REMINISCENCES — ‘’AFRICA HAS COME OF AGE’’: HOW MURTALA MUHAMMED WAS PROVOKED INTO BLASTING THE WEST
Nigeria has a brilliant record with regard to the decolonization of Africa. In this piece, TERRIFIC HEADLINES revisits the circumstances that led to the delivery the address for the purposes of the records and posterity. It is to be noted that one of the most memorable moves that Nigeria made during the struggle for decolonization was the pursuit of vibrant diplomacy by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime that pursued a virile foreign policy. Former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, in one of his public lectures noted that “The most dramatic leverage by Nigeria was the nationalization of the assets of British Petroleum (BP) on the eve of the Lusaka Commonwealth Summit; a move which softened British intransigence over Rhodesia.” Beyond this masterstroke, fiery Gen. Murtala Muhammed had addressed a Session of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) during which he delivered a powerful address titled: “Africa Has Come of Age.’’
The Murtala/Obasanjo regime was characterized by decisiveness and patriotism. Africa was the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy; and its political actors, therefore, consistently pressed for decolonization of African States and reversal of the imbalance in the pattern of engagement and information dissemination prevalent in the world.Nigeria’s stand is premised on the fact that every sovereign state possesses the same legal rights as any other sovereign state at international law. The January 1976 Session of the Organisation of African Unity was just eight days away when the United States president, Gerald Ford fired a correspondence to Gen. Murtala Ramat Muhammed. The letter of 3rd January, 1976, was delivered to Murtala Muhammed by the then American ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Donald Easum, a distinguished United States diplomat, who later becamePresident of the African American Institute,and died two years ago at the age of 92 years. The same letter considered as offensive and an attempt by the United States to violate the principles of International Law was also sent to some heads of African states.
The Nigerian government reacted promptly, calling the United States move as ‘’gross insult’’. The letter was leaked to the media that also promptly condemned the attempt by the United States to remotely control Africa. The occurrence triggered Murtala’s decision to attend the conference and deliver his message to the world. Nigeria’s deputy head of state, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was scheduled to lead the Nigerian delegation stepped down for his boss, Murtala Muhammed, who delivered a speech that attracted a standing ovation at the OAU headquarters in Ethiopia. Full of resentment at the intention of super powers to dominate and control other sovereign nations, Murtala Muhammed went further:
Africa is no longer under the orbit of any extra-continental power. ‘’It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. ‘’The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make, or to mar. ‘’For too long, have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly. ‘’For too long, it has been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. ‘’The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protect those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which, more often than not, have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand.’’
Fiery Murtala Muhammed spoke the truth, and apparently the minds of professionals and researchers in communication, that have for long invited global attention to the pattern of global information flow that is not in favour of the developing world. Murtala may be dead; but he combined with Olusegun Obasanjo, his successor, to lay a solid foundation for the pursuit of vibrant diplomacy by Nigeria, which massively aided the total liberation of Africa from colonial rule. The Murtala/Obasanjo regime pursued a virile foreign policy, that didn’t stop at declarations; it set about matching them with appropriate policies and actions. In Africa, the primary focus of attention remained the problem of decolonization in Southern Africa. Rhodesia was at the top of the list of interventions, followed by Namibia and South Africa.
The Obasanjo regime massed all the diplomatic and material forces at its disposal in support of peaceful change of policies in the then existing colonies in Africa. Indeed, Nigeria’s patriotic role as a ‘’big brother’’ in African politics deserves to be accorded proper recognition. That period was evidently the peak of Nigeria’s glorious moves in the diplomatic community with such brilliant minds like Prof. BolajiAkinyemi, (Nigeria’s Henry Kissinger) Prof. IbrahimGambari, and Major Gen Joe Garba, leading some of the most brilliant diplomats in Nigeria’s Ministry of External/Foreign Affairs, who successfully rubbed shoulders with their counterparts all over the world to record indelible marks, particularly with regard to liberating Africa from colonial rule and heling African nations to find their feet.
TIME FOR AFRICA TO LOOK INWARDS
We have world class professionals and experts who can build a modern society that could advance beyond the First World like Nigerian priests are doing all over the world. We have African national costume, African music and dance that are meaningful unlike the rapping sessions that don’t really convey any meaning. We can produce and export so many items from Africa instead of being the dumping ground for foreign products. We can create holiday resorts here in Nigeria and make foreigners struggle for entry visas into Nigeria. Ask Nigerian diplomats: How many state governors of foreign nations attend Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations on October 1, like our state governors attend National Day celebrations of other nations in Nigeria. There must be reciprocity. We need to do a re-think very wisely and apply home grown solutions to our socio-political and economic problems. If the truth must be told, it is time to look inwards. Our women are prettier in our attires; while men look good in our traditional dresses. What about our local soap that cleanses excellently well as opposed to foreign products that bleach the skin? We have local herbs that are more efficacious than imported ones.
The erosion of cultural values in the Third World has assumed frightening dimensions. We have very rich diets but prefer to go for delicacies of the West. Hot pap, for instance could simply substitute imported tea. There are several Nigerian dishes that are far more nutritious than foreign items. Regrettably, it is now commonplace finding the younger elements in Africa dancing to the tunes of foreign musicians; without even understanding the lyrics of the songs. The sounds and contents of Nigerian musicians’ works are certainly more meaningful than ‘’rapping’’ that conveys no meaning; and is full of distortions because no communication really takes place. Young boys now wear ear-rings, hitherto an exclusive practice by the female sex. This is one feature of what information explosion has caused; creating dysfunctional situations that are increasingly becoming difficult for the world to manage. This trend has caused misrepresentations and stereotypes that every so often require corrections. It has also promoted misunderstanding, and shallow knowledge of peoples and occurrences in the developing world. It is widely believed that this development is capable of hindering efforts at promoting global peace and international understanding.