Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nigerians celebrate Golden Jubilee in Benin Republic

Nigerians celebrate Golden Jubilee in Benin Republic
Monday, 4 October 2010 would be remembered for long by members of Nigeria’s community in Benin Republic. In the same vein, the diplomatic community in Benin’s economic capital will nurse fond memories of Nigeria for a very long time, given the culinary and other delectations to which they were treated by the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou on Tuesday, 5 October.
On those two days, officials of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou, once loathed for their aloofness, when it came to providing succour for distressed compatriots, became heroes. Hitherto inaccessible consular officers and councillors, and even His Excellency, Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, were not only seen physically, and at very close quarters; they all proved to be humane and affable after all.
From the highest ranking to the lowest staff, officials of Nigerian Embassy Cotonou reinforced the belief that being sentient does not make one any less a firm and respectable bureaucrat. Through their current disposition and service to fellow Nigerians, these bureaucrats have rekindled faith and pride as well as reawakened the spirit of patriotism in their compatriots.
One could therefore understand the reason behind the comment of Chief Ebuka Onunkwo, Leader of Igbo Union in Benin Republic, when he declared; “Since I’ve been living in Benin, this is the most helpful ambassador; Nigerians have had in this country”. Interestingly, Chief Onunkwo, Chief Executive Officer of Bukas International Sarl, has been living in the neighbouring country for 16 years.
The venue was thronged to the full, yet there was enough for everyone to eat and drink to their fill throughout the evening. President and General Secretary of the Benin Republic chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO), Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu and Abdul-lateef Olujobi respectively; President of Nigerian Community in Porto Novo, Alhaji Yusuf Salami; Chairman of Nigeria’s Hausa Community in Cotonou and his Yoruba counterpart, Alhaji Mounirou Garba and Alhaji Ishola Bello respectively; Chairman Alhaji Ibrahim Adewunmi, Patron of Yoruba Community in Cotonou; Minister 1 at the embassy, “Mallam” Musa Hassan; Defence Attaché at the mission, Colonel Chukwunedum Martins Abraham; Ambassador Bertrand Nwakama; Alhaji Abdulazeez Bello, Chairman of Ede Community in Cotonou as well as his Ibadan opposite number; Alhaji Yusuf Ademola and Alhaji Bello Yinusa were all in attendance.
There was also admirable cultural performances by a private troupe from Abia State virtually conjured extempore by Mr. Okezie Mgbeahurike, Special Assistant to the local NIDO president; as well as presentations by Emmanuel Okoli, a solo male artiste on a tour of West Africa and exciting and well-choreographed dancing by students of French language from various Nigerian universities in Cotonou for their “immersion” programme.
And, who could miss Mrs. Maureen d’Almeida. Mrs d’Almeida (nee Umunna) is an Asaba-born Nigerian but Beninoise by marriage, and she also graced the occasion with her presence. Interestingly, Mrs. D’Almeida is a former staff of Nigeria’s foreign affairs ministry, who resigned her appointment, when struck by cupid’s arrow to marry Mr. Theophile d’Almeida, a Beninois national. Mrs. Grace Nwakaego Mazi and Mrs. Jeanne-Frances Maduakor, Managing Editor of Benin Republic Bureau of Ovation International magazine, Cotonou; were also there.
In his address to the gathering, Chief Onunkwo said “I am overwhelmed with joy because of what we are witnessing today. I am not just happy that Nigeria is 50, but also because Nigerians have been able to sustain their independence for 50 years”.
According to Chief Onunkwo, Nigerians have scaled many hurdles; one of which was the civil war (1967-1970). After that fratricide, “Nigerians, being very understanding, were able to continue, from where we stopped and have remained one entity, to date. Irrespective of the fact that Nigeria comprises hundreds of ethnic groups, we have been able to live as one family”, he mused.
Chief Onunkwo who reminded that it is not easy to hold together a nation of as many as 150 million people, not to talk of the country’s composition, which features so many diverse peoples, went on to add; “If we realise that it is difficult for a man to guide a family of three, we would understand the Herculean nature of running a nation with 150 million population. Therefore, I believe that our continued unity is a great achievement to Nigeria. So, even if we had not achieved any other thing; that Nigeria is still one entity is enough cause for celebration”, the Igbo leader declared.
Speaking further, Chief Onunkwo went on to commend the current crop of diplomats manning Nigeria’s Embassy in Cotonou, especially Ambassador Akindele, thus; “We are also celebrating today, the type of service we now enjoy from the team of diplomats currently in charge of Nigerian Embassy Cotonou. I think their conduct deserves commendation. I’m not saying this because the ambassador is here, but this is the only Nigerian Ambassador I have encountered since living in Benin Republic that is running an open-door policy. He (Ambassador Akindele) gives a listening ear to everyone, irrespective of your ethnic group, educational background or social status”.
The Igbo leader, who subsequently enjoined the diplomatic mission staffers to “keep it up”, went on to promise; “We shall give you the maximum support you need to see that you achieve your goal in Benin Republic”.
In a brief remark, Mr. Abdul-Lateef Olujobi, General Secretary, Cotonou chapter of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO); also expressed joy that Nigeria was still a united country, 50 years after independence. Pa Olujobi, who thanked God for sparing the lives of everyone at the event to live and witness their nation’s Golden Jubilee; enjoined all Nigerians in Benin Republic to work hard to sustain the spirit of cooperation among members of NIDO.
