My Meeting With Professor Viola Onwuliri, Minister of Foreign Affairs

With the exception of my birthday having been the previous day, Sunday, January 15th 2012 would have been like any other Sunday. I would have stayed dressed in my comfy clothes, talked on the phone, and maybe blogged a little bit. But at about 4 PM on this Sunday, I received notification via Facebook that Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs was having a town hall kind of meeting with Nigerians in my area. The first instinct was to dismiss the message, but it was only two days earlier – Friday, January 13th 2012 – that I and other patriotic Nigerians braced the twenty degree temperature in Washington, D.C and protested in front of the IMF and World Bank buildings. So I thought, why not?

The meeting was set for 7:30 PM at Agama Kitchen Int’l Restaurant in Bladensburg and was organized by Carter Institute, LLC, a think-tank group in Washington, D.C. At 7:27 PM, I arrived at the location with Seun Akinsanya of The Seun Akinsanya Project. There were about six men, including Harrison Nwozo and the owner, Nnamdi Nwasinoke. Every now and then, more men trooped in until the place was practically filled up. Just when Seun and I were about to call it a day, it was announced that she had just pulled up. It was only 9:19 PM.

The moderator introduced himself and the event commenced. Greetings and pleasantries were exchanged; introductions were made. She came with Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Austria and with Chinwe Mgbajiaka, her Special Advisor. She spoke a little bit about herself, talked a little bit about the situation in Nigeria, and then, it was time for questions and answers. With the exception of the Minister and her Special Advisor, I was the only other female in the room. By the end, however, there were two other females.

One by one, the men took turns in asking their questions, no one shy or afraid of letting their anger, frustration, and disappointment known in their words and tone. The questions ranged from Boko Haram to electricity to corruption, and of course, to the straw that broke the camel’s back: the removal of fuel subsidy. As people asked questions, she wrote them down. Finally, she gave a long speech that may or may not have answered people’s questions. My question was the shortest and the simplest: are you for or against the removal of fuel subsidy? My question was never answered directly.

On the issue of fuel subsidy, the Minister told us that the extra revenue was going to be used to take care of President Jonathan’s agenda, which includes excellence in education, drinking water, increased food production, and expansion of transportation services. On the issue of the fuel subsidy being removed without warning, she said it was not without warning because the removal had been publicly discussed for a while, because the President met with traditional rulers, religious rulers, and even students, and because each of these groups agreed to the removal, although they failed to touch bases with their followers. She also mentioned countries that have already removed their fuel subsidy, like Ghana, saying, “Fuel subsidy is not sustainable … Nigeria should not lag behind.”

On the issue of the protests, she said it was not half as bad as the media portrayed it, that the media only showed areas where there were protests, and that the media was biased. She justified it by saying, “We have one hundred and sixty million people. If two million are on the streets, then that means one hundred and fifty-eight million are in their homes.”

On the issue of poor security, she said the government was steadily working on it, and that just because the government was currently heavily involved in the fuel subsidy removal does not mean the government is not still working on security. She followed it by reminding us of the 2008 presidential election in America when Wall Street came crashing down and McCain had suggested that they postpone the debate while Obama insisted that they go on because a President should be able to attend to more than one issue at a time. President Jonathan is allegedly still working on security. When asked about the actual cost of producing oil, the Minister read the digits off the many sheets of papers she came with.

When asked why Nigeria – unlike America and even Ghana – cannot provide basic amenities for its citizens, she said, “Let’s not judge someone who is in nursery school with someone who is an undergraduate.” She quickly reminded us that America is over two hundred years old, while Nigeria is only fifty-one. Problem is, not one of us who is living today will live to see Nigeria turn 235. Where does the hope lie for us then?

