Bolaji Akinyemi: The dream and the nightmare (1)

While it lasted, Bolaji Akinyemi, the birthday boy, was out there shining in the sun. It was a glorious moment. Successive writers focused and justifiably too, on the life and continuing times of the scholar-Diplomat; Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi.

One resourceful writer even went on to contend that his middle name – Akinwande, speaks to greatness since Wole Soyinka also bears this appellation. As I waded through the various writer-ups, one episode which came to mind was an earlier write-up by the inimitable and now departed, Stanley Macebuh.

At the height of B.A’s prowess at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Macebuh wrote a piece titled: Of Men and Institutions. It was to the effect that sometimes, an individual heads an institution, and thereafter, the said institution gets transformed. This was certainly the positive lot of our man, Bolaji Akinyemi.

Suddenly, a state outfit that was on the margin of policy became almost central to the policy process. It was a golden moment for Nigeria. The country was being courted left and right by the other powers. But what some discerning observers appreciated was that, at that point in time, the policy ship had virtually been hijacked by the NIIA, at the expense of the stodgy and orthodox Ministry of External Affairs.

Interestingly enough, a similar situation occurred in the United States where Henry Kissinger, another flamboyant technocrat, used the National Security Council to steal the thunder from the State Department, the US equivalent of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

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And like Akinyemi, he also moved over from the NSC to preside over the State Department. Similar careers, similar moves. Indeed, some people tended to regard Akinyemi as Nigeria’s own answer to Henry Kissinger. Super K, as the latter was called, also resonates, somewhat with the name Akinyemi.

And if you must know – Kissinger after his stint in public office went on to establish Kissinger and Associates. Incidentally, Akinyemi virtually did the same thing. He also went on to establish Akinyemi and Associates. One of these entities no longer exists. And it does not take too much to guess which one, and why.

For ours is not an environment in which dreams can be sustained on a long-term basis. And talking of dreams, few would argue that while the Akinyemi moments lasted on the foreign policy corridor, we were up there. We were at the barricades on most major foreign policy issues, especially those which affected Africa.

In Southern Africa for instance, we were honoured with the title of a non-geographical front-line State. This was partly because we poured tremendous resources into the liberation of several countries in Southern Africa. One high point was over Angola.

Nigeria through the mercurial Muritala Mohammed was able to tell off Washington, that Africa had come of age, and that we would brook no interference from any intrusive and external power. So heady was the moment that our foreign policy acquired some modifiers like ‘New’ and ‘Dynamic’.

For the attentive public, there was a debate among the leading scholars of International Relations, whether there was indeed a new foreign policy or whether Nigeria was merely basking in the glow of cosmetics.

Predictably, Akinyemi led the former group, along with a gaggle of starry-eyed idealists. That, indeed Nigeria now had a new and dynamic foreign policy. The suspicion is that much of what fuelled this posture was the oil boom. Our coffers were full, and this must have fuelled this ‘can do’ attitude in foreign policy.

On the other hand, there was a scholar like Olajide Aluko, who was of the view that, given the primitive stage of our economy and despite the oil boom, our economy was still at the rudimentary stage. And as such, there was nothing new about our foreign policy.

Well, the jury is out. In contemporary times, we all know better. That, the mere possession of a mono-cultural product is not enough to propel a country into the front line of world politics. This is because even a non-economist will readily appreciate that Nigeria was a disaster waiting to happen. Signs of this impending doom started to manifest way back in the Shagari era, when in the light of profligacy, undergirded by a non-diversified economy, the then government had to put in place, the Economic Stabilisation Act (ESA).

The ESA turned out to be a forerunner for the various structural Adjustment Programmes which the military initiated, sometimes in a sly way. Let us be frank here, there was something of a misnomer here. SAP spoke to structures. But in reality, our economy lacked structures. In saying this, it is evident that, for any economy to thrive and prosper, it must have structures like: Power Petrochemicals, and the Steel Industry. Till date, we lack all of these, and yet we strutted all over the world, claiming to be Africa’s giant.

(To be continued on Monday).

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