KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Selected Speeches and Lectures on National Governance, Confronting Apartheid and Foreign Policy
Fatima Nduka-Eze, Oseloka Obaze and Kamarudeen Olatunde
Pp. 467 Price,
@KWENU: Thursday, May 31, 2012
@KWENU: Thursday, May 31, 2012
oe Garba remains a well-known and fondly remembered name in Nigeria and internationally, even ten years after his passing on 1 June 2002. As foreign minister of Nigeria from 1975 to 1979, when Garba spoke, people listened; for he was a highly regarded, credible, authentic and forceful Nigerian and African voice in foreign policy matters. He retained that niche until his death.
To mark the tenth anniversary of his passing, Joe Garba’s daughter, Fatima Nduka-Eze, and erstwhile aides, Oseloka Obaze and Kamaruden Olatunde, have published some of his selected speeches and lectures delivered between 1975 and 2002, in a volume aptly titled, Joe Garba’s Legacy. Garba’s former boss, General Yakubu Gowon, who wrote the foreword to the book, characterized the collection as “vintage Joe Garba”.
Joe Garba’s Legacy is a collection of thirty-two of Garba’s speeches as Nigerian Foreign Minister and President of the 44th Session of the UN General Assembly; his speeches as Nigeria’s Permanent Representative and Director-General, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru-Jos, Plateau State. The reader may find it convenient, that the 32 speeches have been classified by the editors, according to three determinants: Perspectives on National Governance, Confronting Apartheid and Perspectives on Foreign Policy. Apart from the foreword written by Gowon, Nigeria’s former head of state, the book also contains a detailed prologue, several notable tributes, and the piece, Joe Garba: A Man Before His Time commemorating the first anniversary of his death, written by Mr. Oseloka Obaze, who was Garba’s special assistant.
The prologue is a comprehensive account of Garba’s life as a public servant; but also offers the reader a personal glimpse of the man that was Joe Garba, written as it was by those who knew him well. From the prologue, the reader will learn much about Nigerian politics, she will acquire knowledge of international politics and policy making from an African perspective; the reader will learn that Joseph Nanven Garba became the youngest ever Nigerian foreign minister at the age of 32, that he had spent over 3 decades in service to his country counting from when he joined the Nigerian army as an officer at 22, to when he died at 59. The reader will see from the prologue that Joe Garba was a voracious reader, a keen student of political history and a man of deep humility. A soldier, a diplomat, an eloquent speaker, a prolific writer who authored many books, Joe Garba was unmistakably, a man of exceptional intelligence. Considered by many to be last true “vicar” of Nigerian foreign policy, Joe Garba, was unarguably, to my mind, the most dynamic foreign minister Nigeria has ever had, evidenced by the abundance of his writings. Coincidentally, as an aside, I was struck to discover that General Gowon was also 32 when he became head of state. Perhaps the reader will ponder on the present day disdain for youth in African politics.
To avoid confusion I acknowledge from the start, that the preview contains nothing original. Needing no adornment, I have simply extracted from the speeches, excerpts that I found particularly irresistible, poignant and relevant. It was challenging to decide what to include and what to leave out, for though the speeches span over 4 decades from 1976 to 2002, they all remain remarkably undated and pertinent.
Gowon writes in his foreword that, “Joe Garba’s Legacy is a rich collection of ideas spawned by great thoughts and desire to promote Nigeria’s image, growth and development. They are also reflective of his role and service to our country. Joe Garba openly dreamt for Nigeria’s peace and progress so she could assume her rightful leadership role in Africa.” Had Garba lived today, he would have been immensely disappointed to know that the Nigeria and Africa he dreamt of is still but a dream. Reading Joe Garba’s Legacy will bring home to the Nigerian and African reader the plight of Nigeria and the continent; it will make the reader both angry and sad. But it will also make the African reader proud to be African, particularly if one is Nigerian and realizes the positive role that country has played in African politics, particularly in southern Africa. For those readers who have seen the South African movie District 9 or who know personally the South Africans’ opinions of Nigerians (deserved or not), feeling proud to be Nigerian is no small feat.
