As Nigerians in South Africa re-brand through cultural heritage

By Ben-Benson Okoli, Executive Editor, Johannesburg on 09/12/2019

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For two days, November 15 and 16, 2019, Nollywood stars and comedians were at the Hilton Hotel and Sandton Convention Centre, both Johannesburg, South Africa. They were on hand with one mission – to redeem what seemed broken in the relationship between Nigerian residents in that country and their host. It was all part of a fresh move to escalate efforts towards changing the narrative of the Nigerian community in the country, which included creating a totally new image capable of putting them on an even keel with their hosts.

The event, was the brainchild of Nigerian High Commission and the Consulate General in South Africa, in partnership with Tellego Media, did not only see a massive gathering, but it generated an intensity that could be felt across the land.

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A cross section of participants at the event

Apart from the Nigerian Missions in South Africa, the event, also had the imprimatur and backing of multinationals doing business in Nigeria, including MTN. It attracted Nigerians and Africans from all walks of life and top level representation from host government, including the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane.

The central theme was captured in the documentary entitled A Brother’s Keeper, a stage play performed by the artists, using their skills to tell the story of the brotherly relationship that existed that enabled all Africans to rally round the country during its dark days and the opportunities that lie ahead.

From Ambassador Godwin Adama, the Nigerian Consul General, the message was simple and clear: That there was no better time to tell the untold stories of Nigeria anti-apartheid interventions, the colossal investment into it and how Nigeria became a big brother than now.

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The great comedian Angel Gabriel, Dr & lolo Ben Okoli and Barrister Chidozie Ejimadu

According to the diplomat, it is the absence of this history that is responsible for the occasional frictions and lack of appreciations often demonstrated by locals.

To accentuate this, the performance of the Nollywood stars, as they dramatised the the events of those days and Nigeria’s role during the period, practically brought tears to the eyes of many who were present, as it clearly underscored the needlessness of the frictions Adama spoke about. 

It was on the heels of this historic outing that another event, this time, put together by the Eze in Council, the cultural arm of the Igbo apex group in South Africa, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, found expression.

At the gathering in the South African capital, Pretoria, decked in cultural extravaganza and diplomacy, the event, was yet, another opportunity to showcase the positive impacts the Nigerian community had made and continues to make to the country.

The fresh momentum was built around an erudite scholar and physician, Dr Ben Okoli, one of Africa’s leading neurosurgeon, who doubled as a member of the council and host of the event, which attracted the who is who among the Nigerian community in the country.

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The choice of the renowned physician, to be the arrowhead of the new initiative, according to the secretary of the group, Chidozie, Ejimadu, a lawyer, was in the recognition of his outstanding work in his chosen career, his unparalleled patriotism, his limitless benevolence and philanthropy.

In fact, Okoli’s benevolence, was captured by Paul Etim, a young man who benefitted from his largesse, and who practically drew tears from the audience as he narrated an emotion-laden testimony.

 “From that day that I ran into him (Dr Okoli) and had a handshake with him, my life changed forever," the young man, now a full graduate and now fully employed, courtesy of Okoli’s full scholarship, rendered.


Ejimadu, while delivering his speech, used the platform to project a robust plan geared towards a new awakening that would give impetus to a new dawn of partnership, cooperation and progress between Nigerians and their hosts.

According to him: “What we have come to commence today, is a memorable daybreak -to end a long night of wandering in the wilderness - to ignite a never-ending light of hope for a coming of a new beginning, which will end our prevailing negative narrative image and kick-start the coming of a new image.”

To underscore the importance it attached to issues of peace, unity and advancement of Igbo Community in South Africa, the group announced the elevation of the Annual Igu Aro (commencement of the planting season) and Igbo Heritage Lectures.

Hear him: “Commencing from 2020, Eze in Council hereby institute and install the Dr Ben Okoli Annual Igbo Heritage Award and the winner will receive R10,000 ( Ten thousand South Afracan Rand).

“The lecture will aim at assembling sounds minds across our cultural mix, in a determined effort to change the narrative through sharing of knowledge and interconnecting our communities.”

Ejimadu, doubles as a cleric, added: “We will invite the intelligentsia, the cultural scholars and practitioners, the kings, the queens, the traditional rulers, from the Yoruba Community, from the Niger Delta Community, from Zhosa, Zulu and other different community that populate our host country.” 

In a message of goodwill, the Ezeigbo South Africa, HRM Eze MJU Emechebe, who spoke through Skype, emphasised on the need for love peace and tolerance among the group and pleaded with Ndigbo and indeed Nigerians to always resolve their differences amicably.

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Another cross section of the participants 

Highlights of the occasion included the recognition of Nigerians across the cultures, who the group explained, had continued to make Nigeria proud.

They include: Ezeali Jonas Udeji, dubbed as “the brave soldier of the people,” who bagged one of the six Influential Men of the Year in Johannesburg award and recipient of a chieftaincy title from the Eze of the Ancient Eri Kingdom.

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Professor Francis Nwaonwu being presented with an Award by lolo Ben Okoli as Doctor Ben and Rev Ejimadu look on 


A Research Specialist, Professor Francis Nwaonwu, a member of the group, also received special recognition, while the leaders of Yoruba and Niger Delta delegations, Prince Adedapo Adesanmi and Mr Ekos Akpokabayen respectively were also honored. Others who were recognised included, Jason Osuafor, a political scientist and the inaugural head of All Nigerians in South Africa, as well as Chief Frank Anagu, the former Chairman Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) SA, just as  the late Professor Hycinth Uzoegbo and Alloysuis Emeka Ukwuoma received post humous recognitions.

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Earlier, the man of the moment, Okoli, had used the opportunity to preach to his audience a message of responsible citizenship, pointing out the urgency of fostering a one indivisible Nigeria, that would be determined to make South Africa habitable for all. 

The Event was attended by the cream of the Nigerian society, including Emeritus Professor of Vet Medicine, Levi Ohale; Dr Obioma Emereole of the Baragwanath Hospital; Chief Julius Osakwe, Ohanaeze Ndigbo President; HRH Igwe Anayo Igwilo, Igwe of Gauteng; Hon Benjamin Okoli, President NICASA. Mr Ik Anyene, former President of All Nigerians, Mr Adetola Olubajo, NUSA president; Chief Ben Anyaeji, Tustee Ohanaeze, Chief Andy Okenwa and Nze Charles Otogboro, Chairman Imeobi. 


Others are, Chief Felix Okoye, APC Stalwart and Secretary Nze na Ozo Society; Apostle Mike Ugwu, Enugu state leader; Pastor Geff Agubuzor; Mr Afam Onyia, Mr Boniface Ezeoke, Mr Chima Umealor and Mr Tony Okoro, Protocol Officer, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Angel Gabriel, a leading Comedian in South Africa gave the occasion the required life and vibe.




Posted on December, 10 2019

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