Dr. Ewa I. Ewa literarily sets the agenda in the African immigrants community. He co-founded most of the Nigerian and African organizations. In an interview with Joseph Omoremi, editor of The Chicago Inquirer, Dr. Ewa revealed his involvement in so many organization and why African immigrants here must come together as a member of the United African Organization.
Inquirer: Who is Dr. Ewa Ewa per see?
Dr. Ewa: Dr. Ewa is from Cross Rivers State of Nigeria. I went to the University of Illinois, Chicago. I read urban planning and public policy at UIC and got a PhD. I’ve been very, very active in the Nigerian and African community. I’m a commissioner appointed by the mayor. I belong to various groups and co-funded many Nigerian and African organizations like the Nigerian American Forum. I love America and I’m an out going person.
Inquirer: How did you come to Chicago?
Ewa: I won the John F. Kennedy memorial essay in Nigeria and I got a scholarship to go to John F. Kennedy College in Nebraska. That was how I started before relocating to Chicago.
Inquirer: Why the relocation?
Ewa: My friends were here because Nebraska was too cold and they encouraged me to come here.
Inquirer: Why are you involved in so many organizations especially in the African community?
Ewa: My concern is the status of African immigrants in Chicago. We just have to find a way to blend into the system. We have to be more active. We have to persevere. We have to invest because Africans don’t believe in long time investment. We want to come in, get our money and get out. That wasn’t how this country started. We have to get into the community and develop more connectivity with our brothers and sisters, whether they are Black, white, yellow or whatever. We need to meet and work together because by sharing information and working together as a people we achieve a lot of stuff.
Inquirer: Few years back, Congressman Danny K. Davies said at a Nigerian Organization of Building Professionals (NOBP) event that Africans here should see Black Americans as brothers and nothing else. How do you react to that statement?
Ewa: I’m for the statement. Any person who tells you that there is a very strong disconnect between African immigrants and Black Americans is thinking about the past. The relationship is so strong right now; especially for the African immigrant here that we are submerged to a similar thinking that we are united. People of the same ancestry. People of the same persuasion. The kind of discrimination that they’ve endured for the past years is the same kind of thing we African immigrants are going through today.
Inquirer: There appears to be an unhealthy rivalry or relationship between African immigrants and African American. How do we normalize the relationship per see?
Ewa: One thing you have to understand is that what is rational to the African American may be irrational to a Nigerian or African immigrant and vice versa. Therefore, we should not continue to utilize that kind of old adage that African Americans don’t like African immigrants because they sold them as slaves. That is …… People are trying to use that to continue to put a wedge as something to divide us, so that we cannot come together. The only thing is that we have not yet look at the economic perspective. I’m encouraging African Americans to take a trip to invest in Africa. It has already started. A lot of African Americans are in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a lot of them migrating and residing in those countries and seeing themselves as Africans instead of as foreigners in African countries. Until more African Americans go to Africa to invest and do business and come back, that kind of way will still remain as if there is a very strong disconnect between them and Africa. There is nothing like that as far as I’m concern. Some of the stories you hear are just been said to kill the rapport between us. We need more from the African American, both from their congressional and their local community representatives. They are already there. We can follow them, advise them. However, this thing should not be a one-way thing. They should reciprocate as we assist them in getting there. They should also look at African immigrants and give them an appointment and help them get to where they want to be. That is my only problem right now. The African immigrants community have been consistently and institutionally marginalized relative to distribution of government appointment to senior level management positions and boards by public officials whom we have assisted in their electoral success for the past years.
The African American leadership will begin to see that yet nobody will vote any other candidate when we see a very strong African American individual running for office, we know we are going to vote for that person. But there has to be reciprocity. We go out and work with them to elect candidates and do everything, but when they don’t help us to where they are, that is raising questions in our community. You know I do all of these things and the question they ask me is: where are our people? Where haven’t they given somebody an appointment so that they will see that we helped them do something and at the end of the day somebody is there to represent us.
