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Row in Nigeria over Obama money -BBC News

August 19, 2008

By Andrew Walker- BBC Website

A Nigerian group backing US senator Barack Obama for president has told the BBC the money it raised from a gala event was never meant for his campaign.

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It is illegal for campaign groups outside the United States to donate funds to US political parties. 
Earlier this week, the Obama campaign wrote to the Nigerian press saying it was not affiliated to Africans for Obama and would not accept its money.

The group said it wanted to use the funds to urge US Nigerians to vote. 
Tickets to the lavish event in Lagos on 11 August cost more than $21,000 (£11,000) for an eight-person table. 
Africans for Obama chairwoman Ngi Okereke-Onyiuke, who is also the head of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, told the BBC News website there had been a misunderstanding in the press regarding the event.

"We never said we were going to donate money for the campaign," she said. 
"We paid for the hall and the entertainers and the surplus we said would be spent on advertisements aimed at persuading Nigerians to tell their relatives in America to register to vote.

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"There is not one Nigerian who doesn't have a relative or friend in America. Our aim was to encourage those people to tell their family who have the right to vote in America to vote for Obama."

'Not unusual' 
Local media had reported the event raised more than $840,000 (£420,000), but Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke said the group's accountant had not finished counting the proceeds yet.

Full-page adverts in major newspapers publicising the event did not mention what the organisers were planning to do with the money.

Tickets to the gala dinner at the Muson Centre, usually used for conferences and trade shows, were split into two price ranges: "gold" and "platinum".

Individual tickets for more expensive platinum range cost $2,754 (£1,300) with an option to buy a "corporate" table sitting eight for more than $21,000.

A line-up of Nigerian musicians and comedians were billed as the evening's entertainment. 
Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke said the cost was "not unusual". 
"This year a newspaper put on a concert where tables cost 10m naira ($87,000, £43,500) and no-one blinked an eye then, why should they now?"

Prominent figures such as opposition People's Democratic Party grandee Chief Sonny Iroche and human rights lawyer Femi Falana had warned the group to cancel the event and give back any money.

The Barack Obama campaign wrote to Nigerian newspaper The Punch this week to confirm it would not be taking any money from the group.

"We want to make it clear that the event and this organisation are in no way associated with Obama for America of the Democratic National Committee should this organisation seek to place additional advertisements in your paper," the letter said.

Mrs Okereke-Onyiuke hit back at critics who have accused her of abusing her position as head of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.

She said the press was trying to attack her because they were jealous of her success. 
"I am a woman of the highest integrity," she said.

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