My close relationship with Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi and the unrestricted access I have to his house and library, which started some years back during my doctoral research provided the observatory for this tribute. Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi's massive involvement in the country's statecraft spans 36 years taking off from when he became the Director - General of the prestigious Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) in 1975. Before this appointment he was a staid lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan where he began his teaching career. Between the NIIA appointment and when he was appointed Minister of External Affairs by the Ibrahim Babangida administration in 1985, Akinyemi's public profile as a prodigious scholar and charismatic diplomat had risen to a phenomenal level. He had become an enigmatic personality quietly but intelligently provoking and courting controversies by promoting aberrant and weird doctrines that most times ended up creating conflictual crossroads and conceptual contemplation.
Prof. Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi was born in Ilesa, Osun State, Nigeria on 4 January 1942. His father is from Ifewara in Osun State while his mother is from Ekiti State. He moved to Lagos to stay with his grandmother on Queen Street, Alagomeji, in 1955 at the age of thirteen when he was admitted into the popular Igbobi College. He began his academic strides in Political Science at Temple University Philadelphia, receiving B.A (1964) and also obtaining two M.A degrees in International Affairs and Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts in 1965 and 1966 respectively. He received his Ph.D at the Trinity College, Oxford, in 1969 at the age of 27. His doctoral dissertation 'Foreign Policy and Federalism' later published into a book by Macmillan in 1974, explores the drift of structural imperfections of the state in the conduct of a nation's foreign policy suggesting that disharmonious activities of the sub-units in a federation are noxious to a cohesive and vibrant foreign policy.
A critical study of Akinyemi's work as a scholar, his demeanour and mien as a diplomat, his articulation and posturing as a public affairs commentator and his reverential arrogance as a public officer, has failed to produce a scientific outcome about his ideological leaning and intellectual prism. Akinyemi possesses the rare capacity of being considered a realist, a liberal theorist and/or a radical/critical theorist. It may sound hyperbolic to draw parallels between Akinyemi and Henry Kissinger (Realist) Stanley Hoffman (Liberal theorist) and Andrew Linklater (A critical/radical theorist). The truth, however, is that these four men have substantially influenced intellectual enterprise internationally. As United States Secretary (1973 to 1977) Kissinger attempted to implement a new 'realist' approach to the conduct of foreign affairs and some of the alleged shortcomings of realism are often illustrated by some of his policies. Similarly, Akinyemi's 'realist' approach to the conduct of Nigeria's foreign policy in a way that suggested a tilt towards the West, attracted wrathful criticisms and protestation from radical scholars and leftist apologists. They were wearied of and worried by obvious infiltration of western values and influence on the direction and management of the country's foreign policy. Akinyemi's response was cynical: '
One of the first actions I took on assuming office was to invite the Soviet Foreign Minister to visit Nigeria. I suppose the invitation is still being considered… Our own objective as a country should be to put our relationships on a reciprocal basis of mutual respect…. The purpose for my regular visits to London and Washington was to reciprocate visits and undertake some economic diplomacy towards reviving Nigeria's ailing economy.' While Stanley Hoffman scoffs at the realists because of their projection of power politics and their failure to appreciate the need for liberalism in an anarchical world order, Akinyemi also finds convenience in what I call 'bridging arrangement,' meaning the alignment of power and receptivity.
The whole idea of the concert of Medium Powers was about liberalizing the international system with the 'influential moderates' in the system slackening the major power(s) through cooperative and collaborative agenda(s) as against coercive and manipulative mechanisms that will further aggravate international tension. In his own case, Andrew Linklater examines ways in which two influential paradigms, realism and Marxism, impede the systematic study of ascending 'scales of types' of societies and relations among them. Besides, Linklater is very supportive of those historical sociologists who have mapped the rise of the state in the transnational social and economic forces. Akinyemi on the other hand might not have gone into Linklater's abstraction to give details of his ideological position on realism and Marxism, his penchant for historical details and facts in most of his work shows some of the sentiments he shares with Linklater. As stated earlier, comparing Akinyemi with these distinguished scholars may be unacceptable to some of his critics and some of them may even see it as an apt illustration of Akinyemi's intellectual jumble. To them, the patronage or leverage of this linkage is definitely incongruous with Akinyemi's intellectual status.
