The Nigerian government was not aware about the intention of Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir's to attend the special summit on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria which took place this week in Abuja until few days before it was held, officials told a Nigerian newspaper.
Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on ten counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide allegedly committed in Darfur, traveled to Abuja for the conference but left abruptly after less than 24 hours without addressing the main event on behalf of Sudan or attending a formal dinner or taking part in the group photo.
Sudanese officials were quick to say that Bashir had other unspecified pressing items in Khartoum to attend to but most observers and some AU diplomats believed that a case filed in local court by Nigeria Coalition on the International Criminal Court (NCICC) prompted his quick rush back home.
NCICC asked a judge on Monday to compel the government in Abuja to apprehend Bashir in line with Nigeria's membership in the ICC and its obligations under the Rome Statute it ratified in 2001.
A similar trip by Bashir in 2011 to Kenya, another ICC member, without being arrested prompted a civil society group to file a case in court which ended up with the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant for him by a Kenyan judge.
Nigerian officials and diplomats speaking to the Lagos-based THISDAY newspaper said that Bashir was not among the African leaders president Goodluck Jonathan personally wrote to inviting them to the summit to ensure their participation.
They also stressed that had they known about Bashir's plans to come they would have worked to keep him away despite the risks it carried.
"Nigeria did not invite him [Al-Bashir]. Since it was an AU Summit, all member states can attend except for those countries that are currently under suspension from the body. If we had known, we would have blocked him, but again if we had done that, Nigeria risked not hosting the summit, as AU would have taken the summit to another country like they did in the case of Malawi," a highly placed source revealed.
"A summit would have held in Malawi, but that country said she would arrest Al-Bashir and hand him over to ICC if he stepped on their soil, so the AU moved it back to Addis Ababa, the headquarters," the source noted.
The Sudanese leader has snubbed a 2009 African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) meeting in Abuja that was called for in order to discuss a report of the AU Panel on Darfur led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.
At the time the Nigerian government made it clear that it has no intention of arresting him despite the outstanding warrant.
"Hand him over to who when he is invited by the AU?" an anonymous government source in Nigeria told Agence France Presse (AFP).
But later some sources suggested that despite the invite, Abuja quietly asked Khartoum to send another official in Bashir's place.
The move by Nigeria to host Bashir this time drew criticism from the United States, European Union and the United Kingdom.
Nigerian officials said that despite being theoretically obliged to execute the warrant as members of the Hague- based court, they are nonetheless adhering to an AU decision instructing members not to cooperate with the ICC with regards to Bashir.
Human rights groups condemned Nigeria's decision saying it is an affront to victims of the decade-long conflict in Darfur which the United Nations says has killed 300,000 people and displaced millions others but which Khartoum disputes and puts the toll at around 10,000.
They also stressed that AU resolutions cannot override Nigeria’s obligations under the Rome Statute which it became a signatory to in 2001.
Since the issuance of the warrant in 2009, several ICC members in Africa allowed Bashir to visit including Chad, Kenya, Malawi and Djibouti under the AU decision cover.
But some states in Africa such as South Africa, Uganda and Botswana have warned Bashir not to visit so as not to risk arrest.