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The politicians’ rush to Chatham House

By Editorial Board
25 January 2023   |   3:56 am
The scramble of aspirants to the Nigerian presidency in 2023 has been as notable as it has also been widely depicted as self-demeaning. But arguably, a striking comment on their less than noble trips abroad is in a newspaper cartoon trending on the social media.

The scramble of aspirants to the Nigerian presidency in 2023 has been as notable as it has also been widely depicted as self-demeaning. But arguably, a striking comment on their less than noble trips abroad is in a newspaper cartoon trending on the social media. It shows the presidential candidates on their knees, arms raised in supplication toward a shut front door of Chatham House pleading: ‘‘O Colonial Master, we come seeking for your validation,’’

It is a truism that a picture can tell a story better than a thousand words. So too, this cartoon that captures, most succinctly, an unbecoming rush of these politicians to the citadel of Nigeria’s former coloniser, to explain themselves to ‘the master.’ Notwithstanding the extenuating explanations offered by their apologists, within the specific context of seeking Nigeria’s highest office, these trips are needless and less than graceful.

Commentator on the matter, Yusuf Shehu Usman, in his well articulated excoriation ‘the pilgrimage undertaken by our Presidential candidates to the Chatham House London to present their agenda for Nigeria to the foreign think tank,’ asked: ‘Why is the Chatham House so interested in the politics of Nigeria to the extent every person contesting or even wishing to contest for the Presidency of Nigeria must appear before the Chatham House to present his credentials to a foreign body that cannot influence the outcome of the election in Nigeria?… Is it an extension of neo colonialism on the part of the foreign think tank or a manifestation of inferiority complex and disregard for self-worth on the part of our Politicians that is fueling this JAPA approach to domestic politics?’ He added, in obvious indignation : ‘It’s even more insulting to the collective intelligence of Nigerians that these presidential candidates even consider it as an achievement to be invited or solicit an invitation by the Chatham House London to address the House on their mission and vision for the Nigerian people.’  Mr. Usman concluded: “The Chatham House pilgrimage by our Presidential candidates has no value addition to the domestic electoral worth of any presidential candidate in Nigeria. The votes that they need to win the election are here in Nigeria not in the UK. The candidates should address us through our local national think tank, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies Kuru (NIPSS).”

What does Chatham House really do that these aspirants find so worth their time and resources? Its website states: ‘‘Our history is one of building understanding between nations and driving world-changing policies. We continue to set a high bar to champion positive solutions.’’ This is quite a laudable mission in a world that since the end of the First World War has been between countries, in and out of war or the threats of it.

Indeed, Chatham House and its purpose were conceived within the context of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference to be ‘an institute for the  study of international affairs…to foster mutual understanding  between nations  and …to propose solutions  to the biggest challenges facing the world.’  Then, as now, no one can fault the vision and the mission of the British think-tank to foster a much desirable world peace.

On the one hand, Chatham House and its publication Journal of International Affairs have, over the years, provided a platform for important persons around the world to bare their minds on salient national, regional and global issues.  In 1996, President Nelson Mandela addressed the institute on business opportunities in a post-apartheid equitable South Africa. Years earlier, such African leaders as Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and even nationalist movement leaders, Oliver Tambo and Eduardo Mondlane, are reported to have taken advantage of the Chatham House stage to present their respective cases to the world.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s article on Fidel Castro’s the economic transformation of Cuba was published in a 1964 edition of Chatham House’s journal. Other important dignitaries who have spoken at Chatham House include Mahatma Gandhi in October 1931 when he admonished that ‘the best way of arriving at the solution to any problem, political or social, is for the protagonists of rival views to meet one another and talk things out with sincerity and candour’;  David Ben-Gurion in 1945,  German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1951, King Hussein of Jordan in 1969 when he reportedly warned  that Israel  has to choose between peace and land but cannot have both; Saudi oil minister Sheik Ahmed Yamani in 1974 when, in the heat of the global oil crisis,  he urged  objective dialogue  between  oil consuming and producing nations.

Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan are other leaders that have availed themselves of the Chatham House institute to address pertinent issues. Furthermore, the institute writes on its website that ‘[during] the 1970s Chatham House begins Anglo-Soviet roundtable meetings, an early initiative in track-two diplomacy. The aim (controversial for some) is to develop structures for East-West cooperation by cultivating relations with Soviet reformers,’ and in the 1980’s ‘[following] the discovery of the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer, Chatham House inaugurates an annual climate change conference to promote international cooperation on this critical global challenge.’

On the other hand, and this is important for Nigeria and developing countries to note, Chatham House has been instrumental to the creation in 1944 of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). It is a product of ‘major contributions from a Chatham House research group led by Paul Rosenstein-Rodam.’ In 1946, staff from the institute joined the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ‘whose missions they helped to design and subsequently draw on a number of institute recommendations.’  The subsequent ‘guidance role’ of both the World Bank and the IMF in the economic fate and misfortune of Nigeria and many other countries around the world is a point to ponder.

Some have justified the presence of Nigeria’s presidential aspirants at Chatham House as a necessary opportunity to speak to the substantial population of Nigerians in Britain in particular, and the foreign countries in general. Others think that the institute provides a respectable platform to speak to the world. Still, others note that the traditional and long relations between Nigeria and Britain is an important reason that persons aspiring to leadership in this country should speak to and  cultivate -whatever that means –  the  support of  the latter.

Counter argument against the continued acts of self-abnegation by past, present, and aspiring leaders of Nigeria are as many as they come. Some argue that Britain’s continued interest in Nigeria and in its former colonies have absolutely little to do with goodwill and altruism but everything to do with self-interest and the continued political control and economic exploitation of the human and natural wealth of the country. To this extent, they contend, there is no good reason for the ‘pilgrimage’.

This is indeed a strong argument for the clear and simple reason that, by receiving for safe keeping, or as conduit to other destinations, Britain continues to aid and abet the ‘destruction’, so to speak, of Nigeria by its kleptomaniac public officials. The multidimensional impoverishment of the people of Nigeria, such that their otherwise well-endowed country is, in recent times, ranked as the ‘poverty capital of the world’ is directly linked to the looting in cash and in kind by persons in power of public wealth. It is cheering that Britain, along with parts of the world is by conscious policy detesting any notion of harbouring stolen funds or encouraging corrupt officials in other lands. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that a genuinely friendly country would insist on same standard of behaviour in public office in Nigeria and in Britain, that a ‘civilising’ colonial master would insist that Nigerian officials, on oath to so do, discharge their public duties to their country as honestly as do most British public officials. It is hard to find clear evidence that Britain wields its undeniably huge influence to this urgently needed end. Britain may mouth much indignation and condemnation of the corruption that is killing Nigeria and its people. But we dare to say that it is yet to match these with action that will turn Nigeria’s fortune around for the better.

Indeed, some would go so far as to maintain that Britain is comfortable with a misgoverned, ever- drifting but natural resource-yielding Nigeria. If there is even an iota of truth to this, it would be a terrible pity for both victim and perpetrator.

To be continued tomorrow.