BY NASIR ABBAS
As part of 2013 Martin Luther King Memorial Celebration, the centre for Historical documentation and Research AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY, organized a lecture on the 17th of January at the AREWA HOUSE, Kaduna,, with the TOPIC: “Issues of volunteerism, working together and helping each other.” The choice of the topic was apt and to do justice to the topic, was none other than HIS Excellency Terence P. McCulley, US Ambassador to Nigeria.
It was a well attended event which has in its attendance the Kaduna State Governor who was ably represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Alh. Hamza Ishaq Danmahayi; Alh Aliko Mohammed, chairman Arewa Consultative Forum and chairman of the occasion; the former Governor of North Western State, Alhaji Usman Faruk; and members of the civil society organization/pro democracy and Human Rights Groups.
However, after the formalities Associated with gatherings were speakers took turn to make brief remarks/comments, the business of the day commenced even though behind schedule. The Guest lecturer, US Ambassador, read his paper and at intervals, he made some clarifications on the issues and focus of the paper, taking cognizance of the Nigerian situation, the North, and Africa and perhaps how best to tackle the problems.
However, in adhering to the topic in question, he was clear and concise in his presentation, essentially detailing the virtues of Martin Luther King. I was quick to grasp these few, but, very important words and I quote: “Dr. King Brought justice to the oppressed people”, “he was not a passive leader,” “he organized matches/protests while others waited,” “he never stopped fighting for justice in non violent way”, “his impact extend around the world”, “he was an effective time manager,” well said.
Volunteerism and helping each other are valid in every facet of our endeavors, so one cannot but agree with the position of the Ambassador. So while it was imperative to work in harmony in advancing the frontiers of democracy, it was not out of place that he, in his wisdom, looked at some of the challenges faced by the Northerners in the areas of insecurity, poverty, illiteracy, hunger, disease, maternal and infant mortality and children parading the streets begging.
In the past the North was known for its sincerity, communality, togetherness, mutual trust, understanding and good leadership. Perhaps these were some of the virtues that stood as convincing credentials for the Northern region and what it stood for. By and large, these were also what late DR. King upheld as a cardinal principle.
Dr King’s successes in civil rights struggles for the African Americans were not without courage, conviction, persistence and consistence and surely it was not without risks. CIVIL RIGHTS REFERS TO” THE RIGHTS BELONGING TO AN INDIVIDUAL BY VIRTUE OF CITIZENSHIP” and these according to the American heritage dictionary they include: “CIVIL LIBERTIES, EQUAL PROTECTION OF THE LAW, AND FREEDOM FROM RACIAL, ETHNIC OR RELIGIOUS DISCREMINATION.”
By the same token, Men and Women of courage and conviction span the 19th and 20th Centuries, led the movement towards equal treatment for the African Americans. Mary McLeod Bethune was a tireless educator, organizer, and a champion of Civil Rights in 1923. Bethune Campaigned rigorously against discrimination in employment…. and, in 1935, established the National Council of Negro Women.
Another icon of repute, MRS ROSA PARKS of blessed memory, on a December evening in 1955 on her way from work refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery-Alabama Bus to a white Man, an action required by the local law at that time. Her arrest sparked a year-long boycott of the Montgomery city bus system by fellow African Americans in Alabama. She was dogged and principled and had to say these encouraging words: “I didn’t feel good about going to jail, but I was willing to go to let it be known that under this type of segregation, black people had endured too much for too long.”
Available records have it that Dr King organized the boycott. A year later, the US Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring segregation on public transportation were illegal, a triumph for Black dignity. Mrs. Parks, who died in 2005 is known as “the Mother of Civil Rights Movement.”
DR King’s stand for non violence may not be unconnected with his tactics to achieving the desired goals and objectives he indeed stood for when standing was not easy. He spoke with courage, determination, and with words of wisdom. DR King was the most eloquent voice in the US Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s. The key note speaker at the famous match on Washington in 1963, he was also the youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Looking at volunteerism and helping each other as in the case of DR King, it was all about selflessness and sacrifices for the progress of his immediate community; THE OPRESSED. He represented the voice of the voiceless in helping each other as service to the community while carrying people along in working together.
Dr King did what he had to do very seriously taking a cue from other prominent leaders in the other parts of the world, essentially the likes of Gandhi inspired him by virtue of the nonviolence even as he appreciated the steadfastness of the charismatic leaders and men of honor and integrity in Africa like Nelson Mandela a great South African who suffered persecution from white minority rule. He was not without respect for the former Ghanaian president, late Kwame Nkrumah.
The popular march on Washington in 1963 heralded one of his most memorable outings ever, his popular speech perhaps summarized it the best: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”
If Rv. Martin Luther King Jr were to be alive today, he would be 84years. He left to the great beyond in an unfortunate circumstance and a sad reminder; the assassin’s bullet, at the age of 39. Until his death, he was an accomplished Human Rights Campaigner, a conscience but great pillar who broke the barrier of hopeless and tenaciously advanced the frontiers of civil liberties; he is no doubt a great icon we shall continue to remember.
The Choice of the topic and place for this year’s memorial celebration was well thought out. The North is in dare need of more and more of these type of lectures, with high the caliber of resource persons and indeed the organizers are worthy of commendation for such a giant stride.
However, a point worthy of note, perhaps an over sight, is regarding questions/observations from audience, were more emphasis was placed on contemporary issues as they concern Nigeria and other parts of Africa bedeviled by crises. Issues relating to civil/Human Rights and Access to Justice, which have direct bearing with regards to the lecture and what Dr King stood for, were given less prominence. The organizers and American ambassador may wish to take note. Occasions of this nature demand imputes from those in the Human Rights/pro democracy groups.
Abbas is Secretary General, Civil Rights Congress, Kaduna