Guest Columnist: Ade Adefuye
He has been described as “one of the world’s finest diplomats” and “Nigeria’s best gift to the world”. Queen Elizabeth described him as “Quintessential African”. To Wole Soyinka, he is a “Citizen of the World”. Chukwuemeka Eleazar Anyaoku, the third Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and the first from Africa, will attain the age of 80 on Friday January 18, 2013. The event will be marked by a dinner party organised by the family at Marlborough House Administrative Headquarters of the Commonwealth in London. It is expected to be attended by the “crème de la crème” of the diplomatic community in the United Kingdom, former Secretaries-General of the Commonwealth and senior staff of the organisation. Some members of the royal family have also confirmed attendance.
No doubt, the pinnacle of Anyaoku’s career was his 10-year tenure as the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. Anyaoku occupies a distinctly important role in the history of the Commonwealth in that he became Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in 1990 and was in a position to ensure the implementation of the Harare Declaration, which apart from affirming the Singapore Declaration, introduced positive elements into the machinery of the organisation.
This culminated in the emergence of the “Modern Commonwealth”. The effect of this was to turn the Commonwealth from being a footnote to empire and a club for heads of government of former British colonies, to an association which became a force for good, and an apostle and advocate for democracy, good governance, human rights, rule of law, and sustainable economic and social development. Anyaoku bequeathed to his successor an organisation which became identified with democracy and all that makes society stable, ordered and secured. It was because of the vibrancy which Anyaoku brought to the Commonwealth that made countries like Cameroun, Angola and Rwanda which were not part of the British Empire apply for membership of the organisation.
Of course, the impact which Anyaoku made on the Commonwealth was such that after he retired from the Commonwealth, the international community and his country, Nigeria, could not allow the bundle of talent and experience to remain untapped. In addition to serving as the President of World Wild Life Fund for Nature, Vice-President, Royal Commonwealth Society, and Chairman, International African Institute, Anyaoku has been serving Nigeria as Chairman, Advisory Council on Foreign Relations.
Life for Anyaoku began in Obosi, South-eastern Nigeria. He attended the Merchant of Life School in Oba after which he was one of the brightest few that were admitted to the University College in Ibadan. While in Ibadan, he took a major part in a Latin play and attracted the attention of the authorities of the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC), who chose him among the various applicants for a trainee position. He later left the CDC on the advice of the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa to join the Nigerian Foreign Service. It was while serving at Nigeria’s Mission to the United Nations in New York that he was “head-hunted” to be one of the pioneering staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat, an appointment which took him by surprise and which he nearly turned down.
The reluctance to join the Commonwealth was dictated by the prevailing view of the organisation as a neo-colonial organisation, an epilogue to empire. At the UN, he worked under Chief Simeon Adebo and served at the Special Committee against Apartheid. Emeka came in contact with personalities like Diallo Telli, Oliver Thambo and George Makohun.
For Emeka to be asked to work for an organisation which by then was thought to be a footnote to British Empire, was an anticlimax. But on getting to London, it was a pleasant surprise for Anyaoku to see in Arnold Smith and his colleagues a determination to establish an identity for the organisation and define its activities as an independent collective machinery of the members of the association. They were also determined to establish a set of principles and values at the core of which was the belief in common humanity – an undisguised opposition to racism, colonialism, minority governments and apartheid.
I had the good fortune of meeting Anyaoku while serving as Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Jamaica in 1989 at a time when, as Deputy Secretary-General, he was campaigning to succeed Sonny Ramphal as Secretary-General of the organisation. He defeated former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, and subsequently became the Commonwealth Secretary-General in 1990. I joined the organisation three years later and was able to observe him at close quarters.
The end of apartheid in South Africa in which Anyaoku led the Commonwealth to play a crucial role first in getting the Eminent Persons Group established in 1986 and which began the process that ultimately led to the end of apartheid is perhaps, the hallmark of Anyaoku’s achievement. After leading the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group which consisted among others, Malcom Fraser and Olusegun Obasanjo to visit Nelson Mandela in prison and obtaining broad agreements for the negotiation to end the apartheid system, Anyaoku through the Commonwealth guided the delicate discussions that eventually led to the conduct of the first democratic elections in the apartheid enclave and which led to the emergence of Nelson Mandela as the President of South Africa in (1994). It was a crowning glory for Anyaoku to re-admit South Africa into Commonwealth at a ceremony in Marlborough House, London with Nelson Mandela as President. Anyaoku had earlier on played seminal roles through the Commonwealth, in bringing about the end of minority rule in Namibia and Rhodesia.
