The Chatham attraction – Tribune Online
Some things rankle and sometimes, if it’s your wish, task the intellect. For me, one of such are these names: Oyiridiya and Enyidiya. These Igbo female names, among many others are as good as extinct in Igbo naming culture. If these names are not completely out of the list of modern names, they are surely on their way out of the people’s consciousness. The first and second names literally mean: “Like her husband” and “Her husband’s friend”. They convey deeper meanings than what they literally say because that is the culture. Of course the naming authorities know this and are satisfied with whatever the uninitiated would make of the names. But deep down, and after a brain search, it is worthy to ask what more are the names saying other than being at peace and harmony with their husbands?
The curiosity with these names sprouted from the thoughts on how early the names were given to our foremothers by our forefathers. If, at a child’s naming, its father announces that the child should be called, literally or otherwise, ‘her husband’s friend’ or ‘like her husband’, it would elicit curiosity. Our fathers are wiser and have their reasons for the names they gave their female children, but Oyiridiya and Enyidiya are examples of names that rankle. My grandmother was named Oriangwuàkù. My mum, her first child was named Onukwufo. They are names which meanings could easily be explained unlike the earlier two. Oyiridiya and Enyidiya leaves one to seriously wonder what the underlying thoughts about them are.
It is that same feeling with the current fad among Nigerian presidential candidates: Speaking at the Chatham House in London. What are the real reasons presidential candidates in elections in Nigeria are now all ‘marking attendance register’ in London? Within its first decade, the Chatham House designed a blueprint for others who wished to follow in its steps of international studies. It raised manpower to “help found and influence institutes” in other countries including South Africa, Nigeria and in Eastern Africa. Are we still under that influence? What have we done to the institutes they helped us found? One of the earliest speakers at the Chatham House was the Indian legendary nationalist and political leader, Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi. This man never held any political office, but his influence through peaceful civil disobedience against British rule in his country is legendary. He was invited and in December 1931, he told the colonialists at their Chatham house that they should allow countries be and sincerely create homegrown solutions to their problems. He told the British overlords: “The best way of arriving at the solution to any problem, political or social, is for the protagonists of rival views to meet one another and talk things out with sincerity and candour.”
Some of our presidential candidates have gone to London to dance in display to our lords at the Chatham House. Some of our candidates went there without the “sincerity and candour” prescribed by Gandhi. They went there with a façade but more for the sake of pride. Some of them, after their verbal drama on the institute’s podium, danced to Kiss Daniel’s Buga on top of our multifarious national troubles. Some went there to display pure hubris and to call their co-contestants names. But all of them went there, one by one, in fulfillment of which constitutional requirements really? The recurring Chatham House chatter has ignited concern among some Nigerians and I have allowed this trending presidential illogic to task my brain this week. The politicians goading our candidates to London and to Chatham have made the experience appear like one of the solutions to the many needs of Nigeria.
On the surface, the body says that it is “a source of independent analysis, trusted dialogue and influential ideas.” This is a really beautifully couched synopsis of a colonial think-tank. Independent analysis is academic. You can say or write whatever you like. Trusted dialogue has been on for eternity and has been working for some countries. Influential ideas have been generated but the question is: Cui bono? To whose benefit are the influential ideas? After Mahatma Ghandi, how many Indian presidential candidates have been to London to address the institute? What was it for? Looking at how far Argentina is from England, one is tempted to ask what roles the Chatham House has played in the perpetuation of British control and administration of the Falklands. One of the influential ideas was Britain’s all-out war against Argentina in 1982 for the control of the South Atlantic islands. The institute has a lot of positive influence too, like its stance and report on climate change but its influence in the promotion of racial justice in the United Kingdom and internationally is also muted.
Nigerian politicians have caused the complete obliteration of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) and replaced this once thriving institution with a ritualistic jamboree at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London. NIIA was an institute that thrived as an intellectual incubation centre and a vibrant policy think-tank made Nigeria a cynosure. Now, we have to rely on Chatham House to tell us that “Nigeria stands at a critical juncture, having suffered from two recessions in the past six years, unprecedented levels of physical and food insecurity, persistent fuel scarcity, and high levels of crude oil theft. Civic fatigue also remains an important challenge and Buhari’s three main policy pillars of security, economy and corruption continue to be defining issues for citizens.” This Chatham bug was spread by a former governor who made his speaking at the institute a major issue. He made the event look like a trophy that must be won by anyone worth his onions.
That must be one of the reasons President Buhari was dragged to Chatham House in 2015 when he was seeking Nigerians’ mandate. It was a strange sight to many because Buhari wasn’t a common sight at intellectual for a hitherto. It wasn’t common to see Muhammadu Buhari address such gatherings but he was made to burgeon into a Nigerian nationalist and an international speaker by his handlers. Today, as asked by Professor Tekena Tamuno, cui bono? What is the benefit or result of Buhari’s appearance at Chatham House? It must be Chatham that benefits because it is funded by donations and Nigerian politicians are known to be free spenders when they need something.
I will repeat that the Nigerian politicians’ Chatham chatter tends towards hubris. There hasn’t been any tangible thing Nigeria got from Chatham House other than the media reports and speakers’ ostentation. If there are tangible gains, we should be able to see and evaluate. It is agreed as Sir David Attenborough posited in 2019 that “international problems have never been more international, more crucial and more pressing than they are today.” These are simply the results of problems whose foundations were laid by institutions such as the Chatham House and one of its offsprings, the Bretton Woods Institute. The first general election in Nigeria in 1923 – to the colonial legislative council – shows that the colonial powers regulated and orchestrated the elections to suit their fancy. It’s a case of “if you have an opinion I will give it to you”, a confusing rule Sam Levenson said their father gave them. That’s the Chatham House.
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