Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New Photosplash from Jonathan's trip to Cotonou

R-L: President Jonathan with a traditional ruler in Benin Republic, Alaiyeluwa Oba Ajirotutu Fadipe. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG
Monsignor Blume (left), Ambassador of the Holy See, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Benin Republic.
R-L: Chief Ife Akpolunde, Alhaji Ishola Bello, Alhaji Mounirou Garba, Pa Abdul lateef Olujobi (5th left) and Mallam Mohammed.
Igbo youth troupe and members of Rebuilding Nigeria by Jonathan during the president's visit.
Hausa-Fulani minstrels also added colour to the event.
Another scene from the Igbo performers.

HE Mrs. Akindele, wife of Nigeria's Ambassador to Cotonou, flanked by Mrs. Maureen D'Almeida (left) and a top-flight Nigerian banker based in Benin Republic.

A Yoruba band that made the event even more memorable.
Members of a Niger Delta ensemble on the occasion.
Mr. Okey Sunday Okoroafor, West Africa Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria by Jonathan.

Echoes of Jonathan’s trip to Cotonou

Nigerians in Diaspora await outcome of PDP primary presidential election
During a recent encounter with Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, Nigeria’s envoy to Benin Republic; we gathered that roughly 1million Nigerians live in that neighbouring country. In Togo, Alhaji Bayo Yusuf, Ambassador of Nigeria to Togo between 1999 and 2003, told me in 2001 that over 2.5million Nigerians lived in the land of President Gnassingbe Eyadema, now of blessed memory. 
About the same period, Chief Sam Okechukwu, then High Commissioner of Nigeria to Ghana, said it was popularly believed that some 2million of our compatriots were resident in the old Gold Coast. During one of our visits to Ivory Coast, we learnt from the then Nigerian envoy there, Ambassador Kehinde Olisemeka that the working figure of Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire was between 2.5million and 3.5million.
If we add the average of 3million Nigerians in Ivory Coast to 2million, 2.5million and 1million in Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic respectively; this means that some 8.5million of our nationals could be found in the four contiguous countries west of Nigeria. Since the majority of these migrants are traders, it means they are above 18 years old. In other words, if these 8.5million Nigerians register to vote in the forthcoming elections their involvement could make all the difference.
This is the reason the interest shown in today’s presidential primary by Nigerians living in West Africa is very important. Although eligible Nigerians living abroad cannot vote in this year’s elections, unless they come home to do so; assuming, they had registered to vote in the first place; many of such overseas dwellers are nonetheless anxious to know the result of today’s primary election to produce the flag-bearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in the forthcoming presidential election.
One of these Nigerians in Diaspora is Mr. Okey Sunday Okoroafor, a 45-year-old Igbo-born merchant, who has been living in Cotonou, economic capital of neighbouring Benin Republic; since 1998. Another such Nigerian is Mr. Ibe Orji, who is also a Cotonou-based trader. For Messrs Okoroafor and Ibe as well as countless other Nigerians we spoke to in Cotonou; the result of today’s primary election would determine whether they continue to support the PDP or switch their backing to another party.
It is worth noting that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is the preferred candidate for the majority of these Nigerians, who belong to Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO). And, going by remarks made by President of NIDO, Cotonou Chapter, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu as well as other Nigerians that turned up in large number; to welcome President Jonathan at Aeroport International Cardinal Bernardin Gantin de Cadjehoun, Cotonou on 31 December, 2010; the 2011 is a foregone issue and that President Jonathan has virtually been returned to Aso Rock.
Perhaps to avoid missing the opportunity of meeting President Jonathan, thousands of these Nigerians were already at Cotonou International Airport hours the NAF 001 plane, which brought President Jonathan and his entourage landed around 10.55am.
From their mood, most of these NIDO members were prepared to wait all day and all night, if that was the only way “to meet this man, on whom millions of Nigerians place their hopes for a better tomorrow”, to echo one of the Nigerians, who simply introduced himself as Mallam Musa.
President Jonathan was accompanied by Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia (SAN) and about 12 others on that trip. There were many highpoints, even though the president’s sojourn lasted barely six hours. For the thousands of Nigerians that eventually met Dr. Jonathan, it was the interactive session within the local Nigerian Embassy complex that provided the famed golden opportunity.     
Not surprisingly, the issue of security, roads, economy, off-shore voters and many others came up during the quasi Town Hall meet with one Nigerian saying the president was once reported promising that it would be possible for Nigerians living abroad to vote in the 2011 elections.

Rebuilding Nigeria group
Mr. Okey Sunday Okoroafor, the West African Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria by Jonathan; was one of the notable participants that was lucky to address the gathering. Mr. Okoroafor, who said the president’s character perfectly fit his name; went on to describe Dr. Jonathan as a “Man of Goodluck”, “Man of Goodwill” and “Man of Love for Nigerians” et cetera; and elicited loud applause intermittently throughout his brief speech.
Considering that the president made the tour on 31 December, New Year’s Eve; Mr. Okoroafor said: “We thank you, and we appreciate you for taking out time to visit us in this foreign land at this time; when virtually every other person is heading home to celebrate with their nuclear family. It shows the love and concern which you have for us”.
Okoroafor, who had earlier declared enthusiastically: “We are Nigerians in Diaspora, and we say there is no vacancy in Aso Rock, because we are mobilizing voters for you, you are the one going there again after the presidential election in 2011”; however, wanted to know what Dr. Jonathan had in store for Nigerians; after they had voted him back into office in 2011.
“Sir, we are asking you this question, we know you have made some promises; but, we the Nigerians in Diaspora; we want to know what we stand to gain after the 2011 election because we are sure, you are going to be there”.

