Nigerians, like so many others, are extremely excited by the prospect of a Barack Obama presidency. This excitement has created a fervor amongst many Nigerians who have organized themselves to show their support for the Presidential hopeful. One such active group is 'Africans for Obama' which recently held an event that raised N100 million ($861,502). Well, the Obama campaign just disassociated itself from Africans for Obama and it is easy to see why. However, this disassociation raises some larger concerns for other individuals or groups who choose to show their support for those they find inspiring.
AFRICA FOR OBAMA
"Some people may argue that the forum is unnecessary because of perception in some quarters that votes from third world do not really count in the U.S.A politics. We are dismissing this with the wave of hand and urging our brothers and sisters in Diaspora to vote. It is heartwarming to note that five million of the Africans in Diaspora fall within voting age." [sic]On August 11th, Africans For Obama held a dinner/concert event to raise money and awareness for the Obama campaign. Tickets for the event ranged from N325,000 (US$2,754) to N2.5 million (US$21,186). The event raised N100 million and resulted in the Obama campaign disowning Africans for Obama and disassociating itself from Okereke-Onyiuke and her peers.
Groups like Africans For Obama, though criticized for their method, are doing something important. They have recognized the power of numbers are are attempting to use those numbers to create an advantage. Considering that Nigeria and most African peoples hardly have any lobbying groups at home or abroad working for their interests, it is nice to see a group try to change that. Despite this, I wonder why Nigerians are precedentally excited about Obama's campaign but don't show this much excitement about their own domestic politics. That is a complex issue to be dealt with on another day. What is clear, however, is the fact that there are serious Obama-fans in Nigeria and this fanaticism has now led to the disrepute of Okereke-Onyiuke.
"[t]he event was a private thing and I used my own money to put it together. Some people like to sit in front of the television and watch history in the making but we chose to mobilise people to vote for someone we believe in...” [sic]is irrelevant. She should not politically mobilize anyone, no matter how good a deed that would be. Consequently, it is definitely understandable that the public, and especially the media whose business it is to create stories, will question her affiliation or desire to affiliate with the Obama campaign.
In her response to the 'diss' from the Obama campaign, Okereke-Onyiuke stated,
"I am a very intelligent person; I have a PhD that I did not buy. We were careful with our advertisements and we were transparent in all we did. I don‘t understand why Nigerians like to be negative. People have been mobilising support for Obama all over the world and they are not being castigated."I personally would never question Okereke-Onyiuke's intelligence. In fact, every time I have heard her speak, I have thought about how intelligent she is and I respect and admire her greatly. Also, I am glad that her response to the criticisms and Obama's letter were swift and direct. However, as a PhD holder and a powerful international figure, she should have known that using the name/image/likeness/brand of a public figure without their explicit permission is asking for trouble. If she did not know this, then she needs to be surrounded by a much more capable team. Creating an organization to support the political aspirations of an individual with no connection to Nigeria and using their name in the title of said group is (and if I may borrow the eloquent verbosity of the Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon for a brief moment) - stultifying, cretinous and oscitant (thank you for your patience). The decision goes beyond being silly to being simply imperceptive and highly unwise by creating obvious problems that would force the hand of anyone to react in protecting their brand and image. She could have named her organization 'Nigerians For Change' or 'Vote For Change' - it would obviously tie in with the 'Change' theme that Obama is famous for without creating the obvious problem she faces with Africans For Obama - a group which she claims was created to simply encourage Africans in the Diaspora to vote. Unfortunately, she was apparently not aware of this fact,. She went ahead to raise an incredible amount of money and has now been discredited so publicly.
AND AS FOR OBAMA...
Okereke-Onyiuke could have been smarter in finding a way to celebrate Obama's candidacy and encourage others to vote for him, but Obama could also have done much better. His harsh response to Okereke-Onyiuke was unnecessary and was a desperate attempt to moot any narrow minded allegations of ties to foreigners, African foreigners at that, that will nonetheless be raised by the Republican party and its followers. A simple, private communication between his camp and Africans For Change could have solved this issue without disgracing Nigeria's SEC head and disrespecting those who chose to celebrate his candidacy. Obama's handlers could have insisted on a name change, stressed that Okereke-Onyiuke and her group impress upon the public that they were not affiliated with Obama and remove any use of his likeness/name/image/branding from their communications.
That would have been a savvy move. There is no reason to burn bridges with Okereke-Onyiuke and Nigerians in general by subtly informing them that their support is unimportant. And, while that might not have been his intention, it could as well become the result of his action. Again, I believe that Okereke-Onyiuke's good intentions caused her 'downfall' on this matter, but Obama has sold himself, globally, as the representation of freedom of expression when it comes to political change. Obviously, Okereke-Onyiuke, Nigerians and many others around the world have been inspired by that message. Obama does not need to selectively dash their hopes. Its okay for Berliners and the French to hold soirees and other functions in his honor, but once Nigerians are involved it becomes a problem that requires a harsh rebuke.
Nevertheless, I hope Nigerians and Okereke-Onyiuke have learned a lesson from this incident. No good deed goes unpunished. Absolutely none. Maybe we Nigerians should begin to pay more attention to mobilizing our own leaders to do better and encouraging innovative Nigerians to play a larger role in changing our country. Now, that would be incredibly impressive.
UPDATE: Okereke-Onyiuke has been 'detained' for quizzing by the EFCC. (08/21/08)
Hattip to Rethots.
Related Articles of Interest:
- Nigeria's Obama Expectations
- Is An 'Obama' Possible in Nigeria?
- In Search Of Democracy: Obama, Kenya & Nigeria
- Barack Obama & Kenya
- Barack Obama & America: Who Needs Who More (written by guest writer, Dr. Joseph Okpaku, Sr.)
- Congratulations to Barack Obama