One year ago to this day, Ambassador Adebowale Adefuye’s heart stopped beating, leaving the world of time. If Nigeria is still the indispensable nation in Africa, he was the indispensable Nigerian diplomat.
When the news of his death got to me this day last year, it was unbelievable. Adefuye, that great, pulsing, vital frame quiet at last.
To countless numbers around the world, that was how things felt with the death of Adefuye, Nigeria’s diplomat extraordinary. On August. 26, Adefuye was rushed to a hospital in Washington, D.C. and notwithstanding hours of constant care, died, age 68, on the evening of August 27.
In every way, Adefuye was a big man – handsome, broad-shouldered, with a capacious mind and a generous heart.
He was a skilful actor in the international arena, whose imaginative skills and unyielding resolve, won for the country plaudits globally.
Restoring honour was something of an Adefuye skill. Adefuye’s posting to the US came on the heels of the international infamy caused by the action of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who attempted to blow up a North West Airlines flight headed from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009. This development earned Nigeria the odious membership status of America’s terrorism watch list. The consequence was that the US authorities had to subject Nigerians to all sorts of humiliations and indignities at the major United States airports.
In his drive, his boldness, his determination to do anything he could to get Nigeria off that ignoble list, he demonstrated the best of Nigerian policy — actually, more than that, the best of the Nigerian character and diplomacy.
His doggedness paid off when the then Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, announced the good news that Nigeria was removed from ignominious list. This became the first achievement of Adefuye.
That same big spirit was evident in a part of the Adefuye’s résumé that, I would guess, will be little noticed in most obituaries: his dynamic leadership role used in strengthening the US-Nigeria Bi-National Commission bringing investment worth over $15 billion to Nigeria.
He was one of the kindest men I know. I only saw him get angry once. The genesis of the anger stemmed from US Republican Senator John McCain’s comment in US newspaper, the Daily Beast, when the Boko Haram schoolgirls kidnapping story gained traction in 2014.
McCain had in a statement said the US Military should invade Nigeria and free the girls without waiting for permission from Nigeria’s president, whom he referred to as “some guy named Goodluck Jonathan”.
Coincidentally, I was with him and I noticed the visible anger signs. Within a couple of minutes, he had written a response, which he shared with me.
He wrote: “The ranking Arizona Senator and former Republican presidential candidate has inexplicably seized on the pain of a distressed nation not only to show contempt to our country but also denigrate the office and person of His Excellency Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“One wonders what could have happened if the 2008 elections have gone the other way and McCain became the President of the most powerful nation in the world.
“The good Lord has a better plan for the people of the world.
“We will like to call on his well paid staff to brief him properly on Nigeria and accord our country as well as the Office of the President the respect they deserve.”
Adefuye did everything to make America help Nigeria in the fight against terror. At a time, he was frustrated. He once said the United States is letting down an old ally in its hour of need and Nigeria’s people and government feel abandoned.
It was evident in the way he brought together State Department officials and the diplomatic community in Washington, even a known, once inveterate opponent of Nigeria in the US Congress.
It was evident in the days and months he laboured long and often thanklessly in what I think he regarded his most difficult task of all, bringing a measure of peace, stability and security to Nigeria.
Adefuye’s last major assignment was to receive President Muhammadu Buhari with his delegation during the official visit to the United States last July. The late Ambassador facilitated Mr. President’s several meetings with US leader, Barack Obama, and his Vice President, senior state officials and representatives of America’s business community. The success of this visit was largely attributed to Ambassador Adefuye’s skills as a diplomat and a great of Washington.
President Buhari was so happy that he extended his tenure for another month with feelers that Adefuye would be called upon to serve the country in another capacity.
Adefuye was a friend of mine. He was a father, brother and a confidant.
Just two weeks before he passed, I saw him and his devoted aides at his office, where he sent me on errand to his relation at First Bank, Folake Ani-Mumuney, the Head Corporate Communications.
I also had the opportunity of meeting him at a dinner event where he proposed a toast with generosity, affection, self-deprecation and the sort of comic timing that made you think he had missed his true profession.
I liked him enormously. But for all that he did over nearly 40 years of service to his nation, and indeed to all humankind, I admired him much, much more. A great hush, indeed.
. Soneye is the Publisher of Per Second News.