Few days to his birthday, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku, spoke to News Editor, Marcel Mbamalu on his life’s journey, his passion and concern for Nigeria, a country that was once united in prosperity but now hobbling and gasping for breath.
• Declare violent herdsmen terrorists, former Commonwealth scribe tells government
•Wants Nigeria restructured into eight federating units
How does the former Commonwealth Secretary, Chief Emeka Anyaoku really feel at 85?
I feel the same as I felt yesterday and yester months, I have been fortunate to be given good health by my good Lord. And I feel very pleased that my family is going to celebrate it. My children are all coming overseas and we have four children, they will all be here on my birthday.
But we are not going to give any party as such because I do not believe in opulent parties, we just quiet at home.
Opulent parties? Some others in your social class might think otherwise…
Of course I know. I have attended many parties to which I have been invited — many birthday parties, many wedding parties. But I am critical of the amount of money spent on parties in this country; that is why I called them opulent parties. A country (Nigeria) with pervasive poverty to have that sort of party, I am not in support of that.
Would you show courtesy in attending an opulent party organised by someone else in your honour?
If somebody tried to do that, I would discourage him. But I’m not a hater of parties. For example, when I was 80, my friends got together and gave a very good dinner party in Marlborough House in London for me. I took part in the party. It was a wonderful party. Two people came from Nigeria, but they were mostly UK-based friends, and one of two friends from the continent, Kofi Annan came from Switzerland for example and other people came from different places.
That was a well-organised party, unlike here in Nigeria. I have been to parties where champagne is served by the bottle, not by the glass, and things like that. I do not approve of that, just as I do not encourage people to put in advertisement in the newspaper for my birthday. There has been one or two cases in the past by the friends who do not know my personal attitude to it and they proceeded to put it without my consent, without consulting me. But after that, I had to tell them, ’thank you very much, please don’t do it again.’
How would you say your childhood experience helped in guiding you to today’s accomplishments?
My childhood experience helped me first to become a true Nigerian, because I went to school not just in my place of birth, Obosi, but I went to school in Agbor. And then, I went to the University College, Ibadan, and did a lot of travelling. My uncle worked in the Railway and was working throughout the country. He was in Zaria, Kano, Kafanchan and I spent my holiday with him.
I grew up in the United Kingdom, married across the ethnic divide. My wife is Yoruba, I am Igbo and we have been married for 55 years. That is the experience. We celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary on the tenth of November, last year. This year, we will be married for 56 years.
When I began to work, I worked first with the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC). When I was leaving Ibadan, the CDC that year was going to recruit one West African Executive trainee. But two years previously, they had recruited one, they recruited Gamaliel Onosode from Ibadan, and then in my year, they recruited me. After a stint at the regional office here in Lagos, they posted me to their headquarters in London. I was in London in CDC headquarters from 1959, when I left Ibadan, to early 1961, training in various institutions. And when I came back, I was posted back to the regional office here in Lagos.
In February 1962, the Chairman of CDC, Lord Howick was on official visit to Nigeria, and he went to have a meeting with our Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa. He was accompanied to the meeting by Sir Peter Meinertzhagen, who was the Regional Controller, and myself as the Executive Assistant. My desk’s responsibility in CDC was for all the CDC-supported projects in West Africa (Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, and Southern Cameroun).
In the course of our meeting with the Prime Minister, he asked a few questions about these projects and Lord Howick said to me: ‘Anyaoku, please can you answer the Prime Minister?’ So, I answered the questions. At the end of the meeting, as we were leaving, the Prime Minister called me back and said ‘’ look young man, the British still have experts on who we are relying on here in Nigeria. In fact, Mr. Clark, the Permanent Secretary of Finance at that time (who was also present at the meeting) was an English. And the Prime Minister said to me, ‘young man, the British will rely on them for expertise; you all work for this institution, you should come and work for your national government. You are the type I would like to see in our national government.’
That was how I got recruited in the Nigeria diplomatic service. And then I was in Lagos for about a year, during which I was Personal Assistant to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign affairs, Francis Nwokedi (from Nnewi). I was posted to Nigeria’s permanent mission in New York, and then to the United Nations. And there I was in 1966, and in April 1968, I was seconded to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London. I spent the next 34 years at the Commonwealth Secretariat, except the three months when I came home in 1983 to become Foreign Affairs Minister when President Shagari invited me.
