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Akinyemi at 80: Some notes

By Atah Pine
13 January 2022   |   2:44 am
Penultimate Tuesday, January 4, 2022, Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi, former director-general of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA)

Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi

Penultimate Tuesday, January 4, 2022, Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi, former director-general of the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs (NIIA), former Nigeria’s Minister for External Affairs and holder of innumerable medals and positions of academic, diplomatic and professional excellence flying on a high altitude like the eagle that he is landed on the Octogenarian iroko tree in the full blaze of glory. Since taking off in Ilesha in 1942, his flight and navigation across the globe have been an enthralling and entrancing spectacle to behold.

The tributes on the occasion of his birthday have been effusive of eulogies that can scarcely be surpassed in this piece. I, therefore, shudder from further trumpeting his triumphs. I need to point out that, I was not taught by him, neither have I met with him. However, I have met with him by proxy in two ways. One, I have drunk from his theoretical and epistemological vessels by sitting under the feet of his former students who were my professors. Two, I have personally quarried and helped myself with large chunks of materials from his encyclopedically mountainous oeuvre of scholarly productions. As a student of international relations and specifically Nigerian foreign policy, nothing else excels in these encounters.

My reflections on some of the issues trundled up by these commentaries are products of these aforesaid encounters. However, due to the stringency of space and time, I will dwell on three issues. Firstly, the Kissinger factor in analyzing Akinyemi’s diplomatic practices; secondly, the idea of the golden era in Nigeria’s foreign policy and thirdly, the appointment of mostly military professionals as National Security Advisors.

Firstly, the Henry Kissinger factor in the analysis of Akinyemi’s diplomatic practice. Henry Kissinger, a soldier and political scientist, was a former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. He held forth at the peak of the Cold War. His contemporary on the Soviet divide was Andrei Gromkyo. Both diplomats performed exceedingly under the ideological climate they found themselves and pursuant to the foreign policy objectives of their various countries.

However, because of the pro-Western nature of our foreign policy and the embodiment of the national governance ethos in the Euro-American capitalist framework of social and political organisation, the intelligentsia and foreign policy elite became enamored of Henry Kissinger, especially of his diplomatic exploits, intellectual muscularity, profundity of conceptual thought. It is scarcely arguable that Kissinger is an iconic and venerated figure on the altar of a U.S. diplomatic shrine.

Be that as it may, be, Akinyemi should not be made to crawl under the shadow of Kissinger. In one of the tributes, Akinyemi is said to be ‘‘nothing short of Kissingerian in his impact on Nigerian foreign policy.’’ In yet another tribute, he is perceived to be a ‘‘public intellectual in the Henry Kissinger tradition.’’ And that he ‘‘showed the charisma of a Kissinger in diplomatic and foreign affairs.’’ Another remarked that ‘‘…in Professor Akinyemi did we have our own Henry Kissinger.’’

Whatever psychological benefits may be envisaged by the comparison of these two outstanding diplomats should be jettisoned. It smacks of inferiority complex, to say the least. Kissinger is Kissinger; Akinyemi is Akinyemi. Akinyemi should be analysed on his own merits: his contribution to governance, scholarship, diplomacy and Nigerian foreign policy.

Secondly, the idea of the golden era in Nigeria’s foreign policy. In one of the commentaries, the period Akinyemi served as director general of the NIIA was said to be the golden era of Nigeria’s foreign policy. This point has nothing to do with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi. I have severally come across instantiations of the Mohammed Murtala foreign policy drive as the golden era in Nigeria’s foreign policy. The foreign policy orientation of the regime is said to be a ‘‘dynamic foreign policy.’’ Elsewhere, I have discussed the rhetorical origins of the word, dynamic; and as such, it bears no gain repeating it here. But just to note that dynamic is not gold. Whatever dynamic is.

It suffices to say that, the philosophical principles of Nigerian foreign policy were spelt out by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in three major speeches: 1) statement on the floor of the House of Representatives on August 20, 1960; 2) Independence Day Address to the nation on October I, 1960, and, 3) acceptance speech on the occasion of Nigeria’s accession of the membership of the United Nations Organisation on October 8, 1960. The Nigerian Institute for International Affairs was established in 1961. For these and many other exertions of Balewa on the foreign policy turf, I have characterised him as the philosopher-king of Nigerian foreign policy.

Nigeria got her independence in 1960, six years down the road, precisely on January 15, 1966, the First Republic fell in a bloody military coup d’état. Is it plausible to contend that in a six years period Nigeria’s foreign policy had traversed the bronze and silver era to the golden era? We have had conceptual metamorphosis and mutations in Nigeria’s foreign policy orientations, but none of these metamorphosis and mutations, can we in all seriousness dub as representing the golden epoch in Nigerian foreign policy pursuit. Perhaps in the future, foreign policy historians can look back and periodise, but to do so now is tantamount to poking fun at the concept of golden.

Lastly, the appointment of mostly military professionals as National Security Advisers. The advice by Akinyemi that the scope of appointees for the office of the NSA should be enlarged to include non-military professionals is conceptually unimpeachable. Security is beyond only military considerations. Security, like strategy, is all encompassing, totalistic, embracing both military and non-military issues alike. On account of this fact, the global best practice is to appoint subject specialists especially in the areas of security, defence and strategic studies as National Security Advisers, whether from the academia or military.

The military mentality that pervades the appointment of NSA in Nigeria needs to be discouraged forthwith. It is to be expected that in the next democratic dispensation commencing in 2023, the NSA must be someone that looks at security issues from multiple perspectives that cuts across cultural, political, economic, social, technological, agricultural and not just from the prism of military intelligence. Just as Akinyemi performed exceedingly well in his remits as director-general of NIIA and minister of Foreign Affairs, in a similar manner, had he been appointed the NSA he could equally brought his immensity of thought to our security sector. Happy birthday Prof!
Pine wrote from Ikpayongo Town, Benue State.