But what is not often remembered about Anyaoku and for which he has not received sufficient amount of recognition is his influence in bringing about the end of military rule and one-party systems in many parts of the Commonwealth particularly Africa. He had consistently been troubled by the internal contradictions in the Commonwealth. The organisation espoused democracy as its basic tenet but had member states who were ruled by military or one-party regimes. The opportunity to correct this came with the establishment of the High Level Appraisal Group by Heads of Government at the 1989 meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The work of the group culminated in the Harare Declaration of 1991. It also provided guidelines for the establishment of the Commonwealth groups to observe elections in member countries.
Armed with the Harare Declaration, Anyaoku proceeded to convince regimes that were military or one-party to adopt multi-party democracy. He was able to persuade Presidents Kaunda of Zambia, Rene of Seychelles, Arap Moi of Kenya and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi to adopt multi-party democracy. It has now become a rule that any country that is ruled by a non-elected government forfeits its membership of the Commonwealth. The African Union (AU) has now adopted a similar policy.
In the pursuit of the principle of democracy and good governance in the Commonwealth, Anyaoku ensured the establishment of structures and institutions that would enable the principles to be implemented. It was during his time that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established. The rotating group of 9 Foreign Ministers assesses the nature of any infringement of Commonwealth principles by member countries and recommends measures for corrective action to be taken against the defaulting country. It could suspend a member country or recommend to Heads of Government for expulsion. The Abacha regime was suspended by the Commonwealth in 1995.
Nigeria’s suspension from the Commonwealth following the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa was perhaps one of the greatest tests of Anyaoku’s commitment to Commonwealth principles while at the same time remaining a patriotic Nigerian. I watched from the sideline as the Deputy Director for Strategic Planning, how Anyaoku balanced his commitments to Commonwealth values without compromising his loyalty to his homeland.
In spite of international condemnation of the Abacha regime, Anyaoku made sure that whatever remnant of good that existed in the country were spotlighted. He, for instance, made sure that Abacha’s contribution to the restoration of the regime of Tejan Kabba in Sierra Leone was officially recognised and lauded by the Commonwealth. And when providence intervened to change the leadership of the country, he wasted no time in ensuring that Nigeria under Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar’s leadership returned to the Commonwealth. This writer was part of the staff team of the Commonwealth which Anyaoku dispatched to Nigeria to assist in the process of organizing and observing the 1999 elections which heralded the return of democratic practice to Nigeria.
It was also Anyaoku who formally established the Good “Offices Role of the Secretary-General” as the Commonwealth mechanism for preventing conflicts and resolving them when they occur. This was hinged on his belief that conflicts hinder development. Ever since Anyaoku’s tenure, the Commonwealth has gained a reputation of adopting a soft, non-intrusive approach to resolving conflicts in the process of which its officials managed to win and retain the confidence of conflicting parties. Emeka himself was the master-peace maker.
Anyaoku has remained active on the international scene even after leaving the Commonwealth. But due to the pressure of nature, he is beginning to slow down in his activities. He has however remained a widely respected commentator on contemporary Nigerian and international issues. But he still remains committed to his work as the Chairman of the Nigerian Governing Council on International Affairs. In spite of his international exposure, Anyaoku remains strongly attached to his roots.
The 80th birthday ceremony will also be marked in Obosi in March. The Ichie Adazie of Obosi has been spending his Christmas in Nigeria for the past 30 years. A successful family man, blessed with four children, the youngest of who is a UN diplomatic staff, ensured that his children and grandchildren bear Nigerian names.
Anyaoku still has a lot to offer Nigeria, Africa, and the international community. He has positively impacted the lives of many people including this writer who was recruited by him to the Commonwealth in 1994 and remained behind when he retired in 2000. We have not yet heard the last of Anyaoku. As you clock 80, the message to you Adaze, the Ugwumba Idemili, and your dear wife, Aunty Bunmi, the Omo Oba of Abeokuta and the Ugoma of Obosi, our prayer is that you will spend the rest of your life in good health, and well-deserved comfort.
Happy Birthday Mentor Per Excellence!!!
•Prof. Adefuye is Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States of America