I was then the Deputy Commonwealth Secretary before the military coup by General Buhari and his colleagues. Fortunately, I was able to return to the job I had left and then subsequently in 1989 I was elected Commonwealth Secretary General by the Heads of Government at their meeting in Malaysia. I was in office as Secretary General for 10 years — from 1990 to 2000. I retired and I have since been doing the things that retired people do.
What specifically are the things you are currently doing?
After retirement, I was invited by the London School of Economics to be what they call Distinguished Visiting Fellow. They invited two of us — Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, an economist who had just finished his term as President of Mexico, and they invited me as well. We were both what they called Distinguished Visiting Fellows. We gave lectures (one or two lectures a month). Then, at the same time, I succeeded to the position held by his Royal Highness, Prince Philip, the husband of the Queen of England, as the International President of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for Asia, which is the biggest global conservation organisation. I did that for eight years and I was also asked by Her Majesty the Queen to be her trustee on the Board of the British Museum, and I did that for eight years.
Of course, here in Nigeria, I was asked by President Obasanjo to set up Presidential Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs, which I did. He appointed me as Chairman of the six-member Presidential Advisory Council. When Yar’adua succeeded him, Yar’adua asked me to continue; when Jonathan became president, he asked me to continue; and I did.
After Jonathan, in my discussion in a handing-over to President Buhari, I suggested to the new president that he should have another person as chairman of the Council, and that he should appoint the Council again with a different Chairman. He took note of that but he has not yet appointed the Council.
And on the side too, I was in the course of expressing my strong view that Nigeria should not continue to tolerate the paradox of being a major export of crude oil and major importer of refined products invited by the then Governor of Anambra State Chinweoke Mbadinuju. A private company, Orient Petroleum Resources, was formed and I became chairman of the Board and the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme was my vice chairman. The aim of the Orient Petroleum Resources Company is to develop the crude oil reserves in Anambra State, which exists and refine it in the state. We are still working on that.
I’m wondering why it’s taking so long to get that refinery running, what really are the challenges?
The challenge has been lack of funds. We have succeeded in attracting foreign investors. Oil exploration and refinery construction is a very expensive thing.
You once celebrated your birthday with Ambassador Christopher Kolade; do both of you really share the same birthday?
I think Christopher Kolade’s birthday is 29th of December. We once did a birthday party together.
I remember that President Olusegun Obasanjo was at the event where he referred to both of you as twins, with Kolade being the first to arrive.
Chris Kolade and I had been friends. There was actually a gap of three months between us Alex Ekwueme came first — three months before me.
You have been very consistent with your call for a restructuring of the country to reflect the true spirit of federalism. To what extent would you say that Nigeria suffers a setback for failing to heed your advice, at least in the context of the crises in many states?
I believe quite strongly that the current state of affairs in our country is a cause for serious concern, if you look at the security situation in Benue, Taraba, and in the North East; look at what is happening, in terms of kidnapping in virtually all parts of the country. Look at the state of our infrastructure, whether it is the roads, whether it is education, whether it is health, or power and then you look at the fact that many civil servants are not being paid salaries for months. In some cases, workers are owed up to nine months, and in other cases six months. People are working without salary. And then you look at the state of agitations and militancy — agitations, whether it’s the IPOB people wanting Biafra, or (at the background) Oduduwa Republic being mooted or Niger Delta Republic being mooted, or RONDON Republic, which I’m told that the Middle Belters are asking for. Given all these and the fact that the country is now more divided than it has ever been. Now I’m 85 and when I think about my younger age, the high hopes we had for this country, I remember when our Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa went to New York to address the United Nations on the occasion of Nigeria’s admission into the United Nations membership. Everybody in New York was looking up to this emerging black power. Nigeria was so respected that when the United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld decided to send a UN Force to the Congo, he came to Nigeria for the commander of the UN Forces, So, Aguiyi Ironsi was the first African to command a UN peacekeeping contingent anywhere in the world. At that time, there was hardly any United Nations or Commonwealth Initiative in which Nigeria was not part of. Look at that and compare it with where we are today, starting from the continent. The OAU which has now become African Union (AU) has its governing body is a Commission of 10. Nigeria is not a member of that Commission. Nigeria stood election for that in February last year and was defeated, so Nigeria is not a member of the
Africa Commission. Nigeria is not there and come nearer in ECOWAS, we now have a situation where Morocco was asked to join the ECOWAS.
