the nation’s international airport in Rabat, Marrakech, the Nigerian leader was given a treatment comparable to what a son would his father.
Adorning the major highways leading into the Moroccan capital city of Marrakech en route the imposing palace of His Majesty Mohammed VI in Rabat were uncountable numbers of blazing Nigerian flags. Enthusiastic locals, who apparently were eager to have a glimpse of the Nigeria leader, lined up the streets as both President Buhari and his host rode in an open motorcade waving and acknowledging cheers.
The welcome accorded Buhari by the Moroccan leader who personally came to receive him at the airport was considered rare as locals said it was not in the character of His Majesty to leave the comfort of his palace to welcome any world leader. A local who spoke spattering English told this writer that the fact that the King held Buhari in high esteem was why he was on hand personally to welcome the Nigerian leader.
Prodded further on why Buhari got such honour from the King, my Moroccan friend said the Nigerian leader’s reputation of high integrity and anti-corruption crusade in his country attract world leaders to him. President Buhari and his entourage were accorded royal treatments that made us proud to be Nigerians.
The visit to the North African country expanded the nation’s economic frontiers as groundbreaking treaties with mutual benefits to both countries were signed.
Three agreements, including a regional gas pipeline that will see Nigeria providing gas to countries in West Africa sub-region, extending to Morocco and Europe were signed.
The treaties were basically focused on strengthening economic relations in gas resource development, global investments, agricultural training and management.
According to Mallam Garba Shehu, the construction of the pipeline for the gas project will be phased and based on increasing needs of the countries crossed, and Europe, for the period of 25 years.
The Nigeria Morocco Gas Pipeline (NMGP), designed to be 5,660km long, will reduce gas flaring in Nigeria and encourage diversification of energy resources in the country, while cutting down poverty through the creation of more job opportunities.
The NMGP will further encourage utilisation of gas in the sub-region for cooking, and discourage desertification.
On further takeaways from Buhari’s visit to Morocco, Shehu wrote recently, “another important takeaway is the decision by the two countries to strengthen cooperation in the efforts to combat radicalization and violent extremism in Africa and beyond.
To achieve this, the two leaders underscored their commitment to moderation, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, as taught by Islam.
They expressed deep concerns about violent extremism, terrorism and the persistence of security threats in Africa.
As part of the technical agreement reached in this regard, Morocco will open their training facilities for the training of about 150 Nigerians in moderate, modernized and non-extremist methods of Islamic leadership.”
Also at the ceremony, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Nigeria Sovereign Wealth Authority, Mr Uche Orji and the Chief Executive Officer of the Office of the Management of Phosphate in Morocco, Mr Mostafa Terrab, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the development of a chemical plant in Nigeria for production of ammonia and its derivatives.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh and his Moroccan counterpart, Mr Aziz Akhannouch, signed a cooperation agreement on vocational training and technical supervision, which will enhance skills on better management of agricultural outfits in Nigeria.
There have been several arguments on the Moroccan authority’s new approach to diplomacy with her African sister countries. The North African country, which recently re-joined African Union after walking out on the it 33 years ago, has also indicated interest in joining the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Morocco had dumped the AU (then Organization of African Unity (OAU) to protest the recognition of Western Sahara it occupied. It’s resolve to rejoin the AU, analysts believe was to pressure from inside against the recognition of Saharawi as an independent state.
Pundits in international relations and diplomacy submit that Morocco’s renewed relationship with Nigeria was to curry the favour of the nation’s leadership to get its support her membership of both the AU and the ECOWAS. The underlining motive for Morocco, according to them, was to stop the recognition of Saharawi as a sovereignty.
Nonetheless, there are indications that Buhari would consider the economic and security benefits expected from Nigeria’s relationship with Morocco and balance such against his position on requests soon to be made by the King of the North African country.