In this interview, Dr. Sam Enyia, yearns again for Africans in Chicago to become galvanized and collaborate with African-Americans
Dr. Sam Enyia, erstwhile President of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA) was not a happy man when he leant that the once vibrant organization is no more.
The formation of Nigerian Community in Chicagoland (NCC) to take the place of NNA did not bring succor to his face. In an interview with Joseph Omoremi, editor of The Chicago Inquirer, he reflected on the challenges African immigrants face in Chicago and how to move the community forward.
Inquirer: Quite some time. Why have we not been hearing from you since you left as the president of the Nigerian National Alliance (NNA)
Dr. Sam Enyia: We did so much for the community but for a while now nothing has been going on in the Nigerian community. I would have loved to see the Nigerian community move forward to the next level. Those that were supposed to have taken over the leadership of NNA have not actually moved the leadership to the level where it should be. What the reasons are… I don’t fully understand why it should be so. But I would like to see the Nigerian community get back on its foot again and take the leadership it should take in the African community in Chicago.
Inquirer: In attempt to get the Nigerian community back on its foot, a new organization- Nigerian Community in Chicagoland “was formed to take the place of NNA?
Dr. Sam Enyia: I don’t know if we need to form another organization in other to get the Nigerian community going. I think what need to be done is to revitalize the NNA because of the structure of NNA which incorporated all the community organizations. We still need that kind of structure in other to bring in place the various community organizations represented in NNA. May be NNA if it is reconstituted or revitalized, needs to take a different approach in the leadership.
This means, we have to look at the numerical strengths of representative organizations. The numerical strengths of affiliated organizations should be used to the advantage of NNA. One of the problems NNA had confronted in the past was the problem of funding. If NNA is reconstituted now, then we can work on the numerical strength. Each affiliated organizations would be looked upon based on their numerical strength. We put the responsibility on the affiliated organizations in bringing more members to their constituents enroute to NNA. If an organization has 200 members, it will have certain number of representations. If organization B has 50 members, it will have lesser number of representation based on equity. The larger organizations will have more representations and voting power. There will be fairness and equity.
Inquirer: When you left, Chief Anthony Omotosho alleged that Mr. Yemi Onayemi, one of your successor as NNA president turned NNA to an organization of individuals instead of organization of organizations despite the structures you mentioned earlier. How do we avoid a repeat?
Dr. Sam Enyia: Individual membership can work with exception. We tried individual membership before based on the premise that all Nigerians will come and there will be money and participation but it didn’t work. If you go back to the affiliate representation, your organization and community will hold you accountable in NNA and you become the voice of your community.
Inquirer: There are complaints that the old NNA never put in place mentoring as part of the structure?
Dr. Sam Enyia: We did not do as good a job as we could have done to build the bridge between younger Nigerians who migrated from Nigeria and another generation of Nigerians who were born here now graduating from colleges and universities. There is no bridge between these generations here and those that came out of the homeland. It is a big problem and we are the one to bridge that gap to make the transition to the group of Nigerians that were born here. Our generation was kind of naÃ¯ve on what to do to bring in the new generation born here. They are the ones that will represent us when we are gone and if we didn’t build that bridge, there will be no link and much would have been lost.
Inquirer: NNA according to a school of thought was formed to challenge late dictator Gen. Sanni Abacha and since he died, there is no need for the organization. Do you agree with that line of argument?
Dr. Sam Enyia: I don’t think NNA was formed to challenge Abacha. NNA was existing before Abacha became the head of state in Nigeria. At the time of Abacha, NNA saw that we had a government that was oppressive and suppressing the people. NNA stood up to him. At the time we were fighting Abacha, there were Nigerians in Chicago who were criticizing us for fighting and antagonizing Abacha. If you see us as a leader and you see wrong and pretend that wrong is no more wrong but good, then you lose your character as a leader. You lose your integrity and conscience as a leader. As a leader, you have to challenge what is wrong and evil because that is where moral character takes over. Others say why was NNA fighting Abacha and not others but we replied that we weren’t fighting Abacha but the system. The system was so oppressive and so dictatorial. What we were doing at that time was to take the system away and set the nation free.
