Just a few weeks away from the federal and state elections, members of civil society met in Lagos to discuss “Non Violent Democratic Change” to mark the 2015 African-American History Month. The event was organized by the U.S. Consulate General, Lagos in collaboration with the Center for the Rule of Law (CENTROLAW).
In his keynote address, U.S. Consul General Jeffrey Hawkins noted that the program was designed to celebrate democracy in Nigeria along with African-American History month, which celebrates the heritage of African-Americans and their contributions to U.S. society. He highlighted the importance of exercising the right to vote as demonstrated in the recently released American movie titled Selma, which portrays Dr. Martin Luther King’s involvement in the struggle to have the Voting Rights Act enacted. He advised Nigerians to use the lessons from Dr. King’s life and philosophy to conduct electioneering campaigns devoid of violence.
CG Jeffrey Hawkins stated that “the lesson I draw from the civil rights history is the power of non-violence. As Dr. King taught Americans, and as he taught the world, ‘nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.’”
He also noted that, “It is in that same non-violent spirit of Dr. King’s that our U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle and I have been so outspoken over the past year on the importance of non-violence in Nigeria’s upcoming elections.”
He concluded that “Committing to non-violence, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also means that you will not engage in or support violence for any reason, no matter what others do.”
Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), the guest speaker and human rights lawyer, spoke as an activist and enjoined civil society groups to be watchdogs and ensure that Nigeria does not go back to the military era. He discountenanced military policing, urged the leadership to be more accountable and highlighted several areas in which he expected the current leadership to improve.
In his opening remarks, the facilitator of the event, and an alumnus of the USG International Visitor Leadership Program and President of CENTROLAW, Barrister Olasupo Ojo noted that this was the first time the African-American history month program was hosted in the area. He commended the U.S. Government for reaching out to the masses through this forum.
Other dignitaries at the event include members of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR); Mr. Yinka Folarin and Mr. Olaitan Buna; and many civil society groups.
The forum closed with a Q and A session which raised issues such as the U.S. stand on same sex marriages, the challenges of governance, US support to Nigeria and the shift in Nigeria’s election dates.