Friday 25 March 2022

My sojourn in Australia and New Zealand

Read this embarrassing event which occurred in 1982. 

"Interesting but sad excerpt from the bio of Amb. Olusola Sanu, one of the leading lights of the Nigerian diplomatic corps & former speechwriter to Gen. J. Y. Gowon:

My departure from Peking, China was a hurried one. I received a telex message in July 1982 that I should wind up my affairs and prepare to assume duty in Australia as the First High Commissioner of Nigeria to Australia. My immediate and first assignment was to begin preparation to receive the Head of State, His Excellency, President Shehu Shagari, who was leading Nigeria's delegation to the Commonwealth meeting to be held in Melbourne, Australia. As the meeting would be starting in two weeks, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a strong appeal to the Australian government to accelerate the process of presenting my Letters of Credence to the Governor-General of Australia. This was done within three days of my arrival in Canberra, capital of Australia and seat of their federal government.

The Commonwealth meeting was important to Nigeria because our eminent colleague, Emeka Anyaoku, was lobbying for the post of Secretary -General of the Commonwealth. His opponent was the former Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Fraser. My presence was deemed important so that I could join the Nigerian delegation in lobbying, particularly among the African and Caribbean countries for the success of our mission, the appointment of our candidate, Emeka Anyaoku.

I spent a day looking through the file preparing for the task ahead. I was happy that Mr O. Fowora who was the Charge d'affaires had made excellent preparations by assessing the strengths and weakness of Anyaoku's opponent. His verdict was that our candidate had a better profile and we had a very good chance of success. The major problem we had was the difficulty of ascertaining the numerical strength of the Nigerian delegation coming for the meeting in Melbourne. Our High Commission in Canberra had informed Lagos that the Australian government would only provide for five delegates per country, in other words, provision for the head of delegation, the Foreign Minister and three others. Expenses for additional members were to be borne by each country. In reply, we were informed by Lagos that Nigeria's delegation would not be more than fifty.

As arrangements were going on for fifty, another message was received indicating that the number of our delegates would be seventy. By the time our our delegation arrived in Canberra, we had one hundred and thirty six. Naturally, we had great difficulty in arranging for accommodation and transportation for the delegates, particularly for the very senior members who insisted that their ranks be duly recognized.

The problem I encountered in Australia in 1982 was exactly like the one I encountered when I received our first economic delegation to the United State in 1961. In arranging for transport, we thought that we could put three senior delegates in a car and maximize the use of the four official cars provided by the Australian government. This was flatly rejected by the senior members. Dr. Chuba Okadigbo led the charge. He insisted that he was the Political Adviser to President Shehu Shagari and was entitled to an official car  in and out of Nigeria. He therefore must have an official car and had no intention of sharing the car allocated to him with anyone. Naturally, the other senior officials like Chief Hezekiah Oladipo Davies followed suit. The result was that we hired seven additional limousines in addition to the five provided by the Australian government and three big buses for the rest of the delegation.

Whenever the convoy of Nigeria was proceeding to the conference, we were a gross spectacle with everyone watching the show of shame we displayed. It was particularly embarrassing when thirty or forty Nigeria delegates invaded the coffee room. We occupied the whole space and drank all the coffee or tea provided for the season. Entry to the conference room itself was another problem. The President and Foreign Minister occupied the front two seats for Nigeria. There were three seats immediately behind them. Ideally, the High Commissioner to Australia should occupy a seat so that he could take notes of the proceedings to enable him to write a first- hand final report. I was however bluntly informed that I would only be allowed to occasionally enter when the Foreign Minister, Okoi Arikpo, was not present. The majority of the delegation loitered around or had to contend with watching the proceedings on television.

In contrast, the delegation of Singapore was exactly five. Only the Foreign Minister came with Prime Minister Lee Juan Yew from home, the remaining three were officials based in their High Commission office in Canberra. I can confirm that the great leader of Singapore opened his mouth to say hello to us only twice. Once at the opening and again, when Presidential Shehu Shagari left his seat and Arikpo took his place. I remember that a subject came up and Arikpo felt he had to intervene. He took the microphone and made an impromptu speech. Lee Kuan Yew turned briefly to him and gave him a warm handshake and said "that was a nice intervention". Beyond that, I did not notice any other warm exchanges with our delegation. For a poor country such as ours, the ostentatious display was not appreciated.

The main reason for having such an armophous size of delegation was presumably to facilitate lobbying. We were, frankly not equipped to carry out that task. The delegation included forty members of the press. Most of them were representatives of daily newspapers in Nigeria, a few others were official newsmen who had come to feed their newspapers at home and to report the activities of the President and the Foreign Minister. Since in diplomacy, you have a better opportunity of putting the case of your country across to your opposite number, it turned out that most of the countries attending the Commonwealth could not afford the luxury of bringing newsmen at the expense of their countries. The newsmen in Nigeria had little or nothing to do other than roam around Canberra while the actual meeting was going on.

The senior members of the delegation did not have the opportunity to exchange views with their counterparts from Africa. The Asian countries were also presenting an Asian candidate for the post of Secretary-General and most of them supported Malcolm Fraser, the Former Prime Minister of Australia. He was a weak candidate because his candidacy was embroiled in scandal which the Australian government believed the rest of the Commonwealth members will  overlook. They did not. It was left to me and others to accost the  Commonwealth Foreign Minister in the coffee shop and in the lobby to remind them that Emeka Anyaoku was our candidate and to express the hope that they would support his candidacy. Happily their answers were positive and reassuring.

I was happy with Emeka Anyaoku's appointment and particularly that I had an opportunity to repay him for his unconditional support for me during the Lome Convention negotiations. He rose above the pessimism of most Senior officials who felt that that I was charged with an impossible assignment of getting the Francophone countries to agree to accept the instruction of OAU that Africa must be united to face Europe. My assignment in Australia to work for his election was an opportunity to repay his trust and confidence in my ability to make success of my assignment in Brussels.

The problem I had at post began when the delegates left for Nigeria. It turned out that some members of the delegation, particularly the contingent of pressmen, moved out of their rooms to seek alternative accommodation without settling their hotel bills. Australia, almost fifty years ago was an Epicurean society where every hotel room had photographs of available prostitutes with their telephone numbers. It was certain that a sizeable number of our delegates availed themselves of the service of these call girls and literally finished their estacodes before the end of the meeting. A number of them absconded to the airport leaving behind unpaid hotel bills. For the next six months, I was bombarded with telephone calls from different hotels in Canberra asking the embassy to settle the bills. The Foreign Affairs Ministry in Lagos, while sympathizing with me, asked the Embassy to settle the bills from our budget. The result was that we faced a huge budget constraint which affected our essential duties in my first year of duty in Australia."

By Olusola Sanu, Audacity on the Bound: A Diplomatic Odyssey.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...