*Says he’s a man of peace
*Describes the irony between the former Sec-Gen’s successes on the global stage and Nigeria’s seeming hopelessly decrepit situationProfessor Akinjide Osuntokun
By JideAjani, General Editor
You have known Chief Chukwuemeka Anyaoku for decades. If you were to capture his essence, briefly, as a family man, a diplomat and a scholar, how would you do that?
I would simply say he is a man of peace. He was involved in peace making during the civil war, talking to his namesake, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Of course, he didn’t succeed, but he is a man of peace.
The second thing, apart from being a fantastic diplomat, he’s a very fine and refined man. He treats everybody on the basis of common humanity and he has no tribal or ethnic or even racial preferences.
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He treats everybody as a human being and that’s one thing I have learnt from him – that I should not judge anybody by whatever superficial affiliations the person has, whether ethnic, tribal or racial or gender. Chief Anyaoku looks at the basic humanity in everybody.
He’s of the old English school. Many people do not know that what he represents in his being, he praactices it in his actions. Many do not know that he has a home in Obosi and another home in Abeokuta where his wife is from.
He’s a Nigerian in every way. And, give it to him, he would be at home anywhere in the world, be it China, Australia, Canada, USA, he would be comfortable. Also in Nigeria, in any part of the country, be it in Kano, Owerri Ibadan, he would be comfortable.
When was your first contact with him?
I got to meet him when I was in graduate school in Canada, he came to give a lecture as Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth, to a totally, overwhelmingly wide audience and he made a great impression on me; and since that time I’ve always followed his trajectory.
When was that?
This would have been in the 1960s (’68, ’69) when I was in the Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
What topic did he speak to?
I think it may have been ‘The racial factor in world history’. I think so. He was trying to say we are all human beings of different races and eveybody must try to understand each other to have world peace.
And, of course, he also gave this kind of lecture again in Lagos in the 1970s in which, when he was asked a question about his achievements in life, he said he has had to excel even more than his white colleagues because, according to him, for a black man to succeed in a white world, he would have to be doubly confident; you have to out perform your white colleagues and that’s also what I have experienced.
When you look at person like Anyaoku and you place his achievements beside the way Nigeria has turned out now, what are those things that run through your mid?
If you read the book by Chinua Achebe, THERE WAS A COUNTRY, you will get an idea of what went wrong. I finished School Certificate in 1960 from Christ School, Ado Ekiti. At that time, the sky was the limit for every young Nigerian. At that time, Chief Emeka Anyaoku had left the university; but we are in the same generation, the sky was the limit. If you did very well, you didn’t need a godfather. It didn’t matter what you studied.
We’ve had it in this country where two people who studied liberal arts had been governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria – Adamu Ciroma, for one. Chief Anyaoku read Classics at the University of Ibadan, and as soon as he finished, he was recruited into the Cabinet Office in Lagos and he worked with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in Lagos. It was, I believe, Sir Balewa who recommended him to go to the Commonwealth Development Cooperation CDC, and it was from there that he became a diplomat, working briefly with the Nigerian Mission in New York, before he became an Administrative Secretary in the Commonwealth Office. In those days it was merit.
When I finished from the University of Ibadan in 1966, the highest anybody could make in my department was an Upper Second Honours Degree which I made and that opened a lot of opportunites for me. I wasn’t special in any way, but because I was adjudged to be brilliant, I did not only get a scholarship to come back to the University of Ibadan to do a PhD, I got another one to go to Canada, I got another one to go to London and another one to go to Russia.
Four scholarships for one person without anybody or godfather who lobbied for me. And what I have said would be said by any contemporary of mine, so you can imagine those before us like Chief Anyaoku. A man who read Classics, rose to the highest point in diplomacy as Secretary General of the Commonwealth.
Yes, things just changed. Nigeria is no longer the same country. You have a situation in the country where a President, almost openly, favours a particular group and religion in the same country and yet he wants to have support of everybody. This was not the situation when I was growing up. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was president, people criticised him that he didn’t do anything for the Yoruba people.
But people ignored the fact that Obasanjo tried to align with the Omoluabi concept because in Yoruba land, fairness and justice is what thrives and not partiality. Though some people claim that Obasanjo went to the extreme of even almost distancing himself from his own people and favouring others.
Let me tell you this story. As a Second Year student in the University of Ibadan, I was having lunch and the secretary of the department ran into the hall looking for me. He said the Head of Department, Professor Jacob Anene, an Igbo, was looking for me; and in those days when the HOD summons you, something must be wrong somewhere or something was about to happen.
When I got to his office, he was smoking his pipe cigar and he puffed the thing in my face and he said, ‘my boy, I’m sending you to London’. I wondered what was going on. He said ‘the University of London is going to send a student to the University of Ibadan on an exchange programme and I’m sending you to London to replace him for a session, would your parents agree?’ This was done on the basis of my performace in the second year but today, I doubt if that would happen.
