When you hear about elaborate plans to celebrate Nigeria’s independence anniversary, what readily comes to mind as possible venue is the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja or at most, states capitals.
It is therefore interesting to know that the celebration of the day Nigeria took its freedom from colonial masters is not restricted to the country’s shore.
Some Nigerians in Diaspora have over the years resolved not to allow the long distance between them and Nigeria to stop them from celebrating the freedom of their father’s land.
For 27 years, the city of New York in the United States of America has played host to the annual Nigerian Independence Day Parade and Festival.
An event said to be the largest gathering of Nigerians outside homeland, Nigeria which started with mere 50 people on a rainy day in October 1991, has today grown to having 70,000 people come out to be part of the event.
The annual event which cost as much as $150,000 contributed by some members of the Nigerian community to put together, according to the organizers, is now in need of support from the private sector back home who want to advertise and the government.
As diverse as those who participate in the event annually, so also are the diverse benefits accrued to participants beyond celebrating Nigeria.
At this event, some people have met their life partners, others have met their business associates and yet others have met politicians, seeking new to occupy elected office back home.
Important messages to Nigerians living in the US to remain patriots and shun vices that will portray the country in bad light is shared, also messages to governments back home to ensure the coming elections are free and fair are also pushed out.
This year’s edition to mark Nigeria’s 58th independence anniversary, had several groups including supporters of the re-election of President Muhammadu and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Sowore Omoyele Presidential Campaign Organisation for 2019.
Other Nigerian groups that actively participated were the Igbo Organisation, USA, Faith-based organisations, Nigerian Nurses Association of USA, Organisation for the Advancement of Nigerians and cultural troupes.
State associations in the U.S. were also represented, while several decorated carnival floats and green-white-green flags and costumes added colour to the event.
Nationals of several countries also joined in the parade while Personnel of the New York Police Department shut down half of the Second Avenue from 54th Street to 44th Street to motorists for the Nigerian Parade by the various groups.
The Parade was followed by the Independence Day Festival at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the UN Headquarters led by Sumonu Bello-Osagie, MC Terry and MC Lolade.
The whole of 47th Street on First and Second Avenues were blocked by Nigerians and spectators from other countries at the event who continued the celebration there after the parade.
The 27th annual Nigerian Independence Day Parade celebrated the very best of Nigeria’s food, music and people.
Thousands of Nigerian youths also had the best of time rapping, dancing the trending dance steps shaku shaku, singing and dancing to their favorite Nigerian music.
The event also showcased Nigeria’s unique culture and promoted the positive image of Nigeria to the rest of the world as several onlookers joined in dancing to the Nigerian music. There was also celebration of Nigerian music, food as participants of all ages wore their favourite cultural attires.
The spectators also danced, sang and celebrated the night as Nigerian DJs were on-hand spinning the most popular Nigerian and African hits.
There were also several exhibitors and vendors across fashion, food, arts, culture, and community organisations.
The Consul-General of Nigeria in New York, Mr. Benaoyagha Okoyen, who was witnessing the event for the first time, described the parade as not only colourful but a source of pride as Nigerians in their thousands celebrate their culture, food and fashion to the admiration of other nationalities.
He said, “We are resilient, strong and happy people. We are happy today because Nigeria is 58 and we have everything it takes to move the nation forward. This is why we are celebrating. We have closed down the streets of New York to celebrate Nigeria.
“We are great nation, great people, the Nigerian flag is flying in the US because of what we are contributing.
“Those who feel we don’t have anything to celebrate have a very wrong notion. Like I will always say, Nigerians given the opportunity will prove themselves. We celebrate our human capital, our culture, our diversity, where we are going to. It is very important that people don’t deceive us, those negative perceptions out there, our human capital is important and it is important we embrace this, this is the hope we are living for.
“This parade has been on since 1991, for the past 27 years it’s been on, it’s a day every Nigerian living in America looks forward to. I see some Nigerians coming here because of this ceremony, they travelled far and near to be part of this event, it is a time to bond, showcase our culture and reunite.”
How it all began
According to Olayinka Dansalami, chairman Nigeria Independence Day parade, “The Nigeria Independence Day parade started about 28 years ago. When we first started we were like 50 on the parade, it rained on that day but the spirit behind it pushed us on.
We started by using Madison square, then we moved to Second Avenue at the suggestion of Prof. Ibrahim Gambari at that time because The Nigerian House was not built. But as you can see the parade has actually grown. It is the biggest gathering of Nigerians outside Nigeria.
