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Protesters disrupt minister's speech in London
From Tunde Oyedoyin and Seun Akioye, London

THE Minister of Information and National Orientation, Frank Nweke Jnr., was given a scare yesterday when about six protesters quietly walked into the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Hall, Westminster, London, venue of the launch of Nigeria - Heart of Africa project, and held up proceedings for almost 10 minutes.

Led by one white Briton, David Day, who told The Guardian that he is half Nigerian being married to a Nigerian, the protesters started waving the multi-colour flags of the Biafran Liberation and were shouting: "You're a liar, Nigeria is evil, there's genocide in Nigeria, stop the killings."

Nweke was left confused and unable to grasp what was going on or where the protesters had come from. The disruption came as soon as the minister mounted the podium, after different presentations by the Nigerian High Commissioner in the UK, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Baroness Amos, the Leader of the House of Lords, and former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku

It took almost two to four minutes for some of the minister's delegation and other attendees to get on the stage and intervene. By this time, Mr. Day had taken over the podium and was speaking into the microphone before being wrestled away by three men.

Despite that, other members of the group took control of the event, walking round the hall and accused Nigeria of committing genocide and killing members of the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

The protesters shouted "Free Asari-Dokubo, Free Chief Ralph Uwazurike," whom they accused the Nigerian government of torturing in detention.

As the pandemonium continued, a fierce verbal exchange was taking place between some members of the minister's delegation and the protesters. The confrontation could have turned nasty had staff of the conference centre not run to get some policemen from nearby Downing Street. The law enforcement agents it was, who restored peace and asked that the protesters conduct their demonstration outside the premises.

Speaking to The Guardian outside the hall, members of the group displayed photos of torture to back up their claims that they weren't just a bunch of troublemakers.

Day even accused the State Security Service (SSS) of killing people and burying them in mass graves around Onitsha.

And when peace returned to the hall, Kolade appealed to all Nigerians to desist from assessing the progress of the country through criteria set up by other countries.

Kolade, who opened the Heart of Africa project, lamented a statement credited to a western leader that "Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world."

"That comment did not reflect the truth of the situation. I want you to stop assessing yourself by criteria set by others, otherwise you will have a poor assessment of yourself," the Nigerian envoy said.

According to him, Nigerians have been judged as people living under $1 per day. He said there are more to Nigeria than what many want to believe.

"We are a part of a community that has something that others can't come to grasp with. Our culture and works of arts show a people that have something they want to communicate to the world. There are more criteria to judging people than $1," he asserted.

When he had the opportunity to speak, Nweke Jnr. highlighted the reasons for the project.

"We are hosting the event in London as part of the wider initiative to promote understanding overseas of Nigeria's political reform agenda and economic progression, in a bid to reassure potential investors that Nigeria has truly surmounted its past developmental challenges," he said.

The minister told Nigerians that it was time they began to tell their own stories.

"We need to go out there and tell our own story, it might not be an instant hit but CNN was not an instant hit," he said.

Nweke also challenged the question of Nigeria's image abroad.

"It is not appropriate to question Nigeria's image. The negative story they tell about Nigeria today is founded on perceptions created by global rating agencies and I have always challenged them," he said.

According to Nweke, Nigeria may have challenges; they are not peculiar to the country. He said that the current administration has taken steps to tackle them.

When asked about the pace of impeachments and allegations of corruption, he said such issues would have been swept under the carpet but for the positive drive of the government to eradicate corruption.

He said: "I want to dare other countries of the world to pick the challenge. Our problems are 60-70 per cent solved because we are truthful enough to admit and challenge them. While we are fighting corruption others are encouraging it. All through history, it is known that Switzerland is a haven for stolen money and you catch the thief but left the person who collected stolen money. How many countries have removed state governors and senate presidents? It shows that the corruption crusade is working."

The event, which featured exhibition of Nigerian cultural heritage, will run for three days at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Conference Centre in Westminster. It was launched in August 2004 as a drive to attract direct foreign investment to Nigeria. London is one of the first Western countries to host the Heart of Africa project exhibition.


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