That was where we went wrong and where things changed, when we downgraded merit, excellence and competence for this woolly thing called Federal Character. Any country that abandons meritocracy won’t do well. And there is merit in every ethnic group. Meritocracy does not only reside in any one part, it resides in every region and religion. This is where we went wrong as a country.
Before we return to Chief Anyaoku, based on what you know and what you see today and looking at those who have presented themselves for Nigeria’s presidency, would you say you are comfortable with what you see happeing post May 29, 2023?
I’ll be frank with you, I think we are being dishonest to even be staging an election. The fundamental problem of Nigeria is the political structure of the country. Our political ancestors were not fools when they agreed that the only way this multi-ethnic group was to be kept together was to embrace fiscal federalism so that each could develop at its own pace and whatever each region has would be used by the state but the states will make contribution to run the centre. It was the regions that created the centre, not now where we have a situation where everything goes to the centre and the centre shares it out.
If I have my way, I would have preferred a situation where all the political parties come together and put their cards on the table and deal with the issues. To renew an ordinary driving licence, Abuja must clear it. What kind of system is this? I’m not bothered about who among them is the best but what makes me uncomfortable is that non of them would succeed unless we change the structure.
Papa Awolowo had written that even when we think we have succeeded in birthing a new nation, we would be disappointed because the structure remains what it is. Now, the letter Awolowo wrote to Professor Cookey was written in 1986, before the annulment of June 12, 1993, presidential election which nobody would have ever predicted; it was written long before Obasanjo’s attempted 3rd Term, which no one ever contemplated; it was before the Yar’Adua cabal refused to allow Jonathan take his place by effectively deputising for Yar’Adua; that was before the Buhari presidency with the lopsided appointments.
So, contextually, even that structure you talk about, how feasible do you think this change can be engaged, particularly when beneficiaries of the structure are not willing to let go? Again, people easily refer to Lee Kuan Yew and his leadership style but Singaporeans were a very small people, though his leadership skills were important for success.
I’ve been to Singapore a couple of times and Yew ran the government of a small island. People have also said if Lagos was an independent country, Lagos would be doing extremely well; but Lagos is not an independent country and Nigeria is bigger than Lagos.
The question remains: Who can run Nigeria the way Nigeria is made? Nigeria is not the most complex country in the world. India has several civilisations, written civilisations, written languages, different religions and also the Indian federation is on the way to progress. What we need is a national acceptance of some kind of destiny for this country. The North that people say will not give up power easily, I think there is sufficient evidence to show that there is a developing feeling in the North that the North is not benefitting from this warped structure. There is gold and there is now oil in the North. The agriculural wealth of this country is in the North. Under the present structure, the northern part of Nigeria is suffering more than the southern part.
I have friends in the North who are now marooned in Abuja and cannot go to their places except they fly. The thing has collapsed. Perhaps, if we are not careful, may be when there is a general collapse of security in the country, may be we will then hurriedly sit down and find a way out, a sustainable way out of this terrible structure. There is a complete disconnect between the ordinary people and the people in government, particularly the federal government.
The presidency of Nigeria is perhaps the most powerful presidency in the world. Look at the thousands that the President of Nigeria appoints into various offices. It doesn’t happen like that. We are a unitary system parading as a federation. Our founding fathers were the most realistic people on Earth. Ahmadu Bello wanted a federation; Awolowo wanted a federation; Azikiwe wanted a unitary system; but each, for different reasons, and Azikiwe was persuaded that the only way to keep the country together was for each region to have large measure of autonomy and to cede some of this autonomy to the centre. The federation we had was created by the regions. When you look at Australia, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, that is the way federations are created. Without respect for the regions you cannot have a strong centre.
Azikiwe told Ahmadu Bello that we should forget our differences but Bello retorted, ‘Dr. Azikiwe, we cannot forget our differences, let us understand them’. To say national unity is non-negotiable is a stupid thing to say. Every human endeavour is negotiable. You can never have perfection but you must work at it with a constitution that guarantees individual and group freedom. Nigeria is like the body and no matter how well all parts of the body is, the eyes alone or a toothache can give serious problems. We must engage.
What about the 2014 Conference? All the resolutions were by consensus and that suggests that there was a lot of give and take; but that document is gathering dust somewhere now?
We can start from there and that can be a working document. That kind of thing should be put on the table and in the light of experience, we can tinker with it.
Back to Chief Anyaoku. Over the decades that you’ve known him, what profound lessons have you come away with?
Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as I said, is a very confident man. From his experience, upbringing, career and all that, he’s a confident man. It’s unfortunate that such an individual never led Nigeria, perhaps in reluctance to participate in politics and he would have been respected all over the world and he would have been respected in Nigeria, too.
