Nigeria: Now Taking The Back Seat (1), By Eric Teniola
Twenty-six notable leaders who attended the meeting in Lagos included the British prime minister, Sir Harold Wilson; Lester Pearson of Canada; Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya; Sir Dauda Jawara of the Gambia…Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore… Heavy security was provided by the Isrealis for the duration of the conference… At that point in time, Nigeria was the world.
Even with our internal political crisis in January 1966, the Commonwealth selected Nigeria to host a peaceful meeting to resolve the crisis of Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, following the threat by some Commonwealth leaders, notably Dr. Julius Nyerere, to make their countries opt out of the body. The well attended meeting was held at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island in Lagos. In welcoming the leaders of the Commonwealth, our then prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa observed that, “Nigeria is convening the meeting in order to find a practical solution to the Rhodesian issue, since Africa has admitted that the Organisation of African Unity can’t go there militarily to persuade Britain to change her present stand over the Rhodesian issue”.
Twenty-six notable leaders who attended the meeting in Lagos included the British prime minister, Sir Harold Wilson; Lester Pearson of Canada; Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya; Sir Dauda Jawara of the Gambia; President Archbishop Makarious of Cyprus; the Jamaican prime minister, Donald Sangster; Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi; Dr. Borg Olivier of Malta; Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore; Sir Albert Margai of Sierra Leone and Dr. Milton Obote of Uganda. Heavy security was provided by the Isrealis for the duration of the conference between January 11 and 13, 1966. Notable journalists from all over the world covered the meeting. At that point in time, Nigeria was the world.
The second All-African Games was held in Lagos between January 7 and 18, 1973 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. Distinguished personalities such as Pele, Abebe Bikila, Muhammad Ali and Jesse Owens, attended the ceremony, with Kip Keino of Kenya and Filbert Bayi of Tanzania being in competition. John Akii-Bua (1949-1997) of Uganda broke the World record in the 400 metres hurdles during the competition. That was a long time ago. Regrettably, no other beer parlour in the country today is more prominent than the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos. One needs to get there now to wonder whether it is a club house or a stadium.
It is over 40 years since Nigeria hosted the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, otherwise known as FESTAC. The Festival was held in Lagos between January 17 and 31, 1977. Africa, and indeed the world, came to Nigeria at that time. Thirty-seven African countries participated in the Festival, including non-African countries like Brazi, Cuba, the United Kingdom, Ireland, United States of America, Belgium, Finland, France and Austalia. Notable African scholars, including Professor Alfred Esimatemi Opubor, Professor Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka, Professor Festus Jacob Adeniyi Ajayi (1929-2014), L.H. Ofosu-Appiah, B.A. Ogot, Bayona Ba Meya, Pascal N’guessan Dikibie, M. Ron Karenga, Thoephile Obenga, Joseph Ki-Zerbo and Professor Ayo Bamgbose all presented papers during the festival.
The gathering was one of the best that Nigeria has ever had. That was over 40 years ago when we knew how to do things big. Nigeria benefitted from the Festival, during which we built an estate called FESTAC Village. Today, the estate and venue where the Festival was hosted – the National Theatre – have become dilapidated and abandoned.
The chairman of the Festival then was the Nigeria’s minister for special duties, Admiral O. P. Fingesi, now a member of the Board of Trustees, Port-Harcourt Polo Club, while the then minister of education, Colonel Ahmadu Addah Alli was the chairman of the Colloquim of the Festival.
In opening the Festival, the then head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo said, “In fact the Colloquium should be seen not as an exercise in revalorisation but entirely as a means of achieving mental liberation. I say this because the purveyor of intellect and the stock of intellectual property are key variables in the development of our minds and in enabling us to come to terms with our environment. This is not to suggest that technical bureaucratic and commercial trading post-agents do not count in this process. Much however turns on the application of intellect to our activists. To the extent that we can achieve originality in our thoughts, the developmental gap which today consumes all our energy as a people will be wiped out and we would join the ranks of the leaders in technological creativity in the hope of raising the standard of living of our people.”
The Festival was originally planned by General Yakubu Gowon but because he was toppled on July 29, 1975, he did not stay in power long enough to see it come to reality. The gathering was one of the best that Nigeria has ever had. That was over 40 years ago when we knew how to do things big. Nigeria benefitted from the Festival, during which we built an estate called FESTAC Village. Today, the estate and venue where the Festival was hosted – the National Theatre – have become dilapidated and abandoned. The FESTAC Village, which was planned to be a model city, is fast becoming a jungle city now.
On October 16, 1979, President Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari led Africa to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York. I covered the event for The PUNCH in Manhattan. I still remember his golden voice that day. Major American newspapers carried the text of President Shagari’s address, with the headline “Nigeria speaks for Africa”, in which he declared on that day that, “Africa bears the scars of a long history of spoliation and deprivation, of the ravages of the slave trade and foreign aggression, of both political and economic injustices.
“I believe that the time for the international community to address itself to the serious issue of reparation and restitution for Africa. It is pertinent to observe that there is hardly any country outside the continent which has not, in one way or another, benefited from the exploitation of the human and natural resources of Africa.”
“The current crisis in the world economy is wreaking havoc in Africa. For some areas of the third world, the present international negotiations about trade, capital flows, and so on may mean growth through effective participation in international markets and institutions. For most of Africa, the negotiations are about survival itself. The very existence of some of our nations is being critically threatened by adverse economic forces and natural disasters. It will take years before we in Africa can exercise our right to full equality and effective participation in the current economic system. In spite of the enormous natural wealth and resources of Africa, our continent remains the least developed, and our people the most deprived. These degrading disabilities mock or political independence. We must refuse to subsidise the economies of the rich by continuing to sell cheaply our raw materials and labour to them in return for their exorbitantly priced manufactured goods.
“I believe that the time for the international community to address itself to the serious issue of reparation and restitution for Africa. It is pertinent to observe that there is hardly any country outside the continent which has not, in one way or another, benefited from the exploitation of the human and natural resources of Africa. In the wake of your important deliberations concerning the new international development strategy and the global negotiations, I call upon the August Assembly to launch a decade of reparation and restitution for Africa as a matter…for the economic recovery of the continent. I make this call with a serious sense of responsibility.
“Restructuring the world economic system to conform with the dictates of the new international economic order will help. But this will be in the long term. Massive, special, immediate and effective measures are required to deal with the exceptional situation in Africa. I have seen too much of Africa’s misery and degradation not to be moved to action, to demand the proclamation of a special decade for the economic regeneration of Africa”.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, Writes from Lagos.
Picture credit: Festaconline.