Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, has called for the restructuring of the country, in order to tackle the challenges the country currently faces in many sectors.
Also, former United Nations Under-Secretary General, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, said Nigeria’s real challenge is how to mould a nation out of its multiplicity of nationality, religion and language.
Anyaoku and Gambari said these in Lagos, on Thursday, at the second Annual Akintola Williams Distinguished Lecture, organised by Akintola Williams Foundation.
The former Commonwealth scribe, while delivering a lecture, entitled: “Re-establishing Nigeria’s Leadership Position in the World,” said it was now evident that all is not well with Nigeria, both at home and in its standing in the comity of nations, former has said.
He also recalled that the country experienced what could truly be described as its golden age of leadership role in Africa and in the wider world in the early years of its independence.
“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,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, which was chaired by Professor Ibrahim Gambari, the former Commonwealth scribe noted that, indeed, the country had taken a lot foray in establishing itself immediately after Independence throughout Africa and the world by championing several advocacies in international bodies, including the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Commonwealth and the United Nations.
According to Anyaoku, “those who were of discerning age in the early years of Nigeria’s independence would readily agree that our country experienced what can truly be described as the golden age of its leadership role in Africa and in the wider world and would not fail to discern the vision of Nigeria at independence by both the departing colonial authorities and Nigeria’s emergent political elite as a great one as contained in the book, entitled, ‘Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink,’ written by John Campbell, a former American Ambassador to Nigeria.
While reminiscencing on the string of foreign policy successes that underscored the country’s leadership position in the international community during that period, Anyaoku said “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 its 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 United Nations, became the backbone of the organisation’s Africanisation of solutions to African problems as evidenced by Dag Hammarskjold, the then United Nations Secretary-General, requesting Nigeria to send a peacekeeping 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, Brigadier 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 United Nations 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 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 led the Monrovian Group of 22 African countries to merge with the Casablanca Group of 5 to successfully form the OAU in May 1963.”
Anyaoku said also 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, while also in 1986, Nigeria’s General Olusegun Obasanjo co-chaired the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group that went to South Africa in an usuccessful attempt to promote negotiations for the ending of apartheid.
He recalled that three years later in 1989, as a Nigerian, he had the opportunity of being appointed by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in Kuala Lumpur 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, though it was geographically far apart from the region.
“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, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the creation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development by President Obasanjo and his South African colleague, President Thabo Mbeki,” he added.
However, he said signs of decline in Nigeria’s leadership position unfortunately began in the wake of the successive military intervention in the country’s governance beginning from January 1966.
While addressing the issue of ECOWAS, which he said was hugely bankrolled by Nigeria, Anyaoku lamented that the organisation’s bureaucracy seemed to have been virtually taken over by the Francophone countries who had gone ahead to establish a parallel French version of the ECOWAS – the Communate Economique d’Afrique de L’Ouest – that now confronted and constrained the ECOWAS.
He, therefore, said with the number and nature of ongoing agitations in several parts of the country, the leadership, including the Senate, which, two weeks ago, rejected a motion for devolution of power, seemed to be indifferent to the fact that Nigeria was currently sleepwalking to a national disaster.
“Restructuring will enable us to create fewer and more viable federating units for planning and pursuit of economic development.
“We can only fix our economy by diversifying it and making it less dependent on revenue from the export of crude oil. This is especially so now that more and more crude oil importing countries are announcing plans for phasing out their reliance on fossil fuel,” he said.
Gambari, on his part, said he was of the belief that implementing a restructured governance might start with ideas from various fora on the subject and not necessarily through another national conference.
“It appears to me, as I hinted earlier, that there is a national consensus on this -to try to preserve Nigeria. It is easy to lead a nation or to organise a nation when everybody is of the same nationality, same religion and the same language. But the real challenge is to mould a nation out of this multiplicity,” he said.