Friday, 7 March 2014
Fireworks In Detroit At The Afenifere Renewal Group Conference
It was a celebration of festival of ideas on Saturday, September 24, 2011, as the USA Chapter of Afenifere Renewal Group, successfully held the maiden edition of its annual public lecture series in Detroit, Michigan.
The organizers assembled a cast of distinguished speakers to reflect on the theme: “Omo Oodua: Challenges and Prospects in Corporate Nigeria”. The roll call of speakers featured Mr. Yinka Odumakin, pro-democracy and civil rights icon and spokesperson for the Muhammadu Buhari presidential campaign, Omoyele Sowore, pro-democracy activist and founder/publisher of Sahara Reporters, Dr. Pius Adesanmi, Professor of English at Carleton University, weekly columnist for Sahara Reporters, and a laureate of the Penguin Prize for African Writing, and Mr. Kayode Oladele, international human rights lawyer and a stalwart of the pro-democracy movement.
Honourable Olawale Oshun, national chairman of the Afenifere Renewal Group, kicked off the day’s event with a keynote address delivered in absentia as he was held back in Nigeria. Honourable Oshun enjoined the forum to reflect critically on the Arab Spring and draw lessons for the Yoruba nation and for Nigeria. He averred that those who continue to truncate genuine democracy and those who avoid the national question by preventing the sort of conversations that could lead to restructuring and the emergence of true federalism are living on borrowed time.
Pius Adesanmi delivered the first of four invited lectures. His speech, “Ti Oluwa ni Ile” (The Earth is the Lord’s), was a dramatic and poetic evaluation of the decline of the “omoluabi” concept in Yoruba land. Adesanmi animated the audience with a call and response format, structuring his speech delivery like a Yoruba tales by moonlight session that required the audience to sing popular Yoruba songs along with him. He concluded his engaging lecture with a warning: only a return to true omoluabi ethos as sketched out in the roadmap in his lecture could bring a genuine rebirth to Yoruba land.
It was Mr. Yinka Odumakin’s turn to take the audience through the nationality question and its consequences on national stability. His engaging speech was laced with anecdotes and archival references to the long history of ethnic discontent and other fault lines in Nigeria’s national experience. These, he suggested, are no reason to give in to despair. The Yoruba nation should organize and not agonize, while maintaining the struggle to create a nation-space that would enable the region to reclaim, consolidate, and continue the string of successes and achievements recorded by the western region under Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Mr. Kayode Oladele’s presentation dovetailed into Mr. Odumakin’s as the two men are long-term associates in the progressive movement. Mr. Oladele went down memory lane, tracing the history of progressive activism in Oodua and the loss of that critical tradition to materialism in the current dispensation. The economic emancipation of the southwest cannot happen in a national context that democratizes poverty and stifles the most fundamental aspects of human ingenuity and industry.
Omoyele Sowore, who nearly missed the event due to flight complications from New York base, rounded up the lectures with an electrifying speech entitled, “The Culture of Corruption – Whose Culture?” It was trademark Sowore on the podium: challenging, punchy, witty, and provocative. He named names and reeled out details in a presentation that gave the lie ethnicize corruption in much of Nigeria’s public discourse.
The question and answer session reflected the anxieties of the audience over project Nigeria. Various propositions emerged in terms of possible ways forward for Oodua nation and for Nigeria. Despite charged debates that continued into the evening, the audience and the speakers commended the organizers (Mr Taiwo Ogunleye, Mr. Adeniyi Adepoju, Mr Pius Omoregha) for pulling off such a splendid event.
At the end of the day’s event, Mr. Hillary Okoronkwo, a Detroit-based lawyer, a fearless contributor to online blogs and social media platforms, and a long-time member of the progressive community, took the invited speakers to dinner at a Detroit hangout. It was an opportunity for kindred spirits to touch base, examine strategies of action going forward, and rededicate themselves to the struggle for a free, fair, and just Nigeria.