Winnipeg Nigerian community to honour local contributors

By: Carol Sanders

Members of Winnipeg’s Nigerian community for the first time Saturday are honouring the contribution and example set by its members who immigrated to Canada.

“We chose people who we knew grew up in Nigeria with Nigerian values, and when they came to Canada, learned the Canadian values and have made a contribution,” said Florence Okwudili, who’s chairing Nigeria’s 59th Independence Day celebration at Canad Inns Polo Park.

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“They’re serving the Canadian public in various professions and they’re doing well,” she said, adding the problem is, too few people know about them. “People are drawn to negative views about our country. It’s up to us to change that narrative.”

Canadians know about problems in Nigeria, such as Boko Haram terror group kidnapping school girls, and hear about situations such as the Alberta judge, who, in a decision, ripped into the “garbled” Nigerian accent of an expert witness at the trial of parents accused in their son’s death.

“That speaks to the many obstacles facing us as immigrants in this country,” said Okwudili, who came to Canada in 2000. “And this is, also, why we are so proud to highlight these individuals.”

The six Nigerian Canadians have lived in Winnipeg for a number of years, risen to many challenges, and their stories are inspirational, she said.

Many Winnipeggers have roots in Nigeria. In the 2016 census of Canada, 3,450 people in the city identified their ethnic origin as Nigerian. Another 1,540 identified as Yoruba, Ibo and Edo — tribes found in Nigeria.

Nigerian-Canadians being honoured

When Elizabeth Lawal came to Canada in 1986, she barely spoke English. She worked driving cabs, unloading trucks and caring for the elderly. To improve her language skills, she practised using audiocassettes. She went to Red River College to become a health-care aide, then earned a diploma in business administration. Today, she owns a Akin’s International Foods, an employment agency, and several rental properties.

Prof. Rotimi Aluko, a certified food scientist at the University of Manitoba and director of the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, came to Canada in 1991. Aluko is world-renowned in the field of food protein research. He’s written 200 journal articles, the text book Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals and holds two patents on the anti-hypertensive properties of plant seed protein-derived peptides.

Dr. Ignatius Anyadike came to Canada in 1971, after studying pharmacy in Nigeria, then earning a World Health Organization scholarship to study medicine at the Hebrew University in Israel. He became a doctor in 1968, and moved to Canada, joining the Queen’s University pediatric program. He moved to Winnipeg in 1973, joining the University of Manitoba and the Children’s Hospital pediatric program. Anyadike was a clinical teaching fellow and lecturer. He had a special interest in behavioural pediatrics and learning disorders. From 1990-96, he headed the department of pediatrics at Misericordia. He retired in 2018.

Rachel Alao arrived in Canada in 1973 as a wife and young mother. She joined a church and became a counsellor, associate minister and matron, before studying sociology at the University of Winnipeg, then working at the International Centre (now called Immigrant Centre). Alao took her skills and experience and, in 2004, established the Helping Hands Resource Centre for Immigrants Inc. She encouraged newcomer and refugee clients to educate themselves to settle successfully in Canada. In 2015, she received the Order of Manitoba for her service.

Julie Lola Omoniyi came to Canada in 1976, and got a degree in business administration. When she couldn’t find a decent job in her field of study, she found salon jobs in cosmetology and worked her way up to manager. In 1989, she started her own beauty business, opening Lola Beauty Gallery — two chairs and 500 square feet in the basement of a St. Vital apartment building. She grew the business to nearly six times that size on Portage Avenue, and owns the building. She now offers high school students practicums and job shadowing works with Manitoba Labour, Red River College, and beauty schools to provide apprenticeship training to cosmetology graduates.

University of Winnipeg chemistry Prof. Michael Okechukwu Eze earned his bachelor of science degree in Nigeria before travelling to Canada for a doctorate in Alberta. He moved to Winnipeg to work at the University of Manitoba before joining in the department of chemistry at the U of W. His research interest centres around nitric oxide and reactive oxygen in health, disease and industry.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

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