Wednesday, January 12, 2011

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.  

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