President Jonathan speaks
As prelude to his responses to the many questions raised; the president expressed sympathy with the Nigerians he met; for, some of them actually sounded home-sick. “I know that a number of you want to come home, but the environment is not very conducive. If you are going to Aba, you don’t know whether you will be kidnapped along the road.  These show that there are problems that a government must face squarely. So, by the time we suppress them, and they are no longer a threat to you, you’ll come to understand what we mean. If we stabilize power alone; or can provide uninterrupted electricity and security, and basic road infrastructure; that alone will make our country shine.
“It is about teaching you to fish, instead of giving you fish. We will create the enabling environment for you to excel. That is the business of a president, whether for me or any other person”. Dr. Jonathan would again invoke another roar of applause, when he remarked: “For 2011, however, I think it’s for me”.
On the possibility of overseas-based Nigerians voting in the 2011 elections, the president said he believed he had been misunderstood. “Maybe I was quoted wrongly. I mentioned in Gabon that in the next (2011) election, I cannot guarantee that Nigerians living abroad will vote. But, I had said that in these days of ICT, there’s no reason why Nigerians outside should not vote.
“But, I had said that after 2011; because now, people are even worried whether INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) can complete comprehensive voters’ registration within the country, not to talk about going outside Nigeria. Before you can vote outside, you must be registered. We plan to have a national identity card, which every Nigerian must have. Once you have a National ID with a number, then it becomes very easy for you to vote wherever you may be.
“So, I did mention that my belief, which we will work hard on, is that before the 2015 general elections; Nigerians living abroad will be in a position, where they can go to their embassy and vote. We will work towards that. I did not mention 2011. But, for 2011; since Benin Republic is quite close, those of you that go home frequently can also time one of those trips to coincide with the election, so you can vote for me because of the love you have for me”.
President Jonathan would go on to elicit rapturous applause, when he remarked: “In fact, if I go by the response of Nigerians in Diaspora; every where we have been; here, Gabon and so on; If all the Nigerians in Diaspora were able to vote, then the election would be a mere walkover”.
As to what Dr. Jonathan had to offer for Nigerians in Diaspora for the massive votes they’ve pledged to give him, the president had this to say: “It is possible that, when the young man asked this question, some people felt irritated wondering why he was only thinking about what he will get. But, I don’t think he meant it in such a selfish way. However, the best thing that any president you vote in tomorrow can give Nigerians is good governance. When the country is run properly, everybody is better for it. Even Nigerians in Diaspora will gain tremendously; first, you will enjoy respect internationally. The reason for the embarrassment we get when we go abroad arises from belief among foreigners that as a nation, we are not doing too well.
“If we are able, for example to clamp down on armed robbery to the extent that trans-border crimes are brought down drastically, there will be less harassment of Nigerians because; in the first place, there will be no need to harass Nigerians. If we improved on our economy, people will beckon on you to come to their country”.
“Image”, the president continued, “matters so much”. Even for an individual, he reasoned; “If a young man walks into your compound, and you know that his father is a thief and his mother the same thing; you will involuntarily look to confirm that your doors were locked and even begin to search your pocket to ensure nothing had gone missing. Even if you had never heard that the young man stole anything, the mere fact that his parents are thieves makes him a thief by association.
“On the other hand, if a young man; whose parents are decent, forthright and respectable members of the community; came into your house, you wouldn’t fear sending him to pick up something from your bedroom for you. This is what we are talking about; the impact of good governance”.
Concluding, President Jonathan said: “So, if we work hard and achieve our targets; Nigerians will suffer less harassment wherever they go; because their country will have a better image. So, every Nigerian; including those in the Diaspora, will gain tremendously, if we run the country well”.

At the end of the day, before his departure, the Nigerian President had promised that God willing he hoped to return as soon as possible and that on some subsequent visit; he planned to spend at least a night to gain deeper insights into life for a Nigerian in Benin Republic.  

