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Want of history and attendant visceral politics

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Nigeria’s political actors’ proverbial vacuity typifies, in the main, the irony humorously expressed in the epigram “Jack is dull or uninspiring. He is not bright, but he is best suited for public office”. Dull, inane, ominous and vicious, politicians are paradoxically deemed to possess the most cognate attributes for the performance of our social contract paradigm and for running our public life.

The astute, cool and collected – the practically a-political – are considered suitably fit for careers in industry, commerce and the trades, and in sundry ingenious vocations or past times. Even as politicians are the most strategically positioned to address or resolve the national question (whatever it is) they appear too casual, too leisurely and foot lose for the onerous assignment. More disqualifying of their appropriateness is the fact that they are generally driven by personal motives.

The primitive acquisition or ambush of the commonwealth for private purposes or the allocation thereof to cronies, acolytes or family members is a defining element of the mores of the average politician.

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It is important that we distinguish aluta or the aluta continuae those from we no go gree drudgery that is prevalent among pseudo-proletarian agitators. The clarion call for firing or for giving fresh vistas to a struggle or advocacy which fire is required to be stoked among ideologues who are growing cold or who have turned-coat is popularly echoed as aluta continua.

We no go gree, on the other hand, is an un-intellectual, irascible or irritable retort to reasoned arguments or to incontrovertible policy positions just for the purpose of throwing back something in retaliation. The sardonic expression of a political or social predilection just to score a cheap debating point is sometimes mischievously confused with progressive thought or “Aluta”. It is not! A recent session of the Lagos State House of Assembly has provided for us a fitting example of this distinction. In a resolution that bespeaks crass ignorance of the kinesis of history, the honourable members urged President Muhammadu Buhari to issue an Executive Order for all streets, gardens and notable areas named after colonial masters or beneficiaries of the slave trade to be changed all around the country”. They also vaingloriously resolved to call on the Governor of Lagos State to direct the Commissioners for Tourism, Arts and Culture, and Justice to take a fresh look at the Listed Sites (Preservation) Law of 2015 with a view to “removing all vestiges of the slave trade and colonial superiority as a stand against racism”.

The reason for proposing the motion, in the first place, has been farcically re-stated by the Assembly’s helmsman, Mudashiru Obasa, in some dense, almost incomprehensible verbiage as the need to “correct the impression of colonial masters’ supremacy by the White-skinned and to decry the incessant racist attacks and ill-treatment of Black people across the world”.

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It will appear that the effort of the Lagos State House of Assembly is misconceived and lacking in profound thought or in foundational history. These gentlemen and their fellow “Honourable Members” across the country, must learn that racism which they sought to “correct” is much deeper and its thrusts more penetrating than the signs and symbols of it they see in street names and in statues. Racism is a superstructure which foundations are firmly rooted even in our thought process. It is facile to think that its structure can be uprooted or wished away merely by renaming streets or pulling down statues. The world that the slave trade and its fall-outs have created will, unfortunately, remain with us forever.

It should not be forgotten that we too even as the unfortunate victims of the slave trade are equally damnable by reason of some of our ancestors’ active participation in the ignoble trade. A number of our traditional rulers were the go-between in the exchange of merchandise for slaves. Their private armed gangs captured their subjects or the opponents of their rule or regency to be sold to White slavers as chattels. There are notable names of some of these ancestors among us which names remain cherished in our records as names of successful or wealthy merchants of their time. However, the merchandise or items of their trade were fellow human beings.

From Lagos to Forcados, from Warri to Burutu and Koko and from the Itshekiri hinter-land to the Kalabari enclave up to and including the Ibani homeland and the Ijaw foreshore of Nembe, Opoma and Brass and thence to Calabar, these names have, with our connivance, a-historically upturned their true roles in our history of the slave trade. They are attempting to confuse everybody by their deviousness or stratagem. Instead of them being noted as evidence of a reproachful past, these names are today curiously popular and cherished.

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They are proudly borne and clung to by their offspring and those who want to take advantage of our collective amnesia. What sense is there in pulling down the physical vestiges of the slave trade when the offspring of the perpetrators of easily the most heinous crime against humanity and in human history are, before our very eyes, taking a pride of place in the same society their forebears dehumanized or devalued? Or is it for the statues to be replaced by those of the offspring of the original violators of our ordained essence who are now in pre-eminent political and social positions by default? A more-than-facile understanding of the historical foundations of our present circumstances is key to the attainment of a correct perspective or attitude regarding inter-personal relations and the requirement to explore the root cause of our beleaguered situation. We are, at the moment, merely chasing shadows.

The corpus of literature on the slave trade and its accompanying sociology is so vast and voluptuous that it is strange that many people in authority appear not to have availed themselves of the opportunity of its informed judgment even as they attempt to raise seemingly altruistic concerns at public discourse sessions. At a time when we see emerging a greater sophistication in knowledge acquisition among many strata of society and when our age is witnessing the kind of erudition that is threatening to surpass the golden Graeco-Roman scholastic tradition, it is unpardonable for our leaders not to possess the handiest handbook knowledge of our history or of our past.

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The bravado and woeful failure of our leaders to acknowledge the yawning gap in their historical perspective has presented a worrisome challenge. There is the convenient tendency, for example, to present our colonial experience as a symbol of or as the reason for our present plight or even as the raison d’etre of the many vices that have bedevilled our nationhood.

Our leaders have dis-ingenuously made use of certain solitary un-edifying experiