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Monday, 5 March 2018


By Paul Ukpabio and Biodun Adeyewa 

World-traveled diplomat and 3rd Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, recently poured his mind out on the current state of affairs in the Nation; in an interview he granted the Nation newspaper. We bring you excerpts. 

He also opened up his mind on issues bedeviling the country, providing solutions and at the same time sharing with us, his journey from Obosi his home town to the corridor of world politics.

What words do you want to pass to Nigerians at this time?

I was one of those who greatly looked forward to the unity and greatness of this country at independence. Then we had high hopes. Nigeria at the time of independence was at par with countries like South Korea, we were even
a notch better than Malaysia. Then we were very proud of our country which had a very productive economy. Nigeria was then the highest palm producer in the world. We had the great Northern groundnut pyramid; we had massive production of cocoa. Nigeria at the time was vying with Ivory Coast, as to who was the largest producer of cocoa. In the Plateau area there was Tin production. Nigerians were generally more satisfied with the economy than they are now. Today Nigeria has become dependent on
one source of revenue which is crude oil. Besides, Nigeria is one of
the very few major crude oil producing countries that is at the same time, a major importer of refined oil products. In my job before my retirement in 2000 I travelled round the world and I could see that most crude oil producing countries were refining it and were not depending on importing refined oil products. As I said, now the countries that were at par with us at independence are way ahead of us. South Korea is more than one generation ahead of us. Malaysia is very much ahead of us. If you look around in virtually all sectors of our national life, we are under performing. Our roads are nothing to write home about, our health sector and hospitals, our quality of education too. When I was at University College Ibadan, our graduates were ranked among the best the world. Now the quality of education at our schools and universities has fallen. So these are the things that make people of my age to look back in anger. My hope is that the upcoming generation will help to restore the country to where it was, and to develop better.

Let us go back memory lane, what fond memories of early school do you recall?

I went to formal school at the age of five. I remember my parents
taking me to school, and I was excited to join other pupils in my
home Obosi, a town in Anambra state. It was exciting for me as a
little boy. My father was working as a clerk in the civil service. My father's letters, when I read them now, he wrote better English, and had better handwriting than people of his current equivalent school grade. I still have my father's letters and his diaries. In one of the pages in my book, there is my father's diary entry on the day that I was born. I was born in Iyi-Enu Mission Hospital and my father recorded that I was born at 2.30am on a Wednesday in January 1933. The quality of education in his days was high and the quality of his letters and handwriting was better than what we have now. He had standard six certificate.

Was school compulsory for you, and were you a privileged child?

I think in fairness I will say that it was normal for the families
that were educated to send their children to school. But all around
too, there were illiterate parents who did not value education and some families who did not have the means to send their children to school. Some of us were fortunate to have literate parents who valued education and so sent us to school.

Was your mom literate too?

My mother was literate but not as literate as my father. My mother
left school at standard five.

Do you recall any other fond memories from your early years?

Yes, I recall my days as a boys scout. I joined when I
was ten. We used to play pranks then when we went camping and had to go to the forest to fetch fire wood for old women and old people generally. I remember on my first time in the forest, I was about to cut firewood and the chap next to me shouted, 'look at that!' And right in front of me was a cobra. A deadly snake. I ran. I enjoyed my days as a boys scout. Then I was living with a relation who was a headmaster. At that time, parents in my part of the world would send their children to live with relatives who were teachers in the hope that the teachers would impact much on their education. So my father sent me to live with his cousin who was a school head master. I went to CMS school, Gbojigboji, Agbor in todays Delta state and from there the head master was transferred to CMS Central school in Oba, Anambra state. After my primary school, an educationist, the Late Mr E. Oli who was educated in England, Oxford University, and had returned to become a tutor of the CMS Grammar school called Dennis Memorial Grammar School in Onitsha and was subsequently appointed the principal of Okrika Grammar School, had decided to establish his own school based on his experience in England and in Nigeria. He was my father’s good friend. My dad told him that he was giving him his son for his new school.

That was how I became a student in the second intake into the Merchants of Light School, in Oba. After five years there, I was lucky to make extremely good grade in the Cambridge School Certificate.

Who was your role model then?