Reading Joe Garba’s Legacy, I was proud to be Nigerian and pleased to be informed of Nigeria’s significant role in combating apartheid as well as her immense contributions to the continent politically, fiscally and otherwise. I jumped and applauded Nigeria when I read in the speech, The Problem of Southern Africa, delivered by Garba in his capacity as the Commissioner for External Affairs, during the 31st Regular Session of the General Assembly in New York in 1976, “It is worth mentioning here what I said at the Security Council a few days ago, that “we will not accept any dialog with the racist regime of South Africa without its renouncing the policy of apartheid . . .” In addition, we must not be diverted from the reality of the situation in South Africa, where “bantustanization”, the quintessence of apartheid, continues to be implemented.”
As Garba reiterated, “We shall never relent until the South African racists appreciate that such abuse of power, such degradation of human values, cannot stand the test of time. We in Nigeria are convinced that the genocide being perpetrated by the racist regime in South Africa, to which some powerful Members of this Assembly continue to turn a blind eye, cannot solve in perpetuity the basic problems of human resistance and reaction to suffering.”
Likewise, in the speech titled Ian Smith’s Internal Settlement in Rhodesia, delivered to the UN Security Council on 10 March 1978, against the backdrop of the Turnhalle Talks and fraudulent unilateral efforts by the Ian Smith-led apartheid regime in Rhodesia to co-opt some Africans into a settlement agreement that would fall short of full independence for the people of Zimbabwe. Garba boldly declared, “We refuse to accept that a simpleton like Smith should continue to defy the world and be allowed to commit this most heinous crime, the worst since the United Kingdom turned over power, in political and material terms, to racist minorities in southern Africa. We still say categorically, for the umpteenth time, that the United Kingdom, as the colonial power, has the primary responsibility to end the Smith rebellion. But it would appear that it has decided, for reasons other than those of acceptable moral standards and legality, not to discharge its duty in the matter in accordance with international law and practice and the recorded decisions of successive British Governments.”
On Southern Africa, Garba was bold and passionate, but he was even bolder and more passionate on Nigeria and her development (if this is possible). Comprehending that not often is one proud to be Nigerian, Garba acknowledged in the speech, Nigeria the Way Forward, A Domestic Agenda for Constituent Development, “Today being a Nigerian, is almost synonymous with criminality and corruptibility. As a nation, we do not produce narcotic drugs, but internationally, one hears of derisive epithets such as the Nigerian Drug Cartel and of the Nigerian Mafia our circumstances confound us, and the blame points to degenerating leadership, diminished government and loss of values. Rather than objectively address the causes of these vices, we chase mirages. And when accosted, the exculpating refrain often seems to be, “let him who is not guilty, cast the first stone”. Those who dare, often pay an agonizing price.”
Pinpointing education as fundamental to national greatness, Garba stated in the same speech that, “Every great nation has been propelled by leaders who were once students; great leaders, erudite scholars have all been students. But, yet, as a nation, we have wittingly politicized our educational system and in the process, relegated the care as well as quantitative and qualitative character of studentship in this nation to the abyss of neglect.” Advanced thinking even for today, Garba further proclaimed, “Our contemporary educational system, in spite of being like the nation, thirty-one years old and independent, is a shameful shadow what it was on the eve of our independence. The fault is squarely on the doorstep of government; for there is no nation, no matter how rich, where the control, ownership and finance of education is the responsibility of government. Time has come for us to admit that government takeover of schools, was and remains a flawed policy. And that the guarantee of quality education is neither the preserve nor sole responsibility of government. Quality education cost money, it is therefore not a privilege that all can enjoy. The time has come for government to return to its role of regulation, and allow private entrepreneurs, missions and states to run the business of education.”
