Honour in International Life and National Development: Ayo Ajomo and Chris Ogunbanjo as a Case Study


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

International life is an extension of international relations: while international relations deal essentially with inter-state relationships in which the main actors are all government officials, international life includes, not only what government officials do in their private capacity, but also what non-state stakeholders do but having considerable impact on international relations.

Put differently, international life is about the involvement of private individuals and organisations in international relations directly through governmental invitation or indirectly through their own initiative to be involved. The coinage of international life is traceable to the Sorbonnard school of thought in Paris, France. The coinage is aimed at underscoring the point that there should be an analytical distinction between what the state does in its official capacity and what its agents do in their private capacity, and particularly what non-state actors also do within the framework of international relations.

For instance, there is the NACCIMA (Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture), established in 1960 with a vision to supporting the growth and development of private enterprise and initiative. From its name, it is a group of non-governmental economic stakeholders.

What is of particular interest and relevance about the NACCIMA is that, last week, Ambassador Ayo Olukanni, a diplomatist in the true sense of the word, resumed duty as the Director General of the NACCIMA, meaning that, in addition to the requirement of administrative skills, he cannot but be expected to also bring in all his diplomatic experience in the promotion of the objectives of the NACCIMA: promotion, protection and development of all matters affecting business; creation of a conducive atmosphere for the pursuit of commerce, industry and all other forms of economic activities; and perhaps most importantly, ‘provision of a network for national and international business contacts and opportunities.’

The choice of an ambassador to engage in the provision of a network for business contacts, nationally and internationally, does not need much expatiation beyond the fact that one major preoccupation often contained in any Mission Charter of Nigeria’s missions abroad is the promotion of economic diplomacy, that is, the attraction of new foreign direct investments, more trade, and more economic friendship between Nigeria and the host countries of Nigeria’s diplomatic missions. In this regard, all ambassadors have to interact with both government officials and the business community in their host countries. Thus, all business communities in any country necessarily engage in international relations in one way or the other. This is why a distinction is often made among official, unofficial, and officious relationships under which international life is categorised.

Regarding ‘honour’ it is, grosso modo, an objective that is hardly declared as part of foreign policy pursuit in both international life and international relations. However, the truth is that every member state of the international community is seriously struggling for, at least, a modicum of honour, because honour is a means and measure of international recognition. It is a measure of status and a major dynamic of observation of protocol and application of etiquette in all official transactions at both the national and international levels. More interestingly, it is not only an expression of quality of respectability and social standing, it is also a resultant of societal worthiness and allocation of responsibilities in international relations.

Probably at this juncture, it should be argued that one Yoruba proverb explains it better: iri nisi ni isoni lojo (it is how you are perceived that you will be related with). This factor of perception plays the same role in international relations, especially within the context of power politics. It is because of honour that North Korea decided to defy all nuclear obligations and resorted to nuclear armament. It is also because of need for national prestige and honour that President Donald Trump has come up with the policy of ‘America First.’
And true enough, honour is, by definition, largely predicated on nobility, integrity of purpose, high principles, uprightness, honesty and righteousness. This is what both the powerful and the weak countries of the world are all pursuing in a world where the sermon of sovereign equality is preached, but to no avail.

Besides, honour can be used as a verb and can also serve as a noun. As a verb, it simply means fulfilment of an obligation or regarding with a great respect, as made clear in the following sentence: ‘I will honour the agreement as required and signed.’ As a noun it means pride and pleasure, high respect or great esteem, and doing what is right. Members of House of Representatives answer the title, ‘honourable,’ which is a derivative from ‘honour.’ Senators are referred to as ‘distinguished,’ simply to also suggest that they are men of honour. When one is said to be honourable or distinguished, what is the extent of being honourable and being distinguished?
Etymologically speaking, honour is from Middle English, honour or honor or honur. Its origin is traceable to Old French, honor, and to Latin, honor. Basically, honour, which is also traceable to biblical times as contained in 1 Peter 2:4, is about human evaluation of one-self or of others. Human evaluation of other humans can be good, and it is generally good, but may not be good in the eyes of God. As contained in 1 Peter 2:4, ‘come to Him, the ever-living Stone, rejected indeed by men as worthless, but in God’s esteem chosen and held in honour.’ Consequently, it cannot but be difficult to determine the extent or quantum of honour an individual person has. However, it is the volume of work, contributions to societal development that are often considered in deciding and conferring honour of whatever kind.

