News Feature: The Race To Chatham House

By Sunny Awhefeada,

It is saddening if not depressing that more than sixty years after Nigeria attained independence the country is yet to plot her destiny and define her character. We remain an uncertain people floundering and lost in a vast and turbulent ocean. Growing up and reading social studies, history and government textbooks as well as listening to inspiring lessons from our teachers my generation felt a profound sense of pride in our nationalists and how they pursued out the nationalist struggle that birthed our independence in 1960. We still fondly remember names like Nnmadi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Mbonu Ojike, Dennis Osadebay, Anthony Enahoro and others who took the colonial masters to task and proved to them that Nigerians nay Africans were humans and can run their own affairs.

Azikiwe and Awolowo were articulate and first rate intellectuals whose cerebral accomplishments could not be rivaled by their contemporaries anywhere in the world. Even demure nationalists like Ahmadu Bello and Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa who initially recoiled at the thought of independence ended up being fierce nationalists and patriots who stood tall in the commune of world leaders in their time. When Nigeria shook off the yoke of colonialism in 1960, the leaders and people looked forward to a prosperous nation that was truly independent with no reason to be tied to the apron strings of another country, not even her colonizer. That was why Nigerian students vehemently protested against the Anglo-defence pact of 1962 and carried the day.

Successive administrations were to hold fast to our pride as a truly independent people. Despite receiving British support during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, the Nigerian government led by General Yakubu Gowon ensured that the country maintained a measure of dignity that protected her sovereignty. The General Murtala Mohammed’s regime which succeeded Gowon’s was even fiercer in its nationalist character.

Mohammed told the world that “Africa has come of age” to the dismay of the West. He reconfigured Nigeria’s foreign policy by making Africa its centerpiece. The regime went on to support the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

Even after Mohammed’s death his successor General Olusegun Obasanjo had the courage to rename British Petroleum as African Petroleum in defiance and protest against colonialism in Zimbabwe. Joe Garba’s Diplomatic Soldiering described that era as golden and it was the era when Henry Kissinger deferred to Nigerian diplomacy. All of that was once upon a time.

Decades later and having been tossed on the craggy road to self-destruction Nigeria has become so diffident and low in self-esteem that she now has to rely on validation from our erstwhile colonizers. Those whom we told to let go the reins of power so that we can govern ourselves are now the same people we run to for validation and affirmation. We certainly have dashed the dreams of our founding fathers who insisted “let my affairs themselves govern and in sweet rebirth I will rise a better man”. African nationalists insisted on the ability of Africans to run their affairs without interference. They must now be turning in their graves seeing those who want to be president of Nigeria trying to outdo one another in “the race to Chatham House” in faraway London to explain their vision for Nigeria to our traducers of old. We are told that “Chatham House is a world-leading policy institute with a mission to help governments and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world”. Does this description of Chatham House not sound similar to the mandate of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS) in Kuru, Plateau State? And has any of the presidential aspirants jostling to speak at Chatham House deemed it fit to go to Kuru and discuss his vision for Nigeria?

General Muhammadu Buhari was also unpatriotically at Chatham House in 2014 to talk about his vision for Nigeria. Seven years into his tenure we are all witnesses to what came out of his delivery at Chatham House. The submissions and avowals he made there have all gone with the wind. The evaluation of his sojourn as president returns a loud failure as verdict. This only shows that going to Chatham House to talk is just a hollow ritual which adds no value to governance here. The solutions to our problems are not residual in Chatham House. The solutions are here and in our hearts and they will manifest once we are ready “to be faithful, loyal and honest”. As we prepare for the polls next month three presidential aspirants have taken turns to visit Chatham House. Bola Tinubu, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso all ran to Chatham House in search of validation. Even the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Yakubu Mahmood was at Chatham House a few days ago to talk about the preparedness for the election. Couldn’t he have spoken to us in Nigeria since the elections were meant for us?

It is really difficult to fathom the obsession of our leaders with the West. Could it be that Nigeria’s umbilical cord was buried in Britain and that we must get validation from that country before we can be sure of what we are doing? Those who rule us go to Britain and other countries for medicare. They also send their children to schools in Britain and other countries. Their preference and taste for foreign cars, textile, food and drinks remain unrivalled across the world. Yet, Buhari gave us hope in 2014 when he swore that he would never patronize foreign hospitals for his healthcare. He was applauded when he made that statement in 2014, but today he has the unpatriotic record of being the Nigerian leader that has patronized foreign hospitals the most.
Leaders, in some other climes like Britain and the United States of America which our leaders like to run to, visit universities and policy institutes to talk about their vision for their countries. Such platforms offer the intelligentsia the opportunity to engage such leaders and interrogate their vision and make it holistic or pragmatic as the need may be.

Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders have destroyed the fabric of our universities and subjected the once glorious ivory towers to recycling institutions where the ideals of nationhood have been eroded. Our universities once gave the world Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Chike Obi, Adeoye Lambo, Ojetunji Aboyade, Omafume Onoge, Peter Ekeh, Michael Omolewa, Ayodele Awojobi and a host of other intellectuals and thought leaders who defined and pointed at the direction the world should go. But back home, the universities they so loved and nurtured were subjected to vicious attacks by successive benighted governments that wanted to entrap Nigeria in the abyss of thralldom.

Nigeria needs to be free in the true sense of the word. In doing this, our people must resist neo-colonialism and insist on finding solutions to our problems here.

We have the capacity to dream, think and work. What we need is to enshrine the credo of our national pledge in our hearts and act it out in all that we do. Let those who aspire to rule us talk to us at every opportunity. They should offer their vision and self for scrutiny. They should not be afraid to talk to us. Let them visit our universities and engage our intellectuals and students who make up the youth age bracket for whom the future is all about. I challenge them to go to Kuru, Ibadan, Akoka, Zaria or come to Abraka and unveil their vision. Let us stop the race to Chatham House.

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