This to me is unfair. Whatever repugnance or contrariety these critics have for Akinyemi does not obviate the fact that Akinyemi has established himself as a celebrated scholar of international recognition with more than 72 publications to his credit. These include articles in reputable international journals whose subjects have stimulated global intellectual logomachy. Most of Akinyemi's work have the depth and profundity associated with the work of great thinkers like the three mentioned above. For instance as Minister of External Affairs, Akinyemi provoked engaging and lively discourses through his various seminal lectures, speeches, policy actions and statements. Scholars and journalists had a good feast on some of his 'wild' doctrines. One of these was the 'Kuru Doctrine.' The debates generated by this doctrine added candor, colour and flamboyance to Nigeria's foreign policy which at that time reached its apogee.
It never regained it till today. Those who condemned Akinyemi's Kuru Doctrine and accused him of being insensitive and indecorous to the plight of fellow African countries on the altar of reciprocity should also not ignore his interventionist role in Chad-Libyan and Mali-Burkina Faso wars as well as the introduction of Technical Aid Corps schemes. These two initiatives and efforts meant to engender and sustain regional peace and cooperation and radically re-focus Nigeria's instrumentality of assisting its brothers are pointers to Akinyemi's supportive stance for African countries who showed courtesy to Nigeria without a tincture of vassalage. The other was the 'Concert of Medium Powers.' I am more persuaded to believe that this was inspired by his unshakable faith in Nigeria's prospect and potential for greatness. As the Minister of External Affairs, Akinyemi took his nationalistic sentiment too far when he ignored all indices of measuring capability and rating nations power by classifying Nigeria as one of the 'Medium Powers' in the Concert. In her book 'Middle Powers and Commercial Diplomacy', Donna Lee, extrapolating from the work of influential writers like Wight and Riddel, defines 'Middle (Medium) powers as 'those which by reason of their size, their material resources, their willingness and ability to accept responsibility, their influence and stability are close to being great powers' and 'a power with such military strength, resources and strategic position that in peacetime the great powers bid for its support, and in wartime, while it has no hope of winning a war against a great power, it can hope to inflict costs on a great power out of proportion to what the great power can hope to gain by attacking it.'
There was never a time that Nigeria fitted into these two definitions. If by international ranking and standard, Britain is regarded as a 'Middle Power,' pray, what then qualifies Nigeria for this group despite not being a nuclear power. However, what has created this impression is its pretentious strategic relevance as a regional power in Africa. But when did regional swaggering become a sufficient criterion for Middle power qualification? Thank God, the whole idea went mute with Akinyemi's departure from office. The accusation of conceptual indistinction against Akinyemi is also misplaced. I do not see Akinyemi's paradigmatic vacillation as a manifestation of cerebral confusion but rather as the only tactical and strategic option to avoid theoretical fixation in a dynamic and riskful system that naturally begs for flexibility and pragmatism. Since leaving office in 1986, Akinyemi has continued to write articles, deliver lectures, attend conferences and seminars and has remained active as a public affairs analyst and commentator and political consultant. Recently, he was the leader of the Commonwealth delegation to the just concluded election in The Gambia along with Ambassador Ayo Obe, Director, African Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London and Mrs Yvonne Appia, a political officer in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London. During the Yar'Adua presidency, he was appointed chairman, Presidential Think-Tank and a member of the Presidential Electoral Committee.
He was one of the eminent citizens that were recently awarded National Honours by President Goodluck Jonathan. He was awarded Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) for his excellent service and outstanding contributions to his fatherland It was indeed a dramatic irony when Akinyemi became an active chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) along with people like Bola Tinubu, Ayo Opadokun and Pa Anthony Enahoro during the inglorious era of Gen. Sani Abacha. His activism and participation in the struggle for democracy and opposition against military rule was considered curious by many in the society. Perceived as a dignified conservative and married to a British wife of noble parentage, Akinyemi was not expected in the trenches with promoters of civil liberty and antiestablishment irritants and militants. Prof. Akinyemi has remained a colossus in the country's statecraft because of his splendid profile as a scholar of international stature, an incorruptible administrator with no credibility deficit, a diplomat of imperial and frightening credentials, a policy maker of transcendental perception, a bureaucrat with refulgent vision and a high-flyer academic of global accomplishment. He is indeed a man of percipient spirituality and incredible humility.