We didn’t receive money from the Presidency —ADKing Foundation President
April 8, 2018
Dr. Babs Onabanjo is at the center of the controversial visit of a delegation of members of the late American civil rights crusader, Martin Luther King (MLK) to Nigeria and the purported award by the King’s Foundation to President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview by TADE MAKINDE, Dr. Onabanjo explains how the delegation came to Nigeria and why.
WHAT role did you play in the recent visit of the family of late Martin Luther King to Nigeria?
I served as the contact person. I coordinated the King’s family visit along with Dr. Joe Beasley; Dr. Steele, Jr; Mr. Nicholas Stonestreet; Dr. Louis D’Amore and Rev Stephen Ferguson. Unfortunately, only Dr. Beasley; Dr. Naomi Ruth King; Mr. Isaac Newton Farris, Jr; Ms. Joy Mbong and I made the trip to Nigeria.
How did it all begin? How was the family contacted and when did you come into the picture?
I was approached by Ayo Oshinaya through Bishop Adejube to contact Bernice King. I forwarded the request to her, urging her to respond quickly as time was of the essence. She responded and respectfully declined due to activities leading to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King Jr. I then approached Mr. Isaac Newton Farris Jr, who accepted upon reviewing the invitation request and rider stipulations. I wanted to make sure that each family branch was represented. I contacted Martin King III from the Martin King Jr family, Isaac from Dr. Christine King Farris family and Dr. Naomi King from the Rev. A D King family. All arrangements were in progress until the last minute when rider conditions promised were not met, despite many assurances from the Office of the President of Nigeria via Ambassador Rotimi Vaughan and Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
I’m sure you are aware that your trip and award generated controversies immediately you left for the United States. For instance, $3million was reportedly paid to the family for the visit which was said to have been packaged to shore up the image of the president, Muhammadu Buhari.
I am only aware of N15 million provided by Access Bank for logistics. I was also informed that FIRS was a major sponsor. No one in the delegation received a dime from the Presidency or anyone in Nigeria.
Who funded the trip and how many of you were in the entourage?
From the N15 million, tickets were purchased from Nigeria through Delta Airline. I had to pay for Dr. Louis D’Amore’s ticket who could not travel on the same date with the delegation because I had to mail his passport to enable him to undertake the international trip to Nigeria. His visa was issued in Atlanta on Thursday late afternoon; the ticket was purchased on Friday. But he needed his passport which was not delivered until early Tuesday. The passport came late. Therefore, he could not travel.
Is it true that a bus was used to take you people to your hotel from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos to your hotel?
Absolutely true. The Danfo bus was not befitting or appropriate for the delegation. We missed our flight from Lagos to Abuja. I had to request for two Uber cars to take the delegation to the hotel and not subject them to the bus embarrassment.
Who was on hand to receive you at the airport and the hotel?
The reception was exceptional. We were well received by Ara and Ambassador Vaughan’s team. The display of culture through entertainment at the airport was noteworthy.
We heard that the government, your host, paid the hotel for only two days, after which you were asked to vacate your rooms until you paid N550,000 from your pockets
Our keys were deactivated for non-payment on Wednesday, so, to save my delegates from the embarrassment, I paid for the rooms and incidentals, including meals. I also paid for the return tickets to Lagos and other expenses. The first day we arrived, we missed our flight to Abuja. I paid for accommodation and food for the delegation at the Renaissance Raddison Blu in Ikeja.
Is it true that you were not well received in Abuja?
We were well received in Abuja and treated very well. In fact, Otunba Segun Runsewe gave us a spectacular reception; it was outstanding.
Who paid for your flight to Abuja where you gave the award of honor to the president?
Point of correction. We did not give the president an award. We were invited to receive an award from the president for the 1st Black History Month in Nigeria. Dr. Naomi King presented to the president an autographed copy of the A D King Foundation Youth Empowerment gala brochure in appreciation for the invitation and on behalf of the Africans in Diaspora. The president then presented an award to the King’s family. Please review the video. Dr. King did not give an award to the president, but a gift. Mr. Isaac Newton Farris Jr also presented a gift to the president in the form of a book about Daddy King.
Reports have it that some members of the family renounced what you came to do, saying that they didn’t give you the permission to use their foundation to confer honor on some individuals.
Dr. Naomi King does not need anyone’s permission to act in her own capacity or on behalf of A D King Foundation. She is the matriarch of the King’s family in the absence of Dr. Christine King Farris. Dr. Farris, the sister of MLK, Jr, is 90 years old and Dr. Naomi King is 86 years old.
As a Reverend gentleman, how has this controversial award affected your reputation in the United States?
As an organization, we are non-partisan and we play by the rule and also avoid political statements.
How did you people get back to the US if truly the government did not give you anything for your efforts?
We did not receive a dime from the government contrary to the provision of the rider and the rule of diplomatic engagements. I spent about N2.5 million to secure and protect the delegates. They had a wonderful time and enjoyed the great hospitality and rich culture of the Nigerian people. Dr. Naomi King would like to thank His Highness, the Oba of Badagry, for the spectacular reception and hospitality. Lastly, we would like to express our gratitude to Ambassador Rotimi Vaughan, Aralola Olumuyiwa Apake, Otunba Runsewe, Hon Dabiri-Erewa and most importantly, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the official invitation.
It is believed that someone in government used the family to shore up the dwindling image of the present government with this award.
Unfortunately, we were not part of the scam. At least, we were not aware of the hidden agenda.
You are a Nigerian. Where do you think the country is getting it wrong, despite having practiced democracy for almost 20 years?
The country needs restructuring, period. Restructuring Nigeria the right way will guarantee the survival, development, growth, and viability of a failed structure where baboon dey chop, monkey dey work syndrome thrives. The six geopolitical zones must be granted full autonomy, while the center will control the military, immigration, foreign policy in collaboration with the zones. This is the essence and the spirit of true federalism. The right way forward is zonal restructuring and autonomy, state restructuring is counter-productive and misguided.