An afternoon at the NIIA (2)

In a previous piece on this same narrative of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), the focus was on how institutions fare on the platform of human variables. They can either flourish or flounder. The outcome depends on the helmsman.

Specifically, there was a focus on how the NIIA fared very well under Professor Bolaji Akinyemi such that foreign policy issues thrived on the platform of public discourse. As was noted in the earlier piece, regression set in, in the post-Akinyemi years. However, it looks as if a renaissance is in the offing as witnessed in the early steps of the new director-general of the NIIA, Professor Eghosa Osaghae.

Among other things, he has initiated a new programme in the institute. This new programme, The Ambassadorial Forum, provides a platform for diplomats accredited to Nigeria to speak on various aspects of their respective countries.

Predictably, there is also a downside to much of the immediate foregoing. On this note, it was revealed almost in passing that, a lot of Nigerians who had over-stayed in T&T were to be found in its detention centres

Recently, this writer attended one of these programmes that featured the High Commissioner of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) to Nigeria. I ended the earlier piece by wondering why T&T, though, an oil producer, is not a member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

It was Professor Otubanjo, in our side-talks, that provided the answer to this particular issue by reminding me that, T&T’s membership of OPEC will not go down well with its big and powerful neighbour who has always done its utmost best to break the ranks of this important, Third World commodity grouping.

As I pondered on this point, I remembered that, such was the hostility of the hegemony to OPEC that, there is even in place a 1974 Trade Act, which discriminates heavily against the OPEC member-states.

Again, I also remembered that Mexico, a major oil-producing country, was also averse to OPEC’s membership since she happens to be an immediate neighbour to the United States. Even then, a sense of nostalgia washed over me in the light of NIIA’s participation in those days in the debates on Energy Politics and Diplomacy.

Such indeed was the formidable presence of the NIIA in the oil policy debates that special sessions were conducted on the international politics of energy resources. Such was the concern with our membership of OPEC, that the NIIA commissioned and published a special monograph on Nigeria’s membership of this inter-governmental body. The monograph was authored by a colleague, the late – Ayo Akinbobola.

As I headed for the venue of the discourse, I looked forward to what the High Commissioner would have to say about the tenor and texture of oil politics as these relate to T&T and the rest of the world. But then, details of this and more will be a story for another day in view of my professional and extensive interests in the international politics of oil.

So, ultimately, I entered the hall, and as luck would have it, despite my lateness, which was owed to the notorious Lagos traffic, the day’s activities had not started in earnest. In the specific sense, the High Commissioner was yet to make his presentation. In due course, after the usual technical hitches, the envoy kicked off.

Predictably and in keeping with the protocols of his sanitised office, he presented his country in very flattering and flowery terms. Among other things, he spoke about a country with a stable democracy, high income and something of a paradise as far as diversity and tourism are concerned.

He also touched on the primordial and ancestral links between Nigeria and T&T. Come question time, he was able to elaborate on T&T, especially in relation to a country like Nigeria. On my own part, I asked him about the linkage between T&T and its famous writers. I also pointed out that, the peaceful and inclusive diversity, which as he pointed out hall-marked his country, could do with some caveats.

This was partly in view of the observations of C.L.R James in his book, ‘Beyond of Boundary.’ In this particular book, James pointed out that even cricket teams and clubs in T&T were formed along the lines of pigmentation – black, white and mulato.

In the ambassador’s response, however, I was better educated about the intra-elitist discord in T&T, as this related to the fractious relationship between C.L.R James on one hand and the then country’s Prime Minister on the other. Predictably, and in response to another question from the audience, he had a lot to say about our oil industry, and here, one cannot but admire the ambassador for his candour as regards the way we are here.

In keeping with diplomatic finesse, I will not elaborate on this. He also spoke to the fact that tourism has partly been hampered between the two countries because of the absence of BASA, which in turn depends on a National Carrier – a facility that continues to elude us as a nation.

All told, it was clear that the ambassador knows his onions. He also knows a lot about Nigeria as regards some aspects of our day-to-day experiences like: Kirikiri and ‘I better pass my neighbour’ generators. This did not come as a surprise since I later learnt that prior to his current tour of duty in Nigeria, he was an engineer working for one of the major oil companies in Port Harcourt.

Read also: An Afternoon at the NIIA (I)

All told, however, he came off very well and powerfully too on behalf of his country, which admittedly is better run than a particular social formation, which we all know. This may well explain why, according to him, a lot of skilled Nigerians can be found in T&T. Such individuals, according to him, can be located in the country’s universities and medical facilities.

Predictably, there is also a downside to much of the immediate foregoing. On this note, it was revealed almost in passing that, a lot of Nigerians who had over-stayed in T&T were to be found in its detention centres.

The cold comfort that one can derive from this is the wisdom put forth by our own Chinua Achebe. According to him, in the compound of a great man, there must be various dancers. Thus, although Nigerian engineers and doctors can be found plying their respective trades in T&T, we also have other Nigerians in the country, cooling their heels in confinement in the self-same country.

Ultimately, the show came to an end. I subsequently met up with the new DG of the Institute to congratulate and wish him well in his relatively new assignment. In the process, I caught the image of a doughty and energetic young man who is poised to give his new assignment a good shot.

And something tells me that he will succeed. This is in view of the fact that, his antecedents, have in a way, prepared him for this job. Unknown to many, Professor Eghosa Osagie, happens like me, to be the son of a headmaster.

And if you must know, the headmasters of those good old days, had a way of instilling some values into their off-springs. Our own Wole Soyinka comes in for mention here.

He was a headmaster’s son; very much the same thing can be said for Femi Osofisan, who lost his own headmaster-father when he was barely out of his mother’s womb. Thus, what is being said here, can be partly located in the genes. So, do not be surprised if the current DG of NIIA, acquits himself successfully at this new duty post.

On my own part, such was the stimulating and engaging time that I had at the NIIA that, I certainly look forward to its next public outing. This is because, something tells me that the Bolaji Akinyemi years are here again, under this new dispensation.

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