What is particularly noteworthy about honour is the fact that it is, more often than not, done in reaction to a development. It is generally given in acknowledgement of something done in service to humanity. Additionally, the evaluation of why an honour has to be given to someone can be informed by subjectivity of purpose. Nonetheless, there is a general belief in the popular Latin saying, that vox populi, vox dei, meaning the ‘voice of the people is the voice of the Lord.’

In other words, the public evaluation of life of some people is also considered the evaluation by God of the people he created. It is within this context that societal recognitions and awards of honour, in this case, Professor Michael Ayodele Ajomo, former Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) and Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, Officer of the Federal Republic and Commander of the Order of Niger, should be explicated and understood.

Typologically, honour has a multi-dimensional form and aspects. It can take an academic form in which case it will be in plural: honours degree, such as First Class honours, etc. It can be by conferment of titles, such as honorary chieftaincy titles; professional membership awards, such as being a Member of the National Institute, Member or Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Fellow of the Nigerian Society of International Law, etc. It can also take the form of organisation of public lectures, symposia, workshop, seminars, organisation of sessions of tributes, etc, in honour of people who have added value to societal development; giving of medals of honour; sporting competitions in honour of sports enthusiasts; conferment of citizenship on foreigners; etc.

Without jot of doubt, last week witnessed the organisation of various activities to honour the living and the dead. For instance, the 10th Memorial Symposium of Senator Abraham Adesanya took place in Lagos. The symposium focused on ‘Leadership and the future of Nigeria’ as the theme of discussion. Whatever the opinion of the participants at the symposium, the intellectual challenge posed by the theme is apt: how is the current leadership of the country addressing the future? Has Nigeria a future of national survival? Before Abraham Adesanya passed on, he was much preoccupied with the future of Nigeria, by particularly agitating for restructuring in political governance, but to no avail in his life time. In his honour, and particularly to sustain what he stood for, a memorial symposium is put in place so that he can always be remembered.

In the same vein, an annual lecture series has been inaugurated in honour of Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, who is still alive and actively engaged in societal development. This means that lecture series not only constitute an expression of honour, but can also be organised in recognition of the living and the dead. In fact, last week witnessed the 2018 Lecture in his honour. It was held in Lagos at the Metropolitan Club. What really is noteworthy about honour is the qualification for it. How do you qualify for it? Apart from qualification, what are the modalities for recognition of the qualification?

Let us now look at the dynamics of the honour given to Professor Ajomo through the organisation of a session of tributes by the NIALS and the Faculty of Law of the University of Lagos, as well as the lecture organised in honour of Chief Ogunbanjo so that future generations can emulate and draw lessons from them.


The Dynamics of Honour

The issue of honour was raised in the lecture given by Professor Itse Sagay, Senior advocate of Nigeria and head of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in August 2015, at the 2018 Chris Ogunbanjo lecture, held at the Metropolitan Club, Victoria Island, Lagos. The issue of honour was raised within the framework of the conflict of choice between liberal democracy as a dynamic of economic growth and development, on the one hand, and dictatorship or high handedness as a dynamic of economic growth and development, on the other hand.

On the first hand, Professor Sagay noted five critical observations: first, Nigeria is one of the few liberal democracies available in Africa, even though the Freedom House ‘considers many of the officially democratic governments in Africa and the former Soviet Union to be undemocratic in practice, usually because the sitting government has a strong influence over election outcomes.’

