• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

More [or less] Catholic than the Pope

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On arrival in New York (to attend the United Nations General Assembly) the seventy “Senior Elder Citizens” were served with a “Security Alert” which compelled us to split into two groups between “The Pierre Hotel” at 2 East 61 Street (at the intersection of Fifth Avenue) in Manhattan, facing Central Park and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 301 Park Avenue near Broadway and Central Park.

The security cordon around both hotels at which several Heads of State were lodged was super tight.  It was almost as if Osama bin-Landen had resurrected and had targeted the hotels.

We had hardly gone past the revolving door of the Waldorf-Astoria when we were put on notice that Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan GCFR, the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria was already addressing a very distinguished array of American investors and we duly invited to join them.

However, there was a problem.  A Cardinal had just joined us and he was adamant we must pray first – before anything else.

There and then in the lobby of the hotel, prayers were duly said in full glare of the world press – CNN; Fox News; Bloomberg TV; NBC; CCTV; Al Jazeera; Reuters, etc.

You name it, they were all there.  The Cardinal was unfazed and proceeded to deliver the message from Pope Francis I:

PRAYER FOR THE UNITED NATIONS

“Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, You have revealed to us that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  Teach us to realize that happiness in life does not depend on the measure of material things we may call our own, but on the use we, as good stewards, make of what You have committed to our care.

Grant us the grace to desire not so much an abundance of goods but rather an abundant life of service to You and to all people.  Teach us how to use Your gifts, both spiritual and material, that our life may be acceptable to You, that we may be able to continue in the abundant life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Ironically, it was the Cardinal himself who invited one of the Moslems amongst us to add his prayers – for deliverance of Africa (and Nigeria in particular) from evil forces.  This was greeted with spontaneous applause by the rapidly increasing number of spectators who had transformed into a congregation of some sort.

As fate would have it, a Jewish Rabbi was just about to check into the hotel.  He promptly offered to deliver prayers in accordance with the Jewish faith.  He added a footnote, namely that in ancient times Israel was actually part of Africa!!

The Cardinal glowed with pride and satisfaction as he had replicated what the Holy Father had recently accomplished in the Vatican – Christians, Moslems and Jews praying together.

It was at this juncture that the irrepressible and ebullient Professor George Obiozor, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Israel and thereafter to the United States of America added his unsolicited version of prayers:

“My father believed in the multiplicity of gods.  If one god is not performing, he must be replaced by another who will listen to our prayer and supplications.”

It turns out that Ambassador Obiozor has retained his diplomatic immunity!!  Anyway, he was rewarded with a standing ovation.

The only sour note was that overzealous officials prevented the President of Nigeria from meeting with the “Seventy Senior Elder Citizens” who had served Nigeria meritoriously at the highest level of their profession without blemish.

How tragic.  Anyway, that is a subject for another day.

Fortunately, when President Barack Obama heard about the shabby treatment meted out to the seventy elder statesmen, he swiftly summoned an impromptu meeting.  Truly amazing.

A meeting room was hastily arranged and the President of the most powerful nation in the world gave us the full red carpet treatment.  He was accompanied by his terrific wife Michelle and his two delightful children Shasha and Malia.

This is a verbatim report of what transpired:

“Good evening, everyone.  We have a background briefing on Africa–related issues, and we have about 20 minutes, so we’ll get right into it.  Again, background briefing, so no names or titles.

You must not be discouraged by the attitude of Nigerian officials. We as Americans cannot understand how your government could have unplugged itself from intellectuals and professionals.   As for KPMG I shall hold them accountable if we are able to confirm that your retirement benefits, gratuities and pensions as former partners have not been paid.   That is appalling – after a career which spanned thirty-four years (1970 – 2004) I understand that the defunct Arthur Anderson is now KPMG Nigeria.

I see one or two faces I recognize in the room.  It’s really great to be here with you.  As you know, we’ve been here in New York – it’ll be close to a week when I leave on Saturday and we’ve had the opportunity, to engage across the board with our African partners.  It was particularly interesting for us this year because it comes on the heels of the Africa Leaders’ Summit that took place in Washington in August, so we had the opportunity to follow up with our partners on the leaders summit, to get further impressions from them on this extraordinary event, and to talk to them about some of the initiatives and follow up on initiatives that were announced during the summit.

As you know, one of the most pressing issues that we are dealing with across the board globally is Ebola.  It is in West Africa, but the response is global, requiring the attention of all of the countries in the Security Council.

Last Tuesday, I announced a major increase in our assistance to the effort and we are also using our voice and pressure to encourage other countries to bring more to the table to address what is a very, very serious epidemic that is having a devastating impact on the countries in West Africa.  But if it’s not contained, it could spread more widely.

One of the components of our assistance is a new joint force command that will coordinate the regional response on the ground.  We will have an estimated 4,000 US forces who will be involved in staging and transporting supplies, building additional treatment and they will be setting up a site to train approximately 500 health care providers per week.  They will also be providing a health facility to provide treatment to the medical workers and other responders who are assisting in the Ebola outbreak.

A second large issue that we are all involved in is the issue of terrorism.  Of course, all of you have been focused on ISIL.  I have been focused on Boko Haram and al-Shabaab as the countries in Africa have experience their own brand of terrorism.  The impact of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria has been tremendous, and it is an impact that is having an impact on Nigeria’s neighbours in Cameroon and Chad and Niger as well.  As Boko Haram continues to make its name known in Nigeria, it’s having a devastating humanitarian impact on northern Nigeria and we’re also concerned that it could have an impact on the upcoming election if the more than one million people who have been displaced because of Boko Haram’s terror are not able to participate in the electoral process.  So we are encouraging Nigeria’s neighbours to work together along with us, the P3, to address this issue.

J.K Randle