Chief Anthony Omotosho, Executive Director, Nigerians in America Political Action Committee (NPAC) was a prominent figure among the groups that campaigned againt the re-election of the then only U.S. Black Senator, Carol Mosley Brown six years back, over her relationship with former Nigeria’s dictator General Sanni Abacha.
He bares his mind to Joseph Omoremi, editor of The Chicago Inquirer on why they took up arms with Senator Brown and how some African leaders denied the African community from benefiting from their efforts.
It is an exciting reading.
Inquirer: It’s been over six years your organization championed the election of retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald. What has been going on with the Nigerians in America Political Action Committee?
Chief Omotosho: It’s true that Nigerian community in Chicago contributed in one way or the other to what happened on Tuesday November 2 regarding the election of Barrack Obama as the only Black senator in the country. It is a well-hidden secret that without the Nigerian community, Carol Mosley Brown would still being in the senate today. The Nigerians in America Political Action Committee (NPAC) is still in existence. Many people will not hear about us because our meetings are based on the need to discuss what is important to the Nigerian community both here and at home. It is not to organize night parties or similar events. That might have being the reason why people are not hearing from us constantly. Nonetheless, NAPAC is very active in Nigerian politics. We meet regularly to advise and offer support to government in Nigeria.
Inquirer: Can you talk more on the needs in the Nigerian community today and the objectives of NAPAC?
Chief Omotosho: For those of us who have been here for sometime now, Nigerians lacked leadership to protect the interest of Nigerians at large ahead of personal interest. NAPAC filled that role. Many people were suspicious of our objectives. That has changed because since President Olusegun Obasanjo has been elected for six years, nobody among us has got any contract or job from any government. We are not doing what we are doing for goodies from government but our community.
Inquirer: The issues you raised about leadership is still with us. We have educated and enlightened people in our community but they are not in politics. Take NPAC for example, none of your members is a known politician. Why is that so?
Chief Omotosho: Nigerians as individuals are very successful. It is when we come together as a group that one can almost say we are not very successful. As an individual, because we are very educated and blessed with good jobs and very productive citizens, we are doing fine. But the issue of the real leadership and how to identify those people that would put the interest of our community ahead of their own personal interest is lacking. A good case is the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA). When NNA was formed, the intention was very good. But today, I think the
alliance is in comatose or semi-dead if not completely dead.
Inquirer: How do we get Nigerians to do the right thing?
Chief Omotosho: That is a very good question. I think if you are waiting for the multitude of say 1000 or 2000 Nigerians to come together to do the right thing, we might wait forever. But with what EMC or NAPAC has done by putting together a few people who are committed to actually fill the role of leadership in our community here may be what we need because it works.
Inquirer: What about the revival of NNA?
Chief Omotosho: Let me borrow the phrase that was used by President Jimmy Carter in the 1980s. “The national malaise is killing us as a nation, whereby people of the same state were discriminating against another because you are from a certain area and ended up putting a round peg in a square hole.” NNA could be revived to serve the purpose it was designed for if only we will see ourselves as Nigerians first and Ibo man or Yoruba man second. The Nigerian National Alliance has a specific functions and it would serve the community well because there are so many groups-Yoruba, Hausa or Ibo groups-NNA is supposed to be the umbrella organization and like every thing late General Sanni Abacha touched, it destroyed the organization. The demise of the NNA could be traced to Aso Rock when Abacha reigned.
Inquirer: Can you expatiate on that?
Chief Omotosho: One of the problems could be traced back to an interview one of the NNA presidents then had on WBBC radio defending Abacha’s policies and the release of Chief M.K.O Abiola. Many were disturbed that NNA was not representing their interest because whether you are an Ibo man, Yoruba man or Hausa man, the election of June 12, 1993 was free and fair. The way it was hijacked by Abacha, not many people supported it. One more thing I like to add was the fact that Abacha sent his five chairmen of his political parties. The ones Nigeria’s assassinated Attorney General Bola Ige called the five fingers of a leprosy hand to Chicago. NNA hosted them in Chicago and from that period, the alliance started plunging into comatose.
Inquirer: Who was the NNA president then?
Chief Omotosho: Mr. Yemi Onayemi was the president at that time. Defending the status quo of Abacha policies and saying let Abacha be there, Abacha can’t be bad for the country and Abiola is not the perfect man for the country. Abiola is not this and Abiola that. There were almost two political parties in Chicago at that time-one for Abacha and one against Abacha. People saw it and didn’t like it at all. That was the beginning of NNA’s death.
Inquirer: Abacha is gone but the needs that necessitated the formation of NNA are still with us. How do we revive the organization?
Chief Omotosho: Forming another is not the answer because there was nothing wrong with what we had before Abacha destroyed it. The political experiment in Nigeria has not swept any social organization here. I think we have PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) in Chicago as well as Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Chicago and even Nigerian Conscience Party. During the days of NNA, we didn’t have any political party in Nigeria. NNA was representing Nigerians at the embassy. The ambassador of Nigeria in Washington DC was talking to NNA. There is a power shift because if you are a member of PDP and you are well-connected, chances are that you will be able to get President Obasanjo before the president of NNA. As a result, you are more relevant. I think the chance of reviving NNA is there but I think how NNA fits into a structure that would serve our needs in US without politicizing it is required. Let’s not politicize it because
when you start politicizing it, people will want to be a member of PDP or AD and ANPP or the party in power and when you have a division, it becomes a headache. It has to be an organization that can be re-structured that will not be above but will not be consumed by politics. Are they going to do that?
