President Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo’s last visit to the United States of America is the most controversial and the most difficult visit for the president and his men. The New York Times editorial on the visit (asking President George Bush to tell Obasanjo not to ruin Nigeria) made matters worse for the president and his men.
For Nigerian activists in the U.S, it was another date with history. It was a historic moment in the struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian masses as they prepared for a showdown with a man believed to have ruined their beloved fatherland.
Before the arrival of the president, word came from Washington DC that a mass protest by Nigerian activists in the seat of power was in the offing. To those of us in the New York area, we had no choice than to join our comrades in Washington.
As usual, our director of mobilization extraordinaire here in New York, the enfant terrible, Omoyele Sowore liaised with one of the organizers of the Washington protest, Professor Bolaji Aluko and we agreed to pull resources together to confront the president during the visit.
We got confirmation from our sources at the White House that the President Obasanjo would arrive White House on Monday March 27, 2006, so some of our comrades in the New York area agreed to spend the Monday night together at a comrade’s house so that we could leave for Washington very early on Tuesday to join the Washington protest.
Amidst speculations that the White House was going to cancel the visit because of the Charles Taylor Saga, we got confirmation from one of the President Obasanjo’s men that the president has arrived in Washington and that he will be in New York on Thursday March 30, 2006 to attend a meeting at the Rockefeller Foundation pertaining to fertilizers.
With this development, we decided not to leave for Washington as scheduled, but to lay ambush for Mr. President in New York, a terrain we are very much familiar with. Sowore had to inform Prof. Bolaji Aluko of our change of plan. If the Washington protest failed, we were sure that of New York would succeed. Thank God the two were very successful beyond our expectation.
But we needed permit for the protest which we could not obtain because of time factor. We immediately made contacts with some police precincts (Stations) in New York for emergency permit and we were told that we could go ahead with the protest without a permit but with some restrictions: Not more that twenty people in a location, no use of megaphone and we were restricted to the crosswalk to avoid creating obstructions on the sidewalks.
These are very simple conditions and we ensured we complied with them to the last letter. Very early on Thursday March 30, 2006 we laid ambush for the president at the venue of the meeting. As we file up on the crosswalk in accordance with the instruction from the police, we saw many Nigerians, mostly government officials coming into the venue of the meeting. While some stopped to read our placards and salute our courage, some passed by as if they did not see us.
Our plan was to openly confront the president and tell him to his face that he has destroyed our country and that we could no longer tolerate his reign of terror. We were so sure that the president would run into us as his men filed passed us. But the president’s men, for reasons best known to them scurried him into the venue of the meeting from a different entrance, actually an entrance meant for delivery vans.
When the news of the president’s arrival at the meeting reached us, we quickly stationed some of our comrades at the entrance the president took to the meeting with the hope that the president would not escape our ambush after the meeting. But when the president’s men saw our comrades at the entrance when the president was about to leave, they retreated from our ambush rather than advancing as courageous soldiers would have done and they scurried him out of the venue from another location manned by US men of secret service, thus preventing him from running into our ambush.
One interesting thing about the president’s men is that they do not believe in him. Some of them who spoke to us during the protest agreed the man has failed the Nigerian masses and must go. Some of them even aided the protests by providing us with information on the president’s movement.
One of the president’s men even called us from the press conference addressed by the president to inform us that the Nigerian Guardian US correspondent, Laolu Akande was the only journalist who asked about the president’s third term agenda and drew the attention of the president to protesters outside the meeting. This was against the initial warning to all journalists present at the conference that no question outside the ‘fertilizer business’ would be entertained.
Courageously Laolu Akande, the North American Bureau Chief of Nigeria’s flagship print media, The Guardian broke protocol and was tongue-lashed by the president’s men. The president was not allowed to answer the question, thus confirming he third term agenda as a reality. We were happy that our message reached the president, even if he was not allowed to read our posters or have a feel of our ambush.
When this news of Laolu’s encounter with the president’s men reached our comrades during the protest, we all doffed our hat for the Guardian correspondent for having the courage to confront the president on the third term agenda amidst the crowd of sycophants that filled the venue of the Fertilizer meeting.
For making the New York protest a success, one cannot but salute the courage of comrades Sowore Omoyele, Bukola Oreofe, Titilayo Akosa, secretary genral of the Nigeria Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL), George Alapka, and Mohammed B Shehu amongst other patriots for putting their time and resources together for the on-going struggle for the emancipation of the Nigerian masses.