Inquirer: Abacha was reported to have greased the palms of NNA officials with millions of dollars. Were you part of the benefactors?
Dr. Sam Enyia: No. All I know was that Abacha brought a lot of propaganda against NNA into Chicago. At one point, he has his agents who were frustrating all the plans and activities of NNA at that time. If Abacha brought money into Chicago, I don’t know who got the money. At a time, a Nigerian ambassador wanted to come and see Nigerians in Chicago and NNA denied him the opportunity because of the ways the Nigerian governments was operating at that time.
Inquirer: Who are these people trying to frustrate NNA programs?
Dr. Sam Enyia: The fact is we moved on to do what needed to be done. Interestingly enough, this past semester I was teaching at Louis University and I was teaching Mass Media ethics and the textbook I was using for the class has a section on Nigeria and Abacha era which describes how Abacha’s regime spent thousands and thousands of dollars, they paid African American media for propaganda. They flew them to Nigeria, paid their hotel, transportation fees and other expenses. The essence of the class focused on should journalists receive money in order to do favor to people in governments or in powerful positions? That was exactly what the Abacha government did to African American press.
Inquirer: It appears it works against Blacks here. Carol Mosley Brown allegedly lost her seat in senate because of that?
Dr. Sam Enyia: I don’t know if she lost the election because of that. I know at that time when we were fighting against Abacha regime, some were saying Abacha was the best thing to have happened to Nigeria. For the media to have pushed the propaganda here was incredible. I wish many Nigerians will read that chapter of the textbook. When we were fighting here, they thought what we were doing was wrong. Now they can see the essence of decadence in the government. It is in the textbook that they spent enormous amount of money and paid foreign media so that they can portray Nigeria in a positive light.
Inquirer: What is the title of the book?
Dr. Sam Enyia: Mass Media Ethics by Louis Dye. When I read it, I saw that many Nigerians here did not immediately know what we were fighting for at that time. It was a propaganda business. At one time they flooded the Chicagoland area with Abacha’s propaganda literature. There was no other place in the United States with that kind of propaganda.
Inquirer: How come Chicago became the battleground?
Dr. Sam Enyia: When we wrote the blue print for democracy in Nigeria, we sent it foreign governments. In fact, the German Chancellor wrote me back supporting what we proposed in the blue print. The British foreign minister on African Affairs supported what we proposed in the blue print. It wasn’t just a local movement, it has gone international.
Inquirer: So the pressure came to them from the foreign governments?
Dr. Sam Enyia: They knew that what NNA was doing was causing them problems across the world. They decided to fight back.
Inquirer: Was that the reason why you couldn’t go home when your father died?
Dr. Sam Enyia: At that time, visiting Nigeria would be a big risk because anybody who spoke against the government was an enemy. Many disappeared overnight in Nigeria for whatever reason. We stood for what was right and if you cannot stand up for what was right, where is leadership then.
Inquirer: Where did NNA lose the steam?
Dr. Sam Enyia: Shortly after Abacha died, Gen. Abdusalam took over and placed a transition program in place and unfortunately those in NNA leadership cooled off at that time for whatever reason. I had hoped that NNA movement would be a continuing movement. It doesn’t matter whether it was a military dictatorship or civilian government. If the government is not serving the people, the Alliance should be a movement that looked into that.
Inquirer: Where is the hope for African immigrants here?
Dr. Sam Enyia: Any leadership that is in any place that cannot demonstrate change…we have to have leaders with visions in the city of Chicago and entire state of Illinois. If that leadership emerges, it should be able to position Africans in the politics of Chicago and the state of Illinois. Not only that, it should position Africans in the economy of Chicago and the economy and the state of Illinois. There is no reason why Africans should not be galvanized, if the interest is to galvanize Africans for the benefit of Africans and not for the benefit of individuals. A leader should be a servant and nothing else. You are not there for your self but to serve the people. Until we have leaders that galvanize the people to become what they want to be, we are not going anywhere. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have African politicians. There is no reason why we shouldn’t have Africans in the major positions in the city or the state of Illinois. We live here, some of us work here, and many vote here. If your vote and the tax that you pay does not does not factor into your community, then there is something inherently wrong in that community.