In the same speech, Garba further explained that democracy would not necessarily result in automatic accountability and good governance unless the populace insists on it. As Garba put it, “More questions ought to be asked of those who seek to rule us. For we cannot merely be content, with this highly flaunted freedom—forgetting in its wake, that whether we call it freedom or democracy, the political system we are about to embrace is neither self-motivating nor automatic in its functionality. It cannot find its own realization, nor can the nation politically self-actualize, if the operators of the system are not committed to a national agenda that addresses the needs of the constituency and the vital questions of national development.”
In Beyond the Transition, What Vision, What Goals, Garba declared that “the parameters of greatness and the barometer of success with which we measure our political and development wherewithal has been long broken; despoiled by our myopic consideration and reluctance to accept that our national remedy lies not in our self-deceit and being politically obstreperous, but in our willful acceptance of our limitations and embarking on the appropriate means of action to remedy them.”
“We covet a leadership role in Africa. That is all well and good. But then, far lesser endowed nations of Africa, whom we dubiously use as the yardstick—would have done unquestionably better than us, were they fortunate to have the resources at our disposal. I have strained to hear our leadership both past, present and the aspirants compare us with Indonesia or South Korea. What I hear is a compelling and resounding silence, because there is no basis for comparison with these two nations that are our national contemporaries.” “I am loath to dwell on our past, not because it is not pertinent, but because it is painful and almost sacrilegious to recall, given what it represents—an utter national failing—that tends to suggest that this nation is by divine instigation bereft of purposeful leadership. We neither lack men or women who can be captains of politics and industry, nor do we lack erudite personalities who can champion our national ascendancy in education, science and technology. The limitations we have suffered and continue to suffer, having been a self-imposed one, can only find its redress in a purposeful leadership, that is courageous, bold and visionary; a leadership that panders neither to the whims of the political elite, nor to the dubious exploitation of a projected emphasis on serving the needs of the minority.”
In The Church as an Enabler, Garba said, “Today, I look at the Church and I am saddened by the picture before me. I see servants of God, who have abandoned their flock to worship at the altar of materialism. We have abandoned the eternal Kingdom to seek with all our might the establishment of a fleeting earthly Kingdom. We have abandoned the glory of God in pursuit of our own glory, our own selfish, narrow-minded (I dare say) political ambition. It is to our collective shame that the detestable word, ‘settlement’, is now being mentioned in reference to the shepherds of God’s humble flock.”
Speaking on national pride, in the speech Who is Nigeria’s Best Ambassador, Garba stated that Nigeria’s best ambassador is that individual who travels the world and is proud to stand up and say I am a Nigerian. “Today, our image linked to our declining fortunes has further been bedeviled by growing problems of drug trafficking, credit card scams, insurance fraud, and other criminal activities. These are the activities of a few who belong to the criminal fringe. But the price for such activities are paid, not by these few, but by millions of Nigerians who can no longer travel the world without ‘let or hindrance,’ and who are perceived as guilty before proven innocent and are seen as potential criminals for the mere fact that they carry a green passport that says Federal Republic of Nigeria on its cover. Our fate has become that of those who must have the sins of a few visited on the many who are innocent.”
With so much meaty content, I fear that if I were to go on, the preview will itself turn into a book. Fittingly, Joe Garba’s Legacy ends with the speech number 32, Africa: A Time for Hope, Resolve and Change. In this speech, Garba spoke of two critical factors responsible for Africa’s problems: unfulfilled aspirations and un-kept promises. The first problem, he said, arises from failed leadership in Africa. And the second from the extraneous factors of un-kept promises “from our Western friends and interlocutors.” In the first instance, those lucky or calculating enough to acquire political power, soon shut out public opinion and excluded meaningful discourse and advice. Experience has taught us that in most instances these people are the least qualified to govern. In the second instance, our Western interlocutors and erstwhile colonial masters, in their enlightened self-interest have made promises that they never intended to keep.
