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NIGERIA AND THE ORGANISATION OF AFRICAN UNITY/ AFRICAN UNION: FIFTY YEARS JOURNEY.

By AMBASSADOR OLUGBENGA ASHIRU AND AMBASSADOR OLUFEMI GEORGE
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AN ARTICLE IN COMMEMORATION OF
FIFTY YEARS OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CONTINENTAL ORGANISATION.

…….. MAY, 2013
In the next few weeks, Africa's continental organization will be celebrating fifty years of its existence, having been formally established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in May 1963. It is appropriate to look at the organization's development over these years and the robust contributions of Nigeria to the organization, first known as the Organization of African Unity, OAU, until its transformation to become the African Union, AU, in 2003. In looking at these developments and Nigeria's contributions, we must appreciate and salute the sense of direction which the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa gave to the country in the foreign policy agenda which he laid before the parliament on 30 August 1960, an agenda which won approval across party lines. In that policy speech, he indicated, inter alia, that

“Very particular attention will be devoted to adopting clear and practical policies with regard to Africa. We shall make every effort to find a way to unite our efforts and prevent Africa from becoming an area of crisis and world tension”.

This was further expatiated upon by the Prime Minister in his address to the United Nations General assembly in New York on 7 October 1960 and which later became the basic principles of Nigeria`s foreign policy. The main thrust of that address included, among others:

a). the principle of non interference in the internal affairs of other states;

b). respect for existing boundaries which must, in the interest of peace in Africa, remain the recognized boundaries until such a time as the peoples concerned decide of their own free will to merge into one unit or redraw boundaries;

c). peaceful settlement of disputes by negotiation, conciliation and arbitration;

d). equality of States, no matter their size, population, military or economic might; and

e). promotion of functional cooperation throughout Africa.

This pronouncement laid the basis of our foreign policy thrust from 1960 till the present time. Successive administrations, whether civilian or military, have doggedly kept to this foreign policy agenda, especially as it concerns Africa which has remained the centre piece of our foreign policy. It is against the background of this policy thrust that Nigeria's contributions to the African continent, through the OAU and AU, must be fully appreciated.

While our early efforts at the establishment of unity at the continental level were negatively affected by the raging ideological rivalries in the continent, we remained undeterred. Our primary objective was to do everything to foster cooperation and a systematic and pragmatic evolution towards unity in the continent, as well as the emancipation of all African countries, a majority of whom were still under colonial rule. By the time of Nigeria's independence in 1960, efforts had certainly commenced in this direction.

Nigeria's approach to continental unity was a cautious one and this sense of direction was succinctly put forward by late Chief Okotie-Eboh, the Minister of Finance while presenting the budget to the House in April 1961. He clearly recognized that dangers laid ahead in the balkanization of Africa, just as there were problems that must be tackled. He therefore made the case first, for satisfactory economic relations and the development of economic existence and cooperation among African countries before a political union. Such a Union, he asserted, should not be dominated by one country and must be under a leadership that is voluntarily accepted. This statement is no doubt prophetic, considering the radical views expressed by some of the then leaders of Africa and also, the domineering efforts of late Muammar Ghaddafi between late 1999 and early 2010. Ghaddafi tried to impose himself on Africa as its leader, including his efforts to force the political union of the continent.

Even though Nigeria's cautious approach came under criticisms, events have today proved the adroitness of that policy. By 1962, three main divisions had developed in Africa with different views of what the continental organization should be. The radical Casablanca Group stood for immediate political union of all African countries and the establishment of an African High Command to prosecute the anti colonial struggle. The Brazzaville Group, made up exclusively of ex- French colonies, was concerned with maintaining the French influence. For Nigeria, this fundamental division of Africa into two main divisions represented a serious blow to the envisaged goal of continental unity. It was therefore, in the effort to bridge the gap between the two diametrically opposing groups that Nigeria took the initiative which led to sponsoring the Monrovia Conference of six African States, considered as moderate, on 8 May 1961 and which led to the formation of the Monrovia Group.

The Monrovia Group advocated functional cooperation, equality of states, non interference in the internal affairs of other states, as well as opposition to forced political union of the continent. These were principles enunciated by Nigeria's Prime Minister at independence. Even though the meeting was boycotted by the radical Casablanca Group, Nigeria did not give up and made another effort in Lagos in January 1962 at uniting the Groups. This unsuccessful effort was due primarily to the intransigence of the Casablanca Group.

