Mr. President, the Executive officers, Chapter presidents, African Ethnic Association presidents, Nigerian Ethnic Association presidents, representatives from the Commissioner’s office, Miami-Dade County, Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I am honored and humbled to be asked to deliver this special guest address to members and invited guests of Anioma Association, USA at the 2007 National Governing Council Summit, Gala-Night here in Miami, Florida.
This is the first time a Nigerian (Ethnic) Association has extended an invitation to me to share my perspectives on the political process in Nigeria. But this occasion tonight demands that I focus on the contributions of the Anioma people to the emerging democracy and national unity in Nigeria. I want to extend profound and sincere thanks to the organizers, particularly the National President, Dr. Osadebe Anam and his Vice President, Mr. Andrew Chiedu for inviting me.
Please allow me to say a few words about Dr. Anam, whom I have known and interacted with for the past 15 years. Dr. Anam has impressed us, first as a founding member of the defunct Nigerian Association of South Florida (NAS) and now as an active member of the Nigerian-American Foundation (NAF), with his ability to communicate with members and non-members in a most genuine, cooperative and constructive manner. Dr. Anam organizational, leadership, and interpersonal skills were evident during many of the discussions about the future of the organization and the future of our beloved country during our NAF monthly meetings, where he asks many thought provoking and dialogue starting questions. His statesmanlike demeanor, patience, caring, and insights have many of us relate to him in a positive way. The Anioma Association is blessed to have him as its leader, an individual with fine leadership and humanistic characteristics.
Now, in an effort to set the stage and put this presentation in context, please allow me to say a few words about myself. I was born in 1960 in Kaduna, but grew up in Lagos. I had my primary education at Holy Cross Catholic School in Lagos and my secondary education at Kufena College in Zaria. I came to the United States of America in June, 1979, at the age of 19 to study and play tennis at one of the historically Black Colleges, St Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Twenty seven years later, after enduring many hardships, frustrations, and disappointments, I am beginning to enjoy the blessings of America.
My father was a veteran of the Second World War. He fought on the side of the British Army during the war in Burma. After the war, he was deployed to the State House, by the Marina, in Lagos. There he worked with Ambassador Hamza Ahmadu, then the principal-secretary to the former president General Yakubu Gowon as a servant. It was at the State House that I experienced what it means to live among different ethnic Nigerians. It was also there that my identity as a Nigerian was defined. For me, being a Nigerian precedes my ethnic affiliation.
Shortly after the Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970, General Gowon’s regime instituted the “Federal Character” program. This program aimed at integrating all ethnic groups affected by the war, particularly the ethnic groups from the south. It was also at the State House that I was first exposed to foreign head of states and to other national dignitaries such as our founding fathers, individuals like Dr. Nmadi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and Chief Dennis Osadebey, just to mention a few.
Chief Osadebey is relevant to our discussion tonight because he exemplified was it means to be an Anioma. For example, during the First Republic, as the first premier of the old Mid-Western region of Nigeria, he was instrumental in moving several motions in the then Western House of Assembly. One of which is a demand for a “separate province” for the Anioma people. He fought for social justice and political rights for Anioma people. He paved the way for the education and intellectualization of Anioma people. The resultant effect is the perception that Anioma people are a special breed, endowed with intellectual gift.
Today, Anioma people are using that gift of intellect to make contributions to democracy and national unity in Nigeria and around the world. A few individuals quickly come to mind: the Dean of the Engineering Department at Georgia Institute of Technology, Prof. Augustine O. Esogbue, 2007 presidential aspirant Prof. Patrick Utomi, former Finance and Foreign Minister, Prof. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whom many at home and abroad, recognized as the person responsible for bringing together people of goodwill to negotiate our foreign debt. Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has described Prof. Iweala as “the greatest Nigerian he has ever met.” This commendation is a testimony to many of the contributions Anioma people, in particular Anioma women, have made over the years in Nigeria and elsewhere.
As we approach the upcoming Nigerian general election, how will the election impact the Anioma people? What will be the role of the Anioma people in the political, economic, and social outlook after the election? How will Anioma Association, USA unity and influence affect Nigerian politics? What are the implications of not speaking with one voice? Answers to these questions will shed some light on some of the issues and tensions at stake in the Anioma Community and in the three Senatorial Districts in Delta State.
History reminds us that Anioma people have been marginalized, isolated, and discriminated against by the federal government and the neighboring ethnic groups. Dr. Kunirum Osia, the first national president of the Anioma Association, USA, said that the organization was formed to provide a forum for Anioma people in America to speak with one voice on important issues affecting their lives in America and at home. Working together as partners in Nigeria’s development and growth will greatly diminish the internal strife within the various Anioma organizations both here and in Nigeria. Anything less will undermine the vision of your leaders.
