By Chidi Okorie
Saturday, May 30 2009, for Nigerians in the United Kingdom and those visiting from around the world, all roads led to Wazobia Restaurant in Hendon, London where Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) hosted a group of notable Nigerians to a sumptuous reception and dinner.
These Nigerians included Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); Mr Femi Falana, the prominent politician, human rights lawyer and President of West African Bar Association; Prof Okey Ndibe, the writer, popular newspaper columnist and English professor; Mr Omoyele Sowore, founder of SaharaReporters, the online advocacy journalism medium; Mr Philip Adekunle, founder of the Nigerian Village Square, the most prominent Nigeria-related website and a host of other eminent Nigerians who were part of the Nigeria Liberty Forum's May 29 State of the Nation Conference held the previous day at the London Metropolitan University.
Also honoured on the night are some members and supporters of Respect Nigerians Coalition and the Nigerian Village Square who came in from all over the world for the event.
Respect Nigerians Coalition who recently celebrated the victory of Mr Ayodeji Omotade in court on charges brought against him by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the incident aboard a British Airways flight (BA 075) from Heathrow to Lagos on March 27 2008 spread out the red carpet in recognition of the role these individuals have played in national development and in sensitizing Nigerians and well-wishers of Nigeria on the need for true democracy and good governance in the country.
Speaking at the occasion, Mallam Ribadu emphasized the need for this generation of Nigerians to believe in the oneness of the country and public service. Recalling certain trajectories of his career, persons and events that shaped his nationalism and idealism, Ribadu said he started his career as a police officer in Lagos , working in different areas of the metropolis and listening to the music and the pan-African and national liberation messages of the iconic Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Ribadu said he started at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with very little resources, but he had to build an effective organization to combat the challenges posed by corruption in the system. He said people like Gani Fawehinmi and Prof Wole Soyinka are his authentic Nigerian heroes. He considers Falana a brother and revealed how he helped him while he was at the EFCC. Ribadu rallied the crowd to a promise to fight for change in Nigeria with a deafening chant of “Yes, we must!” “Yes, we must!” Mallam Ribadu thanked Respect Nigerians Coalition for organizing the reception, saying it is efforts like this, a coalition of progressive forces in Diaspora and at home, that will see us reach the Promised Land.
Mr Falana took a swipe at Nigeria 's foreign policy, especially the latest faux pas with regard to President Barack Obama's visit to Ghana and the official reaction from the Nigerian quarters, especially with the accusation that the United States government is planning to destabilize Nigeria through meetings in Ghana with certain elements of Nigerian civil society. Falana believes that at the core of the failure of policy at the federal or state levels is the question of legitimacy. He condemned the government for bastardizing the recommendations of the Justice Muhammadu Uwais Electoral Reform Committee, insisting that this is a clear indication that the Peoples Democratic Party and the government in power are not interested in free and fair elections or giving way to the will of the people. Falana informed the gathering of the efforts being made in court in Nigeria to ensure that Nigerians in Diaspora exercise their right to vote. He said while the court has agreed in principle that this right exists, it doubts that the conditions are conducive or the resources available for it. He said Nigerians in Diaspora should take heart as the battle continues. Falana called for the unity of all progressive forces in the Diaspora towards liberation of the nation from the stranglehold of bad governance.
Prof Okey Ndibe, quoting Martin Luther King declared that “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”. He made a comparison of General Sani Abacha's despotic government, Obasanjo's scandalous failure and Yar'Adua's ineptitude and concluded that every one of these persons has failed us as leaders. He talked about his run-ins with Andy Uba and his posse, relating how he was offered huge monetary inducement to stop his criticism of Uba who was bulldozing his way to Government House, Awka. He said these overtures offered him an opportunity to conscientize his daughter who at the time didn't really understand why her dad should be rejecting such a huge sum of money that would have made life a little easier for the family. He said he had to explain the importance of honour, truth and public service to his daughter, the same way his late father had taught him. He said any leader who wants to succeed as a leader and endear themselves to their people need look no further than the example set by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
Omoyele Sowore of SaharaReporters also spoke on the theme of the Fourth Estate being the sentinel against bad governance. He attested to the fact that the profile of SaharaReporters has become so high that Aso Rock operatives are permanently having palpitations monitoring news and reports on the site. The same can be said of other State Houses all over the country. Sowore explained that the purpose and modus of SaharaReporters is to empower every Nigerian not only with providing information, but also making them agents of change via advocacy journalism with citizens' imprints. Sowore enjoined Nigerians to support the work of SaharaReporters with their ideas as it is a trust in which every Nigerian who wants great things for Nigeria is a stakeholder.
Mr Philip Adekunle, founder of the Nigerian Village Square website spoke on the importance of the web in building relationships at different levels between Nigerians. In terms of how this can be useful politically, Adekunle drew his listeners' attention to what the Barack Obama campaign did to maximize the benefit of the internet as its most important campaign vehicle, especially in reaching the 'dot.com and MTV generation', who, as it turned out made a huge impact in the election. As a Chicagoan and volunteer for the Obama campaign, Adekunle saw this at close quarters. In his observation, small get-togethers of the sort organized by Respect Nigerians Coalition and its collaboration with the Nigeria Liberty Forum have the capacity to grow the fervour for change into something capable of reaching and influencing the whole country. He believes the web and related resources have democratized political participation and it is now left to people of our generation to use these to change the face of politics at home.
Mr Ayodeji Omotade, the man at the centre of the British Airways Boycott Campaign organised by Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) also spoke on the incident. He recalled how he brought his case to the Nigerian Village Square to be discussed by other Nigerians and how these Nigerians formed a vanguard, the Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) who took up his battle with the British Airways, the British police and the Courts. On Wednesday, 7 May, 2009, Mr Omotade was acquitted and BA and the Police thoroughly indicted by the district judge, Deborah Wright at the Brent Magistrates Court . Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) is now backing Omotade to institute civil action for damages and compensation against British Airways and possibly the police for wrongful prosecution. The organization is also in touch with the Abike Dabiri Diaspora Committee in the House of Representatives with a view to exploring means to improve on ways the Diaspora can be effectively involved in national development.
Mr Kayode Ogundamisi of the Nigeria Liberty Forum and Alhaji Garba Sani, a businessman and All Nigeria Peoples Party chieftain spoke on the need for Diaspora groups and individuals to work together towards a common goal of effecting and implementing positive change in Nigeria Others who spoke on the occasion are Abdulmumuni Ajia of Leadership Agenda Nigeria, Dr Olawale Akintinde and Mr Babajide Ojo of Respect Nigerians Coalition.
The event was the brainchild of Princess Awotesu, the Respect Nigerians Coalition stalwart that led the protest against British Airways at their Lagos headquarters which saw the airline inviting the police, complete with officers in riot gear and armoured tanks. Princess Awotesu felt the presence of these noble Nigerians at the Nigeria Liberty Forum event of May 29 was a good opportunity to honour them with a reception and dinner. Other members of Respect Nigerians Coalition easily bought the idea and organized towards it. There were lots of food and drinks for everyone as Nigerians at the occasion mingled freely, cracking jokes, exchanging addresses and phone numbers and discussing further in little groups.
As the night was winding down, member of Respect Nigerians Coalition went round thanking the guests for coming. Everyone had a great time, giving kudos to Respect Nigerians Coalition for a well-organized event.
Chidi Okorie is a member of Respect Nigerians Coalition (RNC) ( [email protected] co.uk )
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