At some point in the course of this meeting, beers (Guinness and Heineken) and goat meat were served. Anyone that wanted one could have one – or two – for free. Men stretched their hands and necks to partake in the feast. Some even whistled at the waiter to get his attention. They did not want to be left out of the feast. I do not know who paid for the drinks and meat; you may decide that for yourself. But as men ate, drank, and made merry, I could not help but wonder if, like Esau, we were trading our rights and future for a bottle of beer and goat meat. Were we dinning with our oppressors?

Nigeria’s former Ambassador, Jerry Sonny Ugokwe spoke up every now and then. He told us of how he left America and relocated to Nigeria with only $600, how he ran for office two weeks before the election, and how he was shot at after being declared the winner. At times during the meeting, he seemed restless, disturbed. And when speaking on corruption and positive change in Nigeria, he asked the question, what do you do when you are the only one screaming for change and everyone else is just looking at you?

One passionate attendee stated that there are only two gainful career paths in Nigeria: the pastoral path and the political path. And they are both dirty. Another attendee stated that government cannot and should not be stagnant, and that the Nigerian government is currently like a beautiful car, equipped with good music, an air conditioner, and even passengers, ready to move, but with no driver.

When we finally rounded up sometime after 1 AM, some of the people who only a few minutes ago condemned the Nigerian government now walked up to the Minister, shook her hand and the former Ambassador’s hand and told them what a good job they were doing for Nigeria and how they should keep up the good work. One man even prayed for Nigeria and prayed for the leaders because as we know, God has not heard Nigeria’s name in a long time. If only He would give us a little more grace because the one He has given us so far is not sufficient for us.

At the end of the day, the Minister’s stand was well known: she was [is] on the side of her wonderful President. More times than I can count now, she told us about how good a man he is, how intelligent and educated a President he is, and how well-meaning his intentions are. But we know that the road to hell is often paved by good intentions. It is a question of how we will get there, the casualties and collateral damage it will cost us, and the temperature of this hell we are headed to.

So, which way, Nigeria?

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri

 

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri and Nigeria's Former Ambassador to Austria, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe

 

 

Attendee (standing) and Seun Akinsanya (sitting next to him)

 

Nigeria's Former Ambassador to Austria, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe

Special Assistant to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chinwe Mbgajiaka

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri and Nigeria's Former Ambassador to Austria, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe

 

Attendees

 

Attendees

 

Attendees

 

Attendees

 

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri and Nigeria's Former Ambassador to Austria, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe

 

Attendees

 

Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Professor Viola Adaku Onwuliri

 

Attendees

 

Vera Ezimora

vera@verastic.com

www.twitter.com/verastic

www.verastic.com

Copyright © Vera Ezimora 2012

*No part of this work may be copied, republished, or used without citing the author’s name, e-mail, and website*

Comments

  1. Olayele Awosika says

    I was not that surprised…why? (1) It goes to show that the attendees did not do any research nor understand her argument so, how can you counter an argument if you don’t understand it? (2) The educational qualification of most attendees is suspect! Many of them left this country with little or no qualification to sweep gutters which by the way pays more than a professor but as you can see….how many were able to take her on?….None! (3) I am sure many have not read nor heard of the SURE document which is a concise literature of the government’s position. Or even read the position made very simple by Tunde Bakare circularized on the net and other positions like Tam David West and from there do your own research (4) What else? They are hungry…o mase o! So long Bro!

    • Igwe Otu says

      What does educational qualification has to do with standing up to pack of lies and propaganda? Subsidy was after Tam David West’s time at the fuel ministry. Prof west’s position is that there is no subsidy. FG audits shows that it does exist-call it what you want but when you pay less what a service or product worths i called it subsidy.
      I personally think the subsidy was abused and it became a cashcow for politicians…since the govt do not have the guts to prosecute those that benefited from the corruption of the process… they took an easy way out…Let Tunde Bakare and the rest of critics call out those “big cats” that are living fat off the subsidy scam. we all know who they are. let the armchair opposition leaders drag them to court on behalf of the masses or better insist on the FG prosecuting them.

