“The President then told me that he wanted me to join his new government. I was so surprised that I said, “But, Sir, I am not a politician.” He, however, quickly replied, “Nor was Henry Kissinger a politician.” In reply to my question about the other characters he hoped to have in his new government, President Shagari was very frank in telling me that during his first administration his political party had won the election for him and had in consequence largely determined who would be appointed as Ministers, with the result that a good many of them had let him and the country down. He now wanted, during his second term, to appoint those who he believed would serve the country well. I was most impressed by this evident determination on his part to do the best for the country and so I told him that I would be honoured and pleased to serve the country under his leadership. The following day, the President told me that he had decided to give me the Foreign Affairs portfolio; I thanked him and we agreed that I would resign from my post at the Commonwealth Secretariat only on the day that I was sworn in as the Minister.

When I agreed to serve as Minister, little did I know of the shocking experience awaiting me at the Senate confirmation hearings. The procedure for appointing ministers under Nigeria’s presidential constitution was similar to what obtains in the United States. The President’s nominees for ministerial positions are screened by a Senate committee that then forwards its recommendations to the full Senate. The day before I was to appear before the screening committee, I was approached by three emissaries who came to tell me that the general complaint among the Senators, particularly those in the screening committee, was that I was not lobbying anyone. My reply to them was that I considered it improper to speak to any member of the committee until the exercise was over. One of them said to me, “Look, this not London, you know, this is Lagos.” Again, I affirmed my reply.

On the day of the confirmation hearing, I quickly gained the impression that some of the members of the committee were intent on faulting me by asking me detailed questions about the country, including the newly created states and the wording of the national anthem. When they found that I was able to answer all the questions correctly, they announced that they wanted to clear the public gallery in order to ask some security-related questions. The public gallery was then cleared and, much to my surprise, I was asked if I had a British passport, to which my answer was no.

To my shock, the next day when the hearings were completed, it was published that all the nominees had been cleared except six. On the list of those that were not cleared was my name and that of Raph Uwechue, a London-based publisher of a widely respected Africa magazine and books on Africa, and a friend and former colleague in the Nigerian diplomatic service. When I read the report, I went to see the President to express my anger and to tell him that I would be returning immediately to my job in London. President Shagari told me that he was aware of the unfounded excuses being used by the Senators to obstruct my confirmation. He asked me to allow him, if need be, to present my name 20 times because he was sure that there was no basis for turning me down other than my unwillingness to collaborate with them in perpetuating corruption in the polity. The President then suggested that I should go and see the Senate President, Dr Joseph Wayas, and the Chairman of the screening committee, Senator Victor Akan, who apparently enjoyed the confidence of the Senate President.

When I met Senator Victor Akan, he said that I should go and see the Senate President to discuss the matter. As President Shagari had given me the same advice, I decided to see the President of the Senate. Dr Wayas received me most warmly and with every courtesy, including bringing out an unopened bottle of gin, which he remarked was the customary way of welcoming a visiting Obosi chief. As required by custom, I touched the bottle before it was opened for us to enjoy our gin and tonic. I quickly came to the substance of my visit. He said that there were a number of reasons why some of them were not too keen to see me join the government. One was that they felt that my presence in the government would strengthen the hand of Dr Alex Ekwueme in vying for succession when President Shagari’s term expired. I said to him that, as far as I knew, Dr Ekwueme had nothing to do with the invitation I received from the President to join the government. The President had told me that it was his decision to invite me to join his government. Dr Wayas also told me that some people had observed that I had no time for the sort of gestures that some of the Senators involved in my screening were expecting me to make to them. In any case, at the end of our conversation, he assured me that my experience at the second hearing would be different. And so it was, because my second appearance before the Senate screening committee lasted no more than five minutes, at the end of which I learnt that the committee members unanimously voted for my approval.”

Emeka Anyaoku, “The Inside Story of the Modern Commonwealth”. (London, Evans Brothers Limited, 2004), pp. 286-288

Copied: Sumner Shagari Sambo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s