Adeniji: The Transformation of an International Functionary and Diplomatist

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Oluyemi Adeniji

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON, born on July 22, 1934 in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State passed on Monday, 27th November, 2017, at the age of 83 years, four months and five days, quietly and peacefully, in London, United Kingdom. His demise reminds of many things in life: fame and human worth, name and integrity, impact and legacy, living and Godliness, particularly in terms of what we are told biblically.

First, the book of Ecclesiastes 1: 4-5, says that ‘one generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.’ Without any scintilla of doubt, the generation of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji is gradually passing away as predicted biblically. No one should, therefore, complain about his death. But his death is most painful, particularly to me as a Nigerian by blood descent.

Second, his death reminds me of Elisabeth Barrett Browning, who noted in Aurora Leigh that ‘a great man leaves clean work behind him, and requires no sweeper up of the chips.’ This statement is interesting because of the definition of a great man. To qualify to be a great man, one’s work must have been clean. The cleanliness must be to the extent that there is nothing to clean or sweep in terms of dirt or sweep under the carpet in terms of acts of misdemeanour. This means that greatness is about righteousness and not about national titles, chieftaincy awards, or other societal honours.

When Elisabeth Browning made her observation, did she not have a person like Ambassador Adeniji in mind? I am more than convinced she did, because she must have considered that her own stratum of society could not have been the only one, where the virtue of greatness existed. And true enough, Ambassador Adeniji left a superbly clean record, both as an international functionary and diplomatist. He is a real man in the way Henri Frédéric Amiel defined it: ‘great men are the real men: in them nature has succeeded,’ (vide Journal, 13 August, 1865). Ambassador Adeniji was truly an epitome of greatness because he left behind clean work and because nature truly succeeded in him.
More important, he is famous for various breakthroughs in many diplomatic negotiations. He was a diplomatic technician and technologist whenever there were political lulls. His fame is more about being calm in attitude, painstaking in execution of duties, soft spoken in discussion, perseverance in the face of challenges, patriotic in the face of competing foreign policy interests, and most significantly, never unassuming in foreign policy and strategic calculations.

In fact the thinking of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, is not different in this case. In his immediate reaction to the demise of Ambassador Adeniji while in China, Obasanjo noted ‘his memorable stint in the Nigerian Foreign Service in the decades after Nigeria’s attainment of independence, during which he carved a niche for himself in global diplomacy.’ And more interestingly, Chief Obasanjo also noted ‘Ambassador Adeniji’s enormous contributions to the nation, in particular, and the international community, in general, (which) earned him an eminent position in the nation’s gallery of unforgettable public servant.’

Even if anyone has any reason to cast an iota of doubt on the life and times of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, there is no disputing the fact that he commendably served as a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer. He rose not only to become the Permanent Secretary but also the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In fact, he was not simply a career diplomat but also a diplomatist, who combined diplomatic ethics with dints of academia. A diplomatist, for us, is any diplomatic careerist, who is also engaged in intellectual activities. A diplomatist, an old English word, is necessarily a diplomatic thinker.

In Nigeria, there are a few of them: Phillip Asiodu, Tayo Ogunsulire, Olu Sanu, Akporode Clark, Oluyemi Adeniji, L.O. Oladejo Oyelakin, Dapo Fafowora, Oladele, Gbenga Ashiru, Segun Apata, Femi George, Kayode Shinkaiye, Segun Akinsanya, Martins Uhomoibhi, Joe Keshi, Eni Onobu, Ozichi Alimole, Lawrence Olufemi Obishakin, etc. All these diplomatists are not only careerists but have also authored articles or books or papers that have generated scholarly interests.
In the same vein, there are also a few diplomatic scholars in Nigeria: Bolaji Akinyemi, Akinjide Osuntokun, Alaba Ogunsanwo, Ibrahim Gambari, George Obiozor, Raphael O. Olaniyan and Femi Aribisala. Professors Akinyemi and Gambari were former Foreign Ministers. Professors Osuntokun and Ogunsanwo were former ambassadors. Professor Olaniyan served with the African Union for many years. Dr. Aribisala was former Special Adviser to Foreign Minister Akinyemi. So, they are academics with diplomatic experiences.