      • Olayele Awosika says

        Educational Qualification has to do with it because nobody took her on relevant issues…..on her warped postulations and stupid comparisons! Yes….it goes to show the level of information as regards the issue and the level of intelligence…..i am assuming you read the write up!

        In the article ….the author wrote ..”

        When we finally rounded up sometime after 1 AM, some of the people who only a few minutes ago condemned the Nigerian government now walked up to the Minister, shook her hand and the former Ambassador’s hand and told them what a good job they were doing for Nigeria and how they should keep up the good work. One man even prayed for Nigeria and prayed for the leaders because as we know, God has not heard Nigeria’s name in a long time. If only He would give us a little more grace because the one He has given us so far is not sufficient for us.”

        Now these are the people that makes us VICTIMS!!!!

    • Rotimi says

      In response to the issues raised by Olayele Awosika..As much as i would definitely want to agree with you that the Minister was not thoroughly grilled. You made a general and fundamentally flawed statement in the second paragraph;

      “The educational qualification of most attendees is suspect! Many of them left this country with little or no qualification to sweep gutters which by the way pays more than a professor but as you can see….how many were able to take her on?….None”.

      Based on your comments, the assertion that most of the attendees arent educationally qualified to ask sensible questions is very irresponsible and the notion that most immigrants from Nigeria come here to sweep gutters is very myopic. I am very convinced that you have not had the opportunity of visiting the US, because if you have, you would know that Nigerians are amongst the most hardworking and industrious people in this society. The unfortunate situation back home has robbed the country of the best brains, we have Nigerians holding various enviable positions in the US to say the least…

      • Olayele Awosika says

        Ayo, firstly….it was never my intention to rubbish the generality of Nigerians in the US and insinuate that they are downright educationally incompetent…to that i apologize! 2ndly, i am happy you agree that none was able to take her on…..so in light of that …..my comments were based on that fact (with you concurring). How in the world would a moron like her start comparing Nigeria and US …as a basis but was suffering from amnesia in remembering Ghana! And absolutely NOBODY was able to point that out and many others! But rather interested in eating goat meat! How will you rate the intelligence of such people? Or were you among them? We have to match these idiots brain for brain, cell for cell!

        • Rotimi says

          @ Olayele…Thanks for your apology, that is certainly a good character trait of a leader..Apologize, whenever you err..You can be rest assured that i was not part of that crowd, because I have zero-tolerance for spin-doctors and grandstanding..I am definitely looking forward to an opportunity like that, because i have a lot to say to them…

  2. says

    I have nothing to add other than to say that nawa for Nigerians sha. How can we have no shame as to dine with the devil? And not with the intentions of converting him into a believer o. Smh!

    Anyway, nothing this lady said in the townhall surprises me. Infact, if she had condemned the subsidy or given any indication that she in any way doubted the authority of GEJ on this subject, I would have been immensely baffled.

  3. says

    this your article is very ‘tic’ funny… I can just imagine the thoughts going through your mind… you should have taken Funmi.. where was she? It’s interesting that we can do a comparison w/different countries when it is convenient… ex: subsidy vs security… so let’s be like ghana re:subsidy but let’s also remember Nigeria’s age… age is an excuse… there is nothing that cannot be achieved if we put our mind to it… It’s not like Nigeria wasn’t on top before… so in essence it seems we were much better when we were younger…

    so did anyone answer the Ambsador’s question?

  4. Naijabloke says

    Vera,

    Why did u not tell me this was going one….now I know all the people that attended no get sense at all… So that was the stupid argument the Minister for foreign Affairs gave and all yall sat down there and ate goatmeat and Guinness…

    Tukfia…like someone already said ..it shows the kind of people that attended the thing sha

  5. Ayo says

    Why and what is the FORMER Nigerian Ambassador to Austria, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe doing here? Was he sent by the Nigerian govt.? Or did he come there as a concerned citizen. Now if the govt. sent him, why? If he is a FORMER ambassador he has no reason coming here. This is one of my many GRIPES with this Nigerian govt.