Second, Professor Sagay has it that Nigeria’s Constitution confers many rights and privileges on citizens, but without comparative provisions on the duties of the said citizens. Consequently, he has posited, ‘this culture of rights without counterpart duties and responsibilities, has had a devastating effect on our polity.’

Third, Professor Sagay admits that the political and public service elite do know their rights and power and are also very conscious of them. However, he further noted, ‘rather than promoting these values, obligations and principles, our political elite have engaged in the opposite course of conduct, effectively destroying these critical good governance principles.’ And perhaps more saddening, ‘contrary to these provisions, those put in charge of managing the pensions of old and retired workers have indulged in helping themselves to the very funds they are engaged to protect and increase.’

Fourth, but more interestingly, Professor Sagay rightly recalled that ‘the political and public service elite of the pre-independence era and the First Republic, 1960-1966, had one thing in common, the spirit of whole hearted service without personal gain… There was not a whiff of corruption, acquisitive instinct, and accumulation of wealth, etc, in the orientation of any of these great men (Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo), and their colleagues all wanted to serve and sacrifice for Nigeria or their regions in Nigeria.’

Fifthly, and most significantly, Professor Sagay is not happy that ‘the rest of the world is moving on, we (Nigerians) are retrogressing or, at best, standing still in one spot.’ There was the time Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea, as well as Indonesia, were at par. As at today, the modern elite in Nigeria ‘has indulged itself fully in its pursuit of money and vanity, without “giving a damn” about their corresponding responsibilities… They turn state institutions into personal fiefdom over which they preside like emperors in their vanity and emptiness, leaving the state in a hopeless condition.’

The foregoing observations now bring us to the other second hand, that is, honour to whom it is due. But before doing so, how do we explain the current attitudinal disposition of the modern elite in Nigeria? Professor Sagay failed to educate us on this matter. He only reminded us about what the leaders of Singapore, South Korea and even of Rwanda had done to transform their countries, but why the case of Nigeria has remained sorrowful is the daunting challenge to be collectively addressed.

In addressing the challenge, some questions will need to be asked: why did the Federal Government of Nigeria collect deposits from Nigerians in April 1994 for the purposes of building houses that were meant to be allocated to depositors in December 1994, and yet, as at today, no construction of any house has taken place, no refund has been made, and no government official is showing any concern about it?

The attention of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, was drawn in November 2015 to how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under Ambassador Bulus Lolo, served as an accomplice in the complete bastardisation and destruction of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) by the Ike Nwachukwu-led Governing Council. The attention of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was also drawn to it. However, the bastardisation was covered up. Government opted to simply keep quiet about it. Why complain about non-development in Nigeria? Why compare Nigeria with Singapore, Malaysia or South Korea?

Contrary to the conclusion of Professor Sagay that ‘Nigeria needs a soft authoritarian figure … but operating within the Constitution,’ what Nigeria needs is the principle of objectivity and sincerity of purpose, visible application of the rule of fairness and justice in political governance, and a leader who will be first honest with himself or herself. This is because a leader who is not honest with himself can never be honest with other people. Nigerian leaders are most dishonest with themselves and that is why development has constantly remained a recidivist question in Nigeria. Development in Singapore or South Korea is neither a resultant of an ‘apparent intolerance of distractions’ by the leaders of Singapore and other countries that have made it, nor is intolerance of distractions the vital quality that helped propel Singapore’s phenomenal development,’ as posited by Professor Sagay.

Questions which Professor Sagay should also be asking are many. First, why is the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari consciously aiding and abetting acts of serious indiscipline which are major components of corruption? Only chartered accountants can be appointed a Director of Administration and Finance in the public service. Why did the Government keep quiet over it when attention was drawn to the case of Miss Agatha Ude at the NIIA? Why did Government keep quiet over reports that the Director of Administration and Finance falsified promotion examination results?

