The lynching of Onyema
True composite sketch of Onyema and FEHN: 1985-2005.
Since the purported indictment of Barrister Allen Onyema for fraud and money laundering by the American Department of Justice, the media utterances of American officials, as in the lead paragraph, suggest his culpability. We therefore, owe it a duty to Nigerians and Americans to give an accurate account of the real circumstances of Onyema and his Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, FEHN.
Born 1967 in Warri of Igbo parentage, Onyema schooled at Government College Ughelli and the University of Ibadan, UI. In 1991 he lost his gentle mother when she was only 43 to kidney failure. His irreparable loss made him sensitive to the financial and medical needs of Nigerian mothers. As a Warri product he bears the Itshekiri and Ijaw tribal marks that made him unbearable to some Igbos but highly admired by Niger Deltans. He is married to a Tiv beauty from Kogi State.
As the Japanese would say, money follows good thinking. Onyema never went into peace building to make money. Money met him building peace. It was the money he made as a successful lawyer and business mogul that enabled him carry out his charity works before the big money arrived in 2005. His business empire covered real estate and international trade before he diversified into aviation.
FEHN is a distinct entity. It is an organisation with Niger Deltans, northerners, Igbos and Yorubas. Onyema is only its National Chairman. In Nigeria grants are hard to come by. None can claim giving grant to FEHN even though it has expended millions. Onyema generates income consulting with FEHN. With the money so generated he pays tax and funds his charity works. This is 100 percent legal.
FEHN is not a front for laundering illicit money. It originated in 1985 while Onyema was a law student in UI. It was his response to the ethnic crisis in northern Nigeria. Until 2005, FEHN limited itself to northern states like Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, Nassarawa, etc. The emirs were reasonably impressed by the peace and broad nationalism FEHN engendered in their emirates and hosted it after each community outreach programme.
Contrary to the biased narrative of American investigators, records left behind by Sultan Macido, former President Shagari and many emirs will prove that Onyema and FEHN were active in the North as far back as the 1980s. Secondly, pecuniary consideration was never a factor for Onyema as there was no money during the military decades. We set the record straight as America has deliberately poisoned people’s minds against Onyema ahead of his court appearance.
FEHN in the Niger Delta: 2005-2019
By 2004 Onyema thought it was time FEHN looked south. The violence in the Niger Delta, occasioned by the Asari Dokubo wars, had claimed thousands of lives. Onyema knew he needed a different weapon and that weapon was the Kingian Non-Violence Approach to social Change, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
His problem was getting the experts versed in the different stages of non-violence. The only institution with such experts was the University of Roderland Centre for Non-violence and Peace Studies, Roderland, USA; headed by the legendary Dr. Bernard Lafayette Jr. Custodian of the key to the Loraine Hotel room where he and Dr. King lodged the day the latter was assassinated, Dr. Lafayette magnanimously approved FEHN’s application to train nineteen of its staff in his centre. The 19 so trained would train other Nigerians back home.
But the US embassy in Nigeria was not convinced and refused them visas even though FEHN had already paid the requisite fees. Onyema did not go about criticising the embassy. He rang up Dr. Lafayette, “Would you consider coming to Nigeria to train us? Your people couldn’t give us visas.” His listener refused but Onyema also refused to give up. A day came when the don, wearied of Onyema’s importunacy, replied, “I want to come to Nigeria and see this new Martin Luther King Jr that will never give up. I want to see you. I think you’re sincere. I need to come to Nigeria because of you.”
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud. Onyema, a Nigerian citizen and businessman, is the founder and chairman of several organisations that purport to promote peace across Nigeria, including the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony….(U.S. Attorney, Byung J. “BJay” Pak)
Dr. Lafayette came in 2005 and trained 67 Nigerians in non-violence during the first training session. Many of those trained were lecturers, security experts, doctors, lawyers and career professionals. Soon FEHN could no longer cope with the number of those picking up application forms for training. As word went round Shell came calling.
