As we commemorate Martin Luther King Day, Nigerians in the United States and around the world will remember and celebrate Dr. King, the famed U.S. civil and human rights leader and the first African-American honored with a national holiday.
King played a major role as the leader of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. His legacy extends far beyond America's shores, to the world at large; it has particular relevance to Nigerians as well.
King preached and practiced his belief of nonviolence as the key to overcoming oppression and injustice. His commitment to nonviolence and peaceful social transformation put him head and shoulders above the men and women of his time and carved out a lasting legacy that transformed America, as well as citizens in Nigeria, Africa and around the world.
King and the civil rights revolution changed the hearts and minds of all people as well as the law. The status of African-Americans today is radically different than it was a half-century ago, when almost 90 percent of African-Americans lived in poverty.
I hope that this Monday, when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., we will provide Nigerians with the opportunity to reflect on his life, his teachings, and his principled stance on nonviolent means of protest and advocacy. The Nigerian people and Nigeria's friends in the international community look to Nigeria's political leaders to embrace the teachings and beliefs of King and learn the lessons that America learned during the civil rights movement. The greatest tribute Nigerians and Nigerian leaders can give King is to promote their own ideas with words and through peaceful means and nonviolence, as King preached.
Nigeria's leaders past and present have shared King’s ideas and philosophies and set an example for other African nations looking to build their own democratic traditions and institutions. An example of this idea can be seen in the recent announcement of the Nigerian government creating the Nigeria Mortgage Refinance Company that will help provide affordable housing for Nigerians in Nigeria.
Largely as a result of King’s lifelong struggle and nonviolent resistance to racial prejudice, the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination against women and minorities, was enacted in 1964. Moreover, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 advanced the cause by providing for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed or national origin.
As we remember and commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., let us never forget the lessons that Americans and the world leaned from his actions, his words and his deeds. His legacy is one that we should all take to heart and hope to embody. I and indeed the Nigerian people extol King's virtues and encourage people with conscience not to allow his labor be in vain.
Ade Adefuye is the Nigerian Ambassador/Head of Mission to the United States and recipient of the 2014 King Legacy Award For International Service