Ibori boasts about his accomplishments in America:
Ibori Centre: New initiative for Africa
Efforts by Nigerian professionals in the diaspora to spearhead a new development initiative for the country received a big boost penultimate Saturday with the establishment of the James Ibori Center for Policy Studies in Madison, USA. The Center, established in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin outreach programme, seeks to halt the downward slide of the nation's economy and reverse the trend of bad governance in Nigeria and indeed, Africa.
The Center, named after its major benefactor, the Governor of Delta state, Chief James Ibori was inaugurated on Saturday November 20, at Monona Terrace, the sprawling seaside resort in the capital city of Wisconsin. It is the brain child of dozens of Nigerian professionals in the US desirous of contributing to the development of the country's human resources.
According to its co-coordinator, John Ifediora, a professor at the University of Wisconsin's Faculty of Economics, "time has come for Nigerian professionals in diaspora to look back to their continent of origin and seek ways of developing its abundant human resources and influence its overall progress in a way that it can take its pride of place in the world of today."
While he lamented that "in Africa can be found the greatest tragedies since World War 11", Ifediora observed that Nigeria and indeed, the African continent has no business with the prevailing widespread poverty and bad governance that have afflicted it, two major issues that have held it down.
The event which attracted over 250 Nigerian professionals, businessmen and diplomats from all over the United States could not have elicited higher interest among Nigerians eager to give back to their country of origin. While many attended with their families, others brought their American friends, politicians and business partners.
Governor Ibori who arrived Madison for the inauguration accompanied by the Secretary of State Government, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and other state government officials, friends and political associates from Nigeria, was visibly elated. He considered it an honor that the organizers of the event had considered it fit to name the Center after him, a clear indication of their regards for his person and the views that he espouses and stand for.
It is very likely that the establishment of the James Ibori Center for Policy Studies (JIPS) by those Nigerian professionals in the US was a direct response to the challenge the governor threw their way in Columbus, Ohio State on October 4 last year.
While delivering the annual lecture organized by One Nigerian Association in collaboration with the Ohio State University Centre for African Studies, at the Fawcett Center, Columbus, Governor Ibori had stirred the nationalistic spirit in African professionals in the US, asking them to discard their attitude of indifference and initiate policies that would awaken, once more, the sleeping giant that Africa was. It appears to have struck the right chord in them. This time again in Madison, his speech at the inauguration of JIPS was no less inspiring.
In the speech entitled: "Africa: A Continent of Hope and Opportunity", Governor Ibori said the establishment of JIPS represents a fresh opportunity for the peoples of Africa and the United States to renew their age-long bonds of common aspirations and common humanity.
He traced the tragedy of Africa's under-development to the effects of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and urged the Centre to focus attention on "the evolution and promotion of positive policies that are geared towards the elimination of the disparities that currently exist between African and the rest of the World."
These imperatives, according to him, is "predicated on the fact that an Africa in distress is a moral scar, if not a threat, to the rest of the World." He further proposed an outline which he urged the Center to adopt if it were to seriously impact socio-political affairs in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, viz:
(a) the development of appropriate political and administrative institutions that would provide the requisite platform for the deepening of the emerging democratic ethos;
(b) reversion of the negative indices of developing in Africa, since widespread poverty remains the most potent threat to democracy;
(c) involvement of civil society organizations as a beneficial partner in the process of governance and
(d) development of mechanisms for peace-building, peace-making and conflict resolution in a nation and continent where most people hold stronger allegiance to their ethnic nations as opposed to the modern state.
Among American professionals who identify with the JIPS and spoke at its inauguration were Prof. John Simonson of the University of Wisconsin; Prof. Esther Jenkins of Chicago State University and Mr. Scott McDonald, a political activist.
Prof. Jenkins who was in Nigeria sometime ago to attend the Nigeria-US joint workshop on AIDS, recounted her experience in Nigeria, saying she was amazed at the abundant human and material resources that abound here. She noted in her speech that the ideas of African professionals in the US initiating a new development initiative in the continent was long overdue and pledged to be part of the efforts.
In all, the establishment of the James Ibori Center for Policy Studies, could not have come at a better time considering the social, political and economic turmoil that the continent has been thrown into in recent months. How it is able to influence affairs in the continent, project the African perspectives at international fora and lobby policy-makers in Washington remains to be seen.
It is however of special significance that the three-hour event, which ended up more like a workshop on new development initiatives for the African continent, took place in a city named after the great James Madison. Madison was a foremost American statesman reputed for his contributions in fashioning the constitution of the United States; a constitution which opening lines recognise the equality of all mankind and seeks fairness for all.
It was therefore a rare moment for all those gathered there to share in such a great history. The World recognizes that the challenge facing the whole humanity today is how to reverse this lingering pessimism about Africa and reposition it in the new global order as an equal partner to the rest of the world. The Ibori Center may well be a giant step towards fulfilling that dream and vision.
*Mr Sheddy Ozone, Special Assistant to Governor Ibori on Media writes from Lagos.