Inquirer: The Black community hasn’t recovered from the death of Mayor Harold Washington. There is a huge gap between those of you that have been here for quite some time and the younger generation needing help and mentoring didn’t know how to get it from you. How do we bridge the gap?
Chief Omotosho: That goes back to the same thing we’ve been talking about. You have to participate in the process. You cannot stay outside and complain that Chief Omotosho is taking all the glory of my work or Mr. ABC is claiming to be my leader, I did not elect him. Nigerians and Africans must participate and we must make sure we contribute to these organizations. We must show up at elections. Regardless of who we are, if we gathered together to get Mayor Daley or Gov. Blagojevich elected, they will do something.
Inquirer: As you indicated earlier, that Nigerians played a major role in the election of retiring Senator Peter Fitzgerald but the community never benefitted from the election. How do we make sure the same does not happen with Obama?
Chief Omotosho: Let me take you back six years before Senator Peter Fitzgerald got elected. We spearheaded Senator Dick Durbin, we spearheaded his campaign. We raised money for his campaign. He came to the Nigerian community in 1992 and we raised $5000 for him. He knew Nigerians by their first names. However, the Nigerian community failed to take advantage of the relationship and we lost out. Nigerians also spearheaded the election of Senator Peter Fitzgerald to replace Carol Mosley Brown. However, we did not get anything from that not because Peter did not want to do anything for us. There was a meeting Peter called and asked Nigerians “what can I do for you people.” They called that meeting African meeting, where Peter asked what he could do for our constituency because he said “you helped me.” Some of them came with their own agenda. I remember one gentleman told the senator to assist him on how to become a consultant to the government. Another one told Peter he would be running for election in Nigeria, he wanted to become a governor and needed campaign money. He wasn’t disposed to financing somebody’s gubernatorial ambition or hiring someone as a consultant to the government. Some of them were accusing myself and other friends in EMC that we helped Senator Peter Fitzgerald because we wanted to benefit from the government job wise. Everybody in our organization is still doing what he was doing since then.
Inquirer: Why did you help him?
Chief Omotosho: We helped him because we didn’t want Chief Abiola to die in vain. I led the delegation of 27 people to meet Abiola in Washington DC. We gave him our words that we are with him.
Inquirer: But how do we make sure that we don’t miss out now that we have Obama bearing in mind that we’ve been missing out since 1992 as you said earlier?
Chief Omotosho: It boils down to leadership. The Nigerian community leadership has to reach out to Nigerians and with the help of the press, our people need to be educated. When Mr. Omoremi is talking about elected officials doing something for our country, let us not be so suspicious of what you are doing to the extent of undermining what we are doing. The
leadership has to reach out. The Nigerian community has to participate. We cannot put all the blame on the leadership because they have been taken for a ride several times. So many of them have reaped from the efforts at the expense of the general community. When people know that you are sincere and they’ve seen what you’ve done in the past and present for them, they will say you are not fronting for yourself but for the general community. I will suggest the leaders should meet with Obama after the election. The meeting should be based on the Nigerian, nay African community. It must involve all the ethnic communities and they must present a common agenda for our community because the needs of Ghanaians are not the same needs of Nigerians or that of Kenya. We are very unique and we have the bargaining power as well. As a result, politicians will listen to us but the intention must be selfless and it has to be genuine and carried out by a genuine individual.
Inquirer: What is the Nigerian nay-African agenda in America?
Chief Omotosho: We have a democracy people are complaining about. Democracy in this country works because of institutions put in place. We do not have the institutions in Nigeria. For example, environmental degradation in Niger Delta. They’ve been burning this gas for many years. With the institutions that we have in the US, we need the help of the Western governments to have a similar thing in Nigeria. Our election is imperfect. It is imperfect because our politicians purposely put together an arrangement that benefits them. The influence of the United States can go further than it has been in Nigeria to make it in the area of agriculture, and there are many mineral resources in Nigeria that are untapped. We have free trade with other African countries and we are not taking advantage of it. There are many legitimate goods you can export to Nigeria and vice versa to make money. Those are areas where Senator Obama and Senator Durbin, the governor and the Mayor can help us. The timbers littering villages in the southwest could be exported here from Nigeria. The same for cocoa beans. They will shift the raw materials to Great Britain and we all know that no country in the world will shift its raw materials without processing to a certain level except Nigeria.
The same goes for law enforcement. Our policemen were in Chicago to learn community policing. It cannot work because community policing is not what you learn for two weeks and take to Ajegunle, Lagos. Those are the Nigerian agenda because you and I want a Nigeria we can go to without fear of armed robbery and hired killers.
Inquirer: What is your advice for Obama?
Chief Omotosho: He should reach out to the real leadership. If he reaches out to the genuine leaders, they will be able to help him on an on going basis.
Inquirer: How do we solidify our economic base?
Chief Omotosho: Individually, we are very successful but when it comes to a community effort, that is where we have problems. We need to plan very well. The economic base did not come to Chinatown or Agyle by some divine intervention. It is through planning. Go to Devon, 15 years ago, may be there were two shops there selling Nigerian televisions but now there are many simply because the people cooperated with each other. If you and I become partners, our primary aim will be to promote our business and not me to kill you and become the sole owner or one chasing another’s wife around because your wife is trying to be friendly. A lot of partnership failed in our community because of some of these things.