Akeem Lasisi

A former American Ambassador to Nigeria, Amb. Walter Carrington (OFR), has said that the failure of Africa to fully realise its potential has earned it scorn rather than respect in the comity of nations.

The outspoken diplomat noted that the failure of the continent’s leaders to guarantee socio-political development was robbing it of an enviable place on the global scale.

Carrington dissected Africa’s dilemmas in Lagos on Monday when he delivered a lecture titled Nigeria and Africa in a Changing World.

The event, which also witnessed the presentation of Defend the Defenseless, the memoir of the ambassador’s wife, Dr. Arese Carrington, attracted many dignitaries from all walks of life.

While the former Chairman of Punch Nigeria Limited, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, was the chairman on the occasion, the Oba of Lagos, HRM Rilwan Akiolu, was the ‘Father of the Day’ at the programme held at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island.

Others present included the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka; the Secretary to the State Government, Lagos State, Mr. Tunji Bello, who represented Governor Akinwunmi Ambode; US Ambassador to Nigeria, W. Stuart Symington; former Managing Director, Guaranty Trust Bank, Mr. Fola Adeola, who was the chief launcher  – alongside the Chairman of Premier Lotto, Sir Kesington Adebutu.

According to Carrington,  his over six decades of encounter with Africa has revealed a gap between dream and fulfilment  despite the enormous resources on the continent.

He said, “How difficult it is to believe that it has been 65 years since I first set foot on the continent of my ancestors. So much has happened since then.  So many hopes have been realised but, sadly, so many more have not.  The predictions of the greatness that lay ahead for Africa and its people have yet to be fulfilled.  The dream of the important role that the most resource-endowed continent would play in world affairs has been too long deferred. Today what was once dismissed as the “dark continent” remains largely ignored and marginalised by the outside world.”

Carrington lamented that despite the huge resources all over the continent, neither Nigeria nor Africa in general occupied vital posts in major international organisations, while most parts of the continent were still soaked in poverty and unemployment.

He said, “In international fora  Africa is a potential powerhouse. The Africa Group is, after all, the largest voting bloc in the United Nations.  Its 54 countries represent 28 per cent of that august body’s entire membership. It has at least 25 per cent of the votes on most of the UN’s bodies except, of course, the most important one of all, the Security Council,  on which it is not represented at all while the other major regional blocs Europe, Asia and the Americas are.

“Africa’s standing in the UN serves as a perfect metaphor for its standing in the world as a whole.  Size, it seems, doesn’t matter. That is true whether we are talking about Africa’s long held natural resources or its projected population boom.

“Foreign media cover Africa mostly to report its calamities. Their political leaders often give the continent little more than lip service and put it on the back burner of their concerns.  They see it as the continent of the poor whose peoples lag hopelessly behind in education, health, and most standards of living.

“That is when they see it as a continent at all.  Much of the world sees all 54 nations as if they comprised but a single country.”

The ambassador, who was roundly commended for the role he played during the struggles for democracy in Nigeria,  said it (Nigeria) continued to be frozen out of membership in confederations of nations thought to be the most important in the world.

“Although its economy is the 20th largest in the world and is expected by 2050 to rise to number 9, it has not been invited to membership in the G-20, which claims to represent the world’s most advanced economies. Nigeria is not regarded as influential enough internationally or regionally to be included in the company of Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“South Africa, whose economy is smaller and is not expected to grow as dramatically as Nigeria’s, is however, a member. I continue to wonder whether the continuing domination of South Africa’s economy by her white minority gives Western countries a comfort level that they do not feel when dealing with black controlled economies in the rest of Africa” he said.

For Nigeria to attain greatness, Carrington noted, it must tackle what he called kleptocracy, poverty, and patriarchy, calling for more roles for women especially in the political space.

He said Nigeria must prepare for the population boom that experts said it would experience by 2050 so that the explosion would not assume destructive proportions.

In his introductory remarks, Ogunshola recollected the role played by the press during the struggles for democratic rule, when Carrington overtly joined the cause.

Hazarding what could have persuaded the organisers to ask him to chair the lecture, he recalled how The PUNCH was persecuted by the military when he was the company’s chairman, because of the newspaper’s stand on the cause of democracy.

Ogunshola said, “During the years of military rule, the press as a whole suffered. The National Concord and The PUNCH bore the brunt of the fate that befell newspapers and some magazines.”

According to him, not long after Ambassador  Carrington was accredited on November 9, 1993, The PUNCH was shut down by the Abacha junta.

After surviving the closure, the dictator, according to him, hatched another ploy to shut it again, but this was not to be.

Ogunshola said, “One of the journalists in detention then, Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, after his release, said that when under incarceration, he got information  from some soldiers on June 7, 1998  that Abacha had concluded plans to close down The PUNCH again. But the day after, that was on June 8, Abacha died.”

He noted that Carrington’s achievements and influence transcended Nigeria. According to him, by age 22 when he (Carrington) graduated from the Harvard University and at 25 when he earned his doctorate, he was already a star by any standard.

“He was the American ambassador to Senegal in 1961. He had the responsibility of evacuating Americans when the Biafran war inched closer. By 1970, he oversaw programmes that provided scholarships for many Nigerians.  When he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as the US ambassador to Nigeria, in spite of threats to him and his family, including two assassination attempts on him, he continued to call for return to civil rule.”

Ogunshola gave a similar account of the exploits of Arese, tracing how her childhood vision to help others made her to become a public health specialist.

Describing her as a human rights activist and an art collector, Ogunshola added that she, against all odds, joined her husband in the democratic struggles in Nigeria.

He described the book as a tender, readable and revealing history of modern Nigeria.

Also commenting on the publication,  The Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor in the Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment, Prof. Ademola Abass, who coordinated the programme powered by the Ambode government, described Defend the Defenseless as a breath of fresh air based on the way Arese approached the account of the Civil War, saying although it was detailed, it threw no tantrum and remained non-judgmental.

For Adeola, he is a friend of the Carringtons because they are a friend of the Yoruba and Nigeria in general.

He stressed that they were prepared to lay down their lives for the values they believed in.

Adebanjo and Bello also paid tribute to the couple, saying they deserved all that Nigeria could give them.

“They are the conscience of our country. That is why the Lagos State Government is supporting this,” Bello said.

Arase thanked everyone for the love they showed her and her husband.

She said her belief that history must be recorded inspired her to write the book.

“We should all act on behalf of one another to ensure a world safe not just for some but for all. We should learn from one another. We should always remain united no matter how different we are,” she said.

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Why the world disrespects Africa –Walter Carrington
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