Onwuka Kalu and that Landmark Children of Africa Concert

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Back in the 1980s/90s Benefit concerts were not exactly the thing to do in these parts. Parties were mostly for fun and for a heartfelt display of joie de vivre, to reassure oneself that one was alive and well and not having life pass them by. Would you know anyone back then who would block streets just because they were trying to raise funds for the less privileged? And as you know that was when our soon to be ex-senator, Ben Bruce was bringing in Shalamar, Kool and The Gang and that whole tribe of American entertainers to Nigeria. Lekki Sunsplash was also making waves and people like Blackky (Edward Inyang) were getting discovered and riding the wave. All of this was going on when Onwuka Kalu decided in 1991 that there had to be something for the proverbial African Child who, going by artistic and psychological depictions, was anything but happy. He/she was missing out big time from all the fun. While others were kicking it at the beach, at the club and other places, the African Child was thinking about the next meal, the next place to lay his/her head, the next school fees, the next foster family (if any), etc. So much pathos is built into the misfortunes of the African Child that it’s a wonder some make it to adulthood. Now for clarity, it’s important to situate the Africa Child properly. He/she is a mental construct that may have no relationship with the person reading this piece even if that person so happens to be an African who was once a child and grew up in Africa. We all have accepted that mental imagery of the African Child as deprived, hungry, uneducated, in the dark, full of potential but with no way of harnessing them, forever needing support from non-Africans as Africans have proven themselves incapable of looking after their young. As I said, it’s a mental construct which many Africans especially the educated and urban dwelling, add Diaspora African to it, are at odds with. They kick against and fight it with all their being. But the evidence for that construct not being far from reality is overwhelming. Back when Chief Kalu organised the concert in 1991, the United Nations estimated that 1 million African children died each year from diseases preventable by vaccine. Chief Kalu drove this home further when he said “there is hardly any family in Africa that has not felt the pains of losing a child”. True. And what’s the case today? According to USAID: Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest risk of death in the first month of life and is among the regions showing the least progress Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 38 percent of global neonatal deaths, has the highest newborn death rate (34 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011) The highest rates of child mortality are still in Sub-Saharan Africa—where 1 in 9 children dies before age five, more than 16 times the average for developed regions (1 in 152). So while we argue back and forth on the propriety or not of the African Child tag, there clearly is a lot to do by Africans for Africans. Despite the famed African extended family system, that traditionally manages vulnerabilities occasioned by ONUWA LUCKY JOSEPH Corporate Social Impact Onuwa Lucky Joseph (08023314782) Editor. disease and decease, too many kids fall through the cracks leaving us a situation where Africa has become the world headquarters for NGOs and with most of them seeking to give the African Child meaning. The energy we’ve used to fight the stereotype should be deployed to doing what needs be done so our kids can live meaningful, well-adjusted lives like their counterparts in other parts of the world. That was something Onwuka Kalu back then wanted to right. It needs be said that he had traducers aplenty. He was, after all, the whip smart young man who had taken Onwuka Hi-Tek public, the very first indigenous company to do so. Was the foray successful? Maybe not, as it was eventually delisted from the stock exchange after many years of subpar performance. Not to forget, he was also the founder, or as some have said, co-founder of Fidelity Bank. Ideas were his forte, but as well was the fortitude to execute. It is for his presence of mind which helped catalyse this whole new movement of Africans being there for Africans, that we remember him. Being a natural showman, he pulled out all the stops to ensure that the Who is Who of the day was present to give out of their abundance or just to grace with their presence. Listed to make an appearance was then ANC President, Nelson Mandela, who had just been released from a 27 year incarceration at Robben Island. He was to come along with his wife, Winnie. Also on the roster was General Ibrahim Babangida, the then military president of Nigeria, as well as Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant two black MPs from the UK. The late Augustus Aikhomu, then Chief of General Staff, also had a prominent role penciled in. On the bandstand for three days of extravagant music were the hit makers of the day: Dionne Warwick, the late Miriam Makeba, the late Blues king, BB King; Gladys Knight (without The Pips), the late Natalie Cole, The Commodores, Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old fiery, straight-talking founder of the Youth Strike for Climate movement, was nominated for the Nobel peace prize, just before the biggest day yet of global action. Thunberg, who began a solo protest in Sweden in August that has since inspired students in different parts of the world, now leads a movement expected to execute strikes in 1,659 towns and cities in 105 countries