Ivory Coast: Cry, beloved country

Ivory Coast: Cry, beloved country

Did you know that the complex housing the Presidency and National Assembly of Ivory Coast are French property? After 50 years of independence, France still controls most of the infrastructure in Ivory Coast: the airline, telephone, electricity and water services as well as some banks are French-owned.
Ivory Coast might be in West Africa; but, believe it or not, almost 50 percent of its land area belongs to France. According to one Dr. Gary K. Busch, this privileged position of France, which “maintains a stranglehold on Ivorian commerce and currency”; is confirmed by a report from the UN Commission.
In his article, titled The Empire strikes back; published in a Ghanaian paper, The Insight, Dr. Busch states: “The French own 45% of the land and, curiously, the buildings of the Presidency and the Ivorian National Assembly are subject to leases concluded with the French”. 
France doesn’t just maintain “a stranglehold on Ivorian commerce and currency”; the people of de Gaulle’s land probably hold countless Ivoirians’ soul captive as well; for, despite being black Africans, some Ivoirians believed, or acted as if, they were French, until a few years ago; when following a misunderstanding, Paris ordered the destruction of Ivorian Air Force’s scrappy fleet.
For decades, the average Ivorian literally had no business with other African nations; which is why you hardly ran into them outside their homeland. But, this did not in any way discourage millions of Africans from surrounding countries from washing into more stable and very prosperous Ivory Coast or La Côte d’Ivoire (RCI) in search of a better life. 
Unknown to countless Nigerians, the Ivory Coast is to their nation one of the most important countries of this world. The RCI is the world’s largest cocoa growing nation, but this is not the main reason behind this country’s importance to Nigeria. Although Ivory Coast is a key axis in the West Africa Gas Pipeline (WAGP) project, the country is more important to Nigeria because millions of our compatriots live there. Literally, therefore, millions of Nigerians catch cold, every time Ivory Coast sneezes.
And, countless Nigerians have been shivering since 28 November, 2010; following eruption of fresh rounds of violence after results of Ivory Coast’s presidential election run-off was announced. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had a multinational Observer Team on ground during the polls to help ascertain “the true wish of the (Ivorian) electorate” pursuant to the regional body’s “Declaration on Political Principles and the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance”.
Similar election monitoring groups from other international agencies, civil societies and non-government organisations were also on ground across Ivory Coast and witnessed, even if only to varying degrees, the voting exercise.
After days of tension sparked by delay in releasing the result, Ivory Coast’s Independent Electoral Commission (CEI) had eventually declared Mr. Alassane Ouattara, flag-bearer of the Rally of Republicans (RdR) winner, whereas the Constitutional Council had given victory to incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI).
It is worth noting that the CEI has the mandate to conduct, collate and announce this result. Curiously, however, the Constitutional Council had also been vested with power to endorse that outcome. Apparently, none foresaw the possibility of any situation in which two authorities of the same government would come up with two conflicting results from one election. 
Supporters of Mr. Ouattara were quick to point out that the head of the Constitutional Council and many members of that body, having been appointed by Gbagbo, had apparently pandered to their benefactor’s resolve to cling to power. On the other hand, pro-Gbagbo elements had thrown up allegations of massive vote rigging in some parts of northern Ivory Coast, which is Ouattara’s stronghold.
Despite Gbagbo’s and his supporters’ allegations of ballot-stuffing and other malpractices in pro-Ouattara enclaves in the rebelled-controlled northern parts of the country, neither ECOWAS, on one hand; nor the international community, on the other; seemed interested in investigating that claim.
However, an Editorial, titled The verdict, in the 5 January, 2011 edition of The Insight seems to buttress allegations by Gbagbo and his supporters that the election run-off was rigged. In deed, the views of African election experts, led by Cameroonian Jean-Marie Ngongjibangangte, including others from Benin Republic, Gabon, Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Togo; which deployed observers to Korogho, Bouake, Katiola, Seguela, Yamoussoukro and Abidjan ought to have been taken seriously.
These election monitors’ report reveals, among others, that; “Compared with the first round of Cote d’Ivoire’s presidential election, the second round took place amid a lot of violence”. It could be recalled that Mr. Henri Konan-Bedie, a former president of Ivory Coast and one of the candidates in the first round of the 2010 presidential election had cried out over suspected irregularities during that poll.
Mr. Bedie placed third with 25 percent, while Gbagbo and Ouattara scored a little over 38 and 32 percent respectively, according to the result announced by CEI. Interestingly, instead of investigating Bedie’s claims; the run-off poll had been pushed through.
The African election observers had also noted that people did not go to the run-off election in as large number as was the case during the first round, because; the second round was held amidst major problems in the regions of Korogho, Bouake, Seguela, Tortiya and Garango”. 
According to these monitors, the presidential election run-off was bedevilled by stealing of ballot boxes, arrests of candidates’ representatives, multiple voting, refusal to admit international observers to witness counting of ballots and the murder of representatives of candidates.
“After sharing information with other national and international election observers, we hereby declare that the second round of voting was not free, fair and transparent in these localities”, stated the report by Ngongjibangangte, et al.
From fry-pan into fire
The 2010 presidential election, it had been hoped, would help to reunite Ivory Coast after a 2002 civil war practically split the country in two; unfortunately, after almost a decade’s struggle to find a lasting solution to Ivory Coast’s political impasse, the outcome of the presidential election run-off has practically worsted the situation.
Ivory Coast is sometimes called Land of Elephants; in fact, the ivory in this country’s name come from elephant tusks. Sadly, however, the streets of Abidjan, Bouake and Korhogo have frequently turned crimson with human blood instead of white that the colour of ivory should be; because of political crises that have bogged this country for close to 20 years. To those who know; there is nothing current to Ivory Coast’s latest unfolding woe.
Although things have come to a head presently, the problem goes back almost 20 years; and, interestingly, Gbagbo and Ouattara; arrowheads of each of today’s warring parties, have always been in the picture. Gbagbo seems to be up against nemesis; for, this man proved such a pain in the neck for Dr. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, founding president of the RCI; that it was only by sending Gbagbo to jail from 1971 to 1973 that the country regained its peace. But, like yeast; Gbagbo, who has always been adept at successfully achieving his cerebral pursuits concurrently with managing his political goals, simply flourished, when he was expected to shrivel.  
Upon release, Gbagbo took off to France; consolidated his academic stature and nurtured his political networks, while keeping his gaze firmly fixed on his goal. Years later, he would return to the RCI; a Professor of History and respected Archaeologist, Gbagbo was on the faculty of Cocody (University of Abidjan) for years. Subsequently, he would run in a presidential election in which he simply could not have won, if more popular aspirants had not been disqualified.
In the end, the military dictator, General Robert Guei, who contrived the fiasco in an attempt to transmute into a civilian president, had predictably claimed victory; but was forced to flee, following a rallying of people power against him. That, in a nutshell; is how Gbagbo became Chef d’état (head of state). But, nemesis in the name of a certain Ouattara was lurking.
On his part, Alassane Dramane Ouattara (ADO, as some supporters fondly call him) was always a hard-nosed technocrat. After bagging a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, US in 1972; Ouattara had gone on to distinguish himself on the international platform as an economist extraordinaire. He was Governor of Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) and Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It was Ouattara’s professional expertise that sucked him into politics.
