The N100 million dinner for Obama – Reuben Abati

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GUARDIAN

Friday, August 15, 2008   

The N100 million dinner for Obama
By Reuben Abati

“Some skeptical people have been writing nonsense and rubbish in the newspapers that what is my business with Obama. But they are free to continue to write petitions. It is not their money that we are spending. Ask them is it your money that we are spending?” These are the exact words of Professor Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke, Director General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, and Chairman of the Africans for Obama 2008, a non-governmental Nigeria-based group that is campaigning vigorously, raising funds and mobilizing support for the US Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama. The landlady of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (she has been in that position for close to a decade) was defending the expensive fund-raising dinner that was organized for Barack Obama on Monday, August 11, at the Shell Hall of the MUSON centre in Lagos.

There were reportedly 56 buffet tables at the dinner, loaded with champagne, red wine, beer and assorted drinks, Obama’s posters decorated the stage and the entrance, with a 25-metre long rug on which was boldly written: YES WE CAN. It is probably the most expensive dinner anyone has ever eaten in that Shell Hall, at N2. 5 million for a Platinum Corporate Table and Individual: N325, 000, and for a Gold Table: N2m and N275, 000 respectively. Madam Okereke-Onyiuke does not want to be criticised, because after all it is not our money that was being spent. The event, not to talk of the idea of a fund-raising dinner for Obama, is an invitation to commentary. She should know that.

The Madam admires Barack Obama. We all do. His brilliance, his charisma and the historical significance of his emergence as a leading contender for the US Presidency – all of this is impressive. From China to Chad, there is a phenomenal obsession with Obama and his message of change. Okereke-Onyiuke had once met Obama in the United States, had had the chance of a photo-op with him and even a brief conversation.. In 2003, she organised a similar fund-raising shindig under the umbrella of Corporate Nigeria, to help the Obasanjo re-election campaign. In 2006, Okereke-Onyiuke was one of the staunch supporters of Obasanjo’s anti-democratic Third Term Agenda. She had also helped to raise funds for Transcorp of which she was one of the original promoters, although through a sleight of hand at the Stock Exchange.

Since this woman is so gifted in raising funds to help others, why is she not on record yet as raising funds to support worthy causes that may benefit the poor? When would she mobilise her rich friends to raise funds to help motherless babies homes in Nigeria? Or the army of unemployed youths on our streets? Would she and her friends some day consider organizing fund-raising dinners to support the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria? Madam Onyiuke gives the impression that she loves to raise funds to support powerful men: Obasanjo in 2003 was the most powerful man in Nigeria. She had enthused at the controversial dinner on Monday, that Obama, as President of the United States will also be the president of the world: a position she created! Rich Nigerians like to support themselves or their ilk, but imagine how many Nigerian lives N100 million can transform.

The fund-raising dinner for Obama was bound to be controversial.

Onyiuke says the money will be used to mobilize five million Africans in the United States to vote for Obama in the November US Presidential election because “he is our brother”. The ideological basis of the exercise is flawed, informed as it is by sheer racism, and this is a reflection of the Nigerian political process. Nearly every Nigerian that I know who has been supporting Obama does so largely because the man is “our brother”. This politics of exclusion cannot serve Obama’s interest if it gets reported in the American media that some African natives have been staging a song and a dance for him and pretending to have a say in the American election. Obama was endorsed during the primaries by blacks and whites, and for the average American, the main issue is not simply race but health care, the economy, Iraq, NAFTA and so on.

Obama is not running a racist or tribal campaign. As President he will not go out of his way to defend black or African interests. The myth that when our own “brother” is in power, he would defend our interest is a major shortcoming in African politics, but it is a myth that has been exploded again and again. How many brothers and sisters from our streets, residents associations, or professional groups have we voted into power or whose pre-eminence we have celebrated only for them to turn around and disappoint us thoroughly? In South Africa, two black men have been President since the introduction of black majority rule. How much change has that brought to the average black South African?

In June, the Obama Campaign team announced that they were not interested in public campaign funds, and therefore opted to devote more energy to raising funds from private sources, particularly individuals. But the kind of money that Onyiuke and co have raised is not the money that the Obama campaign needs or is looking for. It is money that it should reject. The US Foreign Election Campaign Act (FECA) 1974 “prohibits any foreign nationals from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly or willingly engage in these activities may be subject to fine and/or imprisonment.”

