Chief Emeka Anayaoku is a former Secretary General of the Commonwealth. In this interview on Arise Television, he speaks on the exceptional dedication to duty by Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of Commonwealth and why King Charles III is expected to uphold his mother’s legacies, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
You have been with the Queen a good number of times. What memories do you have of Her Majesty?
The Queen was an exceptional Head of the Commonwealth. She was dedicated to the Commonwealth and Heads of State of the Commonwealth returned that dedication with enormous respect and admiration. I had an audience with her during my time for 10 years as Secretary General of the Commonwealth. I also interacted with her at Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings.
She was a remarkable raconteur and I witnessed a very personal aspect to her character. I can tell you one little story. When I hosted a reception for the Commonwealth Day, with my wife, I presented my youngest son to her and she asked him what he was doing and my son told her that he was a student of Buckingham University. She told him that she was coming to his school in three weeks’ time to join them in the celebration of their 50 years anniversary.
This was on a Monday and two days later; that was on a Wednesday, the vice chancellor of St. Buckingham University received a telephone call from the Buckingham Palace to say that her Majesty the Queen would want the young Anyaoku at the lunch the vice chancellor and the university were going to host for her. This was a very caring side of her majesty.
On the official side, she took the responsibility for the Commonwealth very seriously. The Queen had audiences with heads of government, and in these audiences, she showed remarkable wisdom and patience. She had a very unusual knowledge of major events in Commonwealth countries. She will definitely be missed throughout the Commonwealth.
She was such a towering figure. People are talking about the future of the Commonwealth, the future of the monarchy; will you say that the golden age of the British monarchy has passed?
No, on the contrary, I will say that monarchy in the United Kingdom remains a very special effect for the country.
It is a rallying point and symbol of the country’s unity and progress. In the Commonwealth, the Heads of Government at their meeting in 2018, unanimously agreed that King Charles III as he is now called, will assume responsibilities as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth and I believe that King Charles, when he was the Prince of Wales identified with the Commonwealth. I, once as Secretary General hosted a lunch for him and Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. It was just for the High Commissioners and himself and I had asked him to speak to the High Commissioners. There was no media presence.
He displayed a great knowledge and care for the Commonwealth. I think that the Heads of Government have decided that he should continue with the responsibility of the headship of the Commonwealth.
With him, the future of the Commonwealth is assured. Recently, Gabon and Togo applied and were accepted as members, so the Commonwealth is growing.
How do you address the criticism that the Commonwealth is a shadow of the British Empire?
The Commonwealth in 1949 ceased to be the British Commonwealth. It ceased to be by a special declaration known as the London Declaration. It has become an international organization; an international grouping, although still dominated by countries that have colonial association with the United Kingdom, but there are other members that were not associated with the United kingdom as colonies that have become members of the Commonwealth. Mozambique and Namibia for example, joined the Commonwealth from the old accord and have been playing important roles in the Commonwealth.
So, the Commonwealth is no longer a shadow of the British Empire, it is now an independent and international organization, and that is why countries that didn’t have colonial association with the United Kingdom have been welcomed as members.
What can you say about the future of the British monarchy because more people are beginning to ask questions about its relevance at this time?
You are bound to have people who are critical of established statue quo, but by and large, the British people still believe in the relevance of their monarchy because every country has its own special constitution and special character. The character of the British people is to have the monarchy as the symbol of their unity, the symbol of their identity as a country.
That is not going to change in a foreseeable future because politicians have their roles to play in the United Kingdom. But in terms of representing the country, being a symbol for the country, I don’t think that any British politicians will ever assume that responsibility because British politics is played on the platform of political parties and it is not likely that you will get a leader from any political party who will be universally accepted as a symbol of the nation.
That is why in a number of Commonwealth countries; I think about 16 of them, they still find value in the British monarch as their head of state.
Will King Charles III be able to command the same level of respect as the Queen, will he be able to maintain the same level of political neutrality that the Queen was noted for?
The Queen did not start in 1952 to command the same level of respect that she ended up commanding, it was built up over the period in her relationship with the Commonwealth Heads of Government.
I think that King Charles III will embark on nurturing his relationship with Commonwealth Heads of Government and will in due course earn their respect and admiration, in the same way that he Queen had.
The Queen is a different human being from King Charles III; the Queen was a particularly warm, humorous and serious character.
I believe that King Charles III has the same attributes and will over time use the same attributes in nurturing relationships with Commonwealth Heads of Government, and will like the Queen, like to visit Commonwealth countries.
The Queen had a remarkable record of having visited all the 54 Commonwealth countries, as they were during my time as Secretary General of the Commonwealth.
She was able to visit all the 54 Commonwealth countries and I am sure that King Charles III will need to do the same over the period that God will spare his life to reign in the United Kingdom.
King Charles III has been an environmentalist for over five decades; will he remain neutral politically and not want to influence the Prime Minister’s and policies?
I expect that King Charles III will follow his mother’s footsteps of practical neutrality in political matters in the United Kingdom. Before he ascended the throne, he had liberty of expressing his personal opinion on various issues, whether in the environment or building architecture in the United Kingdom, even expressing his own views on issues of race.
I know that he would expect that British people will not expect him to delve into British politics, and from my knowledge of him and close association with him, I am sure that he is intelligent enough to know that it won’t be acceptable, and I don’t think that he will do so.
How do you think he will navigate the issue of scandals, especially the scandal of receiving donations from a family related to Osama Bin Laden?
Of course, I know that the media tried to be sensational in their approach but the Charity Commission of the United Kingdom from its investigation found nothing illegal, untoward, having collected a donation from an Arab Sheikh. A donation from a group remotely associated with Bin Laden, was a donation made with goodwill, and the Prince’s Trust was not aware of the connection with Bin Laden, when they accepted the donation.
I am sure that King Charles III will handle the so-called scandals with wisdom and discretion, and he will not get involved in any controversial political matters in the United Kingdom. It has been speculated that the future of the monarchy won’t be the same again, not just in the United Kingdom because the British will always love monarchy.
The Queen was head of state in 14 other countries, including Canada, Australia, Jamaica, do you foresee a situation, with the rise of republicanism, where some of these countries will say that they don’t want the King of England to remain their head of state?
It is possible to see a situation where some states will opt for their own head of state that is likely to happen in countries like Jamaica and a few other Caribbean countries but that will not impact on the state of the Commonwealth because since 1949, the modern Commonwealth created by the London Declaration, and that was when India and Pakistan after attaining their independence remained members of the Commonwealth, and they were republican heads of state, and republicanism then was reconciled with Commonwealth membership, so it doesn’t matter anymore if a country has a republican head of state or not. I will say that as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, that won’t matter and as far as the position of monarchy in the United Kingdom is concerned.
I can’t see a country like Japan ceasing to be a country with monarchy. Japan, like the United Kingdom, reveres its monarchy and I believe it will remain so. I think that a country like Spain and some Scandinavian countries will remain monarchical. It depends on the constitutional arrangements and the countries that have thrived on retaining their monarchy, many of them will try to do so.