Inquirer: Who do we blame for that?
Dr. Sam Enyia: Probably we blame ourselves. We have not been able to pull the African community together. We have to work together. We have to come together. Africans in Chicago or the metropolitan areas have not utilize that concept to their own advantage. Anywhere a community is fragmented, you have a problem. Fragmentation means you can divide this people. It means you have no voice. One individual cannot do it. When you raise a movement, it settles many things. The Civil Rights of Late Martin Luther King was a movement. Dr. Martin Luther King was the catalyst. When he was not there, the movement did not die.
Inquirer: How do Africans get things right in Chicago?
Dr. Sam Enyia: It has to start with the United African Organization (UAO). What is UAO vision for Africans in Chicagoland? If I have to meet with UAO leaders, my first question will be what is their vision for Africans five years from now. What did you see happening to Africans in the metropolitan area? Looking is a common activity but seeing is rare. (THIS WILL BE A GOOD QUOTE)
Inquirer: As a former NNA president and a teacher what should UAO be doing at this point in time?
Dr. Sam Enyia: If I’m to suggest to the new leaders, you have to go to the community and bring them together. They have to see you as someone who is representing them. They have to see you as a servant and not a lord or somebody who dominates. We have a community that is not together yet. That should be a task. You must pull the community together and then have an agenda. The community has to be a beneficiary of the community where they live and pay taxes. They have to have a tangible population. The figure must include those Africans born here. Some of them might be getting into politics. We need to start a program to pull (???) to the community those that were born here. It is vital to bridge the gap.
Inquirer: Africans and African Americans live like odd couple. How do we mend the fences?
Dr. Sam Enyia: We should not exist in adversarial relationships. We should rather collaborate. It is not cooperation. You can cooperate with me without collaboration. If we collaborate, it means you and me are partners. It means no one is dominating the other. We have equal right. Africans from homeland and African Americans must start building bridges of collaboration. If there is a project, we are partners in it. By this it means, I will respect you and you will respect me and we will work together peacefully and without that we are still going to be at odds.
Inquirer: Where is the platform for the partnership?
Dr. Sam Enyia: When Africans get themselves together, then there is a basis to say we have something on which we can build a relationship. There is African Festival of the Arts every year. It should go beyond the cultural into the economics. It is the economics agenda that could strengthen the collaboration. Several years ago, Alderman Dorothy Tillman met with us when we were about to build African village. We went to Chinatown to get proposal and we followed it up until meetings become a platform for motivational speech venue???. We need to act instead of doing motivational speech for so long. They renovated a building in the 47th Ward to be an African market until the idea fizzled out.
Inquirer: What else do you like to talk about?
Dr. Sam Enyia: My interest in Africans is to stand up for what benefits the people. It saddens me that for all these years we’ve tried to get the community together without success. Right now, I’m working on a book on leadership in Africa, which I hope will help those that read it. There has to be a transformation both in Africa, Nigeria and among those of us that are here. Until someone comes out who will do what nobody has done before, that is what I’m looking for. Until Africans has someone who speaks for the African race, we don’t have it yet.
Inquirer: There was a Reparations movement before Chief MKO Abiola died?
Dr. Sam Enyia: When you talk about reparations, it shouldn’t just be the problems of African Americans alone. African leadership from homeland should be supporting it but no one speaks for the African race yet. Because we are fragmented, not everybody cares about what happens here to a country in Africa, it is a big weakness. We should all be concerned and speak about it.
We can speak about Africa as the cradle of civilization. What has happened since that cradle? This is 21st century. There should be someone or organization to identify what has to be done to change the paralysis in that continent. There is no other continent that I know that is still living like in the 1920s. There is no reason in Nigeria not to have working electricity in every village.
Inquirer: Who is Dr Sam Enyia?
Dr. Sam Enyia: I came to US as a student at Wheaton College and went to NIU, and went and taught at Maryland and came back here to GSU and came to Louis University and directed??? the chairperson for the Broadcast department for six years.