Thursday, August 28, 2008

Before we crucify Okereke-Onyiuke

ONE of the major issues that have dominated public discourse in recent times is the activities of a group of professionals under the aegis of Africans for Obama 2008. The leading dramatis persona is the indefatigable amazon of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke. Haven listened to her position on the Obama candidature I think that the harmless lady was only being excited about the rising profile of the black race in a strong economy like the United States, taking into consideration what could be seen as its ripple effect for a growing economy like Nigeria.

Taking into consideration the fact that Nigerians are a very sensitive lot, given the various intervening variables that condition their reactions, the Obama issue should be seen as a mere pedestrian discourse that fits into the game plan of a segment of the disgruntled elites who see Okereke-Onyiuke's records with awe and envy .

The thesis of her comments was that Africans for Obama 2008 is not a Fund Raising Organization for Senator Barack Obama. The United States Electoral Law does not allow foreign nationals to donate money to an American candidate for the purpose of election. She explained that the aim of Africans for Obama 2008 was to sensitie and mobilise Africans of voting age in Diaspora and other Americans to exercise their voting right. She never urged them to vote for Obama but simply said, "Go out to Register and vote".

Professor Okereke-Onyiuke was not the only speaker, her Vice Chairman of the group, Dr. Erieka Bennett and two other African Americans reinforced her thesis with emphasis on the need for Africans in Diaspora and indeed other eligible voters in the United States to vote. The forum presented an idyllic setting as journalists and other guests had an interactive session. All questions and observations about Africans for Obama 2008 were discussed fully and the session ended with an announcement of dinner the following week.

The climax of the press briefing was when Professor Okereke-Onyiuke told the relaxing audience that she had about five years ago come across Obama. It was the day of glory when she won a prestigious award from congressional Black Caucus. She is the first winner of this award in Africa. Everybody at the hall wanted to take photograph with her. Senator Barack Obama was on the queue. The man queued for one hour before it got to his turn. He told Professor Okereke-Onyiuke that he had a scheduled meeting but had to cancel the meeting because he was very happy to identify with this prestigious award.

She showed the audience at the conference the photograph she took with Obama. It is interesting to note that Obama was not a world figure as at that time. But uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. The moment she heard that Obama is now a front runner for the White House, she took it as an historic challenge on how best she could mobilise all Africans in Diaspora and other American eligible voters to exercise their voting right. We can see a case of passion in the candidacy of Obama.

Against the background of initial explanation of the basis for initiating Africans for Obama, why then is the controversy dogging this group? I think it is more of sentiment than facts. The Dinner / Concert was publicised in National Dailies and Television apparently to avoid injurious speculation. The target were the elites that believe in Obama's vision and have the wherewithal to pay without coercion.

The media cannot claim any credit for getting the ticket rates because it was public knowledge. Why did a section of the media twist the whole story into "fund raiser" despite the initial World Press Conference and the Dinner / Concert that was covered by virtually all electronic media including NTA, Silverbird, CNBC etc?

It appears to me that most media reports on the controversy over-dramatized the issue at variance with the organisers' intention. The role of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the reporting style of the media raises a big question mark on the way the media were reporting the story. After a telephone invitation for a chat, why must the EFCC contact the media on phone on the same subject leading to speculative reporting that she has been detained, quizzed, arraigned etc. Virtually, all the media reports that published the story quoted the EFCC spokesman, Mr. Tunde Babafemi. It may be necessary for the EFCC to appreciate the way Nigerian media report news, especially when it comes to sensationalism. How ethical is it to say that EFCC quizzed or arraigned someone invited via telephone?

The letter purportedly written by the Director General of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr. Musa Al-Faki; requesting for clarification of Professor Okereke-Onyiuke's role in Africans for Obama 2008 developed wings and flew to all media houses before it was "dispatched" to the recipient". This casts a shadow on internal communication between the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and The Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) which are supposed to work towards the same goal. This brings into memory some previous issues published by the media before The Exchange received SEC's letter. This is not an encouraging style of communication by the apex regulatory body.

I have read the statement signed by The Exchange's President, Dr. Oba Otudeko, OFR, stating that Professor Okereke-Onyiuke's involvement in Africans for Obama is a purely private affair and she has her inalienable rights so far it does not conflict with her official duties. Similarly, I took time to digest the statement signed by Professor Okereke-Onyiuke where Africans for Obama restated its position in terms of not raising funds for the Obama campaign. I do not think there is any diametric difference between the statement by Obama's campaign group and the position of Africans for Obama.

The latter has never claimed that it is an affiliate and neither has it stated that it raised funds for the Obama campaign. At this juncture, we need to locate Professor Okereke-Onyiuke on the prism of personality. Those who are close to her believe that she is a very pleasant lady with many track records of academic and professional laurels.

She has a strong background of a father who was a Barrister at Law (now late) and a fearless Speaker of House of Assembly in the then Eastern Region. Her mother was a strategic board guru while she is surrounded by a team of highly educated brothers and sisters. These must have partly shaped her world view.

She schooled in the United States where she stayed for 14 years; including her University Education and robust stewardship at the New York Stock Exchange before she was poached by Sir Mobolaji Bank Anthony who was excited to see a Nigerian holding a managerial position in the New York Stock Exchange. Unconsciously, aunty Ndi, as she is fondly called attempts to domesticate American life in Nigeria. She needs to appreciate that the openness of America is far ahead of contemporary Nigeria. If a father imposes corporal punishment on the child in America, the child can call the Police. If a child does that in Nigeria, people would think he is a bastard or has brain tumor or remote control of enemies at work. Like any human being, she may have her own frailties. But on the scale of balance, those who are close to her find her an amiable, hardworking and always ready to make an impact.

Regardless of controversies dogging her activities in the national and international politics, nobody can underestimate her success stories on The Nigerian Stock Exchange. She has put the market on the global map and the records are there forever.

All her activities in the national and international arena being referred to by some groups and individuals were done with good intention. Just peep at her contributions to sports and the role she is playing currently for Nigerian Universities Games (NUGA). She just need to constantly appreciate that the Nigerian environment is different from the United States of America in many regards. We all pray that Senator Barack Obama wins. The same people that are calling for the heads of Professor Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, other Nigerians and African Americans that share a common vision of Obama would be the first to troop out and identify with their African brother. Let Obama take his seat at the White House, critics of these professionals would be the first to request for Obama to put Africa, nay Nigeria on the priority list of his economic policy.