The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense
What if Mr. Barrack Obama were a Nigerian?
Keep in mind: this man is in his 40s. He went to school. He principal tool are his intelligence and his ideas. He does not come from a wealthy oil family. He is not affiliated with a billion-dollar-stealing former Head of State. He does not come from a pre-eminent family or ethnic group.
And this Obama, Nigerian, wants to be the president of his country. And he opens his mouth, advocating “change”. And he announces he wants to run for office, seriously. In Nigeria.
Every Nigerian knows it: he would have been dead long ago.
If Obama were a Nigerian, they would have sent him to have his head treated. They would have told him how stupid he was, and pointed out this was not playground politics and not a kindergarten class. They would have asked him who he thought was going to be giving him money.
If Obama were a Nigerian, they would have advised him to run for Local Government Chairman, State Assembly or even House of Representatives, but never to whisper a word about the presidency. They would have told him to shut his mouth before he annoyed party elders.
If Obama were a Nigerian, they would have accused him of sacrilege and challenged him to spell “change”. Then as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, they would have slapped his face and told him to shut up. They would have threatened him with treason for seeking to change the country.
If Obama were a Nigerian, they would have questioned his name, and “discovered” he was Cameroonian or Chadian. They would have deported him to the nearest country, left him there, and arrested his family.
If Obama were a Nigerian, the press would not quote him twice, having assessed he depths of his pockets and connections the first time they saw him.
But we are talking about a real man, the real Obama, whose gripping story has found such roots in Nigeria that a fundraiser last week, allegedly for the candidacy, raised N100 million.
If he were to lose the election in November, Obama would still leave a deep imprint on history. But I believe that his time has come, and he will the next president of the United States. He is virtually a newcomer to the game, but his appeal, advocacy, oratorical presence and indeed his quick blossoming as a national politician have eminently more substance than those of his opponent.
By themselves, those attributes might have been enough to attract attention. But Obama has come to command the notice of the world principally because he is a black man in a country that his people first entered as slaves. A country where, when he first went to school, must have compelled him to learn the meaning of “segregation” quite quickly. A country where there are still people who think that in Africa, people of his colour live on trees.
It is this incongruence that makes Obama’s such a compelling story around the world. It is what makes every black man in the United States, including those who do not intend to vote for him, walk with their heads held a little higher.
It is also what is making world leaders sit up and take notice, as Obama’s recent tour of Europe and the Middle East showed. He is of this age, but his story is for the ages. He is of the United States, but his appeal is worldwide.
In Nigeria, Obama would statistically have the largest black support anywhere. But ours is not a voting block; we can only offer good will. To vote, you have to be a United States citizen. And to offer financial support, you have to be a citizen or green card holder. Even then, there are clear limits as to what an individual or corporation can donate.
Apparently, there are some people who think that regulations of this nature amount to nonsense. Among them is Ndidi Okereke-Onyuike, the Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange. She is responsible for the recent “Africans for Obama 08”, allegedly to aid the Obama campaign. The event was a success, but only when you consider that it raised N100 million.
In real terms, however, the event was a disaster: not only is it illegal under United States law to accept money from foreigners, the “Africans for Obama 08” fundraising is capable of damaging Obama’s chances at the polls. And it is capable of enhancing the remarkably negative image of Nigeria.
What makes the so-called “Africans for Obama 08” scheme such funny business is the Wright factor. No, not Reverend Jeremiah Wright, I hope, the pastor who almost succeeded in pulling down the Obama candidature during the primaries, but another: Eric Wright.
Mr. Wright, reportedly a South African, was presented at the fundraising event as “representing” the Obama Campaign, said reports, and as the ”Obama policymaker for Africa.”
The obvious contradiction is how a campaign that cannot possibly accept funds from a foreign constituency send a representative to, in effect, help collect damaging financial support.
Something stinks, and Okereke Onyiuke ought to provide a better explanation than “’Africans for Obama’ is simply telling Africans in the Diaspora to vote for Obama because he is their brother.”
But I know we are not going to get the truth out of her because she seems to hold decency and the law in contempt. In 2003, taking advantage of her position at the NSE, she contributed to the rigging of the presidential elections by leading “Corporate Nigeria," into making vast but illegal contributions to the Obasanjo/Atiku war-chest. She has never expressed remorse.
Okereke-Onyiuke has profitably mixed businesses and politics since then. As chairperson of the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria she helped Obasanjo commit assorted incest in the looting and manipulation of the company’s shares, and in mobilizing funds for the Obasanjo Presidential Library.
But she did become chairperson of Transcorp, proving that if you rig the law “right”, you can go home a winner. It is this talent that she now seems poised to export abroad, with the effect, possibly, of converting the Obama story from a historic ascendancy to a historic collapse. Hopefully, Obama will survive even the Okereke-Onyiuke demons in his path.
It is people like this who have perpetuated our unfortunate situation as a nation where we are forever romancing power and money. When we see talent that is not 100 years old or bathed in money and parentage, we eat it alive.
By Sonala Olumhense