Monday, May 2, 2011

Nigerians in Diaspora hail outcome of 2011 general elections

Nigerians in Diaspora hail Jonathan’s victory
…Charge president to urgently arrest nation’s woes
‘Thanks goodness, it’s all over’ – Trans-border traders

Aside those that emerged victorious, having been duly elected in arguably the freest and fairest polls ever conducted in Nigeria, there are others that are happy this year’s voting season are finally over. In fact, it is doubtful that any group in the latter category are as joyful as trans-border traders; whose businesses were forced into a dip several times in the last four weeks.

Every time an election day approached, the country’s land borders had been closed; which meant that high calibre importers and exporters as well as petty traders went on forced holidays. As could be easily imagined, these compulsory vacations without pay can’t have been very enjoyable ones. Therefore, very few people are now as relieved as those involved in cross-border trading that the 2011 general elections are over.

To make matters worse for cross-frontier merchants and entrepreneurs, Nigeria’s election season came barely weeks after Benin Republic’s presidential election, when the border was also shut by the authorities on the other side compelling suspension of movement from Benin into Togo, Burkina Faso, Niger Republic and Nigeria and vice versa.

Finally, this year’s presidential election; which had been postponed twice, in neighbouring Benin held on Sunday, 13 March; and, that country’s border was closed from 12am on 12 March until midnight of 13 March. And, so it was that thousands of businesses had to close on both sides of the Nigerian/Benin border on 13 March.

When mauricearchibongtravels visited Seme on that day, the normally hyper-busy environment could have passed for a ghost-town but for the plenitude of stranded commuters, whose progress had been barred by the border closure. Hear Mama Zinsou, a Gun-born itinerant trader, who spoke in Yoruba with mauricearchibongtravels at Krake Plage (Krake Beach) just outside Nigerian territory on 14 March: Olorun se o, ti ki se l’odo-dun la nd’ibo n’ile o; eebi ko ba pa enian kupo ku (Thank God, election in Benin Republic is not an annual affair, otherwise countless people would starve to death).

Like Mama Zinsou, a Nigerian, who gave his name as Okemadu Ndubuisi, also rued the impact of the border closure on his business the previous day: “Akam-eru Azingame by now”, the trader remarked in “Engili-Igbo”, when we sought his view on the border closure. Apparently, the man’s progress toward Azingame Market in Lome, Togo; had run into a hitch because of the border closure.

However, these classes of people would soon be encumbered again; when Nigeria’s month-long presidential, governorship and legislative elections season flagged off a few weeks after. Believe it or not, countless non-Nigerians were also very disappointed that the 2 April election was cancelled midway into voting. They knew that the cancellation would mean the loss of another weekend as far as their cross-border movements and trading were concerned. And, so it was that the Nigerian border was again shut, days before the 9 April date, when the earlier botched National Assembly elections; were finally held.

Interestingly, on Thursday, 14 April; two days preceding the 16 April presidential election; the Nigerian border had been closed, the third time in three consecutive weeks. Countless commuters, who had assumed the closure would come into effect on Friday, 15 April; were completely taken unawares and arrived at various frontier posts only to meet stern-looking and heavily armed security personnel barring access.

Many a desperado, who wanted to cross at all costs lost their valuables to touts, who lured them into bushpaths with promises to get such travellers to the other side; only to turn round and rob such commuters. When news filtered in about the predicament of such Nigerians, one security operative was overheard, saying; “Na im good for dem; sebi, them no dey hear word” (Serves them right, deserving reward for their obduracy).

In any case, trans-border traders and commuters took the latest frontier posts shut-down in their strides: there was adequate fore-warning; moreover, it was that classic final hurdle; and, they could return to normal life and calendar again.

Despite the somewhat disruptive toll these border closures took on commercial activities over several weekends, numerous Nigerians we spoke to sounded enthusiastic about the elction of President Goodluck Jonathan; and, were also optimistic about their nation’s future consequent upon the mandate given this Otuoke, Ogbia-born statesman. However, while everyone expressed joy at Dr. Jonathan’s election, many urged him to move quickly to address the nation’s woes, especially the lingering epileptic nature of electricity supply.

It could be recalled that during a visit by President Jonathan to Cotonou on 31 December, 2011; members of the Nigerian community in Benin Republic had practically declared: “No vacancy in Aso Rock”, as part of the speech delivered by Cotonou Chapter President of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO), Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu.

In Travels exclusive story published in the 6 January, 2011 edition of Daily Sun, we had reported; among others, how President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan ended his international visit in 2010 on December 31 with a memorable trip to neighbouring Benin Republic; where he bagged Grand Croix de l’Ordre du Benin, the highest honour in Benin Republic, which is usually reserved for only heads of state.

During an encounter between President Jonathan and the Nigerian community at Nigerian Embassy Cotonou, Chief Emmanuel Uko Elendu, NIDO Cotonou President; in his address, read by his Special Adviser, Mr. Okezie Jonathan (formerly Mgbeahurike) declared: “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’”!

It is worth recalling that Mr. Okey Sunday Okoroafor, Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria Initiative, West Coast Chapter; had made the same declaration: “No vacancy in Aso Rock”. He was one of many Nigerians, who lamented they were forced to live abroad because of parlous conditions at home; and, had vowed that, he would invest his hard-earned resources to contribute to Jonathan/Sambo 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 then presidential aspirants had put his country.
This Coordinator of Rebuilding Nigeria Initiative, West Coast Chapter 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; and, we will help to ensure victory for Jonathan/Sambo because we don’t want to die as exiles”, Okoroafor had vowed. And, true to his words, his group had subsequently held a formal inauguration on 13 April, after which it hired scores of buses, which conveyed numerous registered voters home to participate in the 16 April presidential election, the man enthused.