The Lagos meeting however presented the reconciliation forum for these divergent views on continental unity and, happily led to the adoption of the Lagos Charter. Interestingly, it was this charter that subsequently defined the OAU agenda as the promotion of African unity and solidarity, the eradication of all forms of colonialism and the defence of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of member states. These were clearly Nigeria's views. The Lagos Charter was subsequently adopted as the OAU Charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, fifty years ago, exactly on 25 May 1963. In effect, Nigeria dictated the agenda for the then young organization.

Since its formation, Nigeria's contribution to the continental organization has been robust and inspiring. We have provided leadership to the organization in every sphere of its endeavors. From annual and regular financial contributions to its running, to the implementation of its various agenda, either in the decolonization of the continent and the eradication of apartheid, or in the liberation struggle, our leadership role has been unassailable. Right from inception, we have been one of the largest contributors to the annual budgets of the organization, paying as much as US fifteen million dollars to the running costs of the organisation in 2012.

In the decolonization and anti apartheid struggle, our dogged contribution has been influenced by the assertion made by our founding fathers that our independence will be meaningless as long as a single Blackman remains under colonial yoke. The strident financial and other moral assistance given to many countries in Southern Africa in the struggle to gain political independence, have certainly led to freedom for millions of Africans. Nigeria's assistance to these countries was provided in a purely altruistic manner and in the belief that our independence was meaningless when millions of our fellow Africans were still under colonial oppression. Today, and thanks largely to Nigeria's effective contribution to Africa's agenda of decolonisation, the Organisation comprises fifty four members in comparison to the thirty or so odd members at its inception in 1963.

Furthermore, a testimony to the selfless contributions and robust leadership provided for our continent in the anti colonialist and anti apartheid struggle was Nigeria being conferred with an honorary membership of the Frontline States, even though she was located almost four thousand miles away from the then apartheid enclave of South Africa. Nigeria, successively, and for many years, occupied the position of Chairman of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid, a honour rarely bestowed on any country in United Nations Committees or organizations.

In this connection, we must also not fail to acknowledge that it was Nigeria, under the late General Murtala Mohammed who changed Africa's course and shaped the continent's policy towards the recognition of the Mouvement Pour la Liberation d' Angola, MPLA, and which led to the eventual independence of Angola. The important address to the 1976 OAU Summit, titled Africa Has Come of Age still resonates with many African nationalists. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is always proud of the writing skills of one of its own, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji in crafting that powerful speech that was brilliantly delievered by an equally charismatic leader of Nigeria to Africa's leaders gathered in Addis Ababa. Also, it was Nigeria's action in nationalizing the assets of British Petroleum which forced a change in the United Kingdom's attitude and which eventually led to the independence of Zimbabwe. Nigeria's contribution to Mozambique's independence from Portuguese colonial and or apartheid South Africa's grip are equally commendable.

With regards to the agenda on Africa's economic transformation, Nigeria has been in the fore front. She provided the effective leadership that culminated in the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action and the African Economic Community, AEC. It was Nigeria's diplomats, under the late Ambassador Gabriel Ijewere, who crafted the documents that eventually led to its adoption and which today provides the continent with the direction it follows. Indeed, in promoting the view of functional cooperation, Nigeria, along with Togo, gave leadership to the formation of the West African Economic Community, ECOWAS in 1975, which aims at the economic integration of the sub- region. In the effort at achieving continental integration, Africa has adopted the approach that the Regional Economic Communities, RECs, would be the building blocks. ECOWAS, again with the leadership of Nigeria, has been the most successful of these RECs and has provided the example to follow by them.

Nigeria's contribution to the New Partnership for Africa's Development, NEPAD, a long term programme of partnership for Africa, was equally outstanding. This was an initiative which developed from the entreaties made by two African leaders, including Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo to the G8 Summit in Okinawa, Japan in July 2000, for more assistance to Africa in order to improve overall economic development of the continent. The initiative developed from a common vision and a shared conviction by these African leaders that there is a pressing duty to eradicate poverty from, and place the continent on a path of sustainable growth and development. Nigeria, along with a few other countries, eventually worked tirelessly to develop the initiative which was finally adopted at the OAU Summit in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2001 as the pre eminent development strategy for the African continent. Another contribution to this African initiative was the fact that Nigerian officials gave the final name that was adopted, out of the several that this wholly African initiative and economic blue print was known and associated with over almost two years of its conceptualization. NEPAD has since become the United Nations successor policy framework for Africa's economic development.

