The world was again reminded of man’s temporary presence on earth when Buckingham palace announced the passing of Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, September 8, 2022. There had been fears of the inevitable earlier in the day when doctors expressed concern over her health, and the Queen finally drew the curtain on her time in this realm – at sunset – to bring an end to a 70-year reign and a long life that lasted for 96 years. After more than nine decades of living in the consciousness of people in the UK and around the world, many would be forgiven for assuming – unconsciously – that the Queen was, perhaps, going to be here forever. There were actually people who made social media posts after the doctors expressed fears over the Queen’s health in the early hours of Thursday, praying that the Queen be preserved and hoping she gets well soon, leading some others to wonder why such prayers for a 96-year old who has lived one of the greatest of lives in the history of man.
The attention of observers was, however, divided by the exchange between the billionaire founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, and U.S-based Nigerian Prof. Uju Anya, an associate professor of second-language acquisition at Carnegie Mellon University. “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating”, Anya tweeted in response to the announcement that the Queen had been placed under medical supervision. That post has since been pulled down by Twitter. But before Twitter deleted the post, it had attracted a response from Jeff Bezos, who retweeted the message and wrote: “This is someone supposedly working to make the world better? I don’t think so. Wow”. Since Thursday, the social media space has been buzzing with posts about the Queen’s life and death, as well as debates over the “excruciating pain” post of Uju Anya. While Anya’s sympathizers share her anger over the Queen’s role (both imagined and real) in colonialism and the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, their opponents argue that it is useless to grieve endlessly over spilled milk.
Following the announcement of the Queen’s passing and in response to people who disapproved of her post, Anya made another post reiterating the earlier one. “If anyone expects me to express anything but disdain for the monarch who supervised a government that sponsored the genocide that massacred and displaced half my family and the consequences of which those alive today are still trying to overcome, you can keep wishing upon a star”, she wrote, alluding to the role of the United Kingdom in the Nigeria-Biafra civil war (1967-1970), during which the Igbo people of Southeastern Nigeria suffered enormous loss and destruction. Irrespective of how you feel about the Queen or the United Kingdom or colonialism or the colonialists, Anya’s post is a reminder that action/inaction attracts a reaction, and that offence/hurt may be entertained by the offended for as long as they hold on to the wrong (whether perceived or real). Another important thing Anya’s post brought to the fore is the Black man’s unimpressive way of handling issues.
The history of man, all over the world, is filled with accounts of war, exploitation, rivalry, slavery, colonialism, and other things that create “offence, the offender, and the offended”. Central to this unhealthy relationship between men, lands, and territories, is man’s greed and the limited supply of resources to fulfill man’s endless wants. Here, man should have learnt a significant lesson from biodiversity – the interdependence of species in nature. Rather than interact with each other cooperatively, complementing each other for a healthier and better world, men chose competition, a survival of the fittest. We cannot blame nature for allocating resources in varying proportions, leaving some territories to have less than others in various kinds of resources. Through biodiversity, it is glaring that men (or territories) cannot be blessed with everything in equal measure, which necessitates the interdependence of the species. But because man often succumbs to his greed, he neglects negotiation and chooses force in trying to get what he wants.
The result of that force is conflict, war, exploitation, colonialism, slavery, and other inhumane endeavors. One critical theme of all these endeavors is one party’s attempted/achieved subjugation of the other party. But throughout history, skin colour has never been a determining factor on what side of the fence anyone falls. The black man, unfortunately, seems to perpetually miss this point and continues to blame the white man for his misfortune. Whites have been subjugated by their fellow white-skinned neighbours, blacks have also been exploited and subjugated by their fellow black men, and the same fate has been suffered by the Asians. But today, while the whites and Asians are putting the past in the past, making deliberate efforts to avoid a repeat of the unpleasant past, the black man remains fixated on the rearview mirror and is left behind in all areas of development. This is why Anya’s post resonates with many, whose thoughts she helped put into words.
