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« Buba Marwa’s Appropriate Response to Cowards | Main | Obianuju Arinze: A Promising Igbo Woman »

June 19, 2005

June 12 Protest: Gambari not Worried

by Laolu Akande --- New York Just about the time Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari was being named the new United Nations top political affairs chief, some Nigerian activists under the banner of Nigeria Liberty Forum, NLF launched a campaign to protest his participation at yet another forum in New York city-Medger Evers College last Sunday June 12.

Although the date fell on June 12, the event was about a movie screening on the Rwandan Genocide organised by the College, Rwandan diplomats and Celebrate Africa Foundation, led by Nigerian veteran journalist in New York, Dr. Chika Onyeani.

Even though the planners of the event apparently only chose the June 12 day innocently, the activists however saw the event holding on June 12, a day that has deeper significance for Nigerians, with the participation of a perceived June 12 opposition figure as a cause for protest and therefore drew the battle line against Gambari. According to Omoyele Sowore, one of the two Nigerians who carried out the protest June 12 is our day.

The activists contend that in recent times Gambari had become the darling of the Nigerian community in the US. In an article, Omoyele Sowore, the spokesperson for the activists lamented that Prof. Gambari was now a darling of so many Nigerian organizations, he is getting awards and making speeches, even recently a group named ˜World Congress of Afenifere invited people to come to New Jersey to hear him speak..."

For him, this would be an underserved recognition because of Gambari's service as Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the UN under the late General Sani Abacha.

Specifically Sowore alleged that Gambari was involved in the burning of a top June 12 activist in New York, Chief Jumoke Ogunkeyede. Ogunkeyede had accused the Abacha government as responsible for the burning of his private residence in New York in 1995. Ogunkeyede was the leading prodemocracy activist in New York, a well-known and respected Nigerian activist in the US. His group almost single-handedly achieved the renaming-by the New York City council- of the corner in front of the Nigeria House in New York in honour of Kudirat Abiola, after her murder during the Abacha regime. He also got the city council to issue several resolutions condemning Abacha government at the peak of the June 12 crisis.

But in an interesting twist, Ogunkeyede said he does not believe that Gambari had a hand in the arson as alleged by Sowore. Ogunkeyede who had participated in the 2003 AD gubernatorial primaries in Osun State explained that at a meeting in 1999 with Gambari and the Owaa Obokun when the traditional ruler visited New York, Gambari explained that he knew nothing about any arson and Ogunkeyede said he believed him.

According to Ogunkeyede he has since asked Sowore to desist from making that claim. But he added that he still held the Abacha junta responsible for the burning of his house.

At the Medger Evers College event last Sunday, according to reports, two activists, Bukola Oreofe and Sowore Omoyele showed up and mounted a two-man protest against Gambari. According to Onyeani, one of the event organisers, when he went to receive Gambari he saw the 2 Nigerians carrying placards and suspecting they were protesting, Onyeani asked them to come and meet Gambari and they obliged.

According to Onyeani, they both came and Gambari spoke to them. Prof. Ibrahim Gambari also confirmed that he indeed met with the two protesters as he was entering the venue of the event. He said he told Sowore, who had written and made allegations about him that he-Gambari, was hot hiding, but that his allegations in the writings and campaign would have had credibility if the activists had asked for his own side of the story.

According to Gambari, he then gave one of the activists his official card containing his contact information and said he would be open to meeting and discussing with them.

Onyeani, in his own narration said Sowore then asked for a photo opportunity with Gambari, at which point Onyeani said he asked him to wait till the end of the event. When Sowore was asked about this, he flatly denied asking for a photo opportunity, but did not deny meeting and talking with Gambari.

The narration of the activists, as reported on the Internet is a bit different. A report said Prof. Gambari, who was received on arrival by Chika Onyeani, President of Celebrate Africa Foundation, was whisked into the auditorium as protesters heckled him.

The report added "We are reliably informed that Gambari is considering a run for the Presidency of Nigeria in 2007 and views his links with the military, especially, the Abacha Regime as a possible sore point with Nigerians. Gambari was Nigeria's Ambassador to the United Nations during the Abacha Regime. The June 12th lecture was a public relations event engineered by Onyeani on behalf of Amb. Gambari. From all indications the PR move backfired as the Nigeria Liberty Forum engineered the failure of the event.

Gambari and Onyeani however said the event went well inspite of the protest by the "two young Nigerians."

Commenting on the matter, another well known June 12 activist in the US and president of the Nigerian Democratic Movement, Prof. Mobolaji Aluko, a lecturer at the prestigious Howard University in Washington DC said the allegations against Gambari by the activists were a little much. I do not support them.

According to Aluko, I did have reason to argue with Prof. Gambari on at least one occasion during that Abacha period, but he is not a venal person. Aluko said Gambari can be described as a middle-of-the-road diplomat during the Abacha period, noting that he even gave a

keynote speech during Obasanjo's first presidential inauguration, and I remarked my surprise to him after that occasion - was surprising and disturbing.

Aluko opined that Gambari's hands are tied" by Hausa-Fulani-Yoruba pedigree and diplomacy, not criminal venality.

He dismissed the accusation that Ambassador Gambari assisted, aided or abetted in the arson of Jumoke Ogunkeyede house, saying he wants prove that the house burning was indeed arson. Ogunkeyede however insisted that the burning of his house, which was prominently reported in the media, then was arson and he still holds the FG under Abacha responsible.

Aluko argued further: during the pro-democracy movement, one of my STEADFAST points was NEVER to demonize the opposition beyond what was necessary. In fact, that was where I often clashed with our comrades, when they sought to tell ALL SORTS OF LIES against the opposition (for example, at a time that Ambassador Carrington was "lifting oil" from the Abacha regime; etc.) and even against fellow comrades (e.g. that I was an Abacha spy, that some of us were "throwing bombs" in Nigeria, etc.), when in fact just telling the truth was sufficient.

Sowore himself has however conceded in an email posted on the Internet that he was not here in the US when the June 12 crises were on.

According to him, it is very interesting to read about the dynamics of the "anti-Abacha" struggle as it played out over here in the US. I was not here (US) to have witnessed what happened, but I could tell from the final results, especially with the demise of Abacha, that the international coalitions against military rule was besotted with internal wranglings and ego problems. It is very clear from the responses to my write-ups against Prof. Gambari that the only aspect that attracted criticisms was the reference made about the burning down of Jumoke's House in Brooklyn.

Sowore said he couldn't agree with the position that Prof. Gambari's "hands were tied" or that he was just doing his "job" as a diplomat.

Posted by Administrator at June 19, 2005 09:16 PM


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