There are talks about Nigeria not taking any steps to oppose it…
I have not heard it authoritatively, but I gathered that at a meeting in Liberia, where the Moroccan bid was made, Nigeria joined in supporting it in principle. I don’t think they have yet actualised it, but Morocco joining the ECOWAS will completely destroy Nigeria’s dominant influence in the regional organisation. So, both internally and externally, we are not doing as well as we used to do.
I believe that the main cause of these troubles is the governance architecture we have now; we now have what goes only by name as a federation but in reality it is a unitary government. And this country, given its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural character, cannot survive as a unitary state.
I also remember that when we were a true federation of four regions, the country was doing much better; there was greater stability; the agitations were little pockets that could be managed.
Economically, the country was doing much better, even before the oil in commercial quantity became the main source of revenue. At that time, I remember that in the East, Nigeria the biggest world producer of palm produce. In the West, Nigeria was ranking withy Côte d’Ivoire as the biggest producers of cocoa. In the North, Nigeria was ranking high as producer of groundnuts and hides and skin which was of such quality that it was being marketed abroad as Moroccan leather. And there was Tin production the Jos, Plateau.
Now we have an economy that is hobbling. I believe that the present structure has a lot to do with it. We need to have a true federation, which, in my view, will be based on more viable federating units. At first, I thought that the six geopolitical zones would do it, but I have modified my view; I think we should now have eight federating units. The two new units will be the Middle Belt — because it deserves to be a federating unit — and then we return to the old Mid-West (because Edo and Delta states may not go entirely with the South-South).
By that we would then have eight federating units. I think these units will be better able to plan their development and better able to plan and handle their security. These kidnappings will be better managed and the sense of unity of the country will be restored, because these eight regions will exist to develop at their own pace with inter-regional links and links with the federal government. The Federal Government will still be one looking after the federal institutions. Defence, Immigration, Customs, Foreign Affairs, Monetary Policies will still be Nigerian national institutions and the sense of unity will become more strengthened. That’s why I believe that restructuring will usher in greater peace, greater political stability and sounder development, because what we have now promotes intense competition for the control of the centre and that exacerbates the divisive factors in Nigeria. There is religious and ethnic competition to control the centre.
What do you say on the growing public criticism of the Federal Government over what many describe as lopsided appointments?
I think that to successfully run a multi-ethnic and multi-religious
country like Nigeria, it is important to give the sections a sense of ownership and participation. That’s my experience. I was closely involved in the affairs of 54 Commonwealth countries. I interacted with their heads and governments and I can tell you that.
Let’s start with developed countries like Canada: In 1958, Canada faced its most major crisis; it was to be torn apart. Quebec was to break away. The then French President Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle had gone to Canada on official visit and in Quebec, he made a speech that came to be regarded as extremely damaging. In other words, he supported the independence of French-speaking Quebec.
Months after that, Lester Bowles Pearson (English-speaking) who was the prime minister of Canada, gave notice of retirement but went out of his way, jumped all the senior English-speaking politicians in the Liberal Party, went to Quebec to choose young Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau whose experience in parliament was only three years, whose experience as minister of justice was only 18 months to succeed him. And that was how the clamour for independence of Quebec was killed for a moment.
One of the first decisions of Elliot Trudeau’s cabinet was that one-third of the permanent secretary positions in the federal government of Canada must be reserved for French-speaking people of the country. Before that, almost nine-tenth of the positions were English-speaking.
The English-speaking permanent secretaries, in order to ensure continuity, were retained as working for a while up to a year. Second, his government decided that every official (government) speech must have a French version. So they had English-speaking ministers learning at least one sentence of French to be able to deliver their speeches. That was how they gave a sense of belonging to every Canadian. Today every Canadian grows up being bi-lingual.
India, a developing country, is a true federation. The Indian Cabinet and Indian governmental institutions are planned and manned in a way that gives every part of India a sense of belonging, and that is a way to take care of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Go to Malaysia, it is predominantly three tribes. The Malays are overwhelming, the Chinese and then the Indians. The Malaysian government has representatives of these groups in government and government institutions.
