The Zumunta Convention this past weekend in Los Angeles has generated a lot of heat in this forum. Therefore, I intend to add my little input into this discussion based on my presence during this three day event.
In order to establish a foundation, I wish to disclose that I responded positively to a request from an old friend of mine to help Zumunta organize her convention in Los Angeles. Mr. Dan Musa, President of Zumunta California Branch needed help. Several hours of discussions followed on the logistics, location, activities and the invitation of quests to the Zumunta convention. This led to the disclosure that the Sultan of Sokoto, Abubakar III, has accepted the invitation and plans to be in Los Angeles for this convention.
About the same time, in an exchange of emails within the CISA organization, an interest was expressed in holding a meeting with the Sultan of Sokoto, who is also the head of the muslim religion in Nigeria. I therefore disclosed to the members that Zumunta was planning to hold a convention in Los Angeles and the Sultan has expressed interest in coming to this convention. Since I was already helping Zumunta to organize their event, I was therefore in a position to ask for a meeting between Sultan Abubakar and CISA during the convention period. After discussions, CISA decided to authorize me to make inquiries into the possibility of this meeting. Thus, using my contacts, a request was made to the SultanÊ¼s office to inquire about the chances of such a meeting. When a positive response was therefore received, I informed CISA to confirm her continued interest. CISA then consulted with IWA and received IWAÊ¼s blessing to go ahead with this meeting. IWA also passed the information to Ohanaeze for their overview and comments. Ohanaeze approved of the meeting also. With these Igbo groups backing, a proper request for a meeting with Sultan Abubakar was then made through his office in Sokoto and a date was then set for the meeting. To the best of my knowledge, no other organization had requested a meeting during the Zumunta convention at this stage of the planning.
With the meeting date set, I went ahead and contacted Marriot Hotels (venue of the convention) and rese rved a meeting room, a set of teleconference facilities (telephone and speakers) and lunch for ten participants. As far as I know, no other Nigerian organization made any attempts to reserve a meeting room for the time period of 12:00 noon to 4:00 pm of July 27th, 2008. It was necessary to rent teleconference facilities because some IWA members in Europe and Ohanaeze members in Nigeria wanted to have a chance to participate in this meeting. With less than a week to the convention, I was told that WIC and Egbe Omo Yoruba now want to meet with Sultan Abubakar and two days later the secretary of WIC published the proposed meeting in the internet. The CISA leadership discussed the potential conflicts with WIC at the Zumunta conference and proposed that both organizations should attempt to go to this meeting together. The Chairman of WIC rejected the proposal on the basis that he does not wish to be seen with CISA and he expects to have their WIC/EOY arranged meeting with Sultan Abubakar. That was the end of any discussions for a joint meeting.
In the mean time, other Nigerian community organizations now wanted to be part of the meeting. Sultan Abubakar and the Archbishop therefore decided to invite all of them to this meeting since it will be impossible to hold another meeting later. After discussions with the managers of the convention, the aides to the Sultan and myself, we accepted to hold an open meeting with all groups participating. Some of the groups=2 0represented at this meeting were Rivers State, Akwa Ibom, NIDO, ANAC who then joined CISA members who were already seated for the meeting. WIC/EOY did not attend this meeting. Given the sudden expansion of the assembly, CISA had to shelve her planned program in an effort to accommodate others. The teleconference facilities were therefore, not used and the meeting proceeded with only the individuals who were present in the room. We setup a head table with six seats which accomodated the two visiting Emirs,
Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze (for IWA/CISA), Sultan Abubakar III, Catholic Archbishop of Abuja and Dr. Femi Ajayi who is the Vice President of Zumunta.
Sultan Abubakar and CISA to hold future Meetings
The discussion was free following throughout the room with individuals asking a variety of questions after an opening statement from the Sultan, the Archbishop and Dr. Anakwenze. Interestingly, Sultan Abubakar and the Archbishop work so closely together that one usually defers to the other to speak in public gatherings while the other person simply concurs. In this case, Sultan Abubakar spoke extensively and Archbishop Onaiyekan concured with all that was said. During the main convention event in the afternoon of Saturday, the Archbishop gave the major presentation and the Sultan concured. This relationship seems to be working very well for both of them as they attempt to harmonize the message from the leadership of NigeriaÊ¼s two main religions groups in an effort to minimize friction among Nigerians. The central theme of this convention centered around Ethnic and religious conflicts and the ongoing work to control them. This issue, therefore, dominated the discussion at the meeting. Unfortunately, CISAÊ¼s program and prefered discussions suffered a setback due to changes and new participants. Overall, the entire meeting was successful as new developments in the area of inter religious relationships in Nigeria were brought to the attention of those of us in the Diaspora. I am still waiting to see how this new relationship translates to the lower level believers of these two groups as they struggle to keep their faith and make a living in the difficult economic environment of Nigeria. Some of the new arrangements within the leadership look promising and the governmental institutions should be encouraged to augment this work.
Going forward, I am glad CISA/IWA understand that Ndigbo can only have permanent interests and not permanent enemies. Ndigbo are so vested in Northern Nigeria that it would be a mistake to take the security of Igbo lives and properties in the North for granted. CISA, as I understand it, has also held meetings with Izu Umunna, the umbrella group representing Ndigbo in Northern Nigeria and the meeting with the Sultan is, as I understand it, only just the beginning.
My private observations
All the contributors to this topic so far in t his forum have done a good job in moving this discussion forward, especially Obi NwakanmaÊ¼s. Only the Governors of Rivers and Delta States honored the SultanÊ¼s invitation to join him at the convention in Los Angeles. These two did not attend the Saturday night banquet. Over forty members of the ACF were denied visa to the USA for the convention. Non of the Federal Ministers and no Senators showed up. The Deputy Minority Leader of the Federal House of Assembly was also present to represent the Governor of Kano State, who sent a letter of apology and sent his wife to the Zumunta convention. There was also a Federal Appeals Court Judge and the new Nigerian Ambassador to the U. S. A.
The diversity of the Zumunta membership is quite impressive, but the strenght of the membership maybe low. Organizing events of this magnitude may continue to be difficult for them unless they reach out to friends from outside the Northern region of Nigeria. Contrary to what some of us believe in this forum, Zumunta certainly has a majority Christian membership (about 70%) and the Hausa/Fulani are not that dorminant in the association. Yet, like most communities in the North, the lingua franca is Hausa.
The highlight of my presence at the Zumunta convention was my chance to have lunch on Saturday with the Catholic Archbishop (Dr.) John Olorumfemi Onaiyekan, President of CAN and Rev. Yakubu Pam, President of CAN in the North Central region. Some of20you should remember Rev. Yakubu Pam in his encounter with President Obasanjo during the Christian/Moslem conflicts in Plateau State. The conversation was very interesting.
I am writing this article to lay a foundation for what I sincerely hope will be a useful exchange of opinions on how the Igbo Diaspora can help to move the Igbo agenda forward. To me, the concept of not talking is un-Igbo. Ndiigbo historically have advanced our agenda by working with people on issues of common interest. Three of the greatest Igbo leaders in history, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Micheal Okpara and Odimegwu Ojukwu are easy references on this subject.