When it comes to the promotion of peace and security in Africa, Nigeria's role on the continent has been unrivalled. In fact, our enviable record in peace keeping, in the continent and beyond, was flagged off barely two days after our independence on 1st October 1960 as a sovereign nation when Nigerian military and police contingents were deployed to the Congo, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. Nigeria's late General Aguiyi-Ironsi was the Commander of the UN Forces, while the experience gathered by our young soldiers during that operation has made the difference to our robust contributions, over the years, to peace-keeping all over the world.

Also, a contingent of military personnel was sent to Tanzania in 1964, following a mutiny in the country, to quell the insurgency and restore normalcy. Even Africa's first experience at collective peacemaking, carried out in Chad in 1982, was spearheaded by Nigeria. Apart from providing the leadership of the OAU Peace Keeping Force, OAUPKF, in the person of Major General Geoffrey Ejiga, Nigeria single-handedly bankrolled this unique effort by Africa at returning peace and stability to the country. Even though the promise was that Nigeria would be reimbursed for its financial outlay by the continental organisation, which cost almost forty million US dollars, this was not done.

With the controversial admission of the SADR in February 1982 and the consequent crisis following this admission, a crisis which almost caused the breakup of the continental organisation developed. Only Nigeria worked flat out and openly to prevent this situation. The shuttle diplomacy to several countries, aimed at promoting what became known as the Nigerian 'compromise' formula to solve this crisis and save the organisation from disintegration, was only scuttled at the last minute by the meddling role and arrogant behavior of Muammar Ghaddafi, through financial inducements made to several African countries.

Beyond these, Nigeria has played prominent roles in the peaceful resolution of various conflicts, including assisting in resolving the long-running conflicts in Sudan, as well as in Eritrea/Ethiopia and Ethiopia/Somalia disputes. We were members of several OAU Commissions on Mediation, Reconciliation and Arbitration charged with dealing with other disputes on the continent. This was in pursuit of the dreams of the founding fathers of the OAU of the need for Africans to play the major role in resolving conflicts on the continent. Our efforts in the final restoration of peace and democracy to both Liberia and Sierra Leone have been acknowledged internationally, especially the unrivalled enormous financial, material and human sacrifices made by Nigeria in these countries. In Cote d'Ivoire, our principled stand and dogged efforts under the leadership provided by President Goodluck Jonathan, have no doubt led to the emergence of a democratic government that is working to return the country to its enviable position as a haven of peace in the sub-continent. Indeed, Ivoirians have expressed the conviction that this dogged devotion to the promotion of democracy has saved their country from bloodbath that would have flowed from that crisis.

Our active contributions led to the early restoration of democracy in Sao Tome and Principe in 2003 and Guinea Bissau when unconstitutional changes of governments occurred in these countries. It was the strong statement by Nigeria in the wake of the coup in Sao Tome and the resolve to reverse the coup, in line with Article 4 of the Constitutive Act of the African Union which forbids the seizure of power by extra constitutional means, that set the tone for the all round condemnation from various quarters, even beyond the African continent. Our dogged commitment to this article also led to the leadership position to oppose the accreditation of Marc Ravalomanana at the 38th and last Summit of the OAU in Durban, South Africa in 2003. The latter, despite the disagreement that arose over the winner of the Presidential election in Madagascar, had taken power unconstitutionally. It is this principled position at that first summit of the AU to ostracize any person who takes power by unconstitutional means, that has, no doubt, ensured that this provision of the Constitutive Act is scrupulously adhered to ever since. This certainly represents a discouragement for those who would prefer to come to power through unconstitutional means.

Nigeria's contribution to the adoption of ECOMOG in 1998, as the preferred framework or mechanism for conflict prevention, management and resolution and peace keeping in West Africa, was another example of note. The success of this mechanism provided both encouragement and example for the adoption of the Peace and Security Commission in the new AU Commission and even in the envisaged creation of an AU Standby Force to intervene, when necessary, in crisis situations in Africa. Indeed, it was Nigeria that solely produced the draft Protocol on Peace and Security, apart from the initial draft Rules of Procedure of the Executive Council, the Permanent Representatives Committee and the Statute of the AU Commission which were finally adopted with minimal additions. The leadership provided by Nigeria in developing the operational guidelines and mechanisms of the AU Commission, was unassailable, just as we did with the predecessor OAU.

