October 25, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 11
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Local Nigerians celebrate 47 years of independence

Victor Kakulu

DEDHAM — Some 1,800 members of Greater Boston’s Nigerian community convened at the Holiday Inn in Dedham earlier this month to celebrate 47 years of their homeland’s independence with food, reflection, song and dance.

The dinner reception, presented Oct. 6 by the Nigerian American Multi Service Association (NAMSA), brought together local Nigerians — many of whom have lived in the Boston area for nearly 30 years — to reflect on their country’s independence, its meaning and the work that lies ahead.

Despite more than 20 years as the premier representative body of Boston’s Nigerian community, NAMSA has seen its share of setbacks in recent years, primarily due to struggles in securing nonprofit tax-exempt status.

With that hurdle now behind them, NAMSA President Jamiu Giwa-Bello outlined and rededicated the organization’s mission in his opening address: to “encourage and promote the improvement of community life of Nigerian Americans in the United States” through starting and supporting “programs in education, social services, recreation, employment, health, housing and other human necessities.”

To achieve that mission, Giwa-Bello issued a call to action, asking for the recommitment of every Nigerian to the serious concerns both within their native land and abroad.

“Leadership sets the tone for a generation’s efforts in any community,” he said. “The work of the community depends on the commitment of each member doing his or her part.”

Guest speaker Dr. A Onujiogu’s address, titled “The Case for the Family: A Special Appeal to Nigerians in the Diaspora,” called on Nigerians to honor their native culture’s values and return to a state of accountability “to preserve and protect the image, name, prosperity and integrity of Nigeria.”

The importance of restoring Nigeria’s public image was repeatedly stressed, as speakers noted the damage that credit fraud scams, drug and sex trafficking, poverty and a history of government instability and scandal have had on the nation’s international reputation.

Seated in the heart of West Africa, Nigeria boasts a population of well over 135 million, making it the largest nation of black persons on the planet and West Africa’s military power. As one of many African nations that suffered under European colonialism, Nigeria was granted independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Three years later, democratic rule was established under Nigeria’s first president, pan-African architect Nnamdi Azikiwe.

Ultimately, democracy was short-lived, as a series of coups d’état beginning in 1966 brought about 33 years of military government, causing widespread suffering and stifling Nigeria’s progress immensely.

The 1998 death of General Sani Abacha, widely regarded as the most ruthless ruler in the nation’s history, opened the door to the return of democracy. In the 1999 elections, former military man Olusegun Obasanjo rose to power, leading the nation through three terms during which he is credited with holding the military strongmen and corrupt rulers of the past accountable for their actions.

Obasanjo’s third term came to an end this year, bringing about a new day of sorts with the election of Umaru Yar’Adua, a government official with a spotless record of pubic service and the first president of a non-military background since Azikiwe — a fact cited by many, including some in attendance at the NAMSA celebration, as a significant turning point for the “giant of West Africa.”

“It’s a new dawn for all sons and daughters of our great nation,” said Andrew Kakulu, a member of the Independence Day Celebration Planning Committee. “Yar’Adua’s election is a historic dismantling of the wrongs incurred by military occupational rule. It is the beginning of a better and brighter tomorrow for all.”

“Tomorrow” was the evening’s focus, with NAMSA Scholarship Committee Chairman Ignatius Nwachukwu presenting 35 scholarship awards to local first-year college students of Nigerian descent — a first in NAMSA’s 21 years of existence.

“We will continue to award scholarships annually to offset some of the economic burden of financing an education for our youth,” said Nwachukwu.

Following the scholarship presentations, the dance floor opened up as a sea of faces of all ages, clad in native Nigerian dress attire, strutted about from wall to wall to the rhythms of native songs. A Nigerian Dance Troupe collective of young girls performed a variety of traditional dances, as patrons wasted no time in taking to the dance floor to “spray” the girls with money, a customary cultural practice.

For some in attendance, the performance brought to mind the Nigerian Youth Organization of Boston, founded in 1994 by librarian Mojisola Akinola and educator Kate Okoye, an educator. Recognizing the sizable demographic of Nigerian families living in Boston, the two established the organization as a community for children of Nigerian descent. In its 13-year existence, the NYO has assisted hundreds of Nigerian youth in moving from high school on to college and professional studies.

“NYO was started for us to know who we were as Nigerians,” said former member Chika Gusiora. “A lot of us were either born or raised here as first-generation Americans, but we’re still Nigerians and it’s important to know that — even today.”

Nigerian American Multi Service Association (NAMSA) Scholarship Committee Chairman Ignatius Nwachukwu addresses the audience at the Holiday Inn in Dedham on Oct. 6 as part of the celebration of 47 years of Nigerian independence. Nwachukwu presented 35 scholarship awards to local first-year college students of Nigerian descent. The event, which draws some 1,800 attendess, featured native Nigerian song, dance, food and reflection. (Victor Kakulu photo)

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