Several years ago, my team, IICC Shooting Stars FC, went to play a continental club match in Malawi. On the day we arrived, a few of us decided to watch a movie in a cinema down the road from our hotel downtown Blantyre, the capital city. We arrived the cinema a few minutes after the movie had started. We bought our tickets and were allocated seats. We were ushered into the dark cinema hall by a steward with a torch who led us to the row allocated to us. We went in, sat down and settled to watch our film.
Everything went well until the interval, half way through the movie. The lights came back on. We looked around us. We were sitting with a few other Black patrons in a small section of the hall close to the entrance toilet, near the rear. There was a ‘gentle’ stench around us. The rest of the big hall, mostly empty, had better seats, and were taken up by White persons. A separation line was clearly visible in that hall. One of us suggested that we moved from the stench of our side of the hall to the empty seats a few rows away. We got up and moved in a group to the vacant seats. The murmuring in the hall was loud. We sensed a stirring of discomfort in the hall. We had hardly sat down before security men, led by a White manager, came in a rage and ordered us to get up and return to our seats.
The Nigerian spirit in all of us immediately came to the fore. Our very loud and resounding ‘No way’ caught the angry men completely by surprise. ‘What is wrong with sitting here instead of near the entrance to the toilet? No way’. We were not going anywhere. The hall had so many vacant seats.
Obviously, from our accents they knew we were strangers. They also immediately knew we were Nigerians. Only Nigerians behaved that way in Africa. We had that reputation for rejecting any form of oppression. In doing so we raised hell! There was an immediate standoff that could easily turn into a major scuffle. Everything came to a temporary halt in the cinema as our voices rose in defiance, to the total consternation of the uncomfortable few Blacks in the hall.
The manager, half-heartedly, insisted we moved. We vehemently rejected his poisoned offer. We raised the decibel of our voices a little higher. The earth could have opened up for the White man to enter, in his confusion on how to deal with the matter. Surely, I had never experienced such segregation. Definitely not in Nigeria. I had thought that such belonged to Western countries and to the dark ages of African history, but surely not in today’s Africa. Yet, there we were experiencing it first hand in Malawi under the leadership of a Black African President, Kamuzu Banda. No Malawian dared do what we did. They would have been hauled into jail for a long time. But Nigerians are a different breed of the Black race. He is not the type you tampered with ‘anyhow’ and got away with it.
The White manager, quietly called his staff aside. They left, quickly darkened the hall again and resumed the movie. Some White folks left their seats and walked out of the cinema at that point. We later learnt that in Malawi, women were not allowed to wear trousers, Blacks were not allowed into some hotels and restaurants except if they are workers, Blacks could not visit or live in some parts of Blantyre, and so on and so forth, all of this in Africa!
Mandela was right. The Black race needs Nigeria. His words: ‘‘the world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The Black people of the world need Nigeria to be a great source of pride and confidence. Nigerians love freedom and hate oppression”. Nigerians do not appreciate the impact of racism enough as do other Blacks around the world.
Last week, I watched an interview granted by Jay Jay Okocha about his personal experience of racism in Europe as a professional footballer. I was shocked when he confessed he never even knew the word before he got to Europe. His reaction to the experience was to ‘dribble the hell’ out of the Germans on the football field, and humiliated them.
Okocha was right. By the time he was in school in Nigeria, History had been removed as a subject from the schools’ syllabus. Can you believe it? History, the story of our past, where we were coming from that should provide a compass into our future, about the Slave trade that forcefully sold our most able-bodied brothers and sisters, and shipped them in chains across the Atlantic to the land-of-no-return, and used them on White plantations and on the roads, rail tracks and factories to build Western Civilization in Europe and North America some 400 years ago, is removed from our learning.
My generation studied History in school, particularly African history, and we were taught not just about the slave trade, but also about the scramble for Africa by Europeans. We read about founding African political leaders that fought for their countries’ Independence. The words and works of Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and other revolutionary leaders in Africa tickled our fancies, fired our imagination and created small revolutionaries out of many of us in higher institutions all over Nigeria.
In our time, only a few decades ago, Africa was the centre-piece of Nigeria’s foreign policy. Nigeria led the African boycott of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal Canada. That action shook the whole world. Nigeria supported Black political struggles and even fought in wars in the African continent from the Congo to Mozambique and to South Africa, fighting oppression, segregation and discrimination against the Black race.
Nigeria funded and hosted the greatest and, potentially, the most powerful gathering of Blacks and Africans in human history during FESTAC, the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, an innocuous cultural event that could have become the movement that the Black man needed to come together as one race, an uncommon gathering of its best intellectuals from the different countries to seat at colloquiums and come up with designs and strategies to tackle their greatest enemy – racism and its by-products. That opportunity was lost when the West described and condemned the festival as a waste of resources, a celebration of barbaric fetish cultures, and a ‘sin’ against the popular religions. Meanwhile, think about it, that was what Nelson Mandela was referring to as the leadership Nigeria needs to offer the rest of the Black race and Africa.
Festac was killed cleverly by the West, never to raise its powerful head again.
It has been over 40 years since then, and the Black race has not united behind any common cause or movement to entangle itself from the bondage of Slavery and its by-products manifesting till now in the ill-treatment and disrespect meted on the Black race everywhere on the planet. That’s why the world is marching with Black people in several Western capitals in protest against racism, and Nigeria is detached from it all.
Instead, it is Ghana that has taken the lead in providing the essential leadership in Africa. Last week there was a large protest march in Accra organized by the government to support the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Last year was Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’, an invitation to interested descendants of those sold into slavery to return home gloriously and to join in creating and building new settlements that will reflect a new and respected Black civilization. The government provided attractive incentives and created events to welcome back these returnee Africans to their roots. In the process Ghana’s economy got a massive boost through the ensuing tourism and resettlement projects by several Blacks that chose to do so.
This new global movement that is sprouting from the tragedy of George Floyd’s murder in the United States has ignited a new fire in the war against racism in the world. Nigeria needs to join the rest of the world in that war. Nigeria should provide the leadership in Africa.