Floyd: A turning point for Nigeria, Africa, rest of the world?
The despicable killing of George Floyd left me stunned, horrified, and then infuriated. I couldn’t believe someone could do that to another human being in broad daylight! I couldn’t believe that in spite of knowing he was being recorded, neither he nor his fellow officers were deterred, but brazenly allowed such an act to continue. It showed me just how bad racial injustice had become!
Because I have always found myself in mixed-race schools, I have never given much attention to racial issues, especially as I was always able to tell off anyone who dared to be condescending or insinuate superiority. I was always quick to remind them that colonialism, which set back Nigeria and all affected countries, was the biggest form of roguery and plundering ever, followed by slave trade!
Being born in Nigeria to a middle-class family with highly educated parents provided me with enough confidence to either not notice racist slurs or to deal with them summarily when obvious enough. It never occurred to me that things were so bad. Yes, I’d heard about the killings, but I thought it was just a few bad cops, giving a bad name to the wonderful Americans and Britons I knew and kept as friends. I shamefully did not understand the plight of African-Americans, whom I thought always felt aggrieved for one reason or the other. Now, I apologise with all my heart for those thoughts.
As the scales fall off my eyes and my emotions begin to settle, I realise that from this ugly, Floyd incident and many other racially induced killings before it, positive outcomes that may indeed lead to a better world going forward, may emerge.
To start with, the rallies around the world, which comprise of protesters in over 50 countries of every continent (except Antarctica), and of every colour, shape and form, show that for once, all races are uniting to fight against racial discrimination, and indeed all other forms of injustice! Tearing down statues of slave masters that symbolise the evil of unjust subjugation, is in my opinion symbolic of tearing down global systems that ensure some countries and people remain economically deprived, while others thrive at their expense. These unethical and unjust systems haven’t really done the world much good, but remain shortsightedly sustained.a
History has shown that tyranny and unfairness, never end well. Examples abound; Hitler, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, to mention a few. They all ended badly, so I can’t understand why some people still believe they can get away with it or that unfair domination is sustainable?
I however wish to turn the flashlight to what I hope the impact of the Floyd incident will be in my continent, Africa, and in my country, Nigeria. I would like to reflect on what knees need to be taken off necks or which statues need to be brought down, and more importantly, those statues that need to be erected.
I can’t help calling out those African rulers (can they be called leaders?), who seem more obsessed with accumulating personal wealth than the emancipation of their people. Africa is rich in every sense. It is the birthplace of world civilisation, yet many of our rulers have fed fat, while leaving their people to live in penury. They let the continent be seen as no more than a donor destination (I cringe as I think of how they have allowed such a loss of dignity). They allow African countries to be a place where foreigners continue to pillage as long as the right people have been bribed. The result is that the best of us leave to seek a more enabling environment as other races have done in the past when they were under similar conditions or faced natural disasters.
But there are more knees on the neck of Africans in Africa. For instance, when xenophobia is practiced among Africans, who wrongly channel their frustrations resulting from injustices suffered to other vulnerable Africans, who are struggling to survive just like them. No one will ever condone crime, and there are established legal ways to deal with offending criminals, but when we attack ourselves, we put knees on our necks and stall our progress. When human trafficking flourishes between North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, and North Africans treat captured Sub-Saharan Africans as sex slaves and in other atrocious ways, we have knees on our necks.
Further, the whole world looks on, as France continues to have an unhealthy, parasitic relationship with Francophone African countries. Not even the UN seems to be interested in intervening to correct the aberration stemming from the fact that France compels these countries to send 85% of their national revenues to the French Central bank, and compromises any leader that tries to stop this. It is my hope, that as consciences of countries, institutions and organisations around the world, are now being stirred, France will rethink this unhealthy relationship, by removing its knee from the neck of Francophone African countries, to allow them to breathe. I believe more can be gained from a mutually beneficial relationship.
Within my beloved country Nigeria, which has produced geniuses around the world (though a few bad eggs tend to mar our reputation), we also have knees on necks among ourselves. We indeed have knees on necks when funds meant for road construction, and other infrastructure, are embezzled by elected public officials who are almost never held accountable. We have knees on necks when public schools and hospitals are left dilapidated, while and teachers and health workers are poorly paid because elected officials pay themselves handsomely enough to afford foreign school fees for their children and travel out for medical treatment. We have knees on our necks when smart young people who qualify, cannot get into schools of their choice because of an unfair quota system that favours weaker students from certain states, is in place.
We have knees on necks when meritocracy is lacking in public service, and tribalism reigns supreme, such that incompetence is found in all spheres and positioned at all levels. The result? The worst of us appear to be in control of the rest of us, making a country with some of the brightest minds in the world, underperform even among African peers, because the brilliant minds that could have made it a real giant of Africa, have been stifled.
Finally, we can never breathe when terrorism is condoned while punishing victims that try to defend themselves, and only lip service is paid to the fight against corruption, which neutralises progress. Just like the statue of the slave master, Edward Colston, was brought down in the UK, time has come to bring down all the wrong statues of tribalism, nepotism and corruption. And to erect the right statues in the form of policies and institutions that allow justice, accountability, meritocracy and shared prosperity for all. We should also, each begin to reflect, even on a personal level, if we may have our knee on anyone’s neck – children, wards, spouses, office colleagues, etc., so that we can take it off immediately before they die, and let them breathe.
In conclusion, the Floyd incident, which has come to symbolize not just racial inequality but also all forms of injustice, provides an opportunity to reset our actions and take steps to create a better world, a better continent and a better country. As consciences of world leaders and institutions begin to openly acknowledge guilt, and commit to taking steps to correct acknowledged injustices, it is my hope that African leaders will begin to reflect on ways to remove the several knees on our necks, so we can breathe and thrive and our people can happily come back home, to make us great again. We are stronger together and we must let love reign!
Dr Onwuegbuzie is a Certified Management Consultant, and heads the Entrepreneurship unit at Lagos Business School. She is also the Academic Director of the Owner-Manager Programme at LBS