If three Nigerians based in the U.S. have their way, their names will be on the presidential ballot in the 2019 election.
This, however, will be a historical first for Nigeria and a boost for her fast growing diaspora.
Last month, Messrs Gabriel Adegboye, Samuel Mbonu and Omoyele Sowore launched campaign activities for the presidency of Nigeria in their country of residence, the United States of America. However, even the unprecedented step of starting their race for the highest office in their homeland in the midst of their diaspora constituents has not endeared them to Nigerians in the Diaspora (NIDO), the premier organisation of Nigerians abroad, as its officials are keeping the candidates at arms length.
In February, Mr. Mbonu, a resident of Washington DC metro area, was reported to have announced his desire to join the presidential race at an event said to have held at the Airforce One Boardroom, a rental hall in Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California.
PREMIUM TIMES has not independently confirmed that the event took place but we can confirm that the website, Elombah news, published a follow-up article in March and a different website that is fully dedicated to Mr Mbonu’s campaign has since emerged.
By sheer coincidence, Mr Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, and Mr Adegboye, a self-identified pastor, launched their presidential campaign on the same day, March 10, in the American states of Maryland and Texas respectively.
Mr Sowore kicked off his campaign at a restaurant owned and patronized by Nigerian-Americans in the city of Bowie, Maryland while Mr. Adegboye claims to have flagged off his campaign from his residence in Pflugerville, Texas.
“We don’t know anything about them,” said Patience Key, who heads the Board of directors of NIDO, USA. “NIDO, as an organisation, is not aware of any of these candidates and their campaign.”
NIDO was founded in 2000 as a coalition of Nigerian professionals, trade and social organisations, with a view to facilitating and streamlining engagement of diaspora community, with the home government in Abuja.
It has since modified membership requirement from groups to individuals and expanded across America from its first base in Atlanta, Georgia and even further to Canada, Europe, South and Central America.
“NIDO is about collaboration and networking of Nigerians in the diaspora, it is about harnessing our expertise to see how we can better our country. We are not political in any way, we are non-partisan,” explained Ms Key who also doubles as president of NIDO chapter in the American state of Maryland.
Sylvester Mode, her counterpart in the State of Virginia, is equally emphatic about keeping the budding diaspora politicians at a distance.
“They don’t belong to NIDO America, the mere fact that they live here and are contesting from here doesn’t mean that they are part of the organisation,” he said.
Mr Mode, who has lived the Washington DC metro area since the 1980’s, stated that in the past, the organisation has been used “as a stepping stone” by other diaspora Nigerians seeking office or patronage back home. He asserted that NIDO will not be a prop for anybody’s ambition, this time around.
“Once they get to Abuja, they start struggling for their own personal gain and forget NIDO.”
In any case, Mr Mode added, NIDO is now a registered non-profit under American law, it is therefore exempted from active politicking.
“We are apolitical, we are a 501 (c) 3 organisation, a non-profit, that means we cannot participate in politics,” he said.
From all indications, however, the candidates themselves have not sought the support of NIDO as a group, though some members have been invited to their campaign activities. NIDO officials warn such members against conflating their personal choice to support any candidate with their membership of the organisation.
“It will be completely erroneous for any member to claim that he or she is attending a campaign rally in his or her capacity as a NIDO member”, Ms Key said, adding that she herself received invitations to campaign activities for Mr Mbonu and Mr Sowore.
“I know about Sowore, I have spoken to him and I saw him when he came to campaign in Maryland but I was there as a private person like everybody else.”
There is also no indication that the emergence of Messrs Sowore, Mbonu and Adeboye as presidential hopefuls, has impacted the diaspora community at more than a superficial level. In previous election circles, Nigerians in America only get to host politicians visiting from home and that is usually far into the electoral calendar, after the primaries.
Last month, all three candidates recorded more campaign stops than visiting politicians usually make in a year but their message hasn’t resonated any deeper, among their diaspora constituents.
In the statement released to coincide with the start of his campaign, Mr Adegboye proclaimed that he is “a clergy man ordained and commissioned by God to lead Nigeria from bloodshed and from social, political, religious and economic crisis.” Born August 9, 1965, the self-identified pastor and native of Ogbomoso, Oyo State, did not elaborate on how he will achieve these goals. He did say he has not declared allegiance to any political party and would move back to Nigeria after March 10 to continue his campaign.
In an embedded Youtube video on his website, Mr Mbonu declared that he is not “a typical Nigerian politician” and that he will “bring better governance to Nigeria” but he didn’t say how. He has scheduled a townhall meeting for May 9 in Charlotte, North Carolina, to discuss his recent trip to Nigeria and the three issues his campaign is focused on; energy, water and security.
Mr Sowore, whose campaign has been helped by his notoriety as a publisher, is obviously pulling much more traction among Nigerian-Americans; but his support base is still far short of the capacity and capability that the Nigerian diaspora is known for.
The activist and ex-student union leader was well received at his three campaign stops in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Michigan in March, but the response to his online fund-raising effort has not shown comparable enthusiasm. His campaign had not reached one per cent of its fund-raising goal of $2 million as at the end of the first week of April. But with more than 300 days to the elections, there is time to catch up.