In the efforts to transform the organisation from the OAU to AU, Nigeria's leading and galvanizing role must be duly acknowledged. Regrettably, many people erroneously believe that it was Brother Ghaddafi that played the leading role. There was no doubt that the idea of an African Union was mooted by him at the 4th Extra Ordinary Summit of the OAU in Sirte, Libya on 9 September 1999. However, this idea would have been immediately killed, if not for the convincing and moderating role played by Nigeria's President Obasanjo. The latter argued and convinced his peers that rather than an outright dismissal of Libya's proposal, it should be considered as an opportunity to accelerate the implementation of the Abuja Treaty, which was designed for the economic integration of the continent aimed at subsequently leading to Africa's political integration.

President Obasanjo must therefore be fully credited with the idea of utilizing the opportunity of Libya's recommendation to advance the implementation of the African Economic Community Treaty, AEC, which was at that time seriously lagging behind in implementation. The attraction of an economic argument promoted by him definitely convinced his peers and has led to the progress made in this direction.

Furthermore, it was Nigeria that provided the leadership that enabled Africa to see clearly the way forward in establishing the African Union. The powerful and sovereign supra-national entity, which Libya proposed and tried to promote, subsequently became tempered and was replaced by the gradualist approach of a European Union model to continental organisation, favoured by Nigeria and a majority of member states. A Nigerian, Professor Adele Jinadu, was one of six experts that produced the Draft Constitutive Act of the African Union.

Even at the Experts level, Nigeria's voice was clear, consistent and equivocal, enabling most countries to support a balanced position put forward by our delegation. During Ministerial debates, Nigeria, along with four others, ensured that Africa was not saddled with an unworkable Union as intended by its initiator. When debates became deadlocked, it was Nigeria that mostly provided the compromise solutions that saved the day. Today, the AU and its institutions is stridently marching forward, thanks to the clear and consistent direction provided by Nigeria in the process leading to the transformation. There was no doubt that in all these, Nigeria's principled stand was anchored on the importance which the country had always attached to the unity of Africa and the forging of solidarity among its peoples.

VISION FOR THE NEXT DECADE
As we joyously celebrate fifty years of existence of our continental organisation and the journey to African unity and integration, what then is Nigeria's vision for the next decade?

First, Nigeria has a vision of a continent with an effective and robust leadership that will ensure the total unity which the founding fathers of the organisation dreamt of and assiduously worked for. In this regard, she looks forward to a leadership that is transparent, duly accountable and which takes into consideration the yearnings of the peoples of Africa for a new image for our continent. It is a leadership that will be made up of committed officials who will proudly lead Africa to the dream land of economic emancipation and development.

It is the vision of a renewed renaissance for our continent that will lead to greater regional cooperation, deepened economic integration and sustainable development, so that the lives of the average African is better than what obtains at the present. Our vision is that the current unenviable statistics of Africa as a continent with the largest poverty rate, one with the highest illiteracy rate in the world, a continent ravaged by preventable diseases, including high maternal and infant mortality, environmental degradation and the like, will become a continent with changed circumstances.

It is the vision of an Africa where democracy and democratic ethos reign supreme in every corner of the continent, complemented by good governance and social justice for every African, young and old and without discrimination on the basis of sex or religion.

It is the vision where the leadership of each and every country on our continent will be elected in a transparent, free and fair election; so that such leadership can truly claim that they have the mandate of their peoples to rule. It is only in such a situation that policies and programmes would be conceived and implemented with due consideration for the views and concerns of the people.

It is the vision of a continent free of crises and wars so that the toga of a continent at war with itself will be shed and the various countries can better face the daunting tasks of economic development. It is a vision of every African, young and old, men and women of all ethnic races, living in peace and harmony and in unison, working towards a free and united Africa.

Finally, it is the vision of a united continent, marching forward together, so that Africa can rightly take its place in and assume its responsibilities to the global community, particularly in effectively contributing to world peace and security so that our planet can truly be one for humanity.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of AMBASSADOR OLUGBENGA ASHIRU AND AMBASSADOR OLUFEMI GEORGE and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."