Inquirer: What is your community thinking about the senatorial race?
Ewa: We are helping right now. The only concern is that African American community should unite behind (Barrack) Obama. Until that is done, the fractionalization of our votes will not help us.
Inquirer: What is this Nigerian American Forum?
Ewa: It’s been in existence for over 12 years. Originally it was one of those organizations that had most Nigerian professionals and elite as members. The who is who of Nigerians were members of the Nigerian American Forum. They are very responsible people, very hard working and mostly professionals. Their objectives have remained the same since them. It includes educating Nigerians, to help them meet their objectives. And for the past years we’ve given more than 20 scholarships to Nigerians in the entire country. Some of them were going to Harvard, Yale, University of Illinois and many more. It is the premier organization of Nigerians here in Chicagoland.
Inquirer: What is the relationship between NAF and the Nigerian American Alliance?
Ewa: When the Nigerian National Alliance was in existence, NAF was part of it because the national alliance was an umbrella organization of all the 20 ethnic organizations of Nigerian in the Chicagoland. So NAF was a member of the Nigerian National Alliance. The most active and consistent at that time was NAF.
Inquirer: What about United African Organization (UAO)?
Ewa: The United African Organization was started in 1986 to be an umbrella organization for the entire Africa organizations in the Chicagoland. It was incorporated. UAO was responsible for the creation of advisory council on Africa affairs. When it started functioning, the NNA, NAF and so many organizations came into function. We were working together then. If the United African Organization had lived up to his expectations, by now Africans in Chicagoland would have been speaking with one voice. But because of the socio-dynamics and the personalities involved in it, people were beginning to be more interested in their own country’s issues rather than the African continent. As a result of that, interests were diffused. The African agenda was left alone and taken over by individual African nations’ agendas.
Inquirer: Some African leaders from Ethiopia and Ghana I interviewed earlier blamed Nigerians for the lackluster performance of United African Organization. What are Nigerians doing that those countries don’t like? Two, what is the African agenda?
Ewa: As per the first question, what people are looking at was how would they share responsibilities in terms of who is going to be the president, who is going to be the secretary and other positions. We wanted it to function like the United Nations whereby there will be representations from each African country. That was how the competition was taking out of contest. Some Nigerians felt if we are going to function like a United Nations, we should look at the population of these African countries and Nigeria, the giant of Africa should probably take more positions of leadership than any others. Nationals of other African countries objected and when meetings are scheduled, you will see over 20 Nigerians and two or three from other countries. It was more overwhelming to them but you cannot apologize because of your population. I also like to blame some Nigerians who felt that since we are part and parcel of the core group that formed the organization, they wanted to be leaders at all cost. It was very unpopular with some of the individuals who felt that you are not even qualified to be the president of an ethnic organization, why would you come and be the president of the entire African organization. That was the kind of dynamics that happened and people said Nigerians dominated UAO. That was the problem. The other issue regarding African agenda. Nigeria is not leading Africa because we don’t have a very strong reliable government. We’ve not curb corruption in our country. If you cannot show other people that you are good, how are they going to emulate you. Until Nigeria shows the world that they will stem corruption, inefficiency, and ineptitude in government and win the confidence of the citizens, they have no claim to the leadership of Africa.
Inquirer: What is African agenda?
Ewa: We wanted to use UAO to serve and educate people in this country about what Africa is all about and also to use the resources here to help our people. We wanted to make sure that at least we have influence in advising African leaders whether in this country or in the Black continent on how they can develop strategic initiatives, economic development, education, health and all of those things we wanted to do, were designed to make sure at least that the United African Organization is being utilized as a body that provides information to our folks at home and here to assist us or at least solve some of the problems we encounter daily. We are not just a social organization. We wanted to influence commerce and industry, health initiative, economic development, international relations and telecommunications. Even if we didn’t have the money, we wanted to provide information so we could develop our own website and our own infrastructure.
