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COMMONWEALTH: People’s Forum Gets Underway in Nigeria

Toye Olori

ABUJA, Dec 1 2003 (IPS) - Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo opened the Commonwealth People’s Forum Sunday.

Cultural displays marked the colourful occasion. The people’s forum is a summit for civil society groups that is being held alongside the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Nigeria’s capital – Abuja.

Colin Ball, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation that has organised the people’s forum, called on participants to make the most of the occasion.

“The week ahead is an opportunity for many things to happen, an opportunity that comes only once every two years,” he said.

“We must use it to the full…Above all we must do so by giving voice to the people we all serve…by hearing and learning from the voices of others across communities, across cultures, across genders, across generations, across faiths and across nations.”

Ball thanked the Nigerian government for helping to set up facilities for the gathering: “These facilities and the efforts that have brought them about were a real credit to this country and its great people.”

Nkoyo Toyo, Chairperson of the Committee of the Forum, called on Obasanjo to press leaders at the Abuja summit to work for a progressive partnership between civil society and governments.

“In furtherance of this aspiration, we are not in doubt that as you take over the leadership of the Commonwealth, you will demonstrate and work to expand in many ways the context and scope of the partnership,” she said.

Toyo added that the Commonwealth People’s Market, which has been set up at the forum, is symbolic. The market consists of 81 shops, and it has been made to resemble a typical Nigerian village. Toyo said it served as a message of support to other people across the world who made their living in villages and markets.

Culture and Tourism Minister Frank Ogbuewu praised the organisers for providing the opportunity for communities to meet and exchange views while the Commonwealth heads of government are in session.

Ogbuewu told the gathering: “Here at the Commonwealth market, you will be exposed to the…platform where the civil society and officials of the Commonwealth can interact and exchange views of common interest. It has been established to serve as a forum for cultural (events), entertainment and exhibitions of arts and crafts.”

The minister spoke of Nigeria’s enormous tourism potential, and urged visitors to the Abuja CHOGM to return to Nigeria for relaxation, and to establish business ties.

Bashir El-Rufai, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, said the forum was expected to showcase the cultural and commercial potential of Commonwealth member states – and their readiness for globalisation through the Commonwealth market.

He praised the contributions of civil society organisations, and their untiring efforts to support the Commonwealth of Nations. “The role of these organisations in strengthening our democracy and development, and the awareness that they raise in their activities in various areas, from health to education, women’s rights and HIV/AIDS, must be commended,” he said.

The village where the market has been set up makes for a picturesque site. The huts, with their thatched roofs, seek to give the feel of the village, and men and women in Nigerian dress complete the traditional touch.

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