It has had tremendous impact not just on Nigerians, but Nigerians born Americans and also the city of New York. For instance, we are now being recognized not only by the city of New York but also by most elected officials in this very city.
“So we now have our youths meet and mingle, some of them have met their partners here. This parade has become a forum where people who want to do anything now come and identify with us. Typical examples are those who want to run for offices in Nigeria, they come here because they are sure to meet thousands of Nigerians. In one year, I recall over 75,000 Nigerians were here at that time even the city told us we can no longer use this park because it was just too jammed packed, last year more than 20,000 were here. For this year, we are expecting 50,000 people and they will show up by the time the artists begin to perform.”
How the parade has helped addressed the negative perception about Nigeria
Dansalami also said the parade has helped erased negative stereotypes about Nigeria and her citizens.
He said, “Actually when we first started, we were victims of stereotypes, we could not even transact business at the bank in peace. I was even a victim because they all believe Nigerians are fraudsters but since we have been inviting decision makers in this country to be part of this parade, and they see the number of people who turn up, their perception about Nigeria has changed. Nigerians are the best of the best anywhere they find themselves be it academics, medicine, engineering etc. we now have politicians including the Mayor of this city defending us. When President Donald Trupp was attacking us and calling us a shit hole country, they rose up and defended us. It is because of this parade.”
As Nigeria turns 58, Dansalami has two messages for her. “One the election is coming, We want Nigerians to vote wisely. We want them to use their voting power judiciously, we don’t want them to waste their vote during the election. We know that politicians will come to them and give them bag of garri but then they will not see another bag of garri for the next four years, that is why we want them to vote wisely. Don’t vote for somebody who will give you something today and you will not see him again until the next four years.
“We will continue to tell our people here to drum it into the ears of their people back home to vote wisely. Because, we are praying to God to give us a good leader, one that will actually care for the best interest of Nigeria and not those who will only be interested in their pockets.
“We are also telling our leaders to look at Nigerians in diaspora, we can really help to develop Nigeria, build strong economy and return Nigeria to its glorious day.
“Secondly, this is the only forum that you can actually address any issue, so we want all Nigerians to embrace this parade. We want the government, the private sector to embrace this parade. We want them to join us to form a strong Nigerian community where nobody will push us aside anymore. The message is not only to Nigerians here but also to the government of Nigeria.”
The Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, in his message said the six floats covering religious, cultural, regional organizations celebrating the great diversity call Nigeria, our together by organisation for the advancement of Nigerians, led by Solomon Bakare, President, “there is no question that Nigerians take pride in themselves wherever they are located.
There is no questions that Nigerians celebrate great things happening in Nigeria. Nigeria is advancing because of the vibrancy, creativity of our youths and it tells you Nigerian has a great future. That this has been going on for almost 28 years is a great pride to us.”
The youths also have some messages for the leaders back home.
Ademola Adebiyi said, “We want a free and fair elections and we want Buhari reelected for the good things he has been doing. Anything that will soil the image of our country we do not want.
Lolade Olayokun, said, “We are here to celebrate Nigeria’s 58th Independence Day, and the pride that we have of being the first generation Nigerians, that’s how we address ourselves.
“The future of Nigeria is very simple, we the youths are the future, without us there is no tomorrow. And being that we are so many in number in diaspora, so many people are interested in politics, a lot of us go back home to do whatever it is that is our ability, that is where the future starts.
“We may be upset at the moment but that anger is temporarily, we are so ready for a positive tomorrow and I think that is where we should focus on. Every thing we do in this life there is positive and negative but the positive will outweigh the negatives, that is the role we are playing today. We are in touch and in tune of what is happening back home.
The erroneous impression that the youths out here are not in tune with what is happening in Nigeria is so wrong.
“I speak for myself and I know I am very much in tune with my culture, I go to Nigeria every single year. Growing up my parents made it a duty, every summer vacation we head to Abeokuta not even Lagos. And we learn, my dad has a shop and we help him during the summer holidays, we learn the business and the culture.
The way I behave here I cannot behave there because the culture is different, and understanding the people is what allows us to speak as one. They don’t see me as an American girl, an Akata. I was born and raised here but I speak the language.
“About the 2019 election, I know is difficult to trust but when you think someone strongly believe that somebody can change the course, leave the rest to God. 2019 I pray the best president that has understanding about the old and the new school wins because we are in a very innovative time and the old school don’t really have that much information about what is happening right now. So if we pick somebody who is in-between in 2019, Nigeria will go all the way.
Ambassador/Deputy Ambassador Permanent Representative, Samson Itegboje was also present at the event.