Politics

Martin Luther King family disowns Buhari’s award

Public commentators and thousands of Nigerians invaded the social media space on
Thursday, condemning the roles allegedly played by some presidential aides in the
controversial award for President Muhammadu Buhari by the Martin Luther King center
a few days ago.

Pictures of the delegation from the centre, The King Center, presenting the award on
behalf of the family of legendary American civil rights activist to Buhari at the
Presidential villa, found their way into the media space hours after the visit.

Obviously uncomfortable with the development, The King Center tweeted on Wednesday,
dissociating itself from the award.

The statement, released via @TheKingCenter, read, “The award given to President
Buhari of Nigeria was not given by The King Center, at the request of The King
Center or by the children of #MLK and CorettaScottKing.”

The development ignited a series of unfavourable comments from members of the
public, especially when an online platform, LeadersNG, published on Thursday that
the Nigerian government might have paid up to $3m to procure the ‘fake award’ for
the President.


Following the outrage, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs
and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, hurriedly issued a statement on Thursday to defend
the award.

She explained that the award was in appreciation of the President’s fight against
corruption, noting that the visit of the MLK family members to Nigeria was not
sponsored by the Federal Government.

Dabiri-Erewa in the statement by her media aide, Abdurrahman Balogun, dismissed
insinuations that the government paid money for the award, stressing that nothing
could be further from the truth.

“It must be categorically stated here that the trip was totally privately funded and
not one kobo was spent by the Nigerian government,” she said.

The Presidential aide also clarified that the commemorative plaque given to Buhari
was presented on behalf of the Martin Luther King family and not the TK Center as
being speculated.

The statement read in part, “Our attention has been drawn to obviously fake online
news reports on the visit of some members of the MLK family to Nigeria.


“The members, led by the Matriarch of MLK, Naomi Barbara King, were in Nigeria as
part of the activities initiated to celebrate a low- key Black History Month in
Nigeria as part of deepening partnership between Africa and its diaspora.

“As part of the activities, they visited President Buhari and gave him a
commemorative plaque for his fight against corruption and what they termed from the
“Africania Diaspora” a term for Africans in diaspora for which the oldest of them
all, Naomi Barbara King, was selected to present on behalf of the family (Not TK
Center) as a sign of appreciation to the President.”

The statement further stated that the Americans enjoyed their visit and they decided
to extend their stay by two days, noting that the political endorsement of Buhari by
a member of the MLK family was done in his personal capacity.

“As a non-political group, he was asked to refute the statement, which he refused
to, insisting that it was his personal opinion, and not that of the family nor that
of the centre, of which he has been a board member and the Chief Operating Officer
for over five years.


“This may have led to some arguments among them, which they have said they will
resolve when they get back to the United States, which apparently led to the tweet
being circulated,” it said.

But the LeadersNG, in its report, alleged that the award was facilitated by
Dabiri-Erewa, through a Ghanaian self-acclaimed foreign diplomat, Dr. Erieka
Bennett.

According to the LeadersNG, a quick fact-check on Erieka Bennet revealed that she
runs a non-governmental organisation, called, Diaspora African Forum, based in
Accra, Ghana, and that she used her influence to facilitate foreign awards for
unsuspecting African leaders.

The online newspaper further alleged that Bennett was contracted by Dabiri-Erewa to
bring Martin Luther King Jnr’s family to Nigeria to present an award to Buhari.

It added that Bennet contacted someone in King’s family, a distant relative of
Martin Luther King called Dr. Naomi Barbara, “after The King Center declined earlier
request by Bennett to influence an award for a certain African leader.”

In his reaction on his facebook page, An Associate Professor of Journalism and
Emerging Media in the School of Communication & Media, Kennesaw State University in
the USA, Farooq Kperogi, condemned the action which Buhari’s aides played in the
saga.

Kperogi wrote, “Nigerian scam artists, led by Abike Dabiri, got some Black American
hustlers from Atlanta to pose as close relatives of the late Dr. Martin Luther King
Jnr. and presented a fraudulent “Black History Award” to Buhari.

