The final details of Nigeria’s Independence Constitution were hammered out during 1957-1959 in the hallowed halls of Chatham House, London, in negotiations between Nigeria’s accredited political leaders and the British colonial authorities.
More than six decades later, the major candidates in Nigeria’s presidential election scheduled for February 25 have been making a pilgrimage to Chatham House. It is as if the path to the Presidency and its awesome powers runs through that storied edifice.
Nothing is being negotiated this time; no recondite constitutional principles are being discussed. No recalcitrant delegates have to be appeased, cajoled or bullied into line with the velvet-gloved imperial fist. It’s just the natives on their own, one after another, each making a pitch for the top job before the attentive international audience, and advertising to the folks back home his well-choreographed arrival on the global stage.
First to hit the trail was the APC presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who created a stir by leaving it to his associates to answer the questions that followed his prepared speech. This novel expedient, not the main presentation, has been the talking point.
Was it a calculated ploy, as some said, to cover up a rumoured disability, or a way of showing that the Tinubu Campaign was anchored not on an individual but on a team of knowledgeable, strategists?
Hard on Tinubu’s heels to Chatham House was the Labour Party candidate, Peter Obi, the billionaire entrepreneur representing working people. Leadership, he emphasized, is the touchstone of national greatness. Just pick the right leader, and everything will be all right.
His mentor, former President Obasanjo who knows a great deal about the subject apparently hasn’t told him that isn’t the whole truth. Letters acknowledging messages of condolence on the death of his wife Stella did not make it out of his office for one full month after he had signed them.
On directing that a Note Verbale be issued to facilitate my re-entry to the United States before I became a resident, he made a point of urging me to follow up with the Ministry in Abuja to ensure that prompt action followed.
I am also reminded of a remark credited to U.S. President Harry Truman, on the election of Dwight Eisenhower, the former Supreme Allied Commander in World War 11 to succeed him in The White House.
“He’ll sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike-it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.”
Obi may have had a different experience as a two-term executive governor of Anambra State and an entrepreneur of long standing calling the shots. But the Truman quote should serve as a cautionary tale.
The ANPP presidential candidate and former Kano State governor, Engineer Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso, detailed the challenges facing Nigeria. In his telling, the country is a veritable dystopia, made so by the wrong choices of those entrusted with governance, especially in the past 20 years. He said he had come up with a detailed and practical plan to address those challenges.
The embattled PDP presidential candidate, Abubakar Atiku, is yet to have his day at Chatham House. Perhaps he considers that forum inferior to his recent private and confidential audience with the UK Government.
Was his Campaign’s Technical and Systems director, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, in town for the event, able to participate, having been subjected to not a little inconvenience at Heathrow Airport by the police? Or was a separate briefing arranged for him?
A Chatham House appearance would afford Atiku an opportunity to expatiate on his approach to sharing the spoils of office. If the PDP does not win your constituency, forget about any contract, juicy or juiceless. The policy is at once pragmatic and forward-looking.
He might also seek professional advice from Europe’s seasoned politicos on how to wriggle out of the chokehold of the fellow who was aspiring to be his running mate.
It is not only the presidential hopefuls, mark you, that have been trooping to Chatham House. The chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has been there, too.
He laid out a truly formidable array of electronic and logistic devices, including aerial satellites. that have been deployed to prevent or curtail the irregularities that have marred Nigerian elections since the first legislative plebiscite was held in Lagos in 1923.
No vote-buying, No ballot-stuffing. No snatching of ballot boxes. No allocation of votes. No vote-switching. No unregulated campaign spending. No violence. The usual suspects are going find it well-nigh impossible to rig in this cycle
I gather that plans have reached an advanced stage for the chair of the National Population Commission, Nasir Isa Kwarra, to set out to Chatham House to assure the attentive audience that it was not in error nor by accident that the Census was programmed to take place barely a month after the General Election.
It has been planned, as the critics do not know and probably cannot fathom, to ride the big wave of mobilization and sensitization achieved in the run-up General Election, a phenomenon unlikely to recur anytime soon.
When the Governor of the Central Bank could not be reached several weeks ago and his framework of monetary and fiscal policies was in danger of imminent collapse, it was bruited in some circles that he was on his way to Chatham House to reassure the watchdogs of international finance and capital that their interests were as safe in Nigeria as they could be anywhere in the world.
He was however constrained to interrupt his trip and return home to deal with a scurrilous campaign not merely to topple him from his CBN perch, but to get him prosecuted on charges of – wait for it – sponsoring terrorism!
Sources claiming no closeness to Godwin Emefiele tell me that he plans to head to Chatham House as soon as those pesky annoyances are sorted out.
Alleging that the university lecturers’ union ASUU has not been transparent, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity. Dr Chris Ngige, seems set to sideline it and register in its place the Congress of University Academics and the National Association of Medical and Dental Academics (CONUA.)
Ngige, I gather, will be making a case for ASUU’s defenestration in a speech at Chatham House, at a date to be announced. Officials of the ministry have been mobilized to draft an iron-clad brief, documenting ASUU’s record of intransigence no matter who is in government.
Dependable sources tell me that ASUU heartily welcomes Dr Ngige’s initiative and will use a Chatham House appearance to eviscerate his case clause by clause, sentence by sentence, and paragraph by paragraph.
It will bring attention to what it calls the scandalous underfunding of education in Nigeria by successive Nigerian governments and the unconscionable pauperization of university teachers, and use the occasion to mobilize support for its cause from its counterpart in the UK and the European Union.
Oil producers, marketers and consumers are taking their respective cases to Chatham House too, with special reference to subsidies. Tracing just where those pesky interventions stand has been compared to locating the position of sub-atomic particles in quantum mechanics. They are here one moment and yonder the next moment, without appearing to have moved. It is all so confusing.
They are hoping to sort out, finally at Chatham House, the vexed question of who has been subsidising or fleecing whom.
The foregoing is only a partial listing of Nigeria’s public figures, institutions and groups who have Chatham on their mind. But even that is already straining that institution’s capacity and is likely to make them reconsider their open-door policy toward requests from Nigeria.
So, if you have Chatham House on your mind, hurry up before they shut those hallowed doors and tell “those querulous Nigerians to take their squabbles elsewhere,” as a senior policy adviser is reported to have counseled in a memo due to be reviewed soon by the Board.
Source: First published in The Nation Newspaper