How New Orleans celebrated Nigeria’s Independence Day

By C.C. Campbell-Rock

Nigerians, Nigerian-Americans, and African Americans gathered on the steps of New Orleans’ City Hall to commemorate Nigeria’s Independence Day and watch the Nigeria flag being hoisted and fly over the entrance of City Hall on October 4.

For more than 20 years, the Nigerian community in New Orleans has kept its African traditions alive, while forging alliances, in the tradition of an African village, among New Orleanians’ and others of African ancestry.

Rosine Pemasanga, the Mayor’s Director of International Relations, worked with ANNO to make the event a reality. “The Mayor issued a proclamation which was presented at an October 5 celebration of the event.” The Nigerian Flag raising, she adds, is a part of “Mayor Cantrell’s commitment to make sure that the city lives up to its international reputation.”

Members of New Orleans Nigerian American community and supporters
Members of New Orleans Nigerian American community and supporters

Dr. Earnest Airhia, president of The Association of Nigerians in New Orleans (ANNO), Dr. Clyde Robertson, professor and Director of the Center for African African-American Studies at SUNO, world renowned Jamaican poet and philosopher Mutabaraka, and at least 25 other native born Africans, Nigerian Americans, and African Americans attended. Among the Nigerians were several former ANNO presidents, and ANNO publicist Paul Okhakia.

Seven of the 10 presidents who have served the organization, were present. Past presidents include ANNO’s founding president, the late Dr. I.C.A. Okpalobi, Tunde Afolabi, Chief Gibson Chigbu, Dr. Pius Nwizu, Chief Calistus Agochukwu, Chief Chuka Okpalobi, Mr. Osagie Odeh, Tony Emuka and Henry Chigbu.

Dr. Earnest Airhia said the Oct. 4, flag hoisting was a historic event in that it was the first time the flag was flown over City Hall by a proclamation from Mayor LaToya Cantrell. The event was a way to honor Nigerians in New Orleans. ANNO was formed in 1982. Airhia, was a professional soccer player in Europe for many years. He came to New Orleans for greener pastures, he says. He acquired a doctorate in psychology and opened the Green Path Clinic in New Orleans.

“The mission of AANO [is] to get the African Diaspora together and to maintain the Nigeria cultural heritage here and our connection to New Orleans, Louisiana,” said Airhia.

Ndubuisi C. Ezeluomba, PhD., curator of African Art at the New Orleans Museum of Art, a native of Benin, spoke to the gathering. “The tragedy of slavery actually became very good because it led us to become participants in the world. Here in New Orleans, there are a lot of Black brothers and sisters who I believe can trace their history back to Africa. And that is the positive that I take away from the tragic incident in our history. The connection is obvious. What endears me most to New Orleans is the water and the music,” says Ezeluomba.

A specialist in water spirit veneration, Ezeluomba explained the significance of water in African culture. “Water is the fount for wealth, prosperity, wisdom, and knowledge.” During the slave trade Africans were dispersed to the north, south, east and west, taking with them their culture, knowledge, art, and ingenuity. “The positive is that water brought our ancestors over to this side of the Atlantic and water also brought positive things to many of us in Africa. I believe our ancestors, with our sophisticated kind of music gave back to the kind of music that New Orleans gave to the world, jazz.”

African culture was exported worldwide, and that culture is maintained and manifested here in New Orleans through the African-American community’s food, music, art, and building trades. Additionally, Black New Orleanians often begin events with a water spirit veneration ceremony, in which they call on the ancestors to grace and bless the activity.

Regarding slavery, Rastafarian dub poet Mutabaraka says “Slavery is NOT African History, Slavery Interrupted African History. About those who don’t know the exact country of their African ancestry, Mutabaraka said, “We are African people, whether you accept it or not. You don’t have to go to Africa to be African. If a cow is born in a pig pen, he is still a cow.”

Mutabaraka headlined the October 5, International Arts Festival: NOLA at the Center for African and African American Studies at Southern University of New Orleans. Also performing were poets Wana-Wana Udobang, Chuck Perkins, Michael “Quess” Moore, Asali Devan Ecclesiastes and a musical performance by Claude Bryant & The Uptown Allstars.

“The Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS) at Southern University has been working with ANNO for nearly three years,” says Dr. Clyde Robertson. CAAAS and ANNO have collaborated on several programs, including an Annual Nigerian Independence Celebration, Annual African Carnival Ball, and a film screening of “Invasion 1897,” about the British Invasion of the Benin Kingdom. The collaboration continues with “Benin City: A Multi-Disciplinary Exhibition,” showcasing the people, culture and history of Benin City at the Ashe Cultural Center on November 14-15.

Regarding the Nigerian flag-raising event, Robertson said, “This was a very rewarding experience and demonstrates the commitment which exists between CAAAS and ANNO, as well as Nigerians and African Americans.”

Permasanga is currently working on placing the Nigeria flag permanently in City Hall, which houses flags from the U.S., Italy, Honduras, China, South Africa, Puerto Rico, South Vietnam (Flag used by Vietnamese Immigrants in U.S.), Japan, Brazil , Spain, France and Mexico. The Administration has several sister-city agreements, including with Durban, South Africa, Matsue, Japan, Orleans, France, Innsbruck, Austria, and Cap-Haïtien, Haiti., Under Permasanga’s leadership, the city’s Department of International Relations is forging new sister-city relationships with Cuba and Spain, among other countries.

This article originally published in the November 11, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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