“First, Coretta King, Martin Luther King’s wife, died on January 30, 2006. I know
Buhari gives appointments to dead people, but in America dead people don’t give
awards. Second, Black History is celebrated in February, not March, in America and
Canada.

“The extent the Buhari government is prepared to go to court of embarrassment and
ridicule Nigeria in its bid to conceal its crying incompetence is simply astounding.

Also, one Aminu Farooq, said, “This fraudulent award didn’t come to me as a
surprise. Nigerian leaders are always vulnerable when it comes to these types of
awards. My father had been chief executive officer in a Federal Government
establishment in Nigeria.

“He said if he had paid attention to awards, he would have received hundreds of them
during the period he occupied office. There is a growing business industry in
Nigeria that can be called the award industry. Buhari’s case is only different from
the ones I know about because his own award is ‘international.’ It is very sickening
and sad.”

Another Facebook user, Isyaka Laminu Badamasi, said, “When a few nights ago my wife
and I watched Channels TV News at 10 and saw the presentation of an award called the
First Black History Month National Black Excellence and Exceptional Leadership Award
by a certain falsely described ‘matriarch’ of the King family, I smelt a rat. I told
her this award is very strange though I couldn’t put my finger on why.”

Also, Musa Idris said, “The long and short of it is that the award is a big fraud,
as fraudulent as Buhari’s integrity! My surprise is that it is Abike Dabiri whom we
used to know and love in NTA of old that organised this heist and foisted it on the
unaware President-in-a-trance.”

In 2016, former President Goodluck Jonathan became the first African leader to be
given the Martin Luther King human rights award.

However, the Peoples Democratic Party described the saga as a national disgrace and
embarrassment.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan,
on Thursday said the lie by Buhari’s handlers smacked of what it described as a
desperation by the presidency and the All Progressives Congress to procure
international endorsement,ahead of the 2019 elections.

Ologbondiyan said the embarrassing act had made the nation a laughing stock before
the international community.

He said the nation was jolted when the centre distanced itself from the award and
noted that, “the award given to President Buhari of Nigeria was not given by The
King Centre, at the request of The King Centre or by the children of Martin Luther
King jnr.”

He said, “It is now clear that this sinking, incompetent and deceptive APC
administration, in their desperation, can fabricate and stage-manage anything,
including name-dropping of international figures and agencies, in their desperate
attempt to delude Nigerians again, now that the 2019 general election is fast
approaching.

“Nigerians have discovered that having failed to gain any endorsement from reputable
international figures such as Bill Gates, the APC and the Presidency have now
cheapened the nation by resorting to this despicable act of name-dropping of
world-renowned human right activist, Dr. Martin Luther King jnr., further dragging
down our once sterling image before the comity of nations.

“The fact remains that not many Nigerians believed in the authenticity of the award
in the first place, as the Buhari-led administration, by its undemocratic and
anti-people proclivities, including records of violations of rights of citizens, is
not deserving of any form of recognition by any human rights group, let alone the
family of the world-acclaimed Martin Luther King Jnr.

“Today, the PDP has been vindicated in its stand that the APC government is not only
hypocritical but overtly deceptive and must not be trusted.”

Ologbondiyan recalled that the PDP had issued a statement, earlier this year,
cautioning Nigerians and the international community to be wary of information and
claims coming from the APC and the presidency, particularly on endorsements and
performance indices.

While he urged the Presidency to shed its alleged proclivity for lies, he also
demanded the immediate arrest, investigation and prosecution of all the Presidency
officials involved in this messy scandal and crime against our nation.

“Moreover, the Presidency and the APC should save the nation from further
embarrassment by jettisoning other planned endorsement stunts and fabricated
performance indices, as Nigerians are already rallying with the repositioned and
rebranded PDP in their collective quest to end the misrule of the APC and restore a
sincere, purposeful and people-oriented government come 2019,” he added.

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