The presidency says the award given to President Muhammadu Buhari by the family of Martin Luther King, late American human rights activist, was a “commemorative plaque”.
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, senior special assistant to the president on foreign affairs and diaspora, said the award was not given on behalf of The King Center.
On Tuesday, pictures of the president being presented the award surfaced on social media. The award was given to him by Naomi Barbara King, a matriarch of the King family.
But commenting on the pictures, Nigerians claimed that the president was scammed into receiving a fake award.
The King Center further fuelled the speculations by denying any involvement in the award given to Buhari.
“The award given to President Buhari of Nigeria was not given by The King Center, at the request of The King Center or by the children of #MLK and #CorettaScottKing,” the centre wrote on Twitter.
— The King Center (@TheKingCenter) March 28, 2018
AWARD GIVEN IN PERSONAL CAPACITY
Reacting, Dabiri-Erewa on Thursday said the award was given by Naomi in a personal capacity and not on behalf of The King Centre.
According to a statement by Abdulrahman Balogun, her spokesman, Dabiri-Erewa said Naomi gave the plaque to Buhari in recognition of his fight against corruption.
“The members, led by the matriarch of MLK, Naomi Barbara King, were in Nigeria as part of the activities initiated to celebrate a low- key Black History Month in Nigeria as part of deepening partnership between Africa and its Diaspora,” the statement read.
“As part of the activities, they visited President Muhammadu Buhari and gave him a commemorative plaque for his fight against corruption and what they termed from the “Africania Diaspora” a term for Africans in Diaspora for which the oldest of them all Naomi.
“Barbara King was selected to present on behalf of the family (NOT MLK CENTER) as a sign of appreciation to the Nigerian President.”
LINK OF AWARD TO THE KING CENTRE
Dabiri-Erewa said the controversy started when Newton Farris, a member of The King Centre board, made a “political statement”.
Farris, who is a nephew to Luther King, was quoted to have asked Nigerians to be patient with Buhari, whom he said would make Nigeria a better place.
“My advice to Nigeria is this, I know that a lot of Nigerians feel a little displeasure with President Buhari moving too slow on some of his reforms. I will counsel Nigerians to say give this man the time he needs to do the job that he is doing,” Farris had said.
“He is one of the most legitimate leaders that the continent has produced. And he would if you all just stick to him I assure you he is going to make Nigeria a better place.”
According to Dabiri-Erewa, Farris was subsequently asked to refute the statement but he declined, arguing that he made it in a personal capacity.
“As a non political group, he was asked to refute the statement , which he refused to, insisting that was how he felt, and it was his personal opinion, not that of the family nor the centre, of which he is a board member and was the Chief Operating Officer for over five years,” Dabiri-Erewa said.
“This may have led to some arguments among them, which they have said they will resolve when they get back to the US, which apparently led to the tweet being circulated.”
In 2016, former President Goodluck Jonathan was awarded the Martin Luther King human rights award. He is the first African leader to be so honoured.