“We know all too well what has been the fate of Liberia and Somalia. The latter was one of America’s staging grounds in Africa during the Cold War years, and the former, its African backyard. Somalia especially, typifies yet another promise un-kept, as the United States, after a brief sojourn there, has all but withdrawn taking along with it its allies. They have left behind a dangerous political vacuum. Somalia has now become an inextricable and vexatious African problem that requires an African solution.
Of Nigeria, he said, “Try as hard as we may to analyze the many and various factors that led to the aborting of the political transition in Nigeria, we cannot dismiss the one preeminent factor: failed leadership. Whether we think of it in terms of military or civilian leadership, the sad fact is that payoffs and bribes in politics robbed millions of Nigerians of the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to elect a leader of their choice.” “Nobody—I mean nobody—can applaud the way things have gone in Nigeria since 1985, or General Abacha’s scrapping of the democratic institutions established at enormous cost.”
Particularly Joe Garba’s Legacy is refreshing for not being another apple polishing offering as is the norm from Nigerians in leadership positions or those seeking such positions, who in their quest to appear righteous and hold on to power or in their enthusiasm not to step on toes, (so as not to forfeit the possibility of a turn at the national cake) have been less than frugal with the truth, with the result that most of what they have offered (when they have bothered), have been banal at best and sycophantic at worst.
In this regard, it behooves me to comment on the intriguing relationship between Garba and Gowon and later Garba and Abacha. General Gowon tells us in his foreword, that Joe Garba was his most loyal and gallant officer who served him faithfully as Commander, Brigade of Guards responsible for his personal security of the head of state, but for his surprising and unexpected participation in the events of 29 July, 1975 which he subsequently sincerely regretted. While I have no doubt that Garba repented, on a personal level, his actions against his boss and friend, by my reading of the speech, The Role of the Military in African Development: The Nigerian Experience, it appeared to me that Garba, given the same circumstances, would act in the same way. Clearly, in acting as he did, he believed that he was putting country before friendship. Further, some of the more cynical of us, would go as far as to argue that perhaps Garba saved Gowon from the curse of the quintessential African leader, who hangs on to power long past their time. But as history interceded, this will forever be a subject of conjecture, for it may be that Gowon would have willingly relinquished power when the time came. Nonetheless, the Garba-Gowon saga makes more bewildering the Garba-Abacha association. As Mr. Oseloka Obaze tells us in Joe Garba: A Man Before His Time, (the piece is included in the book in lieu of an epilogue)“Garba recognized that nothing in his fifty-eight years did more damage to Joe Garba’s image than his dalliance with the Abacha regime.” From my reading of the man, it seems to me that he must have had the best intentions but we cannot really know for sure and, this it seems we must also consign to speculation. Sometimes, the road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions.
What I do know for certain is that Joseph Nanven Garba was a patriotic Nigerian. I am left with no doubt that Nigeria would not be as crippled as it is now if our leaders were more like him. Joe Garba’s Legacy is a seminal contribution to our understanding of Africa in general and in particular, Nigeria’s political, social and economic dilemmas. The collection of speeches reveals Nigeria’s aspirations to a leadership position on the continent and her increasing inability to fulfill that potential. The reader will see how after decades of mismanagement and corruption, Nigeria’s ambitions for superpower status within the continent have become delusions of grandeur. Undeniably, since her independence in 1960, the country’s civilian and military governments alike have played a prominent role on a host of issues. From the struggle against apartheid, the struggles in Angola, Zimbabwe, demands for a permanent seat for Africa at the UN Security Council, reparations for the Slave Trade, peace-keeping initiatives in regional trouble spots like Liberia and Sierra Leone. But the combination of domestic and external forces, coupled with economic mismanagement and failure to stabilize and democratize politics, have negatively affected its foreign policy options and capacity to exercise regional leadership.
Dr. Nkiru Balonwu is an attorney, literary critic and a member of the Kwenu.com Book Review Forum, which is dedicated to the promotion of books with Igbo and Afrocentric themes. Her book reviews previously appeared in THISDAY, and several other Nigerian newspapers.
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