In the 1980s, more Ivoirians than ever before witnessed a drop in their standard of living; the quality of infrastructure was dropping, unemployment was rising, and so was inflation. There were protests from labour, students and what have you. In fact, there were growing calls for President Houphouet-Boigny to step down or allow true multi-party democracy; something that could have been seen as sacrilege a decade earlier.
However, the root of the various issues evolving in Ivory Coast at that time lay in Europe and beyond the power of the Ivorian president. To keep pace with the European Union’s march toward a common currency, France had to extricate its own currency, the French Francs, from the CFA, which is in common use across Francophone West Africa, except in Guinea (Conakry). Also, the volume of aid from France to its former colonies had been scaled down drastically. These moves left many French-speaking West African nations, including Ivory Coast, in a lurch.
It was at this point President Houphouet-Boigny invited Mr. Ouattara to join the Ivorian government as Prime Minister. In fairness to ADO, there was perceptible improvement in the standard of living as well as infrastructure through his appointment as Chairman, Inter-ministerial Committee for the Coordination of the Stabilization and Economic Recovery Programme of Cote d’Ivoire.
But, problems with Ouattara would explode, when as then prime minister, he reportedly attempted to assume duty as president following Dr. Houphouet-Boigny’s death in 1993; contrary to constitutional provisions, which stipulate that the Speaker of the Ivorian Parliament should step into that office in the event of death or incapacitation of that nation’s president.
Somehow, after the inauguration of the then Speaker, Mr. Henri Konan-Bedie, as President; unrest and agitations by some inhabitants of northern Ivory Coast over exclusion in political offices’ sharing, discrimination, denial of citizenship documents and calls for elections had resumed. Elections had been called and Mr. Konan-Bedie had become a formally elected President and no longer one by proxy. But, even this did not seem to stem growing agitations from what had come to be identified as Ouattara quarters.
It was at this point one General Robert Guei appeared on the scene. On 24 December (Christmas Eve), 1999; when millions of Ivoirians were preoccupied with Yuletide festivities, General Guei led other soldiers to execute a coup, which overthrew the country’s democratically elected President Henri Konan Bedie; and, through force of arms consequently imposed himself on Ivoirians as their head of state.
Although Guei completely fouled the Yuletide air with that aberration, historic in Ivory Coast’s terms because this country had never experienced a coup d’état before; the beleaguered nation had hoped they would at least get their lives back from the series of violent confrontations between protesters and government security forces. But, this turned out a pipe-dream, for as days morphed into weeks, and months and later years; it became clear that Guei had not come in as an intercessor, to clean the famed Aegean stable and return power to civilians; he was a dictator here to stay.
Following deafening cries from civil liberty and pro-democracy groups complemented by sanctions and threats from the international community, Guei agreed to arrange a return to civilian rule. Due to his design to cling to power, and knowing full well that such plan would fail, if he allowed more popular candidates to take part in the race; the dictator disqualified the immediate-past popularly elected President, Konan-Bedie, on the grounds of corruption.
But, Bedie’s disqualification, irrespective of the fact that proofs of such misdemeanours were not provided; caused much less outcry than the removal of Ouattara’s name from the candidates’ list on the grounds that he was not an Ivorian citizen. It was said that Ouattara’s father hailed from Burkina Faso and pro-Guei elements had dug deep to produce what they claimed to be evidence that Ouattara actually enjoyed Burkinabe government scholarship when he was a student in the United States.
Although Ouattara did not contest the issue of enjoying Burkina Faso educational sponsorship or his dad’s place of origin; in reaction to questions over his nationality, his camp had produced photograph of his mom, an aged lady, who is a native of a northern Ivory Coast community. When it came to proof that she truly was his mother, the Ouattara camp had presented the result of a DNA test conducted by a geneticist that authenticated filial ties. Interestingly, their opponents had claimed that the result of tests from independent doctors was at variance with the said proof.
In any case, the 2000 election had gone on without Ouattara and Konan-Bedie; but, Guei’s bogus claim of victory at that poll was ephemeral as he was chased out by public protests; and Gbagbo found himself in office as president. Irritatingly, restiveness by pro-Ouattara elements had continued and eventually peaked in an attempt to forcibly dislodge the government through a well coordinated armed insurgency in September 2002.
New Forces or over-indulged rebels
At the heart of the lingering Ivorian crisis is the issue of disarmament of the so-called Forces Nouvelles (New Forces). But, who really are the New Forces? Dr. Busch again: “The issue is that over half of the rebel forces grouped under the rubric ‘Forces Nouvelles’ are not Ivoirians and never were.
“They were gathered as mercenaries and hired thugs by the French from Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Sierra Leone and from the assorted other bands of riff-raff engaged in internecine warfare in West Africa. They were transported to the Ivory Coast and armed by the French…”
In any case, the New Forces rebels have been in control of the northern half of the RCI since 2002, after their attempt to overrun the country failed. The rebels had aimed at taking Abidjan, Bouake and Korogho during the 19 September 2002 coup; however, their bid for the country’s main city was thwarted. After months of civil war, which trailed that mutiny; a peace agreement was reached. Although the rebels had initially demanded Gbagbo’s resignation, the agreement allowed him to remain in office on condition that a “neutral” prime minister would be appointed and the cabinet would include FPI, civilian opposition and representatives of the rebel groups.
Expectedly, this deal had been criticized by Gbagbo’s supporters, who believed the French had wrested too much concession from the government and appeared to be on the side of the New Forces, instead of being neutral mediators.
On their part, the New Forces were expected to hand in their weapons and work with the government toward reconciliation. However, this disarmament plan was not followed through. In early 2004, President Gbagbo had ordered air strikes against the New Forces, following their refusal to disarm. During one of the sorties, French soldiers were hit and some of them killed. Although the Ivorian government claimed it was a mistake, France insisted it was deliberate and responded by destroying Ivory Coast’s air force’s fleet; sparking anti-French riots across Abidjan. 
Go, Gbagbo go
As things stand, over 200 people have been reported dead, while more than 300,000 people have fled to neighbouring West African countries over fear of further outbreaks of violence. The UN claims “it is prepared for a total of 30,000 refugees in the region”; however, this is a mere fraction of those likely to need help should the crush come to the crunch.
Across the world there is understandable indignation over what most people see as Mr. Gbagbo’s attempt at scuttling what they believe should be a smooth transition of power. Expectedly, critics of despotism are angry at Gbagbo for trying to hang on to power at all costs. But, how much do we really know of the Ivorian crisis?
The issue here may not be about mere clinging to power; for, Ivory Coast’s founding president, Dr. Houphouet-Boigny actually served as head of state for over 30 years. And, almost throughout those three decades, the average Ivorian was so content about life in his country that none embarked on the senseless migration observable among nationals of Nigeria nowadays.
In the same vein, there is no doubt that the average poverty-stricken citizen in many African nations would prefer a leader, like Muammar Khadafy, whose over 40-year governance has led to astronomic leap in the standard of living of Libyans to the so-called democracy in some other countries; where unfettered looting seem to be the order of the day.  
While everyone should condemn despotism in its every ramification; the unfolding Ivorian debacle, however, calls for serious scrutiny and analyses of various factors. Many forces are at play here, some of them latent, while others are less so. Some factors, especially the subterranean ones; seem to have been glossed over in what appears to be a desperate desire to record success by various international agencies and countries that have encountered failures elsewhere.