At secondary school, I took a particular interest in my Latin teacher, Mr. Aneto, he is late now. He taught us Latin in a way that fascinated me. His personality was something I greatly admired and I regarded him as my mentor. That was why when I left school, for 18 months I taught Latin and Mathematics at Emmanuel College, Owerri. I then took the entrance examination to the University College, Ibadan. At that time, UCI, Ibadan, admitted students on the basis of entrance examination which  selected the best performing students from around the country. Although my father wanted me to go to England to study Law which was
not offered then at the University College, Ibadan, I insisted to
go and read classics which is Latin, Greek and Philosophy because I had been greatly influenced by my Latin teacher in school.

Did you get to learn Yoruba language when you were in Ibadan?

No, we were ensconced in the university hostel, except of course the fact that I was able to pick a few Yoruba words. At that time Nigeria was a lot more united than it is now. At that time it didn't matter what part of the country you came from. As you know, my wife is Yoruba and I am Ibo and we have now been married for 55 years.

But did you both meet at Ibadan?

No, we didn't meet at Ibadan. When I was in Ibadan, she was schooling in England. And then after Ibadan, I was recruited by the CDC that is the Commonwealth Development Co-operation. They had a regional office in Lagos that looked after their operations in the English speaking West African countries that is the Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigerian and Southern Cameroon. I was recruited by the CDC and then sent to England to their head office for training and to other institutions in England. And at the beginning of 1961, I was posted back to Lagos. In February 1962 the Chairman of CDC then Lord Ovwick was visiting Nigeria officially, and I accompanied him and the Regional Controller, Sir Peter Meinertzagen. We went in to a meeting with the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. At the meeting, the Prime Minister asked a number of questions about CDC supported projects in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia and the Chairman said to me to answer the Prime Minister because I had desk responsibility for these projects. So I answered the questions. At the end of the meeting as we were going, the Prime Minister called me back and said to me 'young
man we need people like you to come and work for the government of your country rather than work for a British Institution.' Nigeria at that time still depended on a number of British experts to work for Nigeria; for example the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance who was at the meeting with the Prime Minister, was an English Man. That was how I got recruited into the Nigerian Foreign Service. And that is why my book, my memoirs is partly dedicated to Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who got me to join the Nigerian Foreign Service.

What happened after?

I worked for about a year in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in
Lagos, but was later posted to New York, to the Nigerian Permanent Mission to the United Nations where I worked under Ambassador Chief Simeon Adebo, one of our most respected civil servants, and when the commonwealth secretariat was established in 1965 July, the first commonwealth secretary general Arnord Smith, came on an official visit in November 1965. At a meeting with the prime minister, he said that he was keen to build up in London at the new commonwealth secretariat, a team of commonwealth diplomats who will in his own words, help him make nonsense of the myth of racial superiority. He said he was looking for sound diplomats from a few commonwealth countries. And he said he wanted a diplomat of a middle rank level from Nigeria. I was in New York when instruction came from Lagos, that the Prime Minister had directed that I should go to the new commonwealth secretariat. That was how I got seconded to the Commonwealth secretariat.

And you rose, and kept rising from one position to another...

(Laughs) Yes, my experience at the commonwealth secretariat was unique because, so far in the history of the commonwealth secretariat, I have been the only officer who rose from being assistant Director to a Director, to assistant secretary general to deputy secretary general and eventually to the secretary general position. I was in the commonwealth secretariat for 34 years with the exemption of the three months that I was invited home to serve as the foreign minister in the second administration of President Shehu Shagari, before the soldiers led by General Buhari overthrew President Shagari's government. So I returned to London to my job.

You are more or less a citizen of the world

Yes, I have in the course of my work, travelled to over 100 countries
of the world. I have been to all the continents and all parts of the
world. I have interacted with every racial group on the globe.

As we entered into your home, we saw a photograph of you with Late
President Nelson Mandela on the wall, what was your relationship like?
I know that many people would claim to have been friends with
Mandela even when they were not (general laughter). But I can tell you
that Mandela was a very good friend of mine. He wrote the foreword of
my book, and he also wrote the foreword for my biography which was written by a Canadian. So the picture you saw there was the picture taken when I took my family to see Mandela on a day that the South African government conferred on me, their highest national honour for non South Africans. Thabo Mbeki was the president then, Mandela had retired. So that picture was taken in his home. In the picture is Mandela, my wife, my daughter, my son-in-law and myself.

One recalls that you were helpful for the unity of Nigeria while you
were secretary general at the commonwealth especially during the MKO impasse. Looking back now what do you see about Nigeria?

