By Sam Anokam, Assistant Editor
Ahead of the postponed elections, the need to conduct a non-violent election was again brought to the fore at the 2015 Black History Month and Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti memorial programme held at Rights House, Ikeja, Lagos, on Wednesday.
Organised by the Committee for the Defence for Human Rights (CDHR), Lagos State branch, in conjunction with the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Consulate General, Lagos, and Centre for the Rule of Law (CENTROLAW), Nigeria, the event with the theme: “Non-violent democratic change,” saw the U.S. Consul General, Jeffrey Hawkins, as Keynote Speaker and Legal luminary, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) as guest speaker.
It was a full house as Hawkins regaled the gathering with the reason for the event and keyed it into the Nigerian situation.
He said: “We’re here to celebrate democracy in Nigeria and African-American History Month, which celebrates the heritage of African Americans and their contributions to U.S. society. African-American History Month was the inspiration of Carter G. Woodson, a noted scholar and historian, who instituted Negro History Week 1926. The celebration was expanded to a month fifty years later, during the nation’s bicentennial. Each February, African-American History Month honours the struggles and triumphs of millions of American citizens over the most devastating obstacles: slavery, prejudice, poverty as well as their contributions to the nation’s cultural and political life.
“Now you may be asking yourself, what does African-American History Month have to do with Nigeria’s democracy and the upcoming elections? I’d like you to consider the following facts. January 15, 2015 would have been the 86th birthday of one of America’s and indeed the world’s greatest citizens, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His role in expanding the reach of American democracy to Americans of African descent was unparalleled. As many of you probably know, a new American movie was released about Dr. King, titled Selma. It stars two young British actors, as Dr. King and Coretta Scott King, named David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo, both of whom are born to Nigerian parents.
“What lessons can we draw from the U.S.? First of all, it is so important to cast your vote. So, I urge all Nigerians who are eligible to vote, to do so. Vote. It’s one of the most powerful weapons that we have in large, animated democracies like Nigeria and the United States. Please vote! Secondly, for the first time in the history of the United States, we now have an African-American President in the White House.
“The third and final lesson o draw from the civil rights history is the power of non-violence. As Dr. King taught Americans and as he taught the world, “non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate.”
The fiery lawyer did not disappoint as he made his rather long remark. While thanking the U.S Consul General for the inspiring history and admonition, Falana said: “ But one area I think we should engage our attention after this programme, is the power of the ballots in America and in most parts of the world. What we have just being reminded of is that the struggle of other people in the past for equality of opportunity before adult suffrage, one person, one vote, has produced a miracle in America. Ten years ago if anybody had told you that a black man would occupy the White House, you would have dismissed it, because it was a dream then. In fact when Obama was going to run, I, like many of my friends, had our doubts. My wife and I simply said this guy should not cause problem for this system in America, why is he disturbing Mrs. Clinton? Because many of us had thought then that Mrs. Clinton was going to win the nomination of the Democratic Party, we regarded Obama as a spoiler; somebody even said that Obama could not run as fast as Jesse Jackson. Who is this guy, an unknown guy? But like a miracle, he won the primary in an open transparent manner. Again, we said, this guy has played into the hands of the Republicans, there was no way an Obama will emerge the president of America. Again like a miracle, Obama won the election.
“I was in Nairobi, Kenya, when Obama won the elections and there was so much celebration because Kenya is the country of Obama’s father. Obama is not an African American like Jesse Jackson. Obama’s father left Africa. Kenyans where very happy; in fact, they declared a holiday even then Kibaki did not release the result of elections in that country so there was trouble. When they were celebrating in hypocrisy, I called some of my friends in the hotel and asked: ‘If Obama has contested elections in Kenya, would he had won? They said no and I asked why and they gave me about three reasons. One, that his father belongs to the low community, which was a minority tribe in that country so he didn’t stand a chance. Two, that his mother was an American, so nobody will vote for somebody who is not a whole Kenyan and three, that he was not likely to belong to the ruling party and, therefore, an Obama could not have emerged.’ I then asked why they are celebrating? They said, ‘well, we are not celebrating for ourselves but for the Americans.’ As they were giving me those answers, I also thought of my country and I am sure you have seen that in this election. There are pastors who have said, ‘don’t think about poverty in our country, don’t think about infrastructure decay, don’t think about the fact that people are ignorant and they can’t access health, think about the religion of the candidates.’ It is alleged that about N6billion has been distributed among pastors. Some of the pastors have said, ‘where is the evidence? Will you get receipt for bribes? But at least, we know what pastors do in our country. This election is not about religion, it is not about ethnicity, it’s not where you are coming from and even the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, even some people said they couldn’t find his doctoral thesis. Now, Dr. Jonathan, when he was contesting in 2011 never contested on the basis of religion or tribe. He said he had no shoes and that spoke volumes. ‘I’m a poor man, I didn’t belong to the class of the rich. My parents did not give me shoes when I was going to school, therefore, vote for a person of lowly background’ and many Nigerians said, ‘this man that has no shoes, lets vote for him’! Now he has many shoes, and, therefore, this election should also be about those who have not acquired shoes. We must insist that whoever wants to come to power should assure us that he is going to ensure that every Nigerian child has shoes. Today, the sum of N56.9billion is lying fallow in the account of UBEC, that is the account opened by the government for universal basic education to give education to all Nigerian children.