Anyaoku fairer in the ninth, By Sam Omatseye

Enter BOS of Lagos. Enter Chief of Staff to the president. Enter Obj. Exit boredom. The boredom had to disappear as former president Olusegun Obasanjo walked into the Metropolitan Club where the old and retired men of industry meet to recall old exploits over tea, and dine. This time, they gathered to mark the 90th birthday of an illustrious citizen, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary of the Commonwealth. It was time to celebrate a man who distinguished himself in the course of his career. I have known him for a few years now, and have always prayed that we shall celebrate his ninth decade on earth.

Many gave tributes, including the BOS of Lagos, who waxed eloquent and reeled out his virtues, and there was a touching moment when he described himself as “your governor and your son.” Others spoke, including an absorbing tribute by his friend who recalled his full life accolades like 31 honorary doctorates across the world. When Anyaoku spoke, he lamented the decline of the nation and denigration of the green passport.

As I looked and heard the many tributes and his own short acknowledgment, I wondered that few knew some of the exploits of this man. No one recalled that during the civil war, his wife Olubunmi had given birth to a child, and he had to travel to Biafra to rescue children and also provide supplies. He had to undertake nocturnal flights in rickety aircraft to dare bullets and soldiers to land at Uli Airport. His wife wondered why he would abandon their new -born baby. He replied that their baby, then in London, was privileged unlike the ones in the heady hour of death and misery. Few also know that as Commonwealth secretary, his role in trying to secure M.K.O. Abiola’s release from detention brought ire to some of Abacha’s partisans and he escaped assassination plot. His family was also in danger. In spite of that, he met Abiola and also Abacha. He had to take a flight out of the country with the help of another head of state.

When OBJ rose to speak, he said he worked with Chief Anyaoku when he (OBJ) was a member of the Eminent Persons Group that included former Australian leader Malcolm Fraser. In his dramatic way, he recalled how Fraser “looked down on me,” and he decided to deal with him. Anyaoku intervened for peace, and OBJ replied, “Don’t general me,” to the diplomat’s plea of “please general.” Peace prevailed. But we get a hint even from OBJ’s confession why he is no longer a factor in world affairs as he was in those days. It is because of his lack of finesse that his eminence is now only tolerated in Africa.

The chief drama of the day reflected something of Obj. He announced his arrival by walking from the main table where the celebrant, Anyaoku, Governor Sanwo-Olu, Gambari, Buhari’s chief of staff, were seated. He walked to the back of the hall to meet Anyaoku’s wife, Olubunmi, who did not want to share the spotlight with her husband. He pulled her from her seat, put his hand around her waist as though a father taking a bride through the aisle. Anyaoku smiled at the spectacle and a hubbub overflowed the hall. But rather than set the woman beside her husband, OBJ retained his seat beside the celebrant, so he was sandwiched between husband and wife. So, what was his point? To put husband and wife together or split them? After that, he recalled Olubunmi Anyaoku’s wife left her handbag behind, and Obj walked out of the main table in a flourish to the back seat and picked the bag and held it up so all could see his act of generosity. At last, when all were leaving, Olubunmi sat beside her husband of many decades. What Obj put asunder, God eventually put together.

Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper

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