My contribution to the unity of Nigeria was particularly to the country’s return of democracy. You may remember that when General Abacha was Head of State, Nigeria was suspended from the commonwealth. I then sympathised with what I believed was the position of the majority of my country men and women. I knew that they were thirsting for democracy and did not approve dictatorship. So while being comfortable with the suspension of the Abacha led government from the commonwealth, I entertained the hope and worked for the return of Nigeria to democracy and to the commonwealth. In my book, you will see the story
of my last conversation with General Sanni Abacha on the day that he jailed Obasanjo. I called him from London to tell him that I was
surprised and not happy that he had detained a former head of state who had very strong democratic credentials because, Obasanjo was the first military ruler, who willingly handed over power to civilians. I said to General Abacha that Obasanjo's democratic credentials were acknowledged the world over.  I had met with Abacha in his first few months as Head of state. I was trying to persuade him to respect the verdict of the election by handing over to Chief MKO Abiola. I had put up a proposal to him and he rejected my proposal. I spoke many times with him on the telephone from London but after our contentious conversation on the day he detained Obasanjo, it became the last day I spoke to him. When General Abubakar succeeded him, he invited me to visit Nigeria. I came to Nigeria with Koffi Annan who was the UN Secretary General. I agreed to help the process of Nigeria’s return to democracy. I sent electoral experts who came and worked with the then INEC Chairman Justice Ephraim Akpata, who had visited my office in London to discuss the sort of help that the commonwealth could give to INEC. And for the election itself, I sent a very powerful team of observers led by the former president of Botswana Sir Ketumile Masire.

During the Abacha days, NADECO leaders used to visit me in my house very frequently. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was one of them, I am glad he acknowledged that in his book about the heroes of Nigerian democracy. I was keen that democracy should return to Nigeria. I was therefore glad when elections were eventually held, and General Obasanjo who happens to be a personal friend of mine, was elected president.

Who would you say influenced you more between your parents?

I must say that my father influenced me a great deal. I come from a society where the first sons are invariably close to their father
because they are brought up to take over responsibility for the family from their father. I was the first son of my father and he was the first son of his own father. In intent and purposes, I understudied him. My mother influenced me too, most mothers do. My father's cousin the headmaster with whom i lived with, also influenced me.

In the course of serving this country and the commonwealth countries, did you ever experience a close shave with death?

I can recall two experiences in which I thanked God for helping me to survive. The first was in 1968 in the middle of the civil war, when the then commonwealth Secretary General was trying to broker peace, to settle the conflict between Biafra and Nigeria. Although in the negotiations that took place in London when the two sides sent delegations to London from Lagos led by Chief Anthony Enahoro and from Biafra led by Sir Loius Mbanefo, the Secretary General kept me away from being involved being a Nigerian, when things got to a point where Emeka Ojukwu’s agreement was required, I offered to the Secretary General, that I would go and talk to Ojukwu and he reluctantly allowed me to go. I went to Biafra on a mercy flight, which was organised by the Roman Catholic church that carried medicine and food to Biafra. The journey took me to Lisbon in Portugal, to Sao Tome and from where we landed in Biafra at midnight, for that was the
only time planes landed in Biafra. That was not as scary as when
I left from the same Biafra airstrip on a flight that carried ailing,
rescued malnourished children out of Biafra. That was the only way I could get out of Biafra. We flew from Biafra to Gabon. At a stage on the journey, I thought we were going to crash. We had flown into a storm and the plane wobbled and i believed it was the end. The second experience was in 1980 when as Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General, I was going to represent the commonwealth at the independence Day
celebration of Fiji Island. The international airport is not in
the capital. You landed at the airport and then flew again
for another 25 minutes from the airport into the capital. I was traveling on same flight with the Deputy Foreign Minister of China and the Deputy Secretary General of the UN; it was a night flight in a small plane. We flew into a bad storm and everyone in the plane was saying their last prayers and I thought that was it. When we landed after 25 minutes, for two minutes, nobody talked, nobody got up from the seat. And all of a sudden, we all started clapping for the pilot.

Do you have any regrets

The truth is that I do not recall anything that I would have done
differently? Every human being makes mistakes but I do not recall a major mistake that I would have done differently.

What would you like to be remembered for?
That I tried to serve humanity.

You decided to propose to a lady from Yorubaland, was there any opposition?

