Even at 80, Prof Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi still sparkles. He does so in many ways, especially with the programme that he hosts and broadcasts on YouTube every Thursday, which is aptly titled, ‘ThruMYeyes with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.’
For the information of those who are yet to become devotees/enthusiasts of the programme, it is an interactive forum with a menu of current issues on international relations and foreign policy, which the mercurial professor dishes out to his audience as the chief chef. That is in addition to the fact that he was deputy chairman of the National Confab held in 2014, whose far reaching recommendations have the capacity to change Nigeria for good.
The import of his active presence in the foreign relations space, where he remains a towering figure, is magnified by the fact that he exited the position of Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs in excess of 35 years ago (1985-87).
Yet Akinyemi is still a force to be reckoned with at home by virtue of the critical role that he played during the 2014 National Confab and in 2007 , as a member of the Justice Mohamed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee set up by late President Umar Yar’Adua and abroad where his footprints in his chosen field of law and diplomacy remains larger than life .
Arising from the above , I can state without fear of contradiction that Prof Akinyemi’s bones are ingrained with matters relating to international relations and affairs which by now must be a major component of his DNA since that is a space in which he has been both as a student and a practitioner for more or less 60 years of his 80 years sojourn on planet earth .
Is it not amazing that at the youthful age of 27, the intellectual powerhouse was already a professor? That is owed to his acquisition of outstanding academic laurels from some of the best educational institutions in north
America -the prestigious Fletcher school of Law and Diplomacy, Boston, USA , where he obtained a masters degree and the highly acclaimed University of Oxford, England where he received his PhD.
With the hefty academic laurels in his kitty between 1975 to 1983 he was the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA-a foreign policy think tank which was a natural fit for him to head for five years before having a stint as a professor of political science at the university of lagos from 1983-85.
Subsequently, the military government that was not partisan, but rather keen on finding round pegs for round holes, did not hesitate in appointing him minister at 33. Although, he served for a relatively short period of two (2) years (1985-87), he made such a positive impact that his work has continued to shape our country’s foreign policy some 35 years after his eventful tenure.
Apart from the Technical Aids Corps (TAC), which was conceived and implemented under his watch to render assistance to fellow Africans free of charge and in the process bolster Nigeria’s leadership influence across the continent, Akinyemi is also the architect of the Concert of Medium Powers, which is a trade and political bloc of medium power countries with regional influence that were being positioned to counterbalance, via collective bargaining, the over bearing activities of the then super powers – the USA and Russian – over less powerful countries worldwide.
But European and other medium powers, most especially the likes of Sweden, failed to buy into the concept, probably because it was not propounded by one of their own and perhaps owing to a contrived superiority complex that Europeans tend to assume that they have over Africans. They could not yield to the leadership of such a novel and positively disruptive initiative to Nigeria.
As a result of what l would like to term miasma of despair on the part of the potential beneficiaries of the concept in the developing world and the Western world, the tendency to collaborate with their neighbours and allies to exploit the underdeveloped world, particularly Africans, the otherwise excellent idea propounded by the erudite professor suffered atrophy.
Unknown to the naysayers, Akinyemi was well ahead of his time. It is worth pointing out that the intendments of Akinyemi’s policy proposal to birth the Concept of Medium Powers, was later realised through the emergence of China in the global scene as a formidable force that has been playing a countervailing role which has had a moderating effect of diluting the suffocating influence of Europe and North America over global trade and politics, an agenda which the visionary Akinyemi was pursuing through the concert of medium powers an idea which he first propounded way back in 1987.
Without any iota of doubt, such a globally positively disruptive policy could not have sprang forth from no less an intellectual mind than that of Prof Akinyemi who has drank from the fountains of knowledge in both the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts university, from where he obtained his masters degree way back in 1966, barely a couple of years after l was born. It is note worthy that the Fletcher School is an institution of learning that owes its establishment to World War ll. This is because it was after the war that the compelling need to set up an institution with specialisation in global affairs to mitigate a future breakout of global war was addressed with the birth of the Fletcher School. It is also significant that Akinyemi, the man being celebrated is also a product of the university of Oxford, which is the flagship citadel of learning in Europe renowned for being the training ground for some of the world’s greatest thinkers.
Regrettably, Nigerian policy makers or public office holders are no longer as grounded as they used to be as reflected by the impeccable intellectual pedigree of Akinyemi, simply because the criteria for public office is no longer based on merit but on nepotism or partisanship.
The reversal in the fortunes of our beloved country is evidenced by a yawning gap between the way and manner our country is currently perceived Internationally, compared to the days when a well grounded technocrat like Akinyemi was at the helm of affairs in foreign policy formulation desk, first as Director General of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and later as Minister of External Affairs where he was turning out superlative policies that rankled the super powers and which made them hold Nigeria in awe due to the brilliant ideas emanating from our technocrats, such as Akinyemi.
Because some of our public office holders like Prof Akinyemi were so well versed in their areas of primary assignments, they made international media headlines through their dynamic and ground breaking ideas and concepts.
Such sagacity conferred on Nigeria not just the prestige of being the leader of Africa, but also a formidable force on the global stage.
How can it be forgotten that based on the potency of the pioneering work done by the likes of professor Akinyemi in positioning our country as a bastion of hope for Africa, with people bristling with bright ideals that could change the worst, Nigeria was tipped to be a part of BRICS, a group of countries, including Brazil, Russia, India and China, identified by Goldman Sachs economist, Jim O’Neal in 2001 as destined to dominate the world economy by 2050.
But following a series of political miscalculations that have bedeviled our country, not limited to, but particularly stemming from the failure of former military president lbrahim Badamasi Babangida, to keep to his promise to hand over political power to civilians in 1993 after MKO Abiola was believed to have won the presidential election held on June 12 of that year and instead a more tyrannical military dictator, Sani Abacha, seized power and became military head of state.
His ascension was preceded by his ouster of Ernest Shonekan as interim head of state, after IBB stepped aside, and the consequence of the upheaval was our country’s loss of the opportunity of joining that exclusive club of emerging economic and political power bloc famously known as BRIC at that time.
Remarkably, Nigeria’s loss was South Africa’s gain, as it was the S in South Africa, that got incorporated into the acronym to form BRICS.
That is simply because it was within the same period that the obnoxious apartheid policy that scourged the conscience of the world was killed and therefore a precursor to the emergence of the late civil rights struggle icon, Nelson Mandela, who got released from prison to become president of South Africa in 1994 after a long period of oppression of black majority by a white minority.
Thus instead of BRINC with N, if Nigeria had been chosen over South Africa, we dropped out of the league.
Since then, owing to the sordid image of our country, both at home and abroad, the nation’s fortune has been on a downward spiral.
This is underscored by the fact that these days, Nigeria is only mentioned in the global media for the wrong reasons. As a person of impeccable character and pristine pedigree, one cannot celebrate Prof Akinyemi without referencing his incorruptibility.
So as a breathe of fresh air in the fouled sociopolitical atmosphere prevailing in our country, whereby the malfeasance of public office holders, stinking to the high heavens, is the new normal; Bolaji Akinyemi’s public service record can be an elixir of sorts. His story,(history) is guaranteed to bring back the feelings of nostalgia about the brilliance and high voltage intellectualism that were once the hallmark of our public servants.
•ONYIBE, a public policy analyst and former commissioner in Delta State, contributed this article from Lagos.