World wide, there are clamours for Gbagbo to stand down; however, there are those who suspect the pressure to install Ouattara, seen as a “puppet” of the West, is part of a grand design to re-colonize Ivory Coast. It is for reasons like this, that Mr. Ble Goude, leader of Gbagbo’s Young Patriots, is waxing in popularity for calling for the liberation of Ivory Coast and defence of its sovereignty by the citizens.
As professor of history, Gbagbo is in a better position to teach the world about the rise, decline and fall of civilizations. He must be well aware that just as civilizations wax and wane, so also do empires and sovereigns come and go. If so, how does one explain the incumbent Ivorian leader’s perceived obduracy?
Can his intransigence be put down to mere greed for power or is there some other underpinning that has eluded the world? Could it also be that we are simply more interested to see him go than to be more meticulous by scrutinizing the issues from every perspective?
It could be recalled that following disputes over the final outcome of the presidential run-off in Ivory Coast, an emergency meeting of ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government had been convened on Tuesday, 7 December 2010 in Abuja.
That Extraordinary Meeting had been called “with the sole objective of examining the situation and deciding on subsequent action on the crisis in the RCI, in accordance with the ECOWAS relevant texts”; a statement from ECOWAS headquarters explained. It is also worth noting that ECOWAS had threatened after a meeting on 24 December that, if Gbagbo refused to step down, “legitimate force” would be exploited to remove him.
Reacting to ECOWAS’ threat to resort to what it described as “legitimate force” against the Ivorian president, if he refuses to hand power to Ouattara; Mr. Ahoua Don Mello, a spokesman for President Gbagbo; had warned that such foreign intervention could ignite a civil war or what he described as "interior war". Mr. Mello’s “interior war” could be interpreted as an allusion to speculations that foreign workers living in Ivory Coast could be attacked in the event of ECOWAS’ attempt to remove President Gbagbo by force.
Mello reminded that Ivory Coast is "a country of immigration" from around the region, and that "All these countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, Nigeria et cetera) have citizens in Ivory Coast, and they know if they attack Ivory Coast from the exterior it would become an interior civil war".
Hear Mello: "Is Burkina Faso ready to welcome three million Burkinabe migrants back in their country of origin?" This question could well have been directed at Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, among others.
“Danger: As ECOWAS threatens to invade la Cote d’Ivoire”, the banner headline of “The Insight”, a Ghanaian newspaper, in its edition for 5 January says it all. According to this publication, “Liberia has already voiced its opposition to the ECOWAS decision on account of the safety of its citizens” living in Ivory Coast.
“Nigerians in Ivory Coast” continues “the Insight”, have also asked their government not to participate in any adventure by soldiers from ECOWAS member states”; and, “The Government of Ghana has already indicated it will not contribute any troops to the ECOWAS force” which will invade Ivory Coast.
After threatening to deploy military force to oust Gbagbo, a high-powered delegation, comprising representatives of the African Union (AU) and ECOWAS, submitted a report of the outcome of their latest mission to Ivory Coast on January 4, 2011 to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
A communiqué from ECOWAS dated January 4, states that the visit was yet another effort to seek a peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has engulfed that country. The mission commended the resolve of the AU and ECOWAS, even as it enjoined the two institutions to dispatch another joint high level mission to Ivory Coast as soon as possible to continue discussions with the two parties.
The delegation comprised President Pedro Verona Pires of Cape Verde, President Boni Yayi of Benin Republic, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya and AU Special Envoy to Ivory Coast; and Mr. James Gbeho, President, ECOWAS Commission.
Attempts at resolving the conflict in Ivory Coast has led to countless summits in numerous countries in West Africa and elsewhere. A number of such confabs have been held in Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Niger Republic. At some forums, accords had been reached but both sides seem to have breached the agreements. It is likely more shuttles for additional pleas or pressure shall end up like water off a duck’s back.
It would seem that neither supporters of the incumbent Ivorian President Gbagbo nor those of his rival, Ouattara; are keen to wait for the outcome of negotiations. A front-page report in the government-owned “The Ghanaian Times” of Tuesday, 4 January, 2011, titled “Ouattara’s forces seize 5 Ghanaians”, tells the story. According to that report, filed by Edmund Mingle, “Five Ghanaians accused of allegedly being mercenaries of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo were last Friday (31 December, 2010) arrested by the forces loyal to Alasanne Ouattara…”
However, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Information, Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, had told “The Ghanaian Times” that the quintet, who were arrested in the central Ivorian city of Bouake, were actually artisans, and had been resident in that settlement for years. On the other hand, the Embassy of Nigeria in Abidjan was attacked.
Going by the stance and utterances of some sections of the international community; the mediation process has mutated from diplomatic to badgering. Within a week, apart from the threat of assault by ECOWAS; UN chief scribe Mr. Ban Ki-moon was on global media talking down at Gbagbo. The UN’s intervention gave the impression that the world body had overnight metamorphosed from snail to cheetah.
This is the UN, which was literally prodded by the US to condemn Sudanese President Omar Bashir for the genocide perpetrated against the black aborigines in his country’s Western Darfur region. Could the apparent hasty harangue of one party in a two-party dispute have come from the same UN that preferred to dilly-dally, while some 1,000,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in Rwanda? Hopefully, now the UN has morphed from a somnolent hare to roaring lion; Omar Bashir could soon be enjoying late-night chats with Mr. Charles Taylor, after being arraigned before the ICC.
Badgered from all sides
The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) had quickly blocked Mr. Gbagbo’s access to Ivory Coast’s funds and went as far as recognizing Alassane Ouattara as president, claiming only “appointed members of RCI’s ‘legitimate government’ will have access to deposits with it. Further tightening the noose, finance ministers in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) reportedly agreed to instruct BCEAO “to hand over control of Ivory Coast’s state accounts to Mr. Ouattara”.
However, John James of the BBC in Abidjan reported that “the decision cuts off a major source of funds for Mr Gbagbo, who has shown no sign of stepping down”. According to the BBC report; “Mr Gbagbo still has control of state television and the public support of the army, but without access to Ivory Coast's state accounts it is going to be extremely difficult to pay the salaries of soldiers and civil servants next month, even if he almost certainly has other financial reserves, our correspondent says”. However, the BBC went on to add; “analysts say the move by the finance ministers is risky, because Ivory Coast is by far the most important economy in the West African CFA monetary zone, whose eight members all use the franc CFA”.
Similarly, the European Union (EU) had quickly imposed a travel ban on Mr. Gbagbo, his wife and 17 other close associates; from member states. Even the US was contemplating doing the same “in the coming days”, when the EU ban was announced. Also, Gbagbo’s aircraft kept in a French airport hanger was reportedly impounded. These actions, which Gbagbo and his supporters could put down to harassment and intimidation; could be counter-productive, yielding to the embattled president sympathy that ordinarily, no despot should enjoy.
However, Mr. Toussaint Alain, one of Gbagbo’s advisers, had reacted to all these by saying “The UN is trying to manipulate public opinion and is looking for a pretext for a military intervention”.
Until mid-December; ECOWAS declarations and comments carried the tone of a neutral arbiter. It remains unclear why ECOWAS later opted for intimidation, instead of détente. Both sides in the Ivorian conflict would gain more through rapprochement; sadly, however, ECOWAS’ tone has waxed more belligerent and menacing towards one side, going by its threat of possible military assault against Gbagbo, and by extension, Abidjan.
While the pursuit of a quick resolution of the Ivorian crisis is commendable, the haste and perceived bias that seems to drive ECOWAS and the African Union elicits suspicion.
It is possible that ECOWAS’ threat to deploy “legitimate force” to end the crisis in the RCI could come to nothing but hot air because the historian in Gbagbo has probably conducted his research and arrived at the, perhaps, infallible conclusion that the nations that could pose serious threat have too much to lose and would therefore prefer to sit on the fence.
