Onwuliri “Occupies” Diaspora, Explains Subsidy Policy
By Prosper Edem
Washington DC, Jan 24, 2012; The Minister of State 1, Foreign Affairs, Her Excellency, Prof. (Mrs) Viola Onwuliri, travelled across the US the whole of last week, meeting and engaging Diaspora Nigerians unscripted and uncensored, on the petrol subsidy removal and security related matters. She was accompanied by Amb Jerry Ugokwe who is Secretary to the Presidential Intervention committee on fuel
subsidy. Prof. Onwuliri and her team engaged Diaspora Nigerians in Chicago, Washington DC, Houston, Atlanta, New York, Boston and Los Angeles. She confronted protesters at her New York meeting, intended to squelch the meeting, but she stood her ground, until police arrived and removed the three protesters.
Speaking to this action a participant Engr. Sheila Nnadi said “they came to occupy the meeting, but she ended up occupying them….she should claim she occupied Diaspora…Initially I was afraid for her, but when I observed how firm and confident she looked, I was emboldened to join in to confront the unruly protesters, before the police came and remove them from the room, allowing the meeting to continue and conclude successfully…she won my admiration”.
The protesters claimed that their action was to express anger over the ministers late arrival to which Engr Nnadi disagrees and said “first of all I am a Nigerian-New Yorker in every sense of it, I can tell you we never ever keep to time…Nigerian time is in our DNA…having said that, the minister had her flight delayed, still when she arrived here only a handful of us were in the room and she was taken to a holding room until more people assembled. The protesters used lateness as a fodder, the protest was pre-planned and was public knowledge”.
The minister’s stops in other six cities were very productive. At each meeting she took time to describe the administrations transformation agenda, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment (SURE) program, highlighting education, healthcare, Agriculture, roads and railways, power, fight against corruption, youth employment, as priority areas that will benefit from the SURE program. She also pushed back on notion that President Jonathan didn’t consult widely enough with stakeholders, with regard to the subsidy removal decision and implementation.
She said “…..To the contrary, Mr President consulted very widely with stakeholders across board such as governors, the national assembly, traditional rulers, Christian and Moslem religious leaders, youth leaders, private sector and captains of industries, political leaders, women groups, labor union and civil societies, to mention but few…” She expressed disappointment that not enough of the stakeholders consulted stepped up, in the heat of the debate, to acknowledge their input and rationale. On security issues she said that the administration is doing a whole lot, although not all can be shared publicly.
Specifically She said “Government has decided to put in place a number of practical measures aimed at neutralizing the actions of the terrorists. As you know, the epicentre of the Boko Haram menace is in the North-Eastern part of the country, which borders Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic. In the interest of security, Government has decided to temporarily close some parts of our borders to check the inflow of small arms and light weapons, dangerous materials and unwanted elements. We are discussing with our counterparts in these countries to coordinate actions and share information regarding all matters that affect our common interests and threaten our security.
Government has also declared a state of emergency in some parts of the country where it is felt that the threat of violence and terrorism is more acute. The declaration is consistent with the powers conferred on Mr. President by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The operations now on-going in those affected spots are aimed at protecting the lives and properties of all innocent citizens who are the primary victims of the terrorists. Government has also initiated counter-terrorism efforts in the past couple of months, especially since the establishment of a Counter Terrorism Office in the Office of the National Security Adviser.
To give focus and practical expression to these efforts, our country has entered into sustainable global partnerships such as with the United Nations Counter Terrorism Office, the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), and other multilateral, bilateral and regional levels co-operations.” Feedback from the various forums indicated passionate and sometime emotional discussions but at the end she may have succeeded in dousing tension and changing minds. From the Chicago meeting Mr. John Onuoha said “prior to this meeting I was totally against the removal of subsidy, but after listening to her clear presentation, in her patient and down to earth demeanor, I was ready to give President Jonathan benefit of the doubt”.
Also commenting, Mrs. Bola Adigun said “I was not too sure what to believe about the subsidy thing, but after listening to her I was convinced that only a concerned and brave leader would take the action the President took on this subsidy removal matter….I will pray for him and Nigeria”. From Chicago Prof. Onwuliri and her team landed in Washington DC where they held another interactive meeting with Diaspora Nigerians. A blogger who attended this meeting-Vera Ezimora, summed up the day, she 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.” From her subsequent stops at Houston, Atlanta, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, Prof. Viola Onwuliri and Amb. Jerry Ugokwe interacted and discussed with Diaspora Nigerians focusing on some key areas namely corruption, security and safety, fuel subsidy, Boko Haram, utilization of Diaspora expertise, and electricity.
The meetings were productive and sentiments similar. In response to the protesters action in New York, Her Excellency Prof. Onwuliri said “we are in a democracy, where such expressions are expected as long as they are non-violent…I was a member of ASUU executive and I am very familiar with tactics to get your message across to government….” All through she was gracious, intelligent, engaging, cheerful, calm under fire, and may be the best emissary for President Jonathan or any Nigerian administration for that matter.
This was summed up in Mr Mainassau Illo comment at the Atlanta meeting, when he said “….I have been to over seventy nine countries, since I became a journalist, interacted with so many government delegations from Nigeria, this interaction today is the best I have ever seen…..the minister explained the issues, challenges and solutions intelligently, I commend the minister and the ambassador for job well done….”.
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Citizen Reporter, USA
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