The second thing we wanted to do was to link the organization to the African American community in the United States. This is to enable us serve as conduit for public policy initiatives that affects African nations. We also went as far as calling for the forgiveness of African debt. I was one of the individuals who served in a committee on African debt relief. However, I’m beginning to feel that until Nigeria or any other African nation provides us and itemized ways on how this money should be expended, nobody should give them any debt relief. And that expenditure should be controlled and monitored by the international community.
Inquirer: How possible is it to put pressure on African countries from here?
Ewa: I think what is happening today, is that, as we begin to get older and older, we are not looking at ourselves as individual again. We have our children. We have the community. People are beginning to realize that this individualism that have been so conscious in our system is no longer fashionable. We have to come as a body. We have to negotiate as a body. We come together as a people, not only with our own Africa but also with other nations of African decent that are interested in seeing the continent progress. If we do not do that, then we are wasting our time. Right now, the African community in the Chicagoland is very, very interested in working together as a group. And some of us that are in the forefront are doing that right now. As a matter of fact, the United African Organization (UAO) is very strong now. Already, we’ve developed an agenda. We want to let people understand that until we are able to come out as a body and fight the problem we face collectively, there will be no reason to call ourselves Africans. Andrew Ekperi is the president. There are other guys from Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Africa who are working towards that agenda. They’ve written a proposal that we will be sending to people to assist us in getting some of the things we want.
Inquirer: There is an allegation that some officials of United African Organization met with Mayor Daley and discussed the plight of Africans immigrants here especially university graduates doing odd jobs and he offered to help but rejected it because of in-fighting among the officers. How far is that true?
Ewa: What happened was that when we met the mayor, we put together some resumes and submitted them to the mayor and even some were even submitted to the present governor Blagojevich. Unfortunately, whenever we do this, the people who the mayor selects to help in hiring these people do not always do their jobs. You cannot go to the mayor 75 percent of the time and think he will listen to you. If we do not have a united body to direct all the activities and requests to the appropriate channels, you will find it very difficult to move forward. It is the same individual who will turn around to subvert your activities because they did not get a piece of the pie. They will go back and talk that Mr. A is doing it for himself and Miss Y is doing it for herself. Those are the kind of things you face when you are not united. It should not stop you from doing the right thing. We did the same thing for the governor. They’ve not responded. They’ve not reciprocated and they’ve not appointed any person in the African immigrant community. And we worked with the African American brothers. We are all grouped together as African Americans but if you look at the ways these positions are distributed, you will never find an African immigrant who is also an African American in a position of authority. We worked with African Americans as a group but when it comes to the distribution of positions we are never appointed. Why, I don’t know.
Inquirer: May be because you don’t have an elected official?
Ewa: If you look at where we are today, we are scattered all over the city. Some of us are on the South Side, some of the west side and some on the North side. We are all over the place. It shouldn’t be a problem. If the African immigrant community decides to have an elected official, they can start working towards that and they will get it. There is no reason why we should not. We have highly qualified individuals. However, we don’t have the resources. We don’t have the money to do that. Giving the fact that a lot of our people are unemployed, they live in the city and are struggling to take care of their families. The interest of running for office is not there.
Inquirer: This brings us to the issue of economic empowerment. Chicago runs an average budget of $4 billion budget yearly. There is a set aside for minorities and women in city, county and even state contracts. We have qualified professionals all over but they are ignorant of these available opportunities. Where is the solution?
Ewa: Unfortunately, the organizations that exist today in the African community do not see beyond their ethnic interests. The Nigerian American Forum and the Nigerian National Alliance and others, when they were functioning as a body, were doing seminars to educate our people about mundane event like AIDS, business development, job opportunities, investment and insurance. At a stage folks stop showing up to take advantage of the seminar. When you send out an invitation for the seminar, invitees wanted to know what is there for them. They want immediate gratification. That is the problem we have as a people.