Nigerian writer and author of the acclaimed novel Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Adichie condemned what she called “the dangers of a single story”, which gives the account of an event from only the perspective of the one giving the account. Often deliberate distortion of the facts of the event denies the audience a comprehensive account of what took place. Adichie made the speech as she expressed disapproval over how the history of Africa is often told, which suggests that Africans were primitive and had unpleasant lives until their contact with the white man, who brought civilization and eased their lives. While Adichie had a valid argument about the black man’s side of the story not being told properly, the blame for this one-sided account cannot be put entirely on the white man. The white man has done his part, the black man should do his own part, so that the audience can have a comprehensive account of events. It is said that two men may see the same glass of water – that is 50% filled – from different angles, half empty or half full.
Unfortunately, the black man finds it easier and more satisfying to blame others for his plight, instead of working to improve his reality. This black man’s obsession with the victim narrative has done him no good, yet he refuses to change his approach. The black man is as guilty as the white man in the telling of a “single story”. Africans are always quick to talk about the ills of colonialism, deliberately leaving out the positive things colonialism brought to them, like improved healthcare, education, representative government (democracy), modern technology, and eradication of evil cultural practices like the killing of twins, among others. They talk of colonialism in a manner that could mislead the audience to think that Africans were at peace with one another before the colonialists arrived. But that’s not the case, Africans were fighting and killing each other long before the colonialists got to the continent. There were intra- and inter-tribal wars, villages were been captured by invaders, and it is a fact that precolonial African territories were not more prosperous than they’ve been since their contact with the colonialists.
Slavery is another touchy subject that enrages the African and black men everywhere in the world, but in the discussion of the subject, the black man often talks about the evil done by the white slave owners, deliberately ignoring the equally evil role of his fellow black man who sold him to the white man. Before slavery was abolished, by the white man, African slave owners and traders made wealth from trading their fellow black man. Efunsetan Aniwura, the Iyalode of Ibadan, was a prominent woman who made wealth and gained influence from trading slaves in the 19th century. The history of Ibadan cannot be fully told without a mention of the life of Efunsetan Aniwura, and the irony is that she is highly respected and celebrated, despite the knowledge of her role in slavery. The same Africans who celebrate the likes of Efunsetan Aniwura are always quick to condemn her partners (the white slave buyers) in the unwholesome trade. It is said that “a person who seeks equity must come with clean hands”, but the black man refuses to look at his blood-stained hands. Slavery is evil and stands condemned, but it is equally wrong to deliberately suppress facts in examining the subject.
While Uju Anya has a right to feel hurt and anger over the Queen’s and her United Kingdom’s role in colonialism and the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, Anya and other aggrieved persons must recognize that the Queen and her United Kingdom did not start the war, and had granted Nigeria and Nigerians independence seven years earlier. They must recognize that it was the inability of Nigerians to peacefully and responsibly manage their own affairs that led to the war. The civil war was caused by the Igbo people’s feeling of ill-treatment at the hands of their fellow Nigerians, seven years after the departure of the Queen’s representatives. And in any war, spectators and third parties cannot be compelled to take sides with any of the warring parties. For example, despite all the available information and disinformation from both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war, the world has been divided into Ukraine sympathizers and Russian sympathizers. And there are those, largely African countries, who have chosen to be unaligned, preferring to stay neutral.
The obsession with the victim narrative has continued to hinder the black man’s emancipation, despite decades of post-slavery existence. Africa’s post-colonial history has remained the same as its precolonial and colonial history, with conflicts, disease, poverty, tyranny, and underdevelopment. While leaders like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and the UAE’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum led their people on a path to greatness, African leaders continued from where colonialism and slavery stopped, pillaging and destroying their countries, as they converted public goods to private use for themselves, their families, and associates. Every evil that Africans blame colonialism for, their leaders have done in worse proportion since the colonists left. The few men who tried to bring their countries out of the past into the present, like leaders in other parts of the world were doing, Africans either rejected them or killed them. It is hard to imagine what could be going through Patrice Lumumba’s mind when his fellow countrymen in Congo joined forces with the white man to assassinate him.
