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Africa - Nigeria - Hari Krishna

Day Hare Krishna Came to Town
by Mike Ebonugwo ("Vanguard," September 1, 2004)

In a grand inauguration ceremony that has all the trappings of a musical-cum cultural carnival, the Hare Krishna movement showcases its humanitarian profile, a bold statement of its intention to pursue projects and programmes that will promote the common good in Nigeria.

THE event was tagged the grand inauguration of Vedic Welfare Complex located in Apapa, Lagos. And grand it was in every sense of the word as the organisers apparently surpassed themselves in unwrapping an eye-popping, surprise package of performance that took the breath of all present away.

In one brief interlude of a succession of speeches and musical-cum cultural performances celebrating the occasion, the premises of the complex reverberated and almost convulsed under the impact of exploding fireworks that literally lit the skyline of Apapa, turning it into a near fireball. More impressive still was the attempt to create a vision of burning water through canoe-paddling young men brandishing fireworks at the nearby lagoon bordering Badagry Road and Marine Road.

Before this, fiery spectacle came into effect, the guests had been treated to a succession of performances by different artistes and dance troupes who provided a kind of musical-cum-cultural extravaganza that turned the event into a carnival-like celebration. The march past of performers, including religious and students groups began with a swange dance troupe from Benue State complete with horse-riding young men. The popular Atilogwu dancers soon took their turn, thrilling the audience with their famous acrobatic dance. They were almost matched at this by a Yoruba cultural group complete with Bata dancers and "talking" drummers.

Not to be out done were cultural groups from Cross River State, Edo State and the Northern part of the country who came with a rich display of colour and highly entertaining dance performances. In between the march past of these cultural entertainers came a Muslim group from the Lagos Central Mosque, the Hare Krishna group in Lagos and representatives of the Assemblies of God Church in Apapa. Representatives of Students Union Government from the Lagos State University (LASU), University of Lagos, Federal School of Radiography Yaba and Federal College of Education Technical Akoka also took turns to register their presence.

The evening of entertainment was also sustained by musical performances by the Pillars, Rasta Alpha, Stella Monye of the Oko mi ye fame, and Tee Mac, the ace flutist. But the highlight of these performances was that provided by the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) president, Charles Oputa a.k.a. Charly Boy, who incidentally was the special guest of honour at the occasion.

The PMAN president performed under the prompting of the Master of Ceremony, the Alariwo of Africa who was at his witty best, unleashing jokes, jibes and wisecracks that constantly sent members of the audience reeling with laughter.

Indian origin

But even as this potpourri of performances was being unfolded, one name dominated all else and infact was the focal point of the speeches and performances during the occasion. And this was Hare Krishna, the religious movement with its root in India which explained the predominant presence of Indians at the occasion, including the Deputy High Commissioner of India to Nigeria, Mr. Praveen Verma.

But what is the link between Hare Krishna and the inauguration of the Vedic Welfare Complex (VWC)? The answer simply is that the VWC is affiliated to the non-sectarian International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) founded 38 years ago in New York by an Indian, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The ISKCON which is reputed to be the world's leading proponent of the science of self and God realisation as taught in the ancient Vedic literatures and has been propagating global peace through its inter-faith programmes presently has 600 centres worldwide.

As the representative of ISKCON in Nigeria, VWC is presently engaged in providing selfless humanitarian services to under-privileged Nigerians and propagating unity in diversity among the varied ethnic groups as well as disseminating messages of peaceful co-existence between religious and ethnic groups, all in a bid to improve the quality of life for all Nigerians. It is in pursuit of this objective that the Hare Krishna group in Nigeria launched or inaugurated the Vedic Welfare Complex which boasts of facilities to achieve that purpose.

One of such facilities is an industrial kitchen with bakery which supports the group's Food for Life Programme, the local chapter of its international food relief project, the Food for Life Global which is reputed to be the largest of such programmes in the world. The Food for Life Programme in Apapa according to Mr. Bolaji Rosiji, the Director of the VWC, has been serving 500 meals daily since it came into existence 11 months ago. He did not stop there.