Initially, the two families opposed our marriage. My father was not
alive when I proposed to my wife, but my uncle who was the head of my family and my auntie who was acting as my mother was. My auntie came down to Lagos and cried all night that I could not find any Ibo girl to marry! And on her side, my late mother in law was very unhappy. They said how could my wife go all the way to the East for marriage. But thank goodness my father's second cousin was an Anglican Bishop and wife's father's second cousin was Sir Adetokunbo Ademola our first chief justice. My uncle the Bishop and Sir Adetokunbo Ademola agreed that we should be allowed to marry. This made the two families to mellow. After the marriage, my late mother in law became my closest relative and she would every summer come to England and stay with us. She had herself been educated in England where she had also worked. My wife comes from a line where her grandmother had also been
in England and her father was a lawyer and a pilot in the Royal Airforce during the Second World War. That is why for every Christmas, we go to Obosi my home town. We actually returned yesterday. And every Easter, we go Abeokuta to celebrate.

If you were not a diplomat, what else would you have wanted to be?

I think I would have taken my father's advice. So I would have been a lawyer.

What is your impression of the humanitarian crisis that is likely to
arise from the killings in Benue, Rivers state and Kaduna?
I must confess that I am very sad about the general insecurity in the country. We seem as a society to be getting inured to loss of human lives. I think that human life is in every human society is
attributed with sanctity. In the Nigerian society it seems we are
gradually losing consciousness of the sanctity of human life because everyday we read in the newspapers about so many people killed either by Boko Haram killers or by marauding herdsmen, or by kidnappers or by cultists; there is general insecurity and the value placed on human life seems to be going down and down. It saddens me because most of my working life was in societies where if one human being dies under questionable circumstances the government, the law enforcement agencies will rise to action. But here in Nigeria, I read about these deaths and see that the law enforcements and theauthorities are not doing much about them. So I am worried. That is why and for many other reasons, I have been advocating for the now commonly used word ‘restructuring’ because when this country was a true federation of four regions, the country was doing better. There was greater security, greater development and less corruption But the structure we now have that obliges us to spend as much as 80% of our revenue on just
administration, because we have 36 states with governmental
structure; replicated in all the states. It has got to the state
where most of these states cannot pay their civil servants with many being owed their salaries for many months. Instead of
focusing on producing, we now go to share allocations from the federal government. I believe that in this country, given its character of multi ethnicity, multi religion and multi cultures, we need a true federation where the federating units should be more viable than what we have now. We should have no more than eight federating units. These will be better able to plan their development, benefiting from healthy rivalry and competition between them, and check corruption which has been one of the greatest drawbacks we have had in the

If we get your above suggestion right, do you think the economy will equally be okay?

Anyaoku with the Queen of England

Oh yes, if we have more viable federating units, they will be planning their development. Each will be developing at its own pace. There will be stronger basis for planning and pursuing development. There is no part of this country that does not have economic strength and resources. Liquid and solid minerals exist throughout the country.

Chief Awolowo was able to plan and encourage the development of cocoa industry in the west. In the east, Dr Okpara was able to plan the development of palm produce industry and in the north, Sir Ahmadu Bello was able to plan the agricultural development and the mining of tin in Plateau. If we have more viable federating units, we can plan the overall development of the country better. And now that we have oil in commercial quantity, the federating units would be able to plan and manage this resources

You have been particularly unique with your stylish appearance over the years, can you tell us about your style?

Whenever you see me in a jacket and tie, you will know that I am
either leaving the country, or coming from the airport. The reason is this, for many years, I wore suit, jacket and ties. I remember that in 1983 when I was being screened by the senate committee to become a foreign minister, one of the senators said to me, 'you are going to be our foreign minister, but we have never seen you in a Nigerian dress, we see you all the time in Jacket and tie!' Among the senators then, there was a great sense of nationalism, so I promised them that when I leave them that day, that I would go to a tailor to make Nigerian dress for me. So since I retired and returned to Nigeria, I wear either agbada or this sort of dress that I am wearing now. The red cap is a symbol of the high chieftaincy I hold in Obosi, I am Adazie, an ndichie, so you can never see me wearing any other cap except red coloured cap.

Your best food and colour?

I enjoy very much two dishes. When I am home in the East I enjoy pounded yam and onugbu soup. When I am in Lagos or Abeokuta, I enjoy ewedu occasionally with lafun, but I prefer it with the brown coloured amala. My
favourite colour is blue.

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