Whenever the name of Chief Chukwuemeka Eleazar Anyaoku, CFR, CON, GCVO, is mentioned, one of the impressions that readily come to mind is that of a distinguished diplomat, who excelled at the highest echelon of diplomacy in the world.
Another impression is that of a cerebral and accomplished elder statesmen whose opinion is widely sought and respected, not only in Nigeria but also across the globe.
These impressions are right and it took Anyaoku, the Ichie Adazie of Obosi, decades of hard work to climb to the enviable height.
Born on January 18, 1933, in Obosi, Anambra State, he was educated at Merchants of Light School, MOLS, Oba and University College, Ibadan, where he studied classics, graduating with a London University honours degree in 1959. He got married in 1962 to Ebunola Olubunmi Solanke and the union is blessed with a daughter and three sons.
Anayoku started displaying exemplary leadership qualities early. First was at debates among holidaying students in Obosi in the late 1940s. After his secondary education, the elder statesman, in 1952, proceeded to teach at Emmanuel College, Owerri in the then Eastern Region. He was there until mid-1954 lecturing in mathematics, Latin and English.
In the mid-1950s, Anyaoku, an undergraduate at the University College, Ibadan, contributed immensely to debates, discussions and demonstrations on the political future of the country as a students’ union leader. With other students, he sent series of petitions and delegations to the three foremost political leaders in the country then – Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello- on the way forward for the emerging independent Nigeria.
Armed with a good university degree, Anyaoku, in 1959, joined the Commonwealth Development Corporation at the tender age of 26. Shortly after Nigeria’s independence, the new government invited him to join the country’s diplomatic service. By 1963, he was posted to Nigeria’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations, UN, in New York.
After the establishment of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Anyaoku became assistant director of international affairs and was later seconded to the organisation by the first Secretary, General Arnold Smith of Canada and he subsequently became a director. By 1975, Anyaoku had become Assistant Secretary General of the international organisation.
At the 1977 election of the Commonwealth government, he became the Deputy Secretary General, with responsibility for international affairs and the Secretariat’s administration.
His love for Nigeria and Africa took the better of him in 1983. He put his high position at the Commonwealth on hold and returned to Nigeria to serve as the country’s foreign affairs minister, where he displayed exemplary leadership.
With the military coup of December 31, 1983, Anyaoku returned to his familiar turf where he retained his Commonwealth position as Deputy Secretary General. In 1989, he was elected the third Commonwealth Secretary General and assumed office in 1990. In his first tenure, he proved an indispensable leader in matters of national, continental and international political leadership, a display that earned him re-election for a second five-year term that lapsed in 2000.
Today, he is dubbed ‘a diplomats’ diplomat’ for his long involvement in diplomatic and international service, including some 35 years of Commonwealth initiatives and negotiations across the 54 countries of the Commonwealth body. Not only is he a chief through lineage, but also through his exceptional leadership skills
All through his service years, his love for Nigeria and the African continent, which manifested in the form of promotion of democracy and ensuring an egalitarian society, cannot be glossed over.
It was therefore not surprising that in the line of duty, Anyaoku was actively involved in issues such as the Gibraltar referendum of 1967, the Nigerian civil war of 1967 to 1970, the St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla constitutional crisis of 1969 to 1970, the problems following Commonwealth Games’ boycotts during the 1980s and the process leading to peace and democracy in Zimbabwe, Namibia and, in particular, South Africa.
Between November 1, 1991 and November 17, 1993, he visited South Africa 11 times, using his diplomatic skills in order to break deadlocks around the negotiation processes in the country.
Indeed, the people and government of South Africa honoured him for his exceptional contribution to the struggle for freedom, justice and democracy in South Africa and for persistent efforts to promote attainment of democracy and good governance in Africa.
In 1998, the late President Nelson Mandela gave Anyaoku the rare honour of addressing a joint sitting of the South African National Assembly in recognition of his antecedents concerning South Africa and his championing of progressive causes around the world,. That relationship informed the choice of the late Madiba to write the foreword to Anyaoku’s book, Eye of Fire.
In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Anyaoku has received decorations from Nigeria (CON, CFR and one of the 50 special awards to mark Nigeria’s 50th Independence Anniversary), and the highest national civilian honours of Cameroon, Lesotho, Madagascar, Namibia, Republic of South Africa and Trinidad & Tobago’s Trinity Cross (TC) as well as honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO) from Her Majesty The Queen of England in 2000. The Freedom of the City of London was also bestowed on him in 1998.
In 2003, the University of London established a professorial chair in his name, the Emeka Anyaoku Professor of Commonwealth Studies at its Institute of Commonwealth Studies. He is a holder of 32 Honorary Doctorate degrees from Universities in Britain, Canada, Ghana, Nigeria, The Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
His publications include The Missing Headlines (by Liverpool University Press in 1997); his Memoirs, The Inside Story of the Modern Commonwealth (by Evan Brothers Limited in 2004) and The Racial Factor in International Politics (by The Nigerian Institute for International Affairs in 1977). A biography of Emeka Anyaoku, The Eye of Fire, written by the Canadian author, Phyllis Johnson, was published by Africa World Press Inc and reprinted in Nigeria by Spectrum Books Limited in 2000.
Even in retirement, the seasoned diplomat, who is a few days shy of 84 years, is not tired. Full of energy, he readily offers himself to service of mankind, especially in the area of peace and development of democratic tenets.
In recent times, he has been consistent in his clamour for the restructuring of Nigeria into fiscal federalism to unleash socio-economic and political development in the country.