Interestingly, Gbagbo’s presidential mandate expired since 30 October 2005. However, since the New Forces would not disarm, Gbagbo’s term had been extended by 12 months; since elections could not be held. Realising that elections were still not possible under the prevailing conditions, Gbagbo was awarded another one-year tenure elongation as the 2006 deadline approached. So, what to do now, in light of the current imbroglio?
Sadly, Ouattara is now an epitome of discord
ECOWAS desperation to enthrone Ouattara as president of Ivory Coast hints at deep-rooted belief that this would bring to an end the lingering political crisis in that country. However, nothing could be more presumptuous; for, Dr. Ouattara has, unfortunately, come to symbolize Ivorian disunity. The mere mention of Ouattara seems to conjure images of Ivory Coast divided along religious and sectional lines.
Possible exit strategies
If true reconciliation is the goal, both parties must be made to come to the table prepared to give and take. And, if Ouattara’s supporters are sure their man amassed all the votes declared for him; then a votes’ re-count, even a bye-election in the disputed areas shouldn’t be big deal. If the United States resorted to a re-count in the State of Florida in the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, why can’t Ivorians adopt it?
Apart from a re-count, Power-sharing is another option; If President Gbagbo could be persuaded to accept this option after a coup against him, the Ouattara camp must also be made to try this panacea, if it will in any way help to heal the wounds in Ivory Coast.
Another alternative is to immediately reinstall former president Konan-Bedie to serve out the remainder of his term, which was truncated by Guei’s misadventure. Another option, as the Konan-Bedie term runs out, is to hand power to a Transition Government with a completely new team to manage the affairs of the country, say for a 10-year period.
The sticking point here would be the composition of this team, given that suspicion now shrouds every action by any party in the Ivorian crisis. But, if a neutral and transparently fair transition government could be raised to run the affairs of this country for a decade; by the time fresh elections are conducted in 2020, national reconciliation would not seem the mirage it now is; where necessary re-unification efforts had been made.
The question on this one is: “So, what becomes of Ouattara’s mandate? If Ouattara truly loves Ivory Coast, no sacrifice should be too much for him to make to avoid tearing the country apart; for, more violence will only cost more and more Ivoirians their lives.
The RCI and I
I developed deep interest in the Ivory Coast decades ago and have visited the country many times over the years. I even went to the trouble of attempting a thorough understanding of Cote d’Ivoire by travelling all the way from Abidjan in the austral parts to the northernmost tip of the country and going from Pogo to Segou and later Bamako in Mali. This was in 2001.
Years earlier, in 1997, I was in Abidjan to get a feel of Ivoirians’ celebration of 40 years of independence from France. I was inspired to make that trip, after witnessing and participating in Ghana’s 40th independence anniversary fiesta on 6 March of that year. After 1997, I had returned to Abidjan in 2000 to find out the state of preparedness of the local Nigerian Embassy to protect our compatriots, if the then emerging political crisis there got out of hand.
During that sojourn, I had met the then Nigerian envoy to Abidjan, Ambassador Kehinde Olisemeka; and, through some of the answers I sought; it was revealed that between 2.5million and 3.5million Nigerians live in Ivory Coast. Some of these Nigerians, mostly Yoruba from Ejigbo, Ogbomoso, Ede and so on; migrated to Ivory Coast before the 1960s. In fact, I had also met and interviewed the President of the Nigerian Community in Ivory Coast at that time, Chief John Ogunsipe, who told me he first set foot in Abidjan in 1956.
Another wave of Nigerians had washed into Ivory Coast during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970), when Ivory Coast offered refuge to Igbos fleeing Biafra. Many camps had been set up in one part of the then Ivorian capital to succour these war victims. That neighbourhood is what is nowadays called “Quartier Biafra” (Biafran Quarters) in Abidjan. Aside Quartier Biafra, many Nigerians are also resident in Adjame, Treichville and other areas of this city.
Now, things are bad enough as they are; frighteningly, however, they could still get worse. So, were the situations to worsen, what fate awaits roughly 3million Nigerians living in Ivory Coast? This is, again, what prompted our trip to Elubo, Ghana’s south-eastern border town, which leads to Noe, the south-eastern frontier post of Ivory Coast. Ordinarily, we would have preferred to go the whole hog, that is; to enter and travel around the country once again; but after a co-traveller drew our attention to a news item in one newspaper, we gave up: Discretion, they say is the better part of valour.
But, even from Elubo it was very clear that things were very wrong on the other side of the fence. It is difficult to see Noe, let alone Aboisso in eastern RCI from Elubo because of the topography. Under normal circumstances, the Elubo-Noe borderline between RCI and Ghana should be one of the most refreshing places in West Africa. Passengers must disembark from their vehicles and trek from the Ghanaian end to the Ivorian side or vice versa. I never had cause to quarrel with this exercise, which offered a welcome opportunity to stretch one’s limbs. Moreover, the walk also gave you a chance to enjoy nature; there’s a bridge to cross.
Today, however, there is apprehension in the air. From the market surrounding the motor-park, where travellers board vehicles heading out and where in-coming commuters disembark, we could almost touch the tension in the air. Among the many crowds of visibly distraught people gathered around, we could pick out a few Nigerian tongues. And, their lamentations were heart-rending. Some had suffered beatings and harassments at the hands of both pro-government and pro-Ouattara characters. For many foreigners, the Ivorian crisis has morphed into one of head you lose, tail you lose. 
The Nigeria factor
Nigeria has been part of various intervention forces in different parts of the world. In fact, going by the experiences of Liberia and Sierra Leone; Nigeria has been arrowhead of any such mission in West Africa. With a population and GDP of roughly 50 percent that of the entire Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) region, it seems natural that Nigerian should foot certain responsibilities.
But, given the political situation in Nigeria, where a general election is practically around the corner (in early 2011) as well as the parlous nature of the economy, with some politicians, including Mr. Abubakar Atiku, a former Vice President, saying the nation is on the verge of broke; it is doubtful that ECOWAS could muster an intervention force quickly enough to rout Gbagbo from power.
Among my many articles on Ivory Coast is one titled “Cote d’Ivoire: Near, yet so far away”. In that report, published in the Daily Sun of 8 December, 2005; I had observed, inter alia, “It is hard to say for certain that impecuniosities and pressures from the West prodded the President Laurent Gbagbo-led Ivorian Government down the path to national reconciliation. Long before the 9 October, 2001, when the reconciliation process officially flagged-off, that project had almost become more popular than the national anthem.
National Reconciliation effused profusely from government speeches and the electronic media. The issue did not only form banner headlines for numerous editions of various Ivorian papers, it was a prominent feature of the lyrics of many musicians.  Famous Ivorian artistes and groups, such as Alpha Blondy and Magic System respectively have all cut records extolling the virtues of national reconciliation.
Despite these clamours, and the potential benefit which genuine national reconciliation would bring the generality of Ivoirians, members of the political elite, on both sides of the divide, remain unwavering and fixated to their selfish positions. Thus, it remains to be seen how the current effort at national re-unification would bring back the socio-political harmony once taken for granted in La Cote d’Ivoire”.
To sack Gbagbo by force of arms could be setting a dangerous precedent in the continent, which could encourage insurgents in other countries to stage civil wars against a government, mobilize support from the “international community” and squeeze themselves into power-sharing and subsequently go into elections and eventually be installed bona fide government.
As the ancient Romans would say; praemonitus, praemunitas or (to be) forewarned, (is to be) forearmed).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Photosplash from President Jonathan's visit to Cotonou