Even though Professor Obiozor was Special Adviser on International Relations to President Shehu Shagari, and Professor Osuntokun was Special Adviser to Foreign Minister Ike Nwachuhkwu, I want to place on record that I am the luckiest of all of them as a diplomatic scholar: Shehu Shagari was not a diplomat or a diplomatist. Ike Nwachukwu was a soldier, but Oluyemi Adeniji was not only a diplomatic careerist with very sagacious diplomatic alertness, but also a seasoned international functionary. He appointed me his Special Assistant. When he was named Minister of Interior, he again reappointed me as his Special Assistant. When many scholars posit that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy, I learnt considerably from my appointment as Ambassador Adeniji’s Special Assistant.

Perhaps, more noteworthy is the fact that I also served as Special Assistant to Chief Ojo Maduekwe, when he was Foreign Minister. Chief Ojo Maduekwe was an avid reader and a good tactical politician. The attitude of a politician as a Foreign Minister is completely different from that of a diplomatic careerist named as a Foreign Minister. Working with a Foreign Minister politician, Foreign Minister diplomat and Interior Minister necessarily makes me the luckiest diplomatic scholar available in modern day Nigeria, and this is simply because Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji opened the windows and doors of opportunity widely for me.

I seized the opportunity. Virtually all the directors and under-secretaries in the Foreign Ministry gave me the empirical education lacking in the curricula of universities. Without any jot of gainsaying, I became a diplomat in situ in the Ministry. This is why the death of Ambassador Adeniji is very painful, most painful to me as an individual. Whoever wants to evaluate the personality, achievements and contributions of Ambassador Adeniji should simply look at what he did regarding my appointment as his Special Assistant.

Terrible Things versus Righteousness
When Ambassador Adeniji offered me appointment as his Special Assistant, Ambassador Ayo Adigun, then a director in the Office of the Honourable Minister, backed it up with an official letter. On this basis, I applied for permission from the then NIIA Director General, Mrs. Joy Ogwu, for leave of absence or secondment, but the application was never responded to in spite of reminders. Ambassador Adeniji called me to find out whether I wanted to accept the offer and I explained the challenges I had. He was much concerned to the extent that he personally went to discuss the matter with the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Ufot Ekaette.

The details of their discussion I did not know. What I know is that Ambassador Adeniji asked me to report in Abuja which I did. He took me to the Office of the SGF. The relevant aspect of the meeting was that the NIIA was, and still is, a government parastatal, according to the SGF. My appointment as a Special Assistant was considered to be in another government institution, and therefore perfectly in order. The SGF therefore directed that I should go and resume duty and that by the end of my tenure as Special Assistant, the appropriate decision would be taken, especially that the NIIA DG might not be there by then.

Ambassador Adeniji, from the foregoing, was not used to noise-making. He defined his focus and he pursued it doggedly. On that very day of meeting with SGF Ekaette, I learnt the difference between a Special Assistant and a Special Adviser in a Ministry: when one is appointed within the government institutions, one answers Special Assistant, but if the appointee is coming from outside of government institution, one answers a Special Adviser. In this regard, the main responsibility of a Special Adviser is to give an advice or opinion on issues referred to him or her but a Special Assistant is required to assist his boss in whatever he or she does.

With this new education, I developed a very strong determination to assist my boss. My approach was to completely do away with my theoretical education and to begin as a student in the Foreign Ministry. In many areas, theory is completely different from practice. Serious diplomatic activities are generally not reported and hardly do they reflect theories. I learnt fast and quickly polished my views on many issues. This was greatly due to Ambassador Adeniji, who actually became my professional father.

When I returned to the NIIA, Professor Osita Eze had succeeded Professor (Mrs) Joy Ogwu as Director General. I sent a letter informing the Management that I had returned to resume my academic duties. The official reply was that I had absconded and that I was no longer a staff of the NIIA. Where did I abscond to? I went back to Abuja to report to the new SGF, who was then Babagana Kingibe. He looked into the matter and could not see any justification for declaring me unwanted at the NIIA. He directed the then Foreign Minister, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, to ensure my reinstatement with immediate effect and that he did.

For more than nine months of running here and there, I was without salary, simply because I went to serve government but Ambassador Adeniji stood by me like a rock of Gibraltar. I was always drinking from his fountain of knowledge, especially in terms of perseverance in the face of challenges and persecution. Even though the NIIA eventually paid me all my salary entitlements, my professorial assessment was unnecessarily delayed and that largely affected my status and income at the Foreign Ministry.

