By Ambassador I. J. Sagay
HOW are the mighty fallen!
It was with shock and awe-and great sadness, that I received the news of the death of Ambassador J. T. F. Iyalla, my mentor and benefactor, who refined by the fire of discipline, my raw intellect into burnished gold, as a diplomat. Among the “Pantheon of the Greats” in the Nigerian Foreign Service, Ambassador Iyalla was pre-eminently and incontestably, the “Primus Inter Pares”. He was our icon, and excellence was defined by his uncompromising high standards.
It would be remise of me, not to reveal, and pay tribute to Ambassador Iyalla’s prodigious diplomatic dexterity, which prevented the United States from officially recognizing the “State of Biafra”, during the Nigerian-Biafra Civil war. As Nigeria’s highly regarded Ambassador to the United States, he made strategic contacts at the highest level of the U.S. Government, forcefully defending Nigeria’s “Keep Nigeria One” policy and denying Biafran lobbyists high level access. Week after week, he travelled outside Washington, DC to address Town Hall meetings, students at university campuses, participate in television programmes, on the Nigerian civil war.
He literally made captive supporters of Nigeria, the Congressional Black Caucus on Capitol Hill, who vigorously lobbied for support for Nigeria. Had he failed in his mission to deny Biafra recognition by the U.S Government, the outcome of the civil war might have been calamitous for Nigeria. The nation owes this patriot and unsung nationalist, a debt of gratitude, and the conferment of post-humous highest national award.
Contrary to what those not close to him might think, Ambassador Iyalla was quintessentially a very civilized and cultured gentleman. He was urbane, ethical and learned, and did not suffer fools gladly. And to borrow Shakespeare’s epitaph, “His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him, that nature might stand up and say to all the world: This Was a Man!
We shall not see his like again! He will always be remembered with gratitude by those he mentored, for his visionary leadership and exemplariness. And long after the gang of his detractors in the Ministry, men who were unfit even to unlace his diplomatic shoes, in matters exemplary, are dead and utterly forgotten, leaving no footprints behind, Ambassador Iyalla’s name and legacy will long endure.
As the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MFA, his goal for the Nigerian Foreign Service, was for its diplomats to attain the highest competencies and capabilities in diplomacy, that will make them, the equal of their European and American counterparts, in the global diplomatic arena. And he succeeded. Under him, Nigerian diplomats were second to none!
During his distinguished and meritorious career, underscored by his forensic grasp of diplomatic issues, he served as: Deputy Secretary General of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Ambassador and Deputy Head of Mission at the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations in New York; Ambassador to the United States of America; and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs.
In spite of his glittering and distinguished career, serving the nation with uncommon zeal and devotion, his service was cowardly and maliciously terminated, “with immediate effect”. Instead of a nation’s gratitude and a crown of glory, he was rewarded with a crown of thorns! For almost forty years thereafter, he has lived on the pittance of retirement pension of less than N50,000 a month. A more ungrateful and vengeful nation than Nigeria, will be difficult to find.
Comforted by a life well-lived, I bid His Excellency Ambassador Iyalla, my iconic leader and friend, a fond farewell, as he ascends in trailing clouds of glory, accompanied by flights of Angels, to Paradise and Eternal rest. REQUISCAT!