“I am appealing to all Nigerians in Benin Republic to maintain the spirit of cooperation and remain patriotic”, said Olujobi, who added; “We should also always remember that each of us is like an ambassador here”. Concluding, Pa Olujobi while thanking all those that were able to attend the event, reiterated; “I advise every Nigerian in Benin Republic to be law abiding, so as not to tarnish our nation’s image”.
Since NIDO President, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu, could not arrive early enough at the gathering, his address was read by Mr. Okezie Mgbeahurike, his Special Assistant. In his speech, Chief Elendu, who expressed joy that Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee observances took place during his tenure as President, Nigerian Community Cotonou (NCU) opined that Nigeria has good reasons to celebrate. “If not for any thing, to pay tribute to our (nation’s) founding fathers for their efforts, struggle and contributions to achieve the independence”, Elendu submitted.
Elendu seized the opportunity to announce: “The Nigerian Community Union, Cotonou, which hitherto, had not been registered with the Beninoise authorities, has been registered and we now have a current account with Diamond Bank”. Continuing, Elendu said that as he had promised in 2008, the NCU is now “standing on a rock and very viable”.
The NCU chief went on to declare: “Our Identity Card (Nigerian Community membership card) is being well appreciated and honoured everywhere in Benin and Nigeria too” and that “Before the end of October 2010, the embassy, in response to our passionate request, will commence issuing international passport in Cotonou”. This development would spare Nigerians resident outside their country of origin the stress of travelling home just to get a passport. Concluding Elendu Elendu averred; “Issues of Nigerians in various prisons (in Benin) for minor offences are being vigourously pursued, and we are hopeful that justice will prevail in their favour”.
Contributing to comments on Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee, Alhaji Bello, Chairman of Yoruba Community Cotonou since 2002; said, he had cause to thank God for his country and all the citizens, whose lives were spared to witness the milestone. “As the Yoruba say, anyone that is lucky to live to experience any fiesta should join in the celebration; so, all I can say is that Nigerians should be patient. I believe that eventually, things will get better. God will not descend to help Nigeria develop, it is the duty of Nigerians to develop their country; however, without patience, no development would be achieved”, he reasoned.
Also speaking at the event, Alhaji Salami, President of Nigerian Community in Porto Novo, cheeringly observed; “Presently, there has been a great improvement in the issuance of the Consular ID”. Alhaji Salami added enthusiastically; “Nowadays, we can get this important document within two weeks, whereas before, the process could drag for four or even five months. Moreover, the processing seems to be more organized, now; unlike what obtained in the past”.
Nigeria’s survival never in doubt
Ambassador Akindele was a teenager, when Nigeria’s civil war ended in 1970; did he think Nigeria would survive to clock 50? “That’s a very good question; but, since the groundswell of those who wished Nigeria to remain united was, by far, stronger than those who wished Nigeria to be divided, it was obvious; I did not have any doubt at all, that Nigeria was going to remain united.
“It may interest you to know that when I was in secondary school, I had secondary education in Ghana before coming home to study at the University of Ibadan; I used to wear a badge, which carried the inscription, ‘To keep Nigeria One, is a task that must be done’; so, I had no doubt about the necessity for national unity. When you are outside Nigeria, you see the rational for the size and sheer possibility of the potential of Nigeria.
“When you are within the country, because of lack of vision or what I call myopia, you tend to emphasize those things that divide us, rather than the things that unify us. There’s no question in my mind at all, that with Nigeria’s size and potential many people just have that awe for Nigeria”.
In the course of his career, Akindele once served as Personal Assistant to a former minister of foreign affairs; that posting and others that came from his job as a diplomat means that the man has practically seen the world. Therefore, Ambassador Akindele couldn’t have been kidding, when he declared: “Each time I go to many, if not all the, African countries; I see Nigeria towering very, very high”.
Progress made
“Nigerians have, over the years, been very critical of the country’s slow pace of development, not because much has not been achieved but because we feel we are nowhere near where we ought to be, given our human resources and national endowments”, Akindele observed.
Despite the perceived shortcomings of the nation, Nigeria; the ambassador continued, has recorded monumental strides in the last 50 years. The Nigerian envoy subsequently went on to remind the gathering that unlike at independence, when the nation had only one university, University College Ibadan, Nigeria now boasts 104 universities.
“Today”, the audience was further reminded, “Nigeria has 71 polytechnics, 36 colleges of agriculture, 50 health colleges, 70 ICT colleges, 63 colleges of education and 132 Technical colleges”, whereas around October 1960, it is doubtful that Nigeria had up to four polytechnics.
Ambassador Akindele went on to echo the hope of President Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, who in his epochal address to the nation on the Golden Jubilee of Nigeria’s independence; declared: “The worst is over”. The envoy added that “Nigeria (now) has a unique opportunity of tackling the challenges of development headlong with new leadership”.
As regards Nigeria’s relationship with her immediate neighbour to the west, Ambassador Akindele remaked: “Since I came here as Nigeria’s Ambassador to this country, we have strived to boost our relations to greater heights. Relations between Benin and Nigeria have soared to new heights at the highest level”, the ambassador subsequently enjoined Nigerians in Benin to work harder still and be good ambassadors in that country. That way, his mission would be in a better position to assist anyone should the need arise; after all, it is said that ‘He who goes to equity must go with clean hands’”, he echoed.
Cowards carried out Abuja bomb blasts
The envoy also seized the occasion to condemn the detonation of bombs during festivities commemorating Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee in Abuja. Hear him; “It is only cowards that do things incognito, in the dark. Their action was dastardly and cowardly”. Concluding, Akindele expressed profound gratitude to Nigerian companies and banks, like Diamond Bank; whose collaboration with his mission made the occasion a reality.

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