involving hundreds of thousands of young people. “We have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change it will be the cause of wars, conflict  and  refugees,” said Norwegian Socialist MP Freddy André Øvstegård. “Greta Thunberg has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.” Over here in Nigeria, President Buhari is on record for saying that one reason adduceable for the herdsmen/ farmers clashes is climate change, in view of Lake Chad drying up and herdsmen needing to move ever southward for water and fresh vegetation for their livestock. If we were to believe the president,(who, it must be said, has espoused several conflicting theories for the conflict), how worse can it get in the future? Nigeria, unfortunately, is in the cross hairs of these kids as they believe fossil fuels are a major reason for climate change. Like Greta said in one of her speeches, ‘we need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground’. Can Nigeria afford to keep its fossil fuels in the ground? In light of the lip service our governments pay to the issue of revenue diversification, it is clear that there’s no real traction, beyond hype, behind slogans like Nigeria Beyond Oil. Successive Nigerian governments clearly have not seen the possibility of a Nigeria beyond oil. And while it may be argued that we must use the resource we have to benefit our country men and women, the oil wealth has consistently, over many decades, been the preserve of the well connected rich who have cornered the oil wells, with very few of these wells, be they local or foreign run, benefitting the host community and the larger Nigeria community. It’s an argument for another day, but you can be sure that many NigeEddy Grant, Third World, Aswad, Color Me Badd, the late Nina Simone, Kool & The Gang, Shabba Ranks and Yvonne Chaka Chaka. The big plan included an album from the event, a la We Are the World and Live Aid. The 3-day concert was also to be taped and the rights sold to foreign broadcasters for additional revenue. The plan was for the moneys raised to be disbursed to “a lot of individual organisations that are doing a lot of good work that we are affiliated with”. This was according to Faith Isiakpere, the Vice President of Children of Africa. But it was not all about the concert. A full day before the instruments and voices ignited, there was a plan to have a seminar to look at practical ways to ensure that governments and individuals did the needful to end the almost inevitable victim status that the African Child could expect to be his/her lot. Unfortunately, that time (and not much has changed, doubly unfortunately), was known for promissory notes/pledges and cheques that could never be cashed. In fact, the story is told of an ex-governor, now soon-tobe senator, (subject to the outcome of the election tribunal judgment), who infamously put a few actual currency notes on top of what was a pile of well-cut paper all contained in a briefcase which he donated at an event, and to thunderous applause. In the end, the Children of Africa concert didn’t yield anywhere near what it had promised, and that, for all kinds of reasons which are beyond the ambit of this write-up. Visionaries are known to have those blind spots that leave them susceptible to self-destructing. Again, they sometimes come up against way too many obstacles that leave them and their vision worse for wear. But we commend his big vision and ask that those who’ve come after him avoid the missteps while consolidating on the virtues. rians will line up behind ‘The Oil Curse’ as against ‘The Oil Blessing’, should this be put to the vote. Thunberg, meanwhile, is “honoured and very grateful for this nomination,” she said on Twitter. Tomorrow we #schoolstrike for our future. And we will continue to do so for as long as it takes.” She has already challenged leaders in person at the UN climate summit in late 2018 and at Davos in January. “Change is coming whether they like it or not,” she said. National politicians and some university professors can nominate candidates for the Nobel peace prize, which will be awarded in December. There are 301 candidates for the 2019 prize: 223 individuals and 78 organisations. In 2014, the peace prize was awarded to 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, “for the struggle … for the right of all children to education”. She survived a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012. While some politicians have opposed the school strikes, many have supported them, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar. The mayors of Paris, Milan, Sydney, Austin, Philadelphia, Portland, Oslo, Barcelona and Montreal added their backing on Thursday. No African countries in the mix just yet. “It is truly inspiring to see young people, led by brilliant young women, making their voices heard and demanding urgent climate action. They are absolutely correct that our actions today will determine their futures,” said Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris and chair of the C40 group of cities. “My message to young citizens is clear: it is our responsibility as adults and political leaders to learn from you and deliver the future you want.” The strikes have also been supported by the former head of the Anglican Church Rowan Williams and the head of Amnesty International, Kumi Naidoo. “Children are often told they are ‘tomorrow’s leaders’. But if they wait until ‘tomorrow’ there may not be a future in which to lead,” said Naidoo. “Young people are putting their leaders to shame with the passion and determination they are showing to fight this crucial battle now.

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