Chief Emeka Anyaoku
Nearly 18 years after he oversaw the suspension of his native country from the Commonwealth, former Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku has said he could have resigned under the pressure of the circumstances if member countries had not specially reaffirmed their confidence in him.
In an interview with THISDAY in Lagos on his 80th birthday, Anyaoku explained also that he was motivated by a sense of obligation to the organisation’s ethical and democratic principles in taking the views he had taken at the time.
As Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Anyaoku had championed the 1991 Harare Declaration on Human Rights and Democracy, which was meant to advance democracy in the world.
But Nigeria became the first major test of the declaration following the hanging of environmentalist and poet Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight Ogoni compatriots on November 10, 1995 by the military regime of Sani Abacha.
The world reacted angrily to the execution, with Britain calling it a “judicial murder.”
Anyaoku was, thus, faced with the difficult task of backing the punishment of his country for violating the Harare principle.
The former secretary general, said, “When the Heads of Government decided to suspend Nigeria, some of them who knew me knew that I was likely to resign. And they, in an unusual manner, adopted a special resolution expressing their full confidence in me as Secretary-General in the hope that I would continue to serve the Commonwealth. So the communiqué that recorded Nigeria’s suspension also recorded this expression of confidence in me. It made it easier for me not to resign as I might have been inclined to do.”
Anyaoku turned 80 on Friday. He bemoaned the state of the nation, saying, “Political leadership in Nigeria in terms of the collective leadership has been disappointing.”
Anyaoku also lamented that the enormous promise, which Nigeria held at independence in 1960, had been “virtually truncated” by poor leadership.
“Now, Nigeria, which was at the same standing as Malaysia, South Korea, and Indonesia, is more than a generation behind those countries. I have lived through, and still live through, the disappointment.
“Now I’m living in hope that the administration we have now in Abuja is advocating and working for the transformation of the country.
“So I am celebrating my 80th birthday in hope,” he said.
He blamed the military intervention of January 1966 for disrupting the country’s democratic evolution and development by introducing into governance negative influences such as corruption and a culture of impunity.
To put the country back on the path of progress, Anyaoku recommended a return to true federalism under a six-region federal structure, saying this would reduce the country’s huge cost of governance and eliminate the “destructive competition for control of power at the centre.”
He, however, supported the calls for a Nigerian president of South-east origin and creation of more states in the zone as a logical outcome of the current geopolitical structure. “But I am an advocate of changing the present structure,” he said.
On the Boko Haram insurgency, Anyaoku said it made sense for the federal government to crack down on the Islamic terror sect.