President Jonathan during his visit to Cotonou. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG
R-L: Amb. Lawrence Akindele and Col. Abraham.
R-L: Chief Uko Elendu with Alhaji Mounirou Garba.
R-L: Alaiyeluwa Oba Ajirotutu Fadipe with Pa Olujobi.
A section of the huge crowd that turned up at Cotonou International Airport to welcome President Jonathan.
Okey Sunday Okoroafor.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Nigerians in Diaspora say ‘No vacancy in Aso Rock’

Jonathan arrives to tumultuous welcome in Cotonou, bags Benin’s highest honour

We are starting this year’s “Travels” with how President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan ended his international visit in 2010 with a memorable trip to neighbouring Benin Republic. According to Nigeria’s envoy to Benin Republic, Ambassador Lawrence Akindele, the visit had further strengthened the existing cordial relationship between Benin and Nigeria; and, for both West African nations, it must have been one of the most heart-warming of any state visits of that year.
A lunch at the Benin State House, a national honour investiture ceremony, sightseeing and an interactive session with members of the local Nigerian community were among activities that engaged Dr. Jonathan during the fleeting tour. However, apart from the formal environment of the State House, the trip took on added significance through a hint of personal affection in the decision of President of Benin Republic, Dr. Boni Yayi, to take the Nigerian president to his Cotonou home.
Despite the ephemeral nature of the sojourn; President Jonathan’s chief host, Dr. Yayi; took his guest on sightseeing and in the process pointed out a number of commercial outfits owned by Nigerians in Cotonou. Although his sojourn in Cotonou lasted barely six hours, from landing to take-off, President Jonathan would always remember 31 December 2010; for, it was on that day President Yayi, conferred on the Nigerian leader the “Grand Croix de l’Ordre du Benin”, the highest honour in Benin Republic, which is usually reserved for only heads of state.

Rousing welcome
Dr. Jonathan arrived to a rousing welcome in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin Republic, last Friday; 31 December, 2010. The NAF 001 that brought President Jonathan and his entourage, which included Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia (SAN); touched down around 10.55am at Aeroport International Cardinal Bernardin Gantin de Cadjehoun.
The Cotonou International airport had in the past been scene of numerous displays of the rich culture of Beninoise people, but last Friday’s performances has gone down as one of the more memorable of such events. Aside Dr. Yayi, and Benin Republic’s service chiefs; dozens of officials from various agencies of the Benin and Nigerian governments as well as thousands of well-wishers, including masquerades from both nations were on hand to receive the Nigerian head of state. And, the symbolism of the visit at a time like 31 December, when virtually the whole world were with their family, was not lost on members of the Nigerian community in Cotonou, who over and over lauded Dr. Jonathan for the sacrifice he had to make in order to be with them.

Informal trading, naira as convertible currency
Trading worth scores, if not hundreds, of millions of naira take place daily at Seme/Krake; Nigeria’s south-western border with Benin Republic. However, since the commercial activities engaged in by nationals of the two neighbouring countries are largely informal; it is difficult to gather reliable statistics, which could help the authorities of both nations keep track with a view to improving on the situation, where necessary.
To worsen matters, experts believe that huge sums of money are lost daily by traders involved in such commercial activities because of lack of formal agreement by relevant central banks to make naira, the Nigerian currency, and the CFA mutually exchangeable. As things stand, Nigerian entrepreneurs and their Francophone ECOWAS counterparts first have to change their currency into one of the so-called convertible ones, before changing it again into the one used in the country, where they intend to pay for goods or services.
This process is not only cumbersome, but practically amount to double taxation because some fraction of the money is lost to each conversion process. These, and more, came to light during an encounter between President Jonathan and the Nigerian community during the president’s visit to Cotonou. Although the meeting was between the president and hundreds of Nigerians, who belong to the Nigeria in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO); the banking community put up a strong presence with Mr. Ben Ihekiri, MD and Mrs. Nkechi, both of Diamond Bank; Madam Gwen Abiola-Oloke, Director General of Continental Bank Benin, an affiliate of UBA; and Mr. Bola Badmus, Director General of Banque Internationale du Benin et cetera in attendance.

Many other issues
However, it was not only the banking industry professionals that threw up cogent questions, which elicited lucid explanations from Mr. President. For example, in his address, the President of the Cotonou chapter of NIDO, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu; after thanking President Jonathan for squeezing out time, in spite of his tight schedule, to make the visit; informed that while most Nigerians living in Benin for years are peace-loving and law-abiding; lately, some characters described as “bad boys” for whom Nigeria has become too hot because of enhanced security measures of the Jonathan-led administration; “have trooped into Benin”.
Hear Chief Elendu’s rue: “We are now having cases of Nigerians arrested for armed robbery and kidnapping, which damage the image of Nigeria and Nigerians”. The chief consequently went on to suggest that Nigerian authorities should enter into negotiations with their Beninoise counterparts so that any convict, after serving his jail sentence in Benin should be deported and made to face the same music in Nigeria.        
In Elendu’s address, read by his Special Adviser, Mr. Okezie Mgbeahurike, the NIDO president also seized the opportunity to thank Mr. President and Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs “for the calibre of personnel posted to us at this embassy (Cotonou)”. Referring to the current crop of leadership at Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou, Chief Elendu averred: “They have in deed done so much to give Nigerians a sense of belonging… Our consular matters are now handled with despatch”.
However, the point, when Elendu said “Our embassy is no more ‘consulting clinic’ as it used to be”; would probably be seen as one of the highpoints or most memorable parts of his speech. In deed, Dr. Jonathan had re-echoed this aspect during his response, when he quipped that the mission had morphed “from ‘consulting clinic’ to teaching hospital”.
Chief Elendu, who also expressed displeasure over how successive Nigerian governments in the past “had neglected the development of (the Nigerian end) Seme Border areas”; observed: “The Seme Border areas hold lots of investment opportunities”. He, however, moaned that it is sad that no government policy or frame-work has been designed to encourage Nigerian entrepreneurs to move there. “Right now, seven Nigerian banks have come to Seme Border without adequate security arrangement provided for them”, he observed.
However, of all the points raised by Chief Elendu; his closing remarks went down as the Mother of all comments. Hear him: “Finally, Your Excellency, following opinion polls conducted by various interest groups and the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, Cotonou; coupled with this large crowd that turned up to welcome you; I am persuaded to announce to you that Nigerians in Benin Republic have because of you, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and Architect Namadi Sambo declared; ‘No vacancy in Aso Rock come 2011’”!