Unfortunately, Shell’s request for FEHN to train some community boys came after the registration for a particular programme was closed. FEHN declined saying it was fully booked. What? Shell was curious to know this NGO that could say no to big name and money, “Who is this Nigerian organization that does not want to partner with Shell?” FEHN stood its ground; maintaining that Shell’s candidates would be considered after the ongoing session. But by saying no, FEHN passed the integrity test. Till date Shell holds it in great esteem.
Shell initially sent 10 community boys from the Niger Delta for training. The boys were transformed and trained. Then it sent a further 23 and FEHN also transformed them. When Shell observed that none of its beneficiaries went back to the creeks, it sent the third batch of 60. Chevron got wind of the Nigerian Wonder going on in FEHN and simply outdid Shell. The era of big money had dawned.
Onyema was in for a bigger surprise. Obong Victor Attah, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, sent messengers to FEHN asking to see Onyema. His Excellency received his August visitor at Uyo with the declaration, “My brother, I want to sponsor 100 boys for the Kingian non-violence training.” Onyema asked for the list of his candidates but Attah asked him to go anywhere in the Niger Delta and find them. Seeing all these, the US embassy began to issue visas to FEHN trainees.
Dr. Lafayette was horrified by the level of violence in the Niger Delta. He asked, “Allen, which is the most powerful organisation in the Niger Delta that supports violence or controls the militants?” Onyema replied, “The Ijaw Youth Council, IYC.” “How did they get to the position of leadership there?” “By way of election.” “Allen, we have to dismantle the organisation. We have to start looking for credible people to train so that they can take up leadership position. We train and find a way of sponsoring their elections.” That was how FEHN shifted from training individuals to training organisations.
The search for credible candidates for IYC leadership led Onyema to Dr. Chris Ekiyor, Jonathan Lokpobiri and a handful of others. In 2007 Ekiyor returned from the US where Onyema sent him for non-violence training and won the election that made him IYC 4th president. Needless to say, Onyema played a big role in his victory. Whereas Asari’s militarist ideology was predominant in the pre-Ekiyor Niger Delta, this was reversed to non-violence two years later leading to the 25th June 2009 declaration of amnesty by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
Between 2005 and 2009 FEHN trained 15,000 Nigerians from the six geo-political regions. Included were youths sponsored by the Timi Alaibe-led Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Shell, Chevron and other Western oil multinationals. From 2009 when amnesty came on board to 2012, FEHN trained 26, 366 ex-militants and over 200,000 other Nigerians. Thousands of youths have been trained between 2012 and the present.
In colonial historiography the black woman, ridiculed as the Negress, was profiled as a seductive mistress that preyed on the white male. As an insatiable bitch any encounter between her and the white man was seen as another instance of the Black Widow devouring her helpless victim. The white woman, by contrast, was elevated to sexual purity even after marrying many husbands.
The point is, the black woman’s unenviable reputation impacted negatively on the Negro stereotyped as the original son-of-a-bitch and a rapist. Stern-faced missionaries, according to Steve Biko, condemned the Negro for being sex-hungry like his lascivious mother. If a white woman cried out that she was raped, the white police would leave all the white men around and arrest the nearest Negro even if he was a hundred kilometers away. White mob would hang him on the nearest tree, like they did to Emmet Till, with the racist American Department of Justice looking the other way. That is called lynching.
Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement stamped out lynching but only in one form. Race historicity, defined as the changing nature of American racism, saw lynching resurrect in abortion clinics. No black ever aborts the white woman’s precious “baby.” It is always the white do-gooder setting up abortion clinics to lynch the black woman’s unwanted “fetus.” Nothing has changed.
In 2016 the same American investigators indicted three Nigerian legislators for sexual harassment in Cleveland. When the accused expressed their willingness to sue the US Ambassador James Entwistle unless he came up with evidence, including video footage, their accusers backtracked. But by then, the reputations of three distinguished Nigerians were damaged.
Onyema, one of our finest in character and patriotism, has been lynched by Donald Trump’s America. His media trial and conviction must be understood within the context of the changing nature of American racism that tags and discredits our leaders. The only crime he committed was floating Air Peace that flies into Atlanta. Anyone thinking Onyema would receive fair hearing in an American court has no sense of history.