BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
About 24 hours before former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a lecture in Lagos last week, a contradiction seemed obvious between his political personality and the theme on which he was to speak.
A member of the Board of Trustees of the Osigwe Anyiam- Osigwe Foundation, organisers of the Lecture, Charles Anyiam- Osigwe, was on Arise News. The anchor, Steve Ayorinde, asked the guest a question to the effect that why was Johnson the choice to speak on a topic that sounds like a chapter of a book on moral philosophy. This was, of course, a subtle reference to the “partygate” parliamentary inquiry in which the former prime minister is accused of lying about parties he attended during the COVID lockdown three years ago. Johnson’s government imposed the rules in the face of the pandemic. Now the former prime minister is being accused of breaching the rule. Johnson has stoutly defended himself that he did not intentionally mislead the parliament.
In response, the Charles Anyiam-Osigwe made the point that it was in the tradition of the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation to welcome ideas from divergent perspectives. He argued that the forum would be less enriching if only those with same views were to be invited to give lectures. In other words, as Mao Zedong would put it, “let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.” And indeed the 16th session of the Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Lecture Series organised in collaboration with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) was a mine of ideas. It was remarkable that amidst the political ferment in the land, a forum was put together to reflect on deeper issues of our common humanity.
The aim of the Foundation was amply realised. To start with it was well-attended. Among those present were Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who chaired the occasion; President-Elect Bola Tinubu, who was represented by former deputy governor of Lagos state, Otunba Femi Pedro; Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi; Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, who was also represented by his deputy, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat; former Foreign Minister Professor Bolaji Akinyemi; Director-General NIIA, Professor Eghosa Osagie; businessman, Paschal Dozie; Chief Ben Obi, politician, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Muiz Banire.
The Foundation staged the lecture last week in furtherance of the ideas of a moral philosopher, philanthropist and entrepreneur, Emmanuel Onyechere Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe. According to the Foundation, the “Lecture Series is a scholarly examination of the Integral Parts of the Holistic Approach to Human Existence and Development including the inter-relationship between the parts with a view to making them applicable in the individual’s life for his upliftment and that of the society.” The Foundation primarily promotes Anyiam-Osigwe’s thoughts on the issues of social justice, inequality, poverty, environment, world peace and spiritual well-being. The Nigerian Philosophical Association gave Anyiam-Osigwe a post-humous award of a “Sage Philosopher.” Publications about Anyiam-Osigwe’s ideas were also made available at the venue.
Johnson, who is a member of the British parliament, spoke on the theme “Rehumanising Human Experience: A Synopsis of Anyiam-Osigwe’s Treatises.” The former prime minister’s background as a journalist, biographer and politician were brought to bear as he discussed the topic. The freshness of his perspectives is indisputable.
But before Johnson’s electrifying lecture, other speakers provided more than an appetiser for the main course. The Coordinator of the Foundation Chief Charles Anyiam-Osigwe actually set the philosophical tone of the lecture when he said, as he formally welcomed guests to the occasion, that “in earth-bound existence, whether in the development of the sciences, technology, architecture, environment, economics and economic policy, agriculture, industry, ethical sustainability, man is the factor in giving direction and determining the depth of development.” He also said Lagos is home to the Anyiam-Osigwes as he and some other members of his family had their primary and secondary education in Lagos. Governor Sanwo-Olu rejected the tendency to “always demean” one’s country without offering alternative solutions to the problems. He spoke through his deputy, Dr. Hamzat, who acknowledged the constructive role of the only daughter of the Anyiam-Osigwe family, Peace Anyiam-Osigwe. Sadly, the highly resourceful lady died in January this year. The governor described her as a partner of the government in the development of the state. She “helped” in the training of thousands of young persons in different areas of the creative sector, according to the governor. In the course of his lecture, Johnson also paid tribute to Peace Anyiam-Osigwe for her creativity and sense of social entrepreneurship. In the process, Johnson told the story of his infancy to speak in favour of gender equity, saying that his own sister was the smarter kid in the family.
Anyaoku eloquently gave an apt preview of Johnson’s lecture. He reminded the audience that among Johnson’s books was the biography of another former prime minister, Winston Churchill, entitled “The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History.” Anyaoku remarked both Johnson and himself are graduates of Classics. He paraphrased the Roman Senator and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero to say that “the welfare of the people” should be “the bedrock of policy.” Anyaoku recalled a lecture he gave in Ibadan a few months before he was appointed by President Shehu Shagari as Nigeria’s foreign minister in the Second Republic. The fine diplomat had condemned the corruption that was rife in that republic. When Shagari made reference to those critical comments on the state of things in Nigeria as the diplomat assumed office in September 1983, Anyaoku drew the President’s attention to the introduction of the lecture in which he quoted Churchill : “When I am abroad, I always make it a rule never to criticise or attack the government of my own country. I make up for lost time when I come home.”
And that was exactly what Johnson did when he came to Lagos nine days ago. He opened his statement poetically that listening to earlier speakers before him, he was already “rehumanised” in rhythm with the theme of the lecture. He assumed the role of the salesman of the British economy and socio-political values. He made no mention of the socio-economic challenges facing Britain including inequality, an energy crisis, homelessness and health sector strikes. Rather he presented a picture of the United Kingdom as a great country. He shared his experiences as the chairman of transport of committee of the London city council, mayor of London and prime-minister, to prove that an efficient state could promote the common good in sectors such as security, education, transport, healthcare, electricity, environment etc. Johnson boasted about the alleged superiority of British vaccines and technology made “in liberal democracies” over the ones manufactured in countries “under dictatorships.” On the metro projects, he told the Lagos State government to do business with British companies and not with Chinese, Spanish, French etc. After all, as he said, Nigeria shares with Britain the same language and time-zone as well using the same “adaptor for laptops.” Johnson reminded his audience that Cambridge university alone has produced more Nobel Laureates than Russia and China put together.
Above all, Johnson celebrated the supremacy of the rule of law in his country as well as the will of the people in the democratic process. For him, his current ordeal in the parliament has shown that no one is above the law in the UK. Johnson put matter like this: “Imagine the Russian police arresting Vladimir Putin? Can you imagine the Chinese police doing the same to Xi Zing Ping? It shows to me that the law is enforced in my country without fear or favour.
“Whether you are rich or poor, you will receive the same scrutiny and the same protection, the same protection in the UK that is the first and most crucial freedom and the precondition for economic growth and investment. “Freedom under the law. Freedom to live your life as you choose within the law, provided you do no harm to others. With extreme freedom and indispensable freedom is the right to choose those who govern you.
“You have the right to remove them and it’s very precious. It is called democracy. And it works…” As the director-general of NIIA, Professor Eghosa Osagie, admirably summed things up when he remarked that Johnson’s statement was akin to “bringing back the re-engineered state.” In Johnson’s statement the return of the state is quite obvious. According to the eminent political scientist, it was like Johnson brought “the parliament” to Lagos. This, he said, differed from the “neo-liberal orthodoxy” that was taught in schools in the 1980s with the rise of Reaganomics and Thatcherism in the United States and United Kingdom respectively. The neo-liberal battle cry was that the state should shrink if not disappear in in the socio-economic realm. However, Osagie said that today, “the state has the responsibility to make our humanity matter… We must build our humanity.”
So, Johnson came to Lagos to promote the virtues of his country at a time the system at home is rigorously holding him to account. He has been accused of violation of the rules.
This is the basic lesson for those Nigerians who make it a virtue of going to western capitals to present their country perennially as a crime scene.