Aside Mr. Okoroafor, a 45-year-old Nigerian, who has spent the last 12 years living in Cotonou; where he makes a living as a cloths and textiles importer; Pastor Julius Aderinto Adebamibo, outgoing Chairman of Yoruba Community, Cotonou; also revealed that many NIDO Cotonou members had rushed to Nigeria to register before the end of the voters’ registration exercise; and, had subsequently, gone to Nigeria to vote during the 16 April presidential election.

During a chat with mauricearchibongtravels in the Cotonou neighbourhood of Jonquet; like countless other Nigerians that spoke to us along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor, Pastor Adebamibo also observed that the election of President Jonathan was a good omen for the country.

But, let’s return; for now, to Mr. Okoroafor again: “President Goodluck Jonathan was the only nationally accepted candidate. As the result shows, four out of the six geopolitical zones of the country gave at least 70 percent of their votes to him; and, even in the North West and North East, considered to be General Muhammadu Buhari’s strongholds, the president has supporters and was able to garner at least 25 percent of votes there”.

On his part, Chief Elendu; who observed that “the 2011 election is one of the best Nigeria has ever held”; went on to commend INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega for a job welldone. “The election of President Jonathan has encouraged those of us living in the Diaspora; it has given us hope that someday, we may return home. We believe in President Jonathan and we trust that he will bring about the transformation that Nigerians have been yearning for. The success of Nigeria’s 2011 general elections makes me very proud because it has shown to the whole world that we are capable of solving our problems ourselves”, Elendu added.

It is one thing to win an election and quite another to meet the expectations of the electorate, whose votes propelled one to power: therefore; like countless Nigerians, who are over the moon because of Jonathan’s electoral triumph; Chief Elendu also expressed hope that the president would see his victory as a call to duty and move quickly to address the nation’s problems.

The NIDO Cotonou president, who identified epileptic electricity supply as Nigeria’s biggest drawback; advised President Jonathan to find an end to the energy crisis speedily. With constant electricity, industries will function efficiently, and the prices of Nigerian-made products will be competitive on the international market; manufacturers will need more labour, thus reducing the level of unemployment; and, reduction in unemployment level will consequently lead to reduction in crime level, it has been reasoned at countless fora.

Elendu therefore implored President Jonathan to tackle the energy crisis head-on and urgently, too. “Nothing can be done in the absence of power. If there is constant power supply in Nigeria, thousands of foreign investors will come in to invest, and such investments will create jobs”, Chief Elendu mused.

On his part, Mr. Okezie I. Jonathan, who revealed he stayed up all night switching from one Nigerian satellite TV station to another to follow results as they filtered in after the presidential poll; re-echoed the belief that the election of President Goodluck Jonathan “is a good omen”.

This Jonathan, who actually read the NIDO Cotonou president’s speech, which proclaimed “No vacancy in Aso Rock” on December 31, 2010; said his joy knew no bounds, when Prof Jega finally read out the results, which clearly showed that his name-sake had won.

On his expectations of the renewed Jonathan Presidency, Okezie Jonathan also stressed normalisation of electricity service as priority, while adding that the president should consider picking from the Nigerian Diaspora, outstanding technocrats with proven and consistent competence to join the federal cabinet and contribute toward national development.
When asked to comment on the outcome of the 2011 presidential election, this is what Pastor Adebamibo, who has lived in Cotonou for more than 20 years; had to say: “We have all come to see that Nigeria’s reformation is about to begin. There had been fears of outright war or post-election violence, or that the exercise was never going to take place at all.

“But, as God would have it, every thing went smoothly and peacefully. Despite the unnecessary violence that erupted in one part of the country, one can still say that the election was a huge success; it was comparable, if not smoother and more efficient than the 12 June, 1993 election, where the majority of Nigerians voted for MKO Abiola, even though he and his running mate were Muslim. It shows that we are now mature, and may God bless Nigerians to be more mature and more peace-loving”.

On his expectations of the Jonathan Presidency, Pastor Adebamibo stressed the importance of addressing Nigeria’s power crisis. “Before voting, people had studied all the candidates and saw in Jonathan a humble fellow, who is God-fearing and determined to work to improve the lot of his country-men, in spite of all the provocations. We were all at the Nigerian Embassy Cotonou, when President Jonathan visited on December 31; and, we had watched him at close quarters and were impressed, when he vowed that, if it was the will of God for him to be elected president, he will not disappoint Nigerians and will do everything in his power to ameliorate the plight of the ordinary citizen. He earned my confidence and made me feel that with him as president, Nigeria’s energy crisis will finally be a thing of the past. This is why, I believe, the majority of Nigerians opted for him”.

Aside solving the energy problem, Adebamibo also wants President Jonathan to find ways of creating more jobs to reduce the crime rate. “If there are jobs for our youth, they would be hopeful and veer away from crime; but, a situation, where countless graduates can’t find jobs, you can expect many youth to fall prey to temptations to go into crime”, the pastor concluded.


PS: mauricearchibongtravels had also spoken to many other Nigerians in Benin Republic as well as in Togo, Ghana and even Libya on the outcome of the 2011 general elections. Stay with us and read their views in the following weeks.

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