Dr. Kunirum Osia of Washington DC is of the view that we need to discuss the making of a Nigerian policy center in Wisconsin. The report below is an eye-witness account by a.k.a. Acting Major Benbella.
Now it is not good for the Christian's health
To hustle the area in brown
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles
And weareth the Christian down
And the end of the fight
Is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased --
"A fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East"
------- Rudyard Kipling
Those words from Kipling were what echoed in me through out the evening of Saturday, November 20th, 2004 where I witnessed the founding of the James O. Ibori Center for Policy Studies.
But what amazed me more and recollected Kipling from a memory file stored years ago when I was a honorable school boy was the brazeness of the intended objective that occasioned our gathering on this softly, cold winter evening. It was engineered and presented as a bestowment of honor on an able and effective, African statesman. It was a man in search of recognition and honor. This was the point that Kenn had made before in his response here. Ibori appeared to be seeking recognition for an audience that is far removed from the scene of its creation.
First, I laud the idea of a policy center that would through its research and considerable analyses, provide unfettered ideas and policies to government that are uncolored by prejudices. And I sincerely hope that the new center will live up to whatever innocent and honorable hope that girded it. But its birth was in my sublime and humble view, tainted with indecency.
The impression was created not so much by direct affirmation but through crafted nuances that the center was a product of the university of Wisconsin. The governor began his speech by thanking the "board of governors of the University of Wisconsin system" that was markedly absent. He further extended his salutations to this imaginary entity while reinforcing his humility and surprise at what he, well, here are his words:
"I must begin by thanking the director of the board of governors and all those concerned, especially the authorities of the University of Wisconsin system for considering me fit for the honor of a centre with focus on policy studies named after my humble self. I think it is a clear indication of your kind regard to my person and the views I espouse and stand for". Heavy stuff, wouldn't you say?
Well, this is an exaggeration. The center, as much as I have discovered, is a largely private endeavor that is in no way affiliated with the University of Wisconsin, an institute that I still maintain ties to. To the extent that any affiliation to this citadel of excellence can be alleged it is only within the confines that John Ifediora, the executive director of the center is a professor (of economics) at one of the colleges (Platteville) in the University of Wisconsin system. The University of Wisconsin system with its flagship institute in Madison is comprised of 16 or 17 universities scattered in different parts of this state of Scandenavian and German immigrants.
This reference, I am certain sounded hollow and probably suspect, to some of the people in the audience of whom they were many. They also came from all corners. Some said they came in from as far away as Alaska and others from Japan. But most were Nigerians. And they came from everywhere, including persons who were familiar and some who were faintly familiar from a life lived long ago in Nigeria. But I suspect you are more interested in other things than who was there. Like Ibori's speech.
It was a lengthy one. About ten pages of it. He spoke about his desires for Delta, Nigeria and Africa and testified that the Africa that he recognizes the most was not the present one of a continent steeped in misery and ill deluge but a historical one that was often at par and ahead of the rest of the world in education, learning, technology, etc. It was also an Africa, I think, that was mostly lost on the European audience.
He made many references to his interactions and talks with Thabo Mbeki of South Africa which after a while I thought were intended to solicit respectability by citing the company one keeps. But not once, did the name of the current president of Nigeria, Obasanjo come up.
Unfortunately, the event did not provide for audience questions. Instead, there were spent on speech making. There was also a professor from Plattevile, the same school as Mr. Ifediora's who spoke about the utilization of the wisconsin idea of moving ideas from the university into the community where they can be of use for Delta state and Nigeria. He mentioned also how the Ibori center can be structured to provide some of that linkage between ideas generated from the university to the people in Delta. There was a lady from Chicago University who spoke on her recent trip to Nigeria for research on health and the CEO of a company here that argued for the need for Nigeria to focus its investments in capacities that can enable foreign investments. He spoke about his trip to China with the Wisconsin governor to source business and how he wishes for the opportunity to visit Nigeria for such purpose.
Overall, I was happy to see the birth of this center though as I had noted I was troubled by its reference and connection to an alliance or bestowment that was not mostly fiction. I got to speak briefly with Ibori who appeared to me to be restrained and lacking in the hubris one often associates with Nigerian leaders. His commissioners, of which I there were as many as seven or nine appeared eager to source solutions to problems they often cited. I ended up spending most of the reception time discussing with them on ways that their needs can begin to be met.
At 11:30 PM we were invited to the governor's temporary residence at the Hilton to continue with the reception. I declined. I probably should have gone but it was past my bedtime.