Lumumba’s supposed crime was that he tried to lead his country on a path to responsibility and greatness. Unfortunately for him, his fellow Congolese, who today like to condemn the wickedness of King Leopold of Belgium, jumped in bed with their r#pists to snuff life out of Lumumba. The Congolese are not alone, as Lumumba had compatriots in other African countries. The people of then Upper Volta, now known as Burkina Faso – a name given to them by revolutionary president Thomas Sankara, which means “a land of upright people” – treated Sankara in the same way the Congolese treated Lumumba. Seeing the need for reform, Sankara changed the country’s name to Burkina Faso in order to create an awareness in the people’s consciousness, to make them think and act as the name suggests, as upright people. Sankara led by example, refusing to live in luxury while the ordinary citizen struggled to get by. He worked tirelessly for four remarkable years, with positive results to show for his efforts. But four years after gaining power, the charismatic Sankara was assassinated by his fellow Burkinabe and best friend, Blaise Compaoré – who was disgraced out of power in 2014, after 27 destructive years.
In Nigeria the story is the same. Obafemi Awolowo was a man who distinguished himself with his visionary leadership of Nigeria’s Western region. With resources from cocoa and other agricultural products, Awolowo led the Western region on a path similar to that of responsible leaders in other regions of the world, building infrastructure and building the people’s minds with education. Africa’s first television broadcast occurred on Saturday, October 31, 1959 (through the Western Nigeria Television Service, “WNTS”, now NTA Ibadan); Africa’s first stadium was opened in 1960 (the Liberty stadium, later renamed Obafemi Awolowo stadium) in Ibadan; Africa’s first skyscraper (the Cocoa House, also in Ibadan) at a height of 105 meters and with 26 floors was completed in 1965, all thanks to Awolowo’s vision and pursuit of greatness for his people, a leadership unrivaled among his peers. Strangely, Nigerians never allowed Awolowo to become president, to replicate his Western region achievement across the country. Today, they call him “the best president Nigeria never had”.
Nigerians, especially those in the country’s South, have always been mad at Lord Frederick Lugard for his role in the forced relationship of inconvenience that exists among various ethnic groups in Nigeria, a relationship that resulted from the 1914 amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates, which Lugard and the Royal Niger Company did for administrative reasons. While Lugard did what he saw as necessary for his job, and thus laid the foundation for the ethnic distrust that has plagued Nigeria for more than a century, Nigerians must see that it is useless to continually blame Lugard for their travails, when they’ve had more than sixty years to address the issues in the forced relationship or even dissolve the unhealthy union. Nigerian leaders only play irresponsible politics with these issues, while the country suffers the consequences. Restructuring of the federation was a significant part of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) campaign in 2015, but as soon as they assumed power, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party distanced themselves from all that had to do with the subject.
Freshly Pressed’s socio-political analyst, Tosin Adeoti, while reacting to the heated debate generated by Anya’s post, cited several examples of people all over the world who experienced colonialism in the past, but have since taken their destinies into their own hands and created remarkable success stories. Colonialism, exploitation, abuse, and other kinds of affliction were experienced, in varying degrees, by Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore, the Americas, Britain, and Africa. But while others quickly faced the fact that the past cannot be changed, and went to work to create wealth, prosperity, strength, and respect on the international stage, Africans have remained stuck in that unpleasant past, denying themselves of a present and future that their children can be proud of.
In America, while Indians and other people who had recent unpleasant histories have moved on, becoming leaders in various industries, the black American is still blaming the children of his former masters for his current travails. “Continually looking at the past is a blindfold on the future. Getting a better future starts with working with what you have in the present”, Adeoti wrote, as he tried to expose the futility of Africans’ fixation on the past. It remains to be seen how long before Africans, and blacks all over the world, eventually see their folly and start doing the needful to improve their reality.
Seun Lonimi (firstname.lastname@example.org)Writes on Politics Today
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