Nigerian Senator Godswill Akpabio and the 42-man state government delegation he led to the convention of the United States chapter of the Association of Nigeria (AKISAN) were forced to leave the venue in shame after organizers rejected a string of demands they made.
The delegation to the event, which held between August 17-20 in Atlanta, Georgia, also included the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke, along with Bob Ekarika, Etekamba Umoren and Enobong Uwah, a former commissioner. Sources at the event told SaharaReporters that the delegation arrived with a desire to impose a political agenda on the proceedings and carried on as though they were royalty.
Members of the delegation demanded, self-importantly, that they be ushered into the convention venue. The organizers rejected the demand, telling Mr. Akpabio and his gang that they must pay the registration fees like others attending the event. They refused, forcing organizers to explain to them that AKISAN is a non-profit organization, not an arm of the Akwa Ibom State government.
The organizers’ insistence made the delegation angry, leading to a shouting match. This forced the organizers into calling an emergency meeting between them and the delegation. The meeting held on the 42nd floor of the Atlanta Convention Venue.
At the meeting, another source told SaharaReporters, members of the delegation demanded to know why they were being asked to pay registration fees. They were told that it is through registration fees that AKISAN finances its activities and that every member is treated equally. The source added that the Akpabio-led delegation was also told that the 1,000 attendees at the hotel, where the convention held, paid registration fees and were responsible for accommodation for their wives and children. They were equally told that those who lodged in nearby hotels did the same.
Previously, said the source, the organization footed the bills of large state government delegations, but was never reimbursed, a development that had adverse effect on its finances.
While still seething from being turned down, the delegation made two other demands. It asked why the governor of Akwa Ibom State, Emmanuel Udom, was not on the cover of the convention program. This was followed up with a demand that Mr. Udom be made chairman of the convention.
The organizers, according to a source at the meeting, replied that the production of the 130-page program was funded through contributions by ordinary people who paid money for spaces to advertise their goods and services and to congratulate those to be honored by association. The program cover, explained the source, featured the photograph of Nsima Ekere, Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). That space, the source disclosed, was paid for by an Akwa Ibom native who resides in the United States.
AKISAN administrators, the source added, had considered giving Mr. Udom prominence in the event literature. But their efforts were futile. The administrators were said to have travelled to Akwa Ibom State to meet the governor, but were told the governor was too busy to meet them.
“We are talking about administrators leaving their jobs and families and paying for their flight tickets from the US. They were kept waiting for between six and eight hours for two days. They gave up and returned to the US,” he disclosed.
AKISAN leaders then told the delegation that they would neither change the chairman of the convention nor alter the event literature.
The next question asked by the delegation stunned AKISAN leaders.
Sources at the meeting said the government delegation asked why All Progressives Congress (APC) members were allowed to hold a meeting on one of the floors of the hotel.
The reply was that the meeting was holding in the United States, not in Nigeria, and if a group paid for a venue, it was its right to use it. They also explained that as a non-partisan organization, what the APC members were doing was of no interest to them.
“This is the US and we will not pay thugs to disrupt their [APC] meetings or interfere with the right of people to peacefully converge. We told them that they could also pay for a conference room and have a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) meeting. We were surprised because we thought the delegation represented all Akwa Ibom people. We do not care about PDP or APC; they are the two faces of the same coin,” said an AKISAN member present at the meeting.
Still thinking they had the chance to change things, the Akpabio-led delegation demanded a withdrawal of the program and a quick reprint to its demands.
AKISAN leaders maintained their stance, explaining that the spots in the already printed program were paid for. The delegation complained that the program and agenda for the convention should have been submitted to the Akwa Ibom State government for approval and not doing so amounted to a breach of protocol.
“Somehow, they could not understand the fact that AKISAN is not an arm of the Akwa Ibom State government and that we are at liberty to represent illustrious sons of Akwa Ibom receiving the awards and pledging sponsorship and attendance. Those to be honored were carefully chosen and do not represent a mirror image of the acrimonious political climate in Uyo,” he said.
The AKISAN leader added that the delegation was told that that a father of the day at marriage ceremony does choose the colors the bridesmaids will wear and that a guest of honor at a birthday party does not take over the celebrant’s kitchen.
“Any association that invites a person as chairman or guest of honor does not expect such a person to interfere with the process of celebration. You are simply called to sit and enjoy the show and when the microphone is passed to you, you respectfully give whatever you came to give to the people and receive thunderous applause,” explained the leader.
With the discussion deadlocked, the delegation attempted one last throw of the dice, offering a huge sum of money. They were told that all that was requested was the payment of $100 per person as a registration fee.
The government delegation decided it had had enough and declared that its members would not attend the convention. AKISAN leaders, said a source, bade them farewell, as they left angrily for their hotel rooms.
AKISAN administrators told SaharaReporters that there was no showdown between them and the government delegation, as government officials have claimed.
“It would be a showdown if over a thousand attendees had called 911 to get the government delegation off the premises and that did not happen,” said an AKISAN source.