The Africans for Obama 2008 group had tried to circumvent this by stating that part of the money raised will be used to sponsor some of their members to the Democratic Convention in Minnesota later this month. This would be illegal within the purview of the US law, more so as these self-appointed “delegates” intend to use the money to mobilize African support. Moblise? Do they intend to bribe voters? Or travel to the US with election monitors, ballot box snatchers, ghost voters or able-bodied men? Eric Wright, Obama’s policy maker for Africa attended the dinner on Monday. Does this not amount to solicitation or willingly and knowingly encouraging foreign funding of the Obama campaign?

Wright said he was not speaking for Obama or the campaign team. What was he doing at the dinner, then? The FECA further states that immigrants with “a green card” may contribute to US elections, US citizens too of course, and foreign nationals can only take part in non-election activities. There are members of the Onyiuke group who are Nigerians in Diaspora, but who are they? There are hidden ways in which foreigners have tried to influence American elections through donations. The 1996/97 scandal of “the China plan” has shown just how embarrassing an eventual discovery of this could be. If the Nigerians raising funds for Obama are not stopped, a scandal may be in the offing. The staff of the Nigerian Stock Exchange were actively involved in the Obama event on Monday Was this part of their official assignment? Is there no more serious work at the Stock Exchange?

The Obama website provides detailed conditions for donating to the campaign: For example: “We don’t take money from Washington lobbyists or special interest political action committees”. How are we sure that there are no lobbyists among the August 11 Obama dinners in Lagos? And definitely an Africans for Obama group that is preaching racism is a special interest political action committee. The Obama website adds that donors must also meet these conditions:

1. I am a United States citizen or a lawfully-admitted permanent resident.

2. I am at least 16 years old.

3. This contribution is not made from the general treasury funds of a corporation, labor organization or national bank.

4. This contribution is not made from the funds of a political action committee.

5. This contribution is not made from the treasury of an entity or person who is a federal contractor.

6. This contribution is not made from the funds of an individual registered as a federal lobbyist or a foreign agent, or an entity that is a federally registered lobbying firm or foreign agent.

7. The funds I am donating are not being provided to me by another person or entity for the purpose of making this contribution

The Africans for Obama fund-raisers are off course in relation to most of these conditions. Well what does it matter: they are already “eating” the money themselves. N100 million at the rate of N117 to the dollar is about $854, 900. 85. They spared little espense in organizing their dinner and concert. A total of five musicians, one compere and two stand up comedians and newspaper and television adverts. This costs a lot of money. The dinner must also have cost a fortune, with the Obama campaigners guzzling wine and food ravenously. In Nigeria, oftentimes, money raised on behalf of a candidate may not even be handed over to him or to his campaign office, but the money can be spent on his behalf and in his name to bribe voters or to encourage voters as it were! The Obama Campaign team should issue a disclaimer on all foreign groups and persons purportedly raising funds on their behalf.

It is instructive that the success of the Okereke-Onyiuke initiative is spawning a copy-cat syndrome and may soon grow into a lucrative enterprise. Last week, some other persons announced the formation of “Africans for Obama or McCain 2008”; in response to “Africans for Obama 2008.” A Legislators for Obama 2008 group already exists! We are expecting Nigerian Students for Obama., Nigerian Widows for McCain, Nigerian Youths Earnestly Ask for Obama …all of which may announce fund-raising events. The charade must end. The Obama brand and message face the threat of being commercialised, and monetised by the candidate’s Nigerian admirers. And yet we have no stake in the American election. What is the matter with us?

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2 Responses to “The N100 million dinner for Obama – Reuben Abati”

  1. ken says:

    I also cannot help but laugh at Ndidi Okereke-Onyiuke’s dumb and dumber gathering!!! The facts are obvious that non-American citizens and non-greencard holders are ineligible to donate funds to any presidential campaign in the USA. Nothing wrong with showing support for Obama or any presidential candidate but there is so much madness and foolishness in going beyond it to raise funds. Besides all these, please you foolish attendants should focus on addressing the problems in Nigeria which are in every way within your capacity and stop exposing your low level reasoning.

  2. Red-Neck says:

    Pure Lunacy! Focus on getting the stock exchange working properly, or you haven’t heard, people are losing their shares and find it difficult to liquidate it. Those assholes eat their expensive foods and drink their over-priced wines, and next morning call themselves citizens and human beings.

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