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How February draws attention to plights, strides of blackman

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor and Godwin Okondo
16 February 2020   |   3:01 am
Most movements and political dynasties throughout history have had people that were the focal point or hearts of such trajectories — Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini and many others.

Most movements and political dynasties throughout history have had people that were the focal point or hearts of such trajectories — Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini and many others. For the Blacks in America, Martin Luther King (Jr.) and Rosa Park were the hearts of their movement. They symbolised the link between the ugly, exploitative past and the future that former American president, Barack Obama represented.

Though Jesse Owens’ feat at the Berlins Olympics in 1936 was the beginning of their triumph, Martin Luther King’s (Jr.) spirited effort, which led to the eventual enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex or national origin would remain evergreen.

Every February is celebrated as the Black History Month. It is a yearly observance originating from the United States, where it is also known as African-American History Month.

It began as a way of remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora — To honour the triumphant struggles, including the artistic, cultural and political adventures of the Black race all over the world and recognise the sacrifices towards education, as well as generally appreciate what they did, especially the African-Americans, and more importantly, the sacrifices, everything they did in America to build America.

The Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation has always celebrated the month in Nigeria. Established in 1979 via Decree 69 of 1979, shortly after the hosting of the epoch-making second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, popularly called FESTAC’ 77, the centre has been in the forefront of preserving, promoting, and propagating African cultural values and showcasing Africa’s contributions to world civilisation.

It is in keeping faith with this mandate that the centre made the Black History Month celebrations one of its cardinal programmes, and this year, decided to collaborate with the Institute of African and Diaspora Studies, University of Lagos to co-host the 2020 edition.

Themed, ‘What Black History Means To Me’, the three-day programme held at the J. P. Clark building, University of Lagos.The event featured lectures, essay writing competition and cultural displays. In addition, there was an exhibition with the theme: “Black History: The Struggles and Triumph” mounted by CBAAC.

The acting DG of CBAAC, Mrs. Osaro Osayande, said, “this year’s experience was wonderful, and most especially, the performance by the Creative Arts Department, University of Lagos. It actually brought out this feeling of how Africans were maltreated in America and how they triumphed.”

She said the theme, ‘What Black History Means To Me’, was actually taken from the theme around the world. “Because if we are celebrating the Black History Month, what else do you want to tell students or to teach people? If you are to teach them what actually the month means to you, it’s to let them know what the black man has gone through over the years and how they’ve been able to come out of victorious.”

She added, “I think that for every student or everyone that has attended our event, we’ve been able to sow a seed; a seed of appreciation of the black man’s culture. A seed that not everything that is white is good. A seed that proves not everything that the white man has told us is true. For instance, we’ve been made to believe that then black skin was a curse, but from the performance, we could see that the black skin is actually a blessing. Even the lecturers that presented their papers told us so. The black skin is a blessing. To be a black man is a blessing. Look at what black men all over the world have achieved, in terms of arts, science — in all fields, the black man has actually come out in a fine way.”

Speaking on the significance of the month to every black man, Prof. Duro Oni, former Deputy Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, told The Guardian that the month draws attention “to the plight of the black man within the world discuss. There are still problems that are associated with blacks even something like football; some form of racism, in some airports, the undue search of sometimes people of black and African descent. So, calling attention to the Black History Month is to give prominence to what is happening at all times, with respect to black and African people. It is something that we should continue to celebrate. It has become quite big, in the United States, in the world, especially in the African diaspora and as far as Nigeria is concerned, the Center for Black African Arts and Civilisation has continued to draw attention to the strides that the black man has made and continues to make, in terms of what civilization, contribution to knowledge. So, I think it’s a very significant thing for us to keep maintaining.”

On whether the celebration has taken away the shine of reparation campaign, Oni, a past director general of the centre, had this to say: “No, it has not died. I think, in the year 2001 or 2002, Professor J. F. Ade-Ajayi gave a lecture at CBAAC and the lecture had to do with reparations, and the kind of reparations being talked about is in terms of development. It is not for anybody to send money to Africa to distribute among the descendants of the people that were unjustly treated, No! There are certain ailments. Even Sir Hilary McDonald Beckles, a Barbadian historian, and the current vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) said, ’some of these slaves that were taken, in some instances, were given so much sugar to eat that diabetes became common among those slaves, their descendants and further descendants, that some damage has been done. So, what he is saying is that, let them start looking for the solution to these things that affects more of the black person than the normal white person.

So, that, for him, is a form of reparation and getting development both in terms of medical facilities and the likes, and that that’s the kind of thing that we need. According to M.K.O Abiola and as I said earlier, Professor Ade-Ajayi, I say, “look, the development that we are asking for, say ‘why don’t you do a rail line from Lagos, all the way to Cairo, let them fund it with some of the money that was made during the slave trade era”’. That is the form of reparation that people will benefit from. Why don’t they help build hospitals? Why don’t they help in the development? That is the kind of reparation we are talking about, not sending money to Africa, then we all line up and collect our share. No, that’s not reparation. You can’t use that as a form of compensating for the ill that was done to the black and African people.”

Guests were treated to a recipe of good performances from a Samba group whose members consist of Dr. Pemi Oludara, a music lecturer in the Department of Creative Arts, Moses Joseph, a student, and Mario Gonzalez, a Brazilian Samba drummer.

Oludara said, “I have had interest in arts since the start of my research in 2017, which is focused on traditional African music. For anyone who would love to learn to play traditional instruments, I would advise apprenticeship under a traditional drummer to acquire more knowledge on making traditional music.”

Gonzalez, heading the first performance, started with a song of prayer for St. Anthony. The second performance was a song asking for permission to enter a place. Following that was Woro Ibile, a performance of folk songs, handled by Joseph, before concluding the performance with the Yoruba traditional highlife music.

Speaking with Gonzalez after the performance, he said, “I started playing when I was 14. I worked at a theatre, after which I joined the Yoruba Christian Association in Brazil where I developed an interest in Nigerian culture. My advise for anyone who has passion for traditional music would be to show respect for people and tradition, make careful observation of traditions, and work on technique so you can deliver the best sounds. You do not play for self-entertainment. You play to entertain people. You play for people to dance.”