Pictures and videos flew across the airwaves, on Monday, of President Muhammadu Buhari receiving the “First Black History Month National Black Excellence and Exceptional African Leadership Award”.
An award ceremony, which took place at the Council Chambers in Abuja, was said to have been done by Martin Luther King’s junior family. It was witnessed by Abike Dabire Erewa, Baba Onabanjo, Erika Bennett and Naomi Barbara King, “the family’s matriarch”.
In no time, the news reached the skies of the social media, where many said the award was just a smokescreen to divert attention away from the administration’s shortcomings. Suspicion was fuelled when Newton-Farris, Martin Luther King’s nephew, advised Nigerians in an interview to “give this man [Buhari] the time he needs to do the job that he is doing”.
“He is one of the most legitimate leaders that the continent has produced. And he would if you all just stick to him I assure you he is going to make Nigeria a better place,” he added.
This is perhaps similar to what Louis Farrakhan, American Muslim leader, said about Abacha during his visit to the country in 1996: “that Nigerians should give strongman Gen. Sani Abacha the three years he has sought for a handover to civilians” and implement his timetable for democracy.
What really ignited the keg of gun powder, however, was a tweet by the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Change, established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King. Reacting to an earlier tweet by Godwin Amaize (@MrFixNigeria), the Center had strongly denounced connection to the award.
— The King Center (@TheKingCenter) March 28, 2018
The Presidency later explained that the award was presented on behalf of the family, not The King Center, and that the tweet must have been triggered by Newton-Farris’ politically-flavoured interview.
Though this is the first time such an award will be met with great distrust and disagreement, it is not the first of its kind conferred on a Nigerian leader by the US black community.
Two recent cases:
JONATHAN’S MLK HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD IN 2016
Following his defeat at the polls in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan, former President, was awarded in the United States in recognition of his leadership in “human rights, social justice and universal fight for freedom”.
The award was presented by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, founded by Martin Luther King Jr, the late American human rights activist. Just like Buhari, Jonathan was said to be “the first African leader to be so honoured”. Naomi Barbara King was also at the event.
Jonathan had noted that it was “also a pleasure to meet Naomi King, the sister of the late American Civil Rights leader and founder of the SCLC, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was kind enough to attend the event and identify with the goals and aspirations of the Goodluck Jonathan Foundation”.
TINUBU’S BLACK MAYORS’ AWARD IN 2012
Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, also received a ‘prestigious’ award from the US. In 2012, the National Conference of Black Mayors in America gave him its highest award, the President’s Award.
“We searched for Africans leaders who have made great impact in linking African-Americans with Africans towards positive development and you emerged as one of such,” Vanessa Williams, Executive Director of the Conference, told Tinubu. “You have linked your international experience with national experience to chart a path for development for your people.”
In his response, Tinubu had said: “African-Americans and Nigerians are the same in their crusade to achieve freedom and liberty. We must work together to elevate our people. We share a common aspiration in the struggle to eradicate poverty and give hope to our people.”
He further added that Martin Luther King, a crusader extraordinary, had shown everyone else the way.
The Buhari controversy has already been laid to rest, but were the President still interested in equaling the feats of Tinubu and Jonathan, he’d have to wait a little longer.