The Drama at Chatham House, By Dele Agekameh
Chatham House or the Royal Institute of International Affairs, as it is also known, is an independent policy institute based in London. Founded in 1920, it operates from an imposing 18th-century house located at No. 10, St. James’s Square in the heart of London. St. James’s Square is the only square in the exclusive St. James’s district of the City of Westminster. It has predominantly Georgian and neo-Georgian architecture with a private garden at the centre. In its first two hundred or so years of existence, No. 10, St. James’s Square, was one of the three or four most fashionable residential addresses in London. The square’s main feature is an equestrian statue of William III erected in 1808.
Chatham House is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. Its mission is to analyse and promote the understanding of major international issues and current affairs. In this regard, the institute offers potential and established leaders drawn from across the world, the opportunity to deepen their understanding of critical issues, propose new ideas and proffer solutions to complex policy challenges and opportunities. There is a historical and symbolical meaning to the name of the organization. No 10 St. James Square, the building housing the organization, had been home to three past British Prime Ministers, including William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, from where the organization simply derives its name.
Over the years, Chatham House has engaged several governments, the private sector, civil society and its members in open debate and confidential discussions on the most significant developments in international affairs. Each year, the institute runs more than 300 private and public events mostly workshops, conferences and roundtables in London and its other affiliate locations worldwide. What keeps the organization on top of global international affairs rating is its convening power which attracts world leaders who have something to say, as well as, the best analysts in diverse fields from across the globe. It is for this reason that the institute is globally revered in terms of its ability and capacity to give a helping hand to policy makers and government legislations so as to improve global economies.
‘One sad thing about the melodrama that took place outside Chatham House is that it has exposed the shenanigans of our politicians who are highly intolerant of the opposition while professing that they are democrats’
Chatham House hosts high-profile speakers from around the world and also undertakes wide-ranging research. One of the most recent speakers is Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister who spoke on his country’s hostage crisis with ISIS on February 3, 2015. So, ordinarily, when on Thursday, February 26, 2015, it was the turn of Major General Muhammadu Buhari, to speak at the think-tank institute, it was in continuation of its immeasurable services in international affairs to the global community. It was nothing abnormal. The Institute was just keeping to tradition. But Nigeria’s desperate politicians will not want to hear anything like that. General Buhari is the presidential candidate of the opposition, All Progressive Congress, a party strongly in contention for the leadership of the country in the rescheduled presidential election slated for March 28, 2015.
Buhari spoke on: “Prospects for Democratic Consolidation in Africa: Nigeria’s Transition.” His speech dwelt on the postponement of Nigeria’s fifth general elections since the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999. It also touched on the fierce political competition among the contending politicians, the current security crisis facing the country, the severe economic challenges linked to the drop in oil price and the challenges of conducting elections in such a complex environment. While there is widespread speculation as to the reasons for the elections’ delay, there is also widespread acknowledgment of the necessity that the elections should take place as scheduled on March 28 and April 11, 2015.
At the end of his speech, Buhari received a standing ovation as he left the conference hall after taking questions from the hordes of reporters who had gathered. The questions centred on his intended policies to chart a new Nigeria and his view on corruption. This interview was conducted within the premises in order to protect the person of the General from the unruly crowd of Pro-Jonathan campaigners who had, by this time, disrupted the peace and serenity outside the building. At the end of the interview, the General and his team were safely led to a waiting security van that took them away from the venue.
However, it is pertinent to note that before the event began on that day, a group of individuals had gathered at several points around the very serene environment chanting and shouting anti-Buhari slogans thereby attracting curious attention from officials and members of the public. It was discovered that the unruly crowd of people were mostly Nigerian and Non-Nigerian students brought to the venue in chattered buses from various educational institutions in Manchester, a distance of about 200 miles to London or about 4 hours drive.
Unfortunately, before Buhari’s appearance last week, the same Chatham House was the platform used on January 22, 2015, by Sambo Dasuki, the National Security Adviser, who had no business with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to drop the bombshell that the general elections earlier scheduled for February 14 and 28, 2015, may be postponed. Expectedly, this drew the ire of the public. All the same, the elections were postponed.
What is baffling in this latest episode is that our politicians have inadvertently exported our traditional but shameful Nigerian factor of renting crowds abroad. You can imagine luring buses load of students with peanuts to come and disrupt such an international event that had the propensity to impact positively or negatively on the image of the country and Nigerians as a people. The funniest part is that these were students who had no idea of what they were ‘’hired and paid’’ to come and do at the venue as captured on a video recording that went viral in the social media.
In the video, a lady, who obviously was the arrowhead of the whole arrangement confessed on camera that she brought the dysfunctional crowd from Manchester for the organisers of the anti-Buhari rally for a fee and that she was ready to do it for any other group once the bargain was right. The unruly behaviour of the group on that day caused a lot of disruptions to the usual activities in the St. James area on a normal working day. It was such an embarrassing situation championed by those who claimed to be Pro-Jonathan campaign agents in the UK. Good enough, security officials who were unusually invited from the Metropolitan Police to calm the tensed situation were able to maintain order.
One sad thing about the melodrama that took place outside Chatham House is that it has exposed the shenanigans of our politicians who are highly intolerant of the opposition while professing that they are democrats. But it appears that the Pro-Jonathan campaigners are not done yet with their London drama. Last weekend, “Wind of Hope Foundation,” one of the amorphous groups in the Pro-Jonathan campaign, took advert spaces in the newspapers challenging Buhari to a sponsored international debate to be held under the auspices of the same Chatham House. This shows that the Pro-Jonathan campaigners were actually caught napping by Buhari’s outing in London and are so desperate to equal scores with him.
The Pro-Jonathan campaigners should learn to be proactive and not reactionary. After all, when TAN (Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria) was junketing all over the country in the recent past, they had a free reign. All these rough tackles are very demeaning. What the present situation calls for is strategic thinking, proper planning and execution. Nothing more. The beauty of democracy is the opportunity to associate freely and canvass opinions or views without any hindrance. This is exactly what those who practice true and genuine democracy have always preached. Nigeria cannot be an exception.
From what is currently going on in the polity, it is like two trains on high motion, are furiously coming from opposing direction and nobody is saying anything. The only way to avert the looming catastrophe is to allow the people to freely choose their leaders without being coerced, intimidated, blackmailed or arm-twisted in any form. That is how we can guarantee peace and sustainable development in this God-given (not forsaken) country.