How would you describe Nigeria’s handling of the herdsmen/farmers’ clash?
I think the herdsmen should be acknowledged for what they are: Terrorists. The first recommendation I would make to the government is declare them as terrorists. I was glad to see the other day that the President had instructed the Inspector General of Police to relocate to Benue State.
Some Nigerians, including lawmakers would rather see that as treating a serious matter with a kids’ glove; they think the president should have acted faster and probably deploy the military as was the case with the IPOB…
Well, I believe that was the beginning of the Federal Government’s attention to the issue. I think that is the good beginning. Let us now hope that the follow-up would be as significant as that.
There are diverse opinions on what should be the fate of the 2014 confab report; what’s your take on it, considering that the
President had said it wasn’t part of his priorities?
I think that the 2014 confab produced ideas, very good ideas for restructuring but it did not provide the answer to the need for restructuring because, for example, it avoided the major starting point for restructuring, which is to create more viable federating units to make this country a true federation. The 2014 confab even spoke about creating 18 more states, which would bring the states to 54.
One of the main challenges we have at the moment is that the centre is so powerful. It dictates to the states and development cannot be planned viably on the basis of the 36 states we have, much more 54 states. So my view of the 2014 confab is that, of course, it has good ideas in terms of devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units in terms of responsibility for police, and security, devolved from the Centre; those are very good ideas, that should be built into the restructured Nigeria.
How would you assess the war on corruption; what would you say is its greatest challenge?
I think the present administration started very well by mobilizing general support for the anti-corruption war. If you recall, on the eve of President Buhari’s swearing-in, at the dinner banquet by President Jonathan, there were two speeches, one by the outgoing President, and the other by my humble self. I was asked to propose a toast to democracy, and, in my speech, I made three main points to outline what I described as the essential ingredients of democratic governance.
My second very point was to say the country owes a huge debt of gratitude to Jonathan for saving it from predictable mayhem by conceding defeat. My third point which I made looking at the incoming President was to say to him that I hoped he was aware that people voted for him on the basis of the people’s perception of his personal character and went on to outline four attributes in people’s perception of his character which made them vote for him.
First, they saw him as a distinguished individual, and this country needs discipline. Second, they believed in his anti-corruption rhetoric, because people believed that. Third, people admire his frugal lifestyle; he was not fond of opulent parties, not lavish person. And fourthly, people saw him as genuinely caring for the welfare of the masses; that is why the Talakawas would die for him. And I said that people’s hopes and expectations were that his administration would be with these attributes. Of course, when he started the anti- corruption stance he had very popular support. I think anyway he has continued to represent anti-corruption stand, as one of his driving motives.
But the way it is being carried on contains a few contradictions. For example, there are people alleged to have stolen or diverted funds who have not been prosecuted. People naturally wonder why some are being prosecuted, and some are not. So, I would hope these contradictions should be eliminated in order to give credibility to the anti-corruption process.
Horse-trading for 2019 elections appear to have started; are you worried that this could rub off on governance in the next two years?
I would hesitate to delve too much into the 2019 elections because I hold strongly the view that there is excessive preoccupation with politics, instead of focusing on the performance of government. Instead of focusing on governance, there is general pre-occupation with politics, and the politicians are the ones driving that pre-occupation. So, there are things happening that I would expect the media and the institutions to be discussing — performance of government and so on — rather than focus on who gets this or that. That is the fundamental reservation that I have about public affairs in this country. The government should be made to sit up on its performance.
Whether at the federal or state level, people should learn that it is their responsibility to see how the government is performing and hold them to account but that is not happening. I am not one of the enthusiasts in terms of discussing 2019 but my take is the point that there should be accountability.
Let me go back to1998 when General Abdul Salam Abubakar took over from Abacha, and invited me. I came here within the first few weeks and I pledged the Commonwealth support for Nigeria’s democratic process. Ephraim Apata, the then Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) came to my office in London, and I sat down with him and planned how to send Commonwealth experts to come and interact with staff of the Commission, both in terms of the techniques and skills that they needed and in terms of voter education.
Of course, voter education is not something you do one time. It is a continuous process. I advised Professor Yussuf, the current Chairman of INEC to pay attention to voter education, but his performance in the last Anambra State election was very good. I hope that he can sustain that nationwide.