Saturday, August 12, 2017 11:38 am
By Emeka Anyaoku
I was the Chairman of the first annual lecture in 2015 which was very ably delivered by the former Governor of Ekiti State and now Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. I am glad to be speaking under the chairmanship of my friend and one of our country’s most outstanding and cerebral diplomats, Prof Ibrahim Gambari.
It is a testimony to how seriously Mr. Akintola Williams has dedicated his life to public policy issues in the economy and politics that the organisers of the Akintola Williams Distinguished lectures have never failed to be eclectic in their choice of topics.
I would like to begin by commending the Akintola Williams Foundation for instituting this lecture series in honour of a true Nigerian iconic son, Williams, a man of many parts. One of the briefest summations of him is aptly captured in his description as the doyen of Nigerian, nay, African Accountancy; a respected elder statesman and philanthropist one of whose most cherished legacies is this venue, the Musical Society of Nigeria (MUSON) center.
The fact that he was the first African to qualify as a chartered accountant cannot be a surprise, given that he is a scion of an eminent and industrious family. His grandfather was a successful merchant, while his father had a thriving legal firm way back in colonial Nigeria. So, it is no surprise that Mr. Akintola Williams has continued in his family tradition of professionalism and industry by being the first indigenous chartered accountant in Africa, carrying on with such a professional integrity that enabled him to have a commanding influence in accountancy on Nigeria’s private and public companies hitherto dominated by foreign firms.
He had also built a conglomerate of accounting firms which as I recalled at the 2015 edition of this lecture series had fanned out to many other African countries, including Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Swaziland, Kenya and Egypt confirming the man as a colossal accountant that straddled the entire African landscape, mentoring and encouraging the development and growth of other indigenous chartered accountancy firms. There is no doubt that Mr. Williams has served humanity in many profound ways, both in the private and public sector.
Apart from being one of the leading figures in the establishment of accounting organisations like the Association of Accountants in Nigeria (AAN) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Mr Williams also played a leading role in the establishment of the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE). His mark was also made in the public sphere when he was chairman of the Federal Income Tax Appeal Commissioners and member of the Coker Commission of Inquiry.
He has also served as a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Commonwealth Foundation; as Chairman of the Public Service Review Panel on the Udoji Salary Review Commission; as President of the Metropolitan Club and of course, as Founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustee of the MUSON Center. It was for these and many other accomplishments that our honouree here has garnered many local and international awards, including the Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR) and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). But, even in retirement, and at the glorious age of 98 which he attained only yesterday, Mr. Williams is still availing himself for consultation in the great task of the Nigerian nation-building project. Let me now come to the subject of today’s lecture.
It is common knowledge that is evident in our daily media which are read by, among others, all foreign diplomatic representatives in Abuja, that currently all is not well with Nigeria both at home and in its standing in the comity of nations, hence the theme of this lecture: how to re-establish Nigeria’s leadership position in the world.
The golden age of Nigeria’s foreign policy
Those of us who were of discerning age in the early years of Nigeria’s independence would, I am sure, readily agree that our country experienced what can truly be described as the golden age of Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa and in the wider world. I would like, briefly, to reminisce on the string of foreign policy successes that underscored the country’s leadership position in the international community during that period.
As John Campbell, a former American Ambassador to Nigeria reminded us in his book: “Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink”, the vision of Nigeria at independence by both the departing colonial authorities and Nigeria’s emergent political elites, was a great one. It was the vision “of a huge nation of numerous ethnic groups and religions united by democracy, pursuit of economic development, governance according to the rule of law, and the occupation of an important place on the world stage; … a friendly Nigeria to provide Africans with a seat at the table with other great powers”.
Flowing from this great vision, Nigeria was at its independence in 1960, rapturously welcomed in the comity of nations in a manner that was consistent with the confidence and hope of its founding fathers. On October 7, 1960 when the country was admitted into the United Nations (UN), the event elicited widespread jubilation in Africa, in Africa’s Diaspora, and generally among the black race in the wider international community. This enthusiasm was clearly animated by the fact that Nigeria’s demographics, its human and abundant natural resources were adequate indices of national power that would enable it to be an asset, not just for Africa, but also for the international community represented at the UN.
On that occasion of its admission to the UN, Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in his speech to the General Assembly, pledged the country’s commitment to multilateralism and as such, to making its due contribution to the promotion of peace and development of the international community through the auspices of the UN.
Inspired by awareness of the fact that Nigeria is the only country with the largest population of black people in the world, its governments, following independence, actively sought to champion Africa’s and black peoples’ causes. This was why for example, just weeks after independence, the Nigerian government notwithstanding the predictable potential economic and other costs, pitted itself in opposition to the French government’s atomic tests in the Sahara Desert which had occurred in February 1960 and seemed likely to be repeated.
Nigeria’s Africa activism was the kernel of the evolution of the doctrines of its foreign policy for many years after independence, namely: Afro-centrism and Concentricism. Under these doctrines, Nigeria prioritised the pursuit of its national interest in a concentric circle, beginning with her immediate neighbours in the first inner circle, through the rest of Africa in the second circle, to the rest of the world in the outer circle. It was these doctrines that critically fostered the country’s leadership position in the world for years and enabled it to ride the crest of very favourable international opinion and reckoning.