An envoy’s highs and lows
Although a quarter of Beninoise elites trace their ancestry to Nigeria, the relationship has not been without challenges, despite this ancestral tie; Amb. Akindele reminded. As regards enhancement of security around the countries’ frontier areas, Ambassador Akindele suggested: “the resumption of the Nigeria-Benin Joint Border Patrol with a view to checking the menace of smuggling, including drugs as well as small arms and ammunitions into the two countries”.
The position of Cotonou as a centre of commerce and government business with an international airport that offers connecting flights to various countries of the world has fostered this city’s strategic importance. This means that frequently, top government functionaries from Nigeria are in Cotonou for one reason or another. Expectedly, such dignitaries look to the embassy for support; this, in turn, results in additional squeeze on the lean budget of the local Nigerian mission. Amb. Akindele had therefore used the opportunity offered by his address to plead with the president and the foreign minister to seriously consider an increase in the vote for running Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou.
In spite of all difficulties, however, “the embassy has continued to work assiduously with relevant authorities of both countries at the highest level to protect the interest of Nigerians, who are sometimes harassed by over-zealous security personnel”, Akindele assured. Ambassador Akindele went on to promise Mr. President that he and his mission would, regardless of all odds, continue to prosecute the mandate given to them.

President Jonathan’s responses
Although the issues raised were many and the questions asked legion, President Jonathan was able to, collectively, thrash them satisfactorily. With regard to Ambassador Akindele’s address and that of the Cotonou Chapter President of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, Dr. Jonathan observed; “From the remarks made by my brothers, on the issue of the border; we’ve even had some preliminary talks and, on the election; in fact, my primary will be on the 13th of January; after that, we’re looking toward the main election in April. After that, we’ll sit down and introduce some of the required measures”.
The president even had the presence of mind to intersperse his response with anecdotes. Hear Dr. Jonathan: “Let me thank you, sincerely, for commending the embassy for being very responsive to issues of concern and interest. This is unlike before, as the NIDO President said, when the embassy was only a consulting clinic. Now that the embassy has moved from mere consulting clinic to teaching hospital, we’re happy. And, I believe with necessary support they (the Nigerian Embassy Cotonou) will improve on that”.
“I also thank all of you for the love you have for me. All the countries I have visited within this period, Nigerians there have encouraged me and always turned up in large numbers to welcome me. Even today, although most people could not enter this venue because of the number; but, I saw the crowd at the airport, and learnt that most of you were ready to wait the whole day until my departure. What more can your people do for you? It’s just like a dancer; no matter how well you dance, if there’s no ovation; you’d feel demoralized; as if you had not performed well at all. But, if you hear the ovation, the applause, you would feel encouraged to perform even better. So, wherever I go, and you come in numbers to encourage me, as you’ve done today; I feel challenged to do more. And, I know that you expect more from us. So, I promise that we will do more”, Jonathan vowed.

Although some top-flight diplomats, such as the high commissioners of Ghana and South Africa, were conspicuously absent; since the timing of the visit coincided with the Yuletide holiday period, which meant that many people had left town; numerous other chiefs of the diplomatic community were at Cotonou International to receive the Nigerian president.
The Country Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the European Commission; the ambassadors of Cuba, France, the Nederland and the USA as well as Monsignor Blume, Ambassador of the Holy See, who is also current Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Benin; were all at the airport on that day to welcome President Jonathan.
The embassy reception was witnessed by hundreds of well-wishers. In deed, the majority of those that turned up to welcome the president could not be admitted to the venue for want of space. At the traditional rulers’ level, we noticed the presence of “Alaiyeluwa” (Oba) Ajirotutu Fadipe, Olota-Kumi II; paramount ruler of Kpormasseh, near the Benin Republic ancient port settlement of Ouidah. “Alaiyeluwa” (Oba) Ajirotutu Fadipe, who further introduced himself as king of all Egba in Benin Republic, described President Jonathan’s visit as phenomenal. He added that from what he saw, and heard, it was easy to believe; as many Nigerians at the venue had said, that; “Truly, there is no vacancy in Aso Rock in 2011”.
The garden within the ambassador’s residence was filled with guests, which included the president and general secretary of NIDO Cotonou, Chief Elendu and Pa Olujobi respectively; Chairman of Nigeria’s Hausa Community in Cotonou and his Yoruba counterpart, Alhaji Mounirou Garba and Alhaji Ishola Bello respectively; Minister 1 at the embassy, “Mallam” Musa Hassan; Defence Attaché at the mission, Colonel Chukwunedum Martins Abraham as well as Chairman of Ede Community in Cotonou, Alhaji Abdulazeez Bello, were all there.
As usual, the Master of Ceremonies, Mrs. Nkechi Jeanne-Frances Maduakor, Managing Editor of Benin Republic Bureau of Ovation International magazine, Cotonou; gave reasons why she deserved to be engaged for that purpose. The human throng included Alhaji Sulaimon Lawal, PRO of Yoruba Community Cotonou since 2002; and Chiefs Anthony Ife Akpolunde as well as Alasa Okorie. Mrs. Maureen d’Almeida, and Mr. Maduakor, husband of the MC, Jeanne-Frances; and, last but not the least, Mr. Okey Sunday Okoroafor, Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria by Jonathan, a pro-Jonathan group in West Africa; were also present at the events.
Mr. Okoroafor, a 45-year-old Nigerian, has spent the last 12 years living in Cotonou; where he makes a living as a cloths and textiles importer. He was one of many Nigerians, who lamented they were forced to live abroad because of parlous conditions at home. He vowed that, even though he sought nothing personally from supporting the Jonathan/Sambo ticket, he was investing his hard-earned resources to ensure this team’s victory.
According to Mr. Okoroafor, a Jonathan Presidency after the 2011 election was Nigeria’s only hope of climbing out of the ditch of stagnation that some of the current presidential aspirants had put his country. Okoroafor, who reminded us that over one million Nigerians live in Benin Republic, went on to add that his group was networking with off-shoots in Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Collectively, more than 3million voters are resident in these countries; he intoned.
This West African Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria by Jonathan went on to reveal that he was hoping to make a difference by hiring scores of buses to bring millions of eligible voters home from neighbouring ECOWAS countries for the 2011 presidential elections. “We have created necessary awareness and we are already mobilizing. We will help to ensure victory for Jonathan/Sambo because we don’t want to die as exiles”, Okoroafor concluded emphatically.