By Eric Teniola
POPE Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) visited Nigeria between February 12 and 17, 1982. He slept in Enugu, Onitsha, Kaduna, Lagos and Ibadan. Everywhere he went, he was accorded tumultuous reception. On his 82nd apostolic global voyage between March 21 and March 23, 1998, he told the whole world on arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja, on March 21, 1998 that” I come toNigeria as a friend”.
General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (75) was elected the 27th Chairman of the Organisation of the Africa Unity on June 3, 1991. He served till June 29, 1993 before handing over to President Abdou Diouf of Senegal. General Babangida was the second Nigerian leader after General Gowon to head the organisation till the Organisation dissolved into African Union in 2002. At the election held in Abuja, thirty-two African leaders were present. The election took place at the International Conference Centre, Abuja at the time. There were observers from other parts of the world. Nigeria hosted the world that day. Most of the African leaders at then time were impressed by our hospitality and the way and manner the OAU meeting was organised.
The OAU meeting was a prelude to the eventual movement of the seat of the Federal government finally from Lagos to Abuja on December 12, 1991 by General Babangida.
The last time Nigeria hosted the world was in December 2003 when the 17th Commonwealth of Heads of Government meeting held in Abuja with fifty world leaders including the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth in attendance. The task force for the meeting was coordinated by the deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Ambassador Aderemi Olagoke Esan from Ilesha. He was assisted by other top government officials including Chief Bisi Oguniyi from Iree in Osun state. It was during the same meeting that President Olusegun Obasanjo was elected Chairman of the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth visited Abuja with her husband, Prince Phillip. It was the second time she visited Nigeria, the first being in 1956. The Commonwealth meeting in Abuja was the largest gathering in Africa of foreign dignitaries.
Before the commencement of CHOGM 2003, the Queen accompanied by the then first lady, Chief (Mrs.) Stella Obasanjo and President Olusegun Obasanjo on Wednesday evening December 3 were on hand at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to receive the Queen and her husband Prince Phillip. At a State banquet in honour of the Queen at the new Banquet Hall of the State House, the President called the visit, “very significant” and hoped that the traditionally cordial ties between Nigeria and Britain “would be further strengthened…for the mutual benefit of our people.” President Obasanjo said that his administration had pursued “people-oriented policies” intended to improve the living condition of the Nigeria people.
Responding the Queen recalled with fond memories her visit in 1956 and the ever-present warmth and hospitality of the Nigerian people. She praised the new Federal Capital Territory, the successful hosting of the 8th All African Games and the country’s peace efforts in Liberia, Sierra-Leone and other conflict areas in the world.
Her majesty expressed happiness of Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999 and the Obasanjo administration’s “much-needed political, economic and judicial reform” and fight against corruption, adding that “without prosperity and democracy in Nigeria, there will be no lasting prosperity in Africa”. At the banquet, the Queen met and shook hands with state officials, former Nigerian leaders, traditional rulers, civil society leaders, businessmen and religious leaders The Queen also met with Hajia Hashila and Mrs. Folashade Randle who, as little girls in 1956, presented flowers to her.
The following day, the Queen with her husband travelled to Lagos to meet sponsors of the Community Action Through Sports, CASTS, and attend an exhibition the National Conservation Foundation.
By all accounts, Nigeria put together a superlative opening ceremony for CHOGM 2003. Heads of governments and delegates were thrilled by traditional talking drums, dances, music and masquerades.
A few weeks later President Obasanjo was elected Chairman of the African Union in Abuja. Such meetings are very rare to come by in Nigeria of today.
There was a time when our foreign Ministers were like superstars in the global stage.
I have in mind Chief Jaja Anucha Wachukwu (1918-1996), Dr. Okoi Arikpo (1916-1995), Alhaji Nuhu Bamali(1917-2002), Chief Emeka Anyanokwu(84), Major General Henry Edmund Olufemi Adefowope(1926-2012), Dr. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari(72), Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi(75), Major General Joseph Nanven Garba(1943-2002), Major General Ike Omar Sanda Nwachukwu(77), Chief Matthew Tawo Mbu(1929-2012) and Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji(1934-2017).
Nigeria’s finest moment was on January 11, 1976 at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia at an extra ordinary conference on liberation struggles in Africa. General Murtala Mohammed spoke that afternoon and the world listened. He forced the world to take a stand on Angola. Like a volcanic eruption he said AFRICA HAS COME OF AGE. With a roaring voice General Murtala declared, “Another recent development had further heightened the danger of conscious sabotage of our independence by foreign powers. The monetary crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of the economies of the developed countries and the extent to which their prosperity had been built on our poverty. The lower the prices we were paid for our natural resources the higher the prices we have had to pay for the manufactures made out of the same natural resources purchased from us. The result of the world economic crisis has forced the developed countries to face the realities on the interdependence of the world economy, rather than the erstwhile presumption by them that they sustained world economy by themselves.
“The collapse of many supposedly buoyant economies had led to reactions, which even found expression in threats to physically attack some developing countries to force down the price of their raw materials. Neither Europe nor America can endure a drop in their standard of living. But rather than make the necessary adjustments, it appears some developed countries cast around neo-colonialist eyes and once again long for the recolonisation of that Continent which is still endowed with much of the world’s untapped resources. The new weapon is no longer the bible and the flag, but destabilisation and armaments. Mr. Chairman, our organisation should show awareness of the new danger and see the Angolan situations not as an isolated affair but as part of the greater danger. Mr. Chairman, Africa has come of age. It is no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power.
“It should no longer take orders from any country, however, powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or mar. For too long we have been kicked around; for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly. For too long has it been presumed that African needs outside “experts” to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protects those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers, which more often than not have no relevance for us, not for the problem at hand”.
A few minutes after the speech, General Murtala Mohammed flew back to Lagos and the OAU immediately recognised MPLA of Dr. Augustino Neto as the only Government for Angola. That was long time ago.
Suddenly, we have taken the back seat in the world stage. Sadly, the world is moving without us.