Dr. Osia (www.anioma.org) realizes that. He writes and I quote, “Anioma people have endeavor to create a community which sees itself as an organic whole…and have seen remarkable distinctiveness in their behavior and overall worldview from those of their immediate neighbors.” Anioma people in America and elsewhere must not only acknowledge who they are, they must acknowledge that they are Anioma first and a Nigerian second. It is okay to acknowledge your identity, but it must be done within the framework of being a Nigerian. This disposition is consistent with the vision of Anioma Association and the national orientation awareness campaign in Nigeria.
As I conclude this presentation, I would like to offer the following advice:
First keep the vision and mission of the Anioma Association alive. Anioma members must stay strong and united in order to strengthen your vision and commitment to your mission. What happened at home during the primaries, should be a lesson to you all. I am talking about the Delta North, South, and Central Senatorial Districts’ dichotomy, which is posing a serious challenge to party and organizational loyalty and unity. Specifically, during the People Democratic Party (PDP) primary election for the gubernatorial candidate, the Delta North (Anioma), which is mainly the Anioma indigenes, (Igbo speaking) presented five candidates for the governorship nomination, the Delta Central (Itshekiri and Ijaw) presented only one candidate, the Delta South (Urboho) presented eleven candidates for nomination. The Delta Central candidate won the nomination for the PDP ticket. Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan represented the Delta Central, and he maintains that Delta Central holds the “political machinery” of the state. His running mate, Prof. Amos Utuama is from the Del
ta South. Dr. Uduaghan continues to argue that he has “contributed immensely to the growth and development of Urhoboland.” The social implication was obvious. Instead of consolidating efforts, ideas, and resources to present one person, one vision, and on one political platform for the people of Delta North Senatorial District, the Anioma people, with different interest groups and different agenda within Anioma was evident. In this case, the decision to present five candidates was not politically expedient but suicidal, as the Delta North Senatorial District argues that the “time has come for them to produce the next governor of the State.” For the past 15 years, Delta North has only produce deputy governors such as Chief Simeon Ebonka and Chief Benjamin Elue.
Does ethnic loyalty and identity matters? Dr. Osia believes it does. He argues that “Anioma identity has become a treasure that must be guarded and defended because identity is a value for which people in history are willing to make sacrifice…Anioma ethnic identity is cultural self-definition and philosophical affirmation of our self-determination as a people who see themselves at the crossroads of the contemporary Nigerian state.”This confidence must translate to party unity and solidarity.
Second maintain a strong leadership and governance structure. The leadership of the Association must make a commitment to put the interest of members first. This means getting out of the box to meet their needs. The leadership must listen and respond in a timely manner. Many of you know how difficult it is to live in America and support your extended family back home. The leadership must provide service, and must be selfless.
Third maintain a strong political base here and at home. A political commitment must be made to move from thinking politics to engaging in politics- going from thought to action. One of our main problems as Nigerians is that we lack the political will to effect a change. The Anioma people can show that political will by working closely together overcoming obstacles and challenges to their aspirations and goals.
Fourth maintain a strong economic base here and at home. An economic commitment must be made to move members from hardship to self-sustaining endeavors through training, networking, and financial assistance.
Fifth is to build a strong social and cultural base here and at home. Every organization has individuals whose aspirations are not consistent with the aspirations of the group. Their rights as members to exist must be secured and promoted, and the disgruntled members among them must be encouraged to participate, and not be allowed to leave. Historically, groups, be it political or economic, have emerged out of the need to belong and survive. Therefore, individuals band together, either by chance, circumstance, or purposefully, to satisfy the fundamental need of belonging and survival.Often the interactions lead to disagreement and discord. Effective groups put in place mechanisms or tools to resolve disputes and conflicts. The Anioma Association must strive to strengthen those mechanisms because what unifies us is more than what causes disunity and more than what divides us.
Lastly, is to make a commitment to human and capital development here and at home. It is imperative that each Anioma member be committed to continuous personal and professional development.
In closing, American democracy and national unity has endured some turbulent tides. In any democratic society, the ultimate political authority is vested in the people. We have to reconcile the need to emphasize the worth, freedom, rights, and well-being of the individual with the worth, rights, and welfare of the group. Americans continue to struggle with both concepts. In America, diversity hangs in the balance. Challenges to democracy and national unity and the contributions of the Anioma people or any ethnic group in Nigeria will ultimately rest on how we strengthen our diversity.
Thank you and God bless Anioma people, Nigeria, and America.
About the Guest Speaker
Dr. Sadiq A. Abdullahi is a social studies instructor with the Miami-Dade County School District and an Adjunct Professor at Florida International University. He was a former tennis professional and a three-time Nigerian national champion, who played tennis at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. He also played Davis Cup competition for Nigeria. Dr. Abdullahi is a member of Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development and the National Council of the Social Studies. He is also a member of the Nigerian-American Foundation. He received his doctoral degree at Florida International University. He has received extensive training in teaching social studies, global education, and school improvement.
Sadiq A. Abdullahi, Ed. D
This speech is presented at the 16th Governing Council (GC) Summit of the Anioma Association, USA in Miami, FL on January 20, 2007