Some of the highlights of this golden age in Nigeria’s foreign policy, included the fact that the country soon after its admission into the UN became the backbone of the organisation’s Africanisation of solutions to African problems as evidenced by Dag Hammarskjold, the then UN Secretary-General, requesting Nigeria to send a peace-keeping military contingent to the Congo. And it was because of Nigeria’s pre-eminent position at the time that one of its own military officers, Brig.-Gen. J. T. U Aguiyi Ironsi, was appointed by the UN Secretary-General as the first African to command the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo.
For over two decades, Nigeria chaired the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid. The country was also active in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) where it played veritable roles in asserting the sovereignty of the developing countries as well as giving them voice while using the neutrality of the NAM to steer the world away from the possibility of an armed confrontation between the Western countries led by United States (U.S.) and the Eastern countries led by the defunct Soviet Union.
It was as a NAM leader that Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Chief Simeon Adebo, played a leading role in resolving the crisis that paralysed the UN General Assembly in 1964, when the Western countries, invoking Article 19 of the UN Charter, sought to deny the Soviet Union voting rights in the controversy that arose from the Soviet Union’s refusal to contribute to the budget for the cost of UN operations in the Congo.
Nigeria also played a leading role in the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which has now metamorphosed into the African Union (AU). Nigeria had led the Monrovian Group of 22 African countries to merge with the Casablanca Group of five to successfully form the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in May 1963.
And in the Commonwealth, Nigeria was a prominent member and became the first member country to host the meeting of Commonwealth Heads of State and Governments outside of London in Lagos in January 1966. Also in 1986, Nigeria’s Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo co-chaired the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group that went to South Africa in an unsuccessful attempt to promote negotiations for the ending of apartheid. And three years later in 1989, a Nigerian, my humble self, was appointed by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Kualalumpur the first (and so far only) African Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.
Nigeria was also a critical mass in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and in the liberation of the Southern African nations of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe from the clutches of colonialism and white racist minority regimes. It was in recognition of Nigeria’s role and commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the de-colonisation of Southern Africa that it was designated a “frontline state” in the struggle, even though it was geographically far apart from the region.
Other indications of Nigeria’s leadership role in international affairs during this period include the leading role it played in the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Beyond the founding of ECOWAS, Nigeria was to remain critical in the financial sustenance of the organisation and for ECOWAS’s ability to function as one of the most viable African regional blocs.
There were also the successful negotiation of relief from the Paris Club of Nigeria’s debilitating foreign debt burden by President Obasanjo and his Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the creation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) by President Obasanjo and his South African colleague, President Thabo Mbeki.
Signs of decline in Nigeria’s leadership position
Unfortunately, Nigeria’s leadership role in the world began to decline initially in the wake of the successive military intervention in the country’s governance beginning in January 1966. I would like to mention some of the signs of the decline.
Nigeria does not have a seat in the leadership organ of the AU, the 10-member Commission. It was a matter of national embarrassment that the Nigerian candidate lost out in the election of the AU Commissioners during the AU summit meeting in February 2017.
Secondly, a growing number of Nigerian citizens are now commonly badly treated and deported from many countries of the world including even African countries such as Libya and South Africa. And only last week, Nigerian athletes who were due to participate in a Commonwealth Youth Games in Bahamas could not attend because they were denied transit visas by the governments of the United Kingdom (UK) and the U.S.
The decline in Nigeria’s standing in the world prompted another former American Ambassador to Nigeria, who, many believe to be a good friend of Nigeria, at a colloquium in Brown University, USA, to lament the de-industrialisation of the country and to warn that “Nigeria was fast becoming irrelevant in continental and global affairs, owing to its unfocussed leadership and wrong choice of assessment parameters” (Vanguard, January 18, 2017). Ambassador Lyman went on to say that Nigeria’s habit of predicating its geopolitical relevance on its oil wealth and population is fast fading away, not just because oil is losing its strategic relevance, but also because many countries in the West African sub-region have struck oil in commercial quantity.
The plight of Nigerians in the waves of Afrophobia in South Africa is particularly regrettable because, as observed earlier, Nigeria had played a very active and prominent role in the struggle that led to the dismantling of apartheid in that country.
Another regrettable sign is Nigeria’s declining grip on its immediate West African sub-region, particularly in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional organisation it helped to found and which it has nourished for the past 42 years, diplomatically, economically, financially and militarily, when it led at huge financial and human cost to itself the ECOMOG military forces that were involved in peace making in the Mano River Basin countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone during their internecine civil wars.
Although the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is hugely bankrolled by Nigeria, the organisation’s bureaucracy seems to have been virtually taken over by the Francophone countries who have gone ahead to establish a parallel French version of the ECOWAS – the Communate Economique d’Afrique de L’Ouest – that now confronts and constrains the ECOWAS.
Nigeria’s loss of grip in ECOWAS was dramatised by its inability to veto the ECOWAS’s decision in principle to admit into its fold Morocco, a North African nation and member of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU).
With the prospect of Morocco joining the ECOWAS, Nigeria would be risking a diminished influence in the sub-region; it would also be opening itself up to Morocco’s inevitable determination to get its pound of flesh following Nigeria’s role in the admission of Western Sahara into the OAU/Africa Union (AU). And this is not to talk about the adverse economic consequences for Nigeria from Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS.
I believe that for its effectiveness and the benefits of the future integration of its members, ECOWAS must remain a strictly geopolitical regional organization whose membership should be limited to only countries in the West Africa geographic space. Besides, extending ECOWAS membership to the Mediterranean Sea will inevitably dilute the organization’s integration movement.