"Recently, we responded to the call of Nigerian students and their unions and consequently the University of Lagos will become our model institution for the 'free meals on campus' project. At PMAN, we provide love feasts every Friday-an ISKCON/PMAN/Charlie Boy Initiative to help create a forum where Nigerian musicians can unite and thus promote peace and love in Nigeria through the medium of music," informed the scion of the popular First Republic Ibadan politician, Chief Ayo Rosiji.

Also contained in the impressive complex are the Govinda's Vegetarian Restaurant to promote wholesome, healthy and Karma-free diet and the Govinda Gift Shop which retails self-development books, clothing, music, handicrafts, puja items, natural health products and rare gift items to help raise funds for the Food for Life Programme. Apart from these, there is also the state-of-the-art Govinda's Recording Studio/Film Production Suite which Rosiji informed would be made available to members of PMAN to use for their recording sessions.

Speaking further on the group's programmes at the occasion, Mr. Rosiji had this to say: "Today you have seen what the Vedic Welfare Complex is all about. In a nutshell, we have two projects we're working on. One is the peace project; we're launching a peace carnival. We're going to get the different ethnic groups in Nigeria to live together in peace. We're going to get them to understand that in spite of their different backgrounds, they're children of the same God.

One major concern today in Nigeria is that of peaceful coexistence and we want to help to achieve that.

Welfarist faith

Rosiji continued: "Secondly, we want to do something about our children who are suffering. We're liaising with the National Association of Nigerian Students on what needs to be done to get the various institutions (in Nigeria) together. We want to assist in making their (students) stay on campuses stress free and to reduce the hardship they presently face. And that is why we have introduced the free meals on campuses beginning with the University of Lagos. And we want everyone to come along with us in these noble projects."

He had ended his speech by informing that the group's joint initiative with PMAN was intended to achieve the same objective as that of the global musical effort that produced the humanitarian clarion song, "We Are the One" which he sang loftily with the live band and other artistes present.

Also speaking at the occasion, the Governing Body Commissioner (GBC) of ISKCON in West Africa, Kavicandra Swami said the group's Food for Life Programme was a love gesture aimed at alleviating the suffering of the unfortunate members of the society. According to him, the reality of poverty and hunger which pervade the world presently informed the need "for us to spread knowledge and bring some sort of relief to society."

To him: "Everyone by nature should be happy and joyful. In Hare Krishna we find this joy because God works according to what people want in this world. And He will remove all the darkness, all the ignorance so that the people will have knowledge and there will be enough for everyone. Hare Krishna loves everyone. And so you'll always be happy if you love everyone. But if you hate people, you will never be happy."

In his message at the occasion, Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu commended the Vedic Welfare Complex for its humanitarian initiatives, saying such efforts would certainly go a long way "in assisting the state government in realising its goals which include the provision of food, shelter, health and security, among others." In the message read on his behalf by Mrs. Modupe Abosede of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, the governor said the group's Food for Life Programme was a welcome gesture that would certainly serve as a boost to both the state government and Federal Government's efforts at poverty eradication.

The governor, however, appealed that the programmes "be extended immediately to the rural areas where they are definitely needed most. No doubt, this will leave a lasting... impression in the minds of the rural communities."

In his own message at the occasion the Minister of Environment, Colonel Bala Mande (rtd) who was represented by Dr. (Mrs) Chinwe Mogo, said he sincerely appreciated the efforts of the Hare Krishna group in using the VWC to stop hunger and starvation as well as promote education in Nigeria. He said their selfless humanitarian gesture in this respect represents "important tools in meeting the health, safety and environmental needs of a well-endowed country like Nigeria." Saying he was proud to be associated with the group's efforts and programmes, the minister recommended same to all Nigerians to embrace.

In his own comments, Charly Boy said that his identifying with the Hare Krishna Movement has helped to redefine his vision of leading PMAN to greater heights, adding that the movement's Food for Life Programme has become very popular with PMAN members. He therefore pledged the total support of PMAN to all Hare Krishna's programmes and activities in Nigeria.

On his own part, the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, Praveen Verma said he was highly impressed with the Vedic Welfare Complex which he said was of international standard both in terms of the facilities and the humanitarian services being provided. Concluding, he said society owes it as a responsibility to support the Food for Life Programme and other programmes of the Hare Krishna movement so that they will succeed to the benefit of mankind.