Again, at the same level of the NIIA, why is the Government keeping quiet about the indictment and conviction by a competent law court of Dr. Efem Ubi, a Research Fellow, for indecently assaulting the wife of the former Director General of the NIIA? The Public Service Rules provide that whoever is convicted by a law court should be placed under suspension until the matter is fully addressed by the Public Service Commission.

Why has he not been placed under suspension by the NIIA management? Can there be development with this type of situation? Another NIIA Research Fellow, Professor Frederick Agwu, alleged that the former Director General, Professor Bola Akinterinwa organised to kill him. He reported the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Bar Beach police station. Since mid 2015, the police investigators have not been able to identify the owner of the telephone number of the alleged Akinterinwa-sent assassins up till this time of writing. In fact, it is only in Nigeria of Muhammadu Buhari that petitions are written against chief executives, that the petitions are never investigated, and that appropriate authority will still take decision without bordering to ask even one question from the petitioned.

In Nigeria, political governance is largely predicated on untruth, military esprit de corps, religious solidarity, and ethnic chauvinism. Governance is hardly based on objectivity or research. Poverty-driven voters have eyes but cannot see well in making choice of good candidates. These are some of the reasons why Nigeria is constantly at the crossroads of confusion, indecision and non-development.

Development is first about honesty and dignity of purpose. It is about patriotism and dint of hard work. It is about commitment and dedication. It is also about courage and perseverance and unrelenting determination to defend the national interest. Most unfortunately, however, these are values that are severely punished in Nigeria. This is why Nigeria has not, cannot, and will not be able to develop like the Asian Tigers. When the number of professors who cannot profess is on the increase, when ambassadors who are not diplomatic in training are made plenipotentiaries, even when old age is no longer that of wisdom but that of political chicanery, Nigeria can only retrogress.

This is why the session of tributes for the late Professor Ajomo and the lecture in honour of Chief Ogunbanjo are perfectly in order. They should be commended because the two of them are shining examples of academic and business productivity, personal integrity and exemplary leadership in the manner or near-manner of Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and Park Chung-hee of South Korea.

Professor Ajomo was the pioneer of the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law in 1977 who ‘nurtured the department to enviable heights… He pioneered the teaching of Oil and Gas Law in Nigeria, when he designed and introduced the subject into the undergraduate syllabus of the Faculty in 1975.’ These are some of the dynamics of honouring him.

The dynamics of holding annual lecture in honour of Chief Chris Oladipo Ogunbanjo are not different. He is a philanthropist, who advocated the establishment of domiciliary accounts in Nigeria until it was accepted through the promulgation of Foreign Currency Decree 18 of 1985. He set up a Foundation, Chris Ogunbanjo Foundation, in 1993 for purposes of charity. The Foundation is part of the African Cancer Center which is fighting cancer 24/7 all day. He is over 90 years of age, yet he has devoted the active part and rest of his life to the service of humanity as a seasoned lawyer.

Thus, honour is not a commodity, and must, therefore, not be taken as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidders. It has to be always worked for the way Professor Ajomo and Chief Ogunbanjo have. So is development. It has to be worked for. There are professional honours, the qualifications for which are clearly stated. There are national honours whose qualifications are now over-politicised to the extent that the honour has become dishonourable. Many are the nationally-honoured people also found wanting to the extent that their national honour has become detrimental to the purpose of even awarding the honour.

In fact, many are also the Nigerians who should have been honoured on the basis of their societal pedigree, contributions to national intellectual development, as well as national unity. Yet, they are not recognised by Government. Nigeria can never develop on the basis of subjectivity of planning and untruth, because honour is honour when it is people initiated, people considered, people decided, people engineered, people given, and, above all, God anointed. Let all Nigerians begin to speak to the truth, speak to fairness and justice in political governance as a new foundation for creating a new Nigeria, a united Nigeria, a united and vibrant Nigeria, and a developed Nigeria of our dream that will be completely free from political chicanery, to begin with. By so doing, Nigeria can be likened to Singapore and others.