...This is one country where you have major electricity failure, major accidents on our roads and major failures in the education sector....
For instance, the performances of Nigerian students in both the NECO and WAEC exams are very poor. But nobody ever resigns.
In so many ways, Chief Eleazar Chukwuemeka Anyaoku, 81, ranks among the eminent Nigerians who have done the nation proud. As Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations between 1989 and 1998, he succeeded in writing his name in gold because of his sterling performance.
In this exclusive interview with Kingsley Momoh, the highly regarded diplomat emeritus, who talks about his childhood, his love life and his inspiring diplomatic career, also takes a swipe at the corrupt people in the corridors of power in the country
Could you briefly tell me about your growing up?
I was born in a town called Obosi in Anambra State. I grew up there until I was about eight years old when I went to CMS School in Boji Boji, Agbor, Delta State.
I, however, went back to my home town for my secondary school education at Merchants of Light School in Oba, where I sat for the West African School Certificate Examinations, WASCE. I was fortunate to have set a record in the school in the Senior Cambridge School Certificate.
I later took up a teaching appointment at Emmanuel College, Owerri for 15 months before I moved on to what was then known as the University College, Ibadan, where I graduated in Classics. Then, I joined the Commonwealth Development Corporation, CDC, from where I went to the Nigerian diplomatic service. After serving three years in New York at the permanent mission of Nigeria to the United Nations under one of our most distinguished ambassadors, Chief Simeon Adebo who was very much my mentor, I was seconded by the Nigerian government to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London in April, 1966. I was there till 2000, except for the three months when I came home to serve as a foreign affairs minister in the second administration of former President Shehu Shagari. After three months, the soldiers kicked us out of government. But I was fortunate to return to my former job in London. I was then the deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. I was there until 1989 when the heads of government elected me the third Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. I occupied the position from 1990 till 2000 when I returned to Nigeria.
Did you ever dream of becoming a diplomat?
When I was in the university, I had the ambition of working abroad in the international community. And when the CDC came to recruit, they wanted to recruit one candidate from West Africa. So, they interviewed graduating students from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and what was then known as Western Cameroon. Luckily, I was the only person chosen; so, I went to the CDC which had offices across the world. At the beginning of 1962 when the CDC chairman visited Nigeria, I accompanied him and the regional controller to a meeting with our then Prime Minister, the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. It happened that Tafawa Balewa asked a number of questions which the chairman asked me to respond to and I did. And as we were leaving at the end of the meeting, Tafawa Balewa called me back and said, “The British Government has a number of experts, so why don’t you come and work for your national government and you will be very good at the Nigerian diplomatic service?” So, I said, “Well, Sir, thank you for the honour.” And that was how I ended up in the Nigerian diplomatic service.
Could you tell me a little about your family?
My wife is a very good Egba woman; she is from Ake in Abeokuta. We have been married for 49 years and the marriage is blessed with four children, three males and a female who are all doing well in their individual chosen profession. My daughter is a director of a CDC subsidiary; my first son is a senior special assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan; my second son works in HSBC Bank, London; and my third son, the youngest of them all, works for the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
|Chief Emeka Anyaoku And Kingsley Momoh, During The Interview|
How did you meet your wife?
My wife went to a boarding school in England. She went there when she was 13 and was there till 1961. I myself was in England with the CDC from 1959 to early 1961. But surprisingly, we never met in England. We met in Lagos at the bachelor’s eve party of Prof. Akin Euba whose wife is my wife’s first cousin. My wife had returned to Nigeria three weeks earlier, so she was able to attend the party. Luckily, the party was held in my house due to my relationship with Akin Euba. So, I met my wife at the party.
Was it love at first sight?
It was something close to that. I spotted her and I went to ask her for a dance. So, that was the beginning of the association that eventually led to marriage 11 months after.
Was there any opposition from any quarter?
Oh! There was strong opposition from both families. At that time, inter-tribal marriages were not common and my family was concerned about my getting married to a Yoruba woman. In the same vein, her family was concerned that she wanted to marry a kobokobo as they called the Igbo. Funnily, my people also used to call the Yoruba ngbatingbati (general laugher).
|Chief Emeka Anyaoku & Kingsley Momoh|
But fortunately, the first Chief Justice of Nigeria, the late Sir Adetokunbo Ademola who was my wife’s mother’s cousin and my second Uncle, the late Bishop Nkem, knew each other; so, it was the two of them that broke the impasse between the two families. And then, my mother in-law, who understandably had objection to the relationship initially, eventually became my mother because my biological mother had died. The bond between her and me till her death was the strongest possible. In fact, at her funeral, my wife, in her address, said she ended up being her mother’s daughter in-law and I her mother’s son.
So, what are you into at the moment?
At the moment, I have a number of commitments that still take me abroad. I still do things I now have to do for pleasure. I have been the international president of the World Wide Fund for Nature; I succeeded His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh, the husband to the Queen of the United Kingdom. I did that for eight years until last year-it is now called Vice President emeritus of the WWF and Prince Phillip is the president emeritus. Also, I am a trustee of the British Museum- in fact, it is the first time the British Museum has had an African trustee.
Indeed, talking about the way the British Museum trustees are appointed, the Queen appoints one and the Prime minister appoints 15.
Five years ago, the Queen asked me to succeed her cousin, the Duke of Lester, as her appointee; so, I am a trustee of the British Museum. I still travel abroad. I recently came back from China where I had gone in my capacity as the Vice President emeritus of the WWF to give an address at a conference organised by the WWF and the Chinese authorities. I am also on the advisory board of the democracy project, which is based in Washington.
|Emeka Anyaoku With President Jonathan|
Do you listen to music and what kind of music do you listen to?
I do listen to music, and I love classical music. Apart from this, I love both Juju and Ibo music. I am a great fan of King Sunny Ade and I wish I could sing one of his songs. I am also a great fan of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. I remember I went to a concert in London where Fela performed some years ago. It was a hugely successful concert with lots of people in attendance. They were quite ecstatic by his performance.
Until 1999, Nigeria’s attempt at democracy had failed at different times, a situation that had hampered our development in some ways. What would you describe as the challenges hampering Nigeria’s development?
|Anyaoku On The Left And Quenn Elizabeth At The Bukingham Palace|
The issues or problems that retard Nigeria’s development are many, but if I am to single out two or three of them, I would mention corruption. The level of corruption in this country is the greatest impediment to our development. Here is a country with huge resources, but in terms of human capacity, natural resources and agriculture, we have not been able to tap into these to the success of the country. And then, there is the question of the nature of our politics that is not yet rooted in public service. Our politics still retains the character of politics of individuals wanting self-aggrandisement. This is one country where you have major electricity failure, major accidents on our roads and major failures in the education sector. For instance, the performances of Nigerian students in both the NECO and WAEC exams are very poor. But nobody ever resigns. In many other countries, the ministers or chief executives responsible in these areas would have resigned. So, corruption, the nature of our politics, impunity and lack of personal responsibility for conduct are the three major impediments to Nigeria’s development.