Edward Olusola Sanu: Farewell to a scholar- diplomat
Edward Olusola Oladokun Sanu who passed on March 21, 2022 –three days to his 92nd birthday—will be laid to rest today in Ibadan. He was one of Nigeria’s scholar-diplomats and highly respected Ambassadors. He dedicated nearly five decades of his life to national public service. Our paths first crossed in Beijing in January 1981, when I was posted to the Embassy of Nigeria in China. He was then the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the People’s Republic of China. Before I arrived in China, colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who knew him very well, had intimated me that he was one of Nigeria’s most seasoned diplomats: gentle, generous, capable, savvy, articulate, and an intellectual. He lived up to that reputation in my interactions with him.
Within the first week of my arrival at the Embassy, he called me to his office to discuss both my experience in previous diplomatic postings and to ascertain my area of interest in terms of the work of the Embassy in China. This meeting was actually designed to “size me up” regarding the depth of my diplomatic experience and substantive knowledge. Two days later, he called me again to his office and said that he has decided to assign me to the political affairs desk at the Embassy. Ambassador Sanu was also concurrently accredited to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Socialist Republic of Vietnam. My assignment to the political affairs portfolio meant that I would be called upon from time to time to accompany him on his visits to those two countries.
Almost three weeks after informing me of my assignment, he indicated that I would accompany him and his wife on a visit to North Korea. This was the first time in the early years of my diplomatic career that I would accompany an ambassador and his wife on a mission to another country. After our trip to Pyongyang, I prepared the mission report and submitted it for Ambassador Sanu’s review and approval. He was very impressed with the quality of report. Subsequently, I prepared another report on the host country, which he also adjudged as being of very high quality. A mutual admiration and respect developed between both of us. From then on, our friendship was forged.
Our working together in China did not last long. Ambassador Sanu was posted from China to Australia after I spent a year with him. Before leaving Beijing for Canberra, he asked whether I would like to be posted to Canberra to continue working with him. I declined, explaining that I had decided to go for my graduate studies and moving to Australia would disrupt that plan, since I wanted to accomplish that goal before a certain age. Whereupon, he asked where I wanted to do my graduate studies: I told him Harvard and he remarked that I was “very brave”, referring to the university’s highly competitive admission process. He did his graduate studies at, and earned double masters’ degrees, from Harvard. I used the opportunity to put him on notice that he would be among the three persons (as required by Harvard), who will write one of the recommendations that will accompany my application for admission. He indicated that he would be pleased to do so. When the time came to submit my application, I contacted him and he obliged. After I received my letter of admission and informed him about it, he was very excited –even more than me.
Ambassador Sanu was held in high esteem by both his peers and the political leaders with whom he worked. This was reflected in the series of important diplomatic postings at the Ambassadorial level that he had. He served as Nigeria’s Ambassador of Nigeria to Ethiopia; to Belgium and the European Union; to United States of America with concurrent accreditation to Mexico; to China with concurrent accreditation to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Socialist Republic of Vietnam; and to Australia (as High Commissioner). He is one of the very few Nigerian Ambassadors, and, possibly the only one, who has served at Ambassadorial level in the five continents of the world.
In his long and distinguished diplomatic career, Ambassador Sanu led or participated in several important multilateral negotiations. Three stand out. He was the Chief Negotiator for the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Countries for the Lomé I Convention with the then European Economic Community (pre-cursor of the European Union). In 1964, he was nominated by then United Nations Secretary General, U Thant, to represent Africa on the Committee of ‘10 Wisemen’ on the reform of the United Nations system. In 1986, he was appointed by then United Nations Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, to the Group of 18 Eminent Persons to undertake a wide-range review of the Administrative Functioning and Effectiveness of the United Nations.
The two United Nations-related appointments were an acknowledgement of his well-recognised expertise in United Nations administrative and budgetary processes. He represented Nigeria for nine years on the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, the body that reviews and recommends the budget to the General Assembly.
Ambassador Sanu’s scholarly credentials shone through after his retirement from the diplomatic service. He lectured in the International Relations Department of the Obafemi Awolowo University; published two books: Nigeria-Africa and the European Union: Beyond 2000 (1997), co-authored with Ralph Onwuka, and Audacity on the Bound: A Diplomatic Odyssey (2016); and was a commentator on public affairs —writing occasionally for, and granting interviews to, various Nigerian newspapers. In one of his most important opinion essays that he penned for The Guardian, titled “Nigeria’s 50 Years of Nationhood: Looking Back in Anger” published on January 23, 2011, he opined that “Nigeria has always shied away from solving the myriad national issues facing the country”. That assessment still has great resonance.
Ambassador Sanu was a source of inspiration and someone whom I greatly admired for his personal integrity and commitment to professional excellence. Rest In Peace.
Ambassador Otobo is Non-Resident Senior Fellow in Peacebuilding and Global Economic Policy, Global Governance Institute, Brussels, Belgium.