    The people that call themselves our leaders continue to lavish our money on frivolous things. I remember about 2 years ago, the last time I travelled to Nigeria, it was said that a so called Ambassador spent hundreds of millions of naira on travlleing in a year. Excuse me, if one person is spending so much as an ambassador, how much will the President spend? These people did not have a town hall meeting as far as I’m concerned, they only had a get together with you all and provided you with goat meat and bottles of beer, which I’m sure was paid for by the Nigerian govt. or the Minister for Foreign affairs, which in any way you look at it is still OUR NIGERIAN OIL MONEY!

    These so called Foreign affairs personnel just did the same thing politicians in Nigeria do on election day in Nigeria; give people bread with a N1000 note inside of it and then take their votes. We as Nigerians have mortgaged our future on bread, beer and goat meat. This is the sad and unadulterated truth. The Nigerian govt. is a reflection of her people and we sorry to say the mirror can’t lie. Garbage In Garbage Out!

    Like I’ll always say, if we want a dramatic change REMOVE the real players of corruption in this matter. GEJ is just ANOTHER figure head. Toes will be stepped upon (OBJ), nails will be cut (Iweala), the hands that once fed will be bitten (IBB), and we need people that will not be afraid to do this (Femi Falana). The body of corruptions needs to be purged, else we are just pouring an “old wine in a new bottle”.

  6. says

    Ayo echoes my sentiments. The truth is that most Nigerians just want a share of their oil money. Just a bowl of goat meat and a bottle of beer is enough for the attendees at your meet it seems. SMH

  7. Duchy says

    Vera I hope u guys don’t believe them … U guys don’t live in 9ja so u don’t rili know wht we go thru here if it that good here y do more pple want to leave 9ja n u guys over there can’t stand to live here … They hv promised us over n over over d same thing n we hv believed them in d past but not anymore … They hv to earn our trust by sacrificing too … Do u know that d day they call off d strike d president sent army’s all over Lagos n they still in Lagos … Ask ur folks in Lagos …. There bombs blast in d north this past week wht has d govt done …. I don’t trust d govt of Nigeria n I ll not in a very very long time … They hv to prove themselves over n over again … All of us living here pay for every single , so y do we hv d govt than , Vera hv u seen d budget for 2012 n compere with d rate of poverty … Am a business lady I don’t hv a public paying for 500hundred nair per litre but u see d protest u see in 9ja is far beyond fuel subsidy … D pple r tired of bad governance …

  8. Duchy says

    How ll d president tell us to live with d book haram pple … If he can’t handle security issues who ll … Tell me one thing that has being done to book haram pple ? Nothing …. We over here in 9ja we r jt living by d very special grace of God … Am very sad n very bittered … How can we spend so much to run n pay govt n they can’t deliver ? We pay for everything we use here y then we we hv govt … Pple that don’t go out don’t surpport wht d govt is doing too , it takes a very courage pple in 9ja to go out n protest cos deep down in ur heart u know u may not come back alive … In a 9ja no value for human life … This generation is fact finding one , u don’t say thing n we ht believe … We ll look out for facts … I believe in Nigeria n I hope n work for d best for Nigeria

  9. Mary Emelda says

    Well sirs, even if all Nigerians in United States are cleaners, they could as well be better rulers than most of Nigerian politicians today. Most Nigerians who came to this country for good came, after working for years in Nigeria both in private, and government sectors. So Mr, how dare you genralize them all as clearners? I can bet that some cleaners in United States get vital jobs done for their citizens an Nation than most of you so-called educated Nigerians. This typically shows the foolishness of the so called elite class in Nigeria.

    What do you all know a common cleaner can drive him or her self to work, and prepare a contingency plan for future developments. How many of you can solve problem even seating as a CEO in Nigerian office?

    Trully do not compare yourselves with folks in America, you can do that with Ghana, we all know how some Nigerians acquire some of their status! Excuse,,,,,,

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