Chicago State U. Is Blasted for Nigerian Ex-General's Support of Lecture Series
By ALEX P. KELLOGG
Nigerian students and emigrants, and human-rights groups are criticizing Chicago State University for cosponsoring a lecture series on Africa with a foundation established by one of Nigeria's former military rulers.
About 30 people gathered outside a campus building on Friday to protest the inaugural lecture in a series named for
Abdulsalami A. Abubakar, the general who served briefly as Nigeria's head of state in 1998-1999 after the death of Sani
Abacha, one of that nation's most hated military rulers. The Abubakar lecture, which is to occur annually, was organized with
the help of a foundation that also bears the general's name.
General Abubakar has been widely praised for handing over the government to civilian rule, though human-rights organizations charge that corruption, graft, torture, and murder were still tolerated and even encouraged by the government during his term as head of state.
"I think it's very troubling that a major U.S. university is honoring a person who is responsible for human-rights violations," said
Michelle Mohr, an Amnesty International spokeswoman, who joined the protesters, most of whom were Nigerian students in the United States. They carried signs that read "Stop Torture" and "Human-Rights Violators Should Be Held Accountable."
Ali A. Mazrui, a humanities professor and the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New
York at Binghamton, delivered Friday's lecture. It was the largest international event in Chicago State's history and was meant to raise money for scholarships to increase African and African-American enrollment at the university. University officials presented General Abubakar with an award at a fund-raising dinner for the scholarship fund, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke.
"A university is a place where you want divergent and convergent points of view," said Elnora D. Daniel, the president of
Chicago State. "You want to explore issues in depth, you want that dialogue and discourse. If you can't have that in a university setting, where can you have it?"
The Association of Nigerians Abroad had asked the university to reconsider the cosponsorship given Mr. Abubakar's record in Nigeria.
"This guy was the head of state for only a few months," said Olivet Jagusah, a member of the organization and professor of the philosophy of education at Eastern Illinois University. "How did he come out with enough money to endow a foundation?"
According to the current government, hundreds of millions of dollars disappeared from the state treasury in the months leading up to Mr. Abubakar's exit from power.
"In exploring General Abubakar I did contact the [U.S.] State Department and they indicated that he was very instrumental in the transition from military rule and that as a result he turned the country over to civilian control," said Ms. Daniel, who acknowledged that the university had not done extensive research into the source of funds for Mr. Abubakar's foundation.
"The Abubakar Foundation apparently receives money from all over the world," she said. "It's not just money that belonged to the general."
"When you accuse someone of doing something wrong you must have evidence to support it," said Dr. Adama Conteh, executive director of the foundation and director of international programs at Chicago State. Ms. Conteh said there was no evidence of government mismanagement during Mr. Abubakar's brief term. She declined to comment further.