One other important thing I learnt from Ambassador Adeniji is that one with God is majority and that truly, if God be with you, who can be against you. Imagine! I was the only person since the establishment of the NIIA in 1961, and particularly since 1971, when Government officially took over the NIIA, to have his appointment as Director General advertised. I was then Acting Director General. The practice was for the president to confirm or appoint a Director General straight forwardly. But for various reasons that cannot be discussed here, the advert was set aside and my appointment as a substantive Director General was confirmed on November 16, 2011, exactly 365 days after my appointment on November 16, 2010 as Acting Director General.

The message here is that, for reasons I could not, and that I cannot still, understand, the Nigerian system is always militating against my patriotic disposition. The system is anti-honesty of purpose. However, Ambassador Adeniji always had an answer: there are worse cases than yours. This man from Ijebu Ode, this source of sweet inspiration, is said to have passed on. Has he truly passed on? It cannot be true that he had passed on.

A person, who passes on or away is the one without a clean record behind. It is the people without legacy to talk about. It is precisely the people who gain the whole world but not qualified for entry into the Kingdom of God. Thankfully, Ambassador Adeniji does not fall under any of the foregoing. He lived a simple and honest life. He was an acknowledged international civil servant, with expertise in disarmament issues and diplomatic negotiations. He was the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General at the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) from November 19, 1999 to July 16, 2003. He was also the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in the Central African Republic (MINURCA).

He was an active member of the Association of Retired Career Ambassadors of Nigeria (ARCAN). He authored several books, one of which considerably impacted on Africa: The Treaty of Pelindaba on the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which is simply referred to as the Treaty of Pelindaba.
The treaty is named after South Africa’s main Nuclear Research Centre, where South Africa’s atomic bombs of the 1970s were made and managed by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation.

Twenty-eight ratifications were required for the treaty to enter into force and this was done on 15 July, 2009. There were 40 ratifications as at June 2014. Nigeria, like most other countries, signed the treaty on April 11, 1996, but deposited her instrument of ratification on June 18, 2001. Ambassador Adeniji’s deep involvement at the level of the United Nations speaks volumes hence authoring a book on the issue is quite understandable.

At the level of Nigeria, Ambassador Adeniji is on record to have initiated the concept of Africa has Come of Age, with which President Murtala Muhammed was much delighted to read at the OAU summit in Addis Ababa and which President Obasanjo considered he should have been allowed to go to Addis Ababa to read it on behalf of Murtala Muhammed. And perhaps, most significantly, Ambassador Adeniji reviewed Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s foreign policy concentricism by introducing the concept of constructive and beneficial concentricism.

Foreign policy concentricism, as defined by Professor Gambari, lays emphasis on dividing the operational areas of Nigeria’s foreign policy into four concentric circles: innermost circle, consisting of Nigeria and the immediate neighbours; West Africa; other parts of Africa; and the rest of the world. Arguing that the security of Nigeria was intertwined with that of the immediate neighbours, Professor Gambari included the immediate neighbours as part of Nigeria in the innermost circle.

Ambassador Adeniji did not quarrel with this classification, but raises the need to first articulate the national interests at stake in each concentric circle. Hence, he argued that the pursuit of any Nigerian interest in any given concentric circle must not only be constructive in tactic but particularly made beneficial for the people of Nigeria wherever they may find themselves. This is what he had called constructive and beneficial concentricism.

Thus, Ambassador Adeniji was a beacon of light. He had fame. Dante Alighieri noted in his Divine Comedy: Inferno that ‘Chè, seggendo in piuma, in fama non si vien, nè sotto coltre, that is, ‘for fame is not won by lying on a feather bed under a canopy.’ Explained differently, fame is essentially a resultant of dint of hard work. So is honour worth its name. Consequently, the generation of hard workers, hard thinkers, unrelenting patriots, etc is passing away without much attention being given to it in terms of who is entering into their shoes.

A vacuum has been created with the transformation of Ambassador Adeniji. But who is entering into his diplomatic shoes? Let me say that the current generation of Foreign Service Officers needs divine prayers of God. But meanwhile, May the gentle soul of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji continue to rest in peace in the mighty Name of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen. Adieux to a professional diplomatic father!

  • Avosuahi

    I have just read with a heavy heart the sad news of the passing of Ambassador Olu Adeniji. My hearfelt condolence to the family of my former boss, the people of Ijebu Ode, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Nigeria as a whole. A perfect detribalized human being, a promoter of professionalism has left us. May the legacy he has left behind, especially in the Foreign Service, be maintained.
    Rest in peace oga mi owon.