You need to have a president who can discuss with people – they ask him questions and he responds and explains and he would embrace propositions the people make. It’s a pity that a man like that did not take part in Nigeria’s politics.
He is a very confident man. Studying abroad, we found out that others are not better than Nigerians and if you have to compete you compete on the basis of competence and merit. And Anyaoku, having interacted with people of many races, looks at you from the basic human aspects.
He was quite close to late Queen Elizabeth II. If he had opportunity to go to Washington and he speaks, people listen not just because he was Sec-Gen of the Commonwealth but because he would put the points across in such a way that he would convince you and broaden perspectives.
Any stories about him?
Once, an English friend invited him over to their house and introduced him to his mother as Chukwuemeka Anyaoku. The mother wanted to know more about Chief Anyaoku, so, she asked that he pronounce his name again, and he said, ‘Chukwuemeka’.
The woman asked that he pronounce it slowly and he repeated the name slowly, C-h-u-k-w-u-e-m-e-k-a. The woman looked at him and then said, ‘would you mind if I called you Tom?’ Chief Anyaoku told her she couldn’t call him Tom, that if she couldn’t pronounce the name he would rather she didn’t even try instead of calling him Tom. That was how confident he had always been. Chief exudes confidence.
One thing I must also say is that Chief is a very polished man, a rennaisance man. He’s a civilised man, very polished in his way of speech, in what he eats, in what he wears and how he wears them. He’s a highly polished and civilised man; a man of peace.
I’m sure he would have shared some of his thoughts with you on the way Nigeria has turned out and is turning out?
He’s very unhappy. I worked with him between 1999 and 2015.
In what capacity?
Well, we were in a committee of six set up in 1999 by President Obasanjo – Presidential Advisory Council on International Relations. Chief Anyaoku was chairman and we met at least four or five times a year and we would discuss global situations and Nigeria’s place in it.
We will prepare a document that we handed over to the President and the document was always well-crafted. And everything we put in there was debated for minutes if not hours, and Chief Anyaoku will be the one writing it down and when we have agreed, he would look at it word by word, line by line. We will then send this memorandum to the President ahead and at breakfast we will discuss. We worked like that from 1999 to 2015 and we did not earn a penny. It was an honourary situation.
When we met with Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, he said he hoped we were being taken care of and being paid, we told him no, it’s a non-stipendiary job. He said we must be paid but Chief Anyaoku would say it’s an honour to serve the country. A man of peace.
You repeated this phrase ‘man of peace’ severally. Could you adumbrate, with reference to, for instance, the civil war?
Before the civil war, Chukwuemeka Ojukwu and Chief Chukwuemeka Anyaoku had been friends, and having the same name, Chief Anyaoku felt he could convince Ojukwu about the war situation and how to resolve the issues. He made a daring visit to Ojukwu to try to put an end to the suffering.
He put it to Ojukwu that the reality of the situation is that he was fighting a losing war, that we could work out or find a modus vivendi of living together and that whatever hurt (and there was serious hurt that had been inflicted on the Igbos), we could work it out.
He also made it clear that in any case, after the war, you still have to negotiate peace instead of wasting thousands of lives as was the case at that time. He took that risk to visit Ojukwu. What if Ojukwu had shot him and labeled him a traitor to the Igbo race? This was war and anything could have happened to him, but he took that risk.
Then, during the Abacha regime, he was Sec-Gen of the Commonwealth and the Chief Anyaoku had established, within the Commonwealth, the democratic criteria for membership, that any country that deviates from democracy could not be a member, and Nigeria had been suspended. Chief Anyaoku came home, met with Abacha and explained to him and also met with Chief MKO Abiola, explaining to them the need for peaceful resolution of the crisis at that time.
Some people may say he’s very idealistic but the way he approached Abacha, Abacha did not like it and he had some hint that he may be wasted, so, he had to virtually run to Ghana for his own life. He has taken risks for this country and he believes in the unity of Nigeria as I also do, but it must be a negotiated unity. When I returned to Nigeria after my tour of duty during Abacha’s reign, I was locked up for six months at the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, in Apapa, Lagos, for merely receiving Professor Wole Soyinka and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi while in Germany. They said I must be a NADECO agent for doing so and they locked me up for six months.
You know, as Ambassador of Nigeria to Germany, I’ve seen the way people reacted when Nigeria spoke. The dignity, the respect, the esteem. And I will like to see that passed over to my children and grand children and the best way to do it is to have a clear focus on how to succeed as a nation, not this thing we are doing now with nepotism, tribalism and downgrading merit and competence.
Having served as the Sec-Gen of Commonwealth, and having worked with many people across the world, Chief Anyaoku loves this country and believes we can be very great. He loves Nigeria.