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A Diplomat Who Signed Up to Serve His Country: Part II
A tribute to Professor Austine SO Okwu at 92: A look at how a diplomat who signed up to serve his country ended up serving his own people. Based on a review of his book, In Truth for Justice and Honor: A Memoir of a Nigerian- Biafra Ambassador.
The relationship between Ghana and Nigeria had reached a new low when SO arrived in Ghana in 1961. The foreign ministers of both countries came close to fist fights. Nigerian politicians lamented that Ghanaian-trained dissidents were plotting to oust them from power.
Kwame Nkrumah, the then prime minister of Ghana, was at the height of his power. Four years earlier, in 1957, before any other African colony, Kwame and the Ghanaians had dethroned Great Britain. Now anyone who wanted to get off their backs the British rulers or the native despots came to Ghana to learn from the masters.
If ten days of Man-of-War Bay training in Cameroon (before his two years of service as Assistant Division Officer in Ahaoda, Nigeria) had instilled mental toughness in Austine SO, it was his ten month stay in Ghana which he perfected. diplomatic skills.
For men like SO, every day presented an opportunity to showcase Nigeria, not just to the host country, Ghana, but to the world. Love for their country drove the Nigerian diplomats of the early 1960s. Even when no one was looking, they looked out for the interests of Nigeria.
Although he was appointed head of the chancellery, Austine took it upon himself to question why the estimated cost of building an oil refinery at Alesa elema, near Port Harcourt, Nigeria, was many times greater than a similar project in Tema, Ghana, where he was working. Following his hunch, the new diplomat alerted the Nigerian government, prompting them to renegotiate for a better deal.
Shared with the prince
When Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip came to congratulate Ghana on its infrastructure, SO was among diplomats from other countries selected to meet the royal couple.
“People from Nigeria,” Phillip commented, nodding his head several times and extending his right hand.
“Yes,” Austine acknowledged, “my apologies; the Chief of Mission, Mr. Leslie Harriman, was unable to be here today.
“How’s this going, eh, you from Eastern Nigeria and Leslie from the Western part of Nigeria?” asked Prince Philip.
A twinkle appeared on SO’s face, as he locked hands with Prince Philip.
“If the English, the Welsh and the Scots can exist under British rule despite several wars, Nigeria, borrowing from you, can learn to live together,” Austine replied.
Never before had the prince been challenged diplomatically in this way. Silent for a few seconds, Phillip looked at Elizabeth, before crushing Austin with a two-minute hand slam.
After SO’s successful response with the prince, he celebrated the royal impression by attending a semi-diplomatic fanfare that same evening. She wore her favorite white kaftan and matching pants. On his head he wore a tight-fitting domed hat, decorated with rose petals, leaving three months’ growth of black hair at both temples.
Kenneth Kaunda, future president of Zambia
The crowd saw Austine. Accra had been abuzz over the long time the new Nigerian diplomat had had with the royal couple.
“You’ve spent more time with the Royals than anyone,” said a short, fat-bellied, inquisitive fellow. His Senegalese accent sounded as he spoke.
“I had to defend Nigeria,” said Austine, as he continued to follow the train of guests. Nearby, bottles of beer, cooked meats, jollof rice and dogs chained to sticks lay on a wooden table covered with a brown cloth.
‘Nice. I wish I was a fly hiding behind your hat and listening to your conversation with—–, the Senegalese began to say. Before he could finish, someone touched his left shoulder and he turned around.
“Meet a friend, Kenneth,” said the fat-bellied envoy.
“Kenneth Kaunda, from Zambia,” said a coal tarred young man, blinking rapidly.
“Austin Okwu, Nigeria, Head of Chancellery of the High Commission.”
The two men looked at each other. They were like brothers of the same age, raised in different parts of Africa.
“I know, I know who you are,” answered the Zambian; ‘How can I contact Nnamdi Azikiwe or Tafawa Balewa?’ A sense of urgency betrayed his youthful age.
Everyone wanted a piece of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Tafawa Belewa. The British had appointed these men to be Nigeria’s first president and first prime minister.
“Find a chicken,” Austin told the brother, “and come home tomorrow at 6 p.m. Don’t fail.’
Kenneth selected a crop of crumbs strung on a greased stick. He bit the first tooth and killed it between his right molars. After giving him time to swallow, Austine continued, “I’ve been reassigned to Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. They want me to open a new Nigerian mission.’
“But Ghana is the center of the African revolution,” argued Kaunda.
“My country believes in me, and this will be the first Nigerian diplomatic mission in East Africa.”
Kenneth Kaunda nodded silently. “I wish I could also do something for my country to help them chase the British colonialists. You really need to put me in touch with Azikiwe or Belewa.
End of part II
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