By Suyi Ayodele
A man in search of good fortune once approached the village diviner for directions. After casting the divination seeds, the diviner told the man that the oracle predicted that he should offer a snail as sacrifice for his bad headedness to be reversed. The man looked at the diviner and shook his head. Confused, the diviner asked what was amiss. The client responded: “if the snail is good-headed himself, will he be living in the bush”? That is the question we should be asking our Chatham House attendee politicians. Charity, they say, should begin at home; but for Nigerian politicians, it begins abroad – at a place called Chatham House in London. How do we constantly go to the architect of our problems for solutions? Who arranged Nigeria in such a way that the desert North has more population density than the rain forest South if not the British Government? Who has through international policies sustained the northern Fulani hegemony over the rest of the nationalities that make up Nigeria more than the British? Yet, Chatham House is said to be an institute which “carries out independent and rigorous analysis of critical global, regional and country-specific challenges and opportunities”. How has that helped us in Nigeria such that we are now preoccupied with who spoke more eloquently between Tinubu and Atiku, and at the same time preparing Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP, to take his turn?
Nigerian politics is still largely a mystery. Our politicians are like the terrible child known in African metaphysics as Abiku (Igbakhuan in Benin). Our own Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, in his famous poem of the same name, says it is useless trying to make an Abiku stay. “In vain your bangle cast charmed circles at my feet…”, the poet pens. It is useless trying to understand the personalities that make up our political class. When you think that you have known them all, they spin another trick on you. Nigeria is 62 years old. Any child of that age naturally sits in the council of the elders of the land. At 62, one would expect Nigeria to sit in the comity of sane nations. Nay; not the Nigeria of the present seasons of the locusts. A 62-year old child who goes back to eat from his mother’s pot of soup is not a responsible child. Only a never-do-well child, after marriage and having sired his own children, goes to his mother’s house to ask for wisdom on how to run a family. Yes, it is true that a child should not dispel the wisdom of his parents. But no child, who is perpetually tied to his mother’s apron string, will amount to anything.
Our Nigerian politicians have been in the news for the very wrong reasons since Monday, December 5, 2022, when the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, made his infamous appearance at the colonial house in London known as Chatham House. Whether Tinubu did well or otherwise at the Chatham House outing is not the focus here. The claims and counter claims about his performance are in the public domain. I intend to add nothing to that nauseating debate. I am just particularly worried here. I am worried about the number of “associates” that accompanied Tinubu to the house of our former tormentors and present oppressors. The calibre of the personalities, if we take calibre in its literary sense, speaks volume of the quality of leadership we have in Nigeria. The fact that the elements in Tinubu’s entourage to the outing could organise a “Buga” dance after such a “serious” engagement, confirmed my fear that we are going nowhere. If after a supposedly intellectual engagement, the best way to celebrate is to dance to Kiss Daniel’s “Buga”, even in the most awkward steps, shows how Nigeria’s political elites hold the rest of us. Nigeria is a huge jokes villa and comedians are never in short supply here. Pity!
What is the essence of going to Chatham House in the first instance? What purpose is such misadventure going to serve us? What have been the effects of Chatham House appearances by the Nigerian politicians in the past? After Chatham House, what has changed? These questions and many more keep assailing me whenever I read or hear about the cacophony of noise that has greeted Tinubu’s Chatham House address. The whole episode, between the loyalists of the APC and their counterparts in the equally directionless Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has reduced the whole adventures in the London house to mere ego trips. The gladiators are not regaling us with the seriousness of the issues raised at that supposedly intellectual outing and how our fortunes would be changed thereafter. Their preoccupation is who did better between Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, the perennial presidential candidate of the PDP. The whole poppycock reminds one of the hilarious novel by Nkem Nwankwo, “My Mercedes is Bigger Than Yours”. The way the two camps have been defending their bosses, you would want to think that Chatham House is going to be the chief decider of the 2023 presidential election.
Why are we bogged down with the mentality of Chatham House addresses by those aspiring to lead us? Why would an average Nigerian politician think that going to deliver an eloquent or not too eloquent speech at the Chatham House, also known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs is what the country needs at this moment to get out of the cesspit of maladministration, corruption, economic woes and insecurity bedeviling Nigeria? No matter how well anyone may want to lionize Chatham House, what it represents for us in Nigeria is pure colonialism! That our politicians are falling over one another to be listed among the speakers in that House goes to show that we are only independent in name but heavily mentally enslaved by propensity to be linked to our colonial masters. Chatham House is listed as an independent policy institute headquartered in London, with the mission to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world. What a definition! Who made the African world unjust in the first instance? Who has benefited or profited most from the unjust nations of Africa more than the British? How do you go to the one who afflicted you with Tuberculosis for a solution to your whooping cough? Pray, can the British Government wash off its hands from the calamities that have befallen the nation, Nigeria, right from the January 1, 1914, misadventure of Lord Lugard termed amalgamation? What about the skewed Federation handed over to Nigerians at independence in 1960? Is it not the same British Government that is responsible for the lopsided population of Nigeria and has continued to help its Northern friends to sustain such perfidy?
General Muhammadu Buhari, preparatory to the 2015 general election, was railroaded to Chatham House. In what his promoters called his best speech delivery, the Daura-born retired General spoke about his visions and missions for Nigeria’s presidency. In that Thursday, February 26, 2015 address, Buhari said, among other things, that he was contesting the presidential election because he believed that “the work of making Nigeria great is not yet done… I still have the capacity and the passion to dream and work for a Nigeria that will be respected again in the comity of nations and that all Nigerians will be proud of”. Almost eight years after those affirmative statements, Nigerians can ask if the Nigeria of today is the one anybody is proud of. Nigerians should be able to determine if indeed, Nigeria has taken its rightful place in the comity of sane nations of the world after Buhari spoke at Chatham House. Has our situation not changed for the very worst? The festive season is here with us, how many Nigerians will venture to go back to their roots for the celebrations without having at the back of their minds that they could be kidnapped, robbed, killed by roving herdsmen or, in the very least, have the petrol to pilot their vehicles to the villages and back to their bases in the cities after the festivities? Who Chatham House help! .
The mad rush to speak at Chatham House by our politicians is the same mentality which informed their cravings for foreign goods and medical services. Everything Nigerian is its last level of decay because our leaders have abandoned them for foreign brands. Innoson Motors has been with us in Anambra State for years now. How many of the 36 states of the Federation are patronising the local car assemblage company? How many of our leaders are using shoes made in Aba, Abia State? When the five rebel governors of the PDP wanted to “strategise” the other time, which city in Nigeria did they use?
Don’t we have our own Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), if we require our politicians to speak to the international community about their international policy directions? Why are our politicians not scrambling to be featured in NIIA, where we all can access and assess them for what they are worth? Every international policy direction is selfish. Chatham House is not an exception. Its rule, to wit: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”, speaks volume! The claim that the institute “is independent and owes no allegiance to any government or to any political body” is a sure topic for future symposium (apologies to Fela Anikulapo Kuti). Flies, we are told, are sure to advocate for the man with festering sore. Chatham House was established in 1920 to serve the purpose of the British Government; and no more. Its pretension to independence cannot obliterate that hidden mission. It is a House of a “cunning man die, cunning man bury am” African politicians, nay, Nigerian politicians, have no business with the Royal Institute of International Affairs to talk about local policies that will bring Nigeria out of its present self-inflicted terminal illness! I am not discounting the place of international engagements in the affairs of Nigeria. But that can be done without the saddening display of colonial mentality as we have at the moment. If we require our politicians to speak to our local problems, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), in Kuru, Jos, Plateau State is there to serve the purpose. Established in 1979,the NIPSS is regarded as one of the leading “policy think tanks, with core mandates of policy research, training, advocacy, publishing, and conference-hosting” institutions in Africa. Must we consume everything foreign? What kind of colonial mentality rules the heart of our politicians and their handlers? After his 2015 outing in Chatham House, what has Buhari brought to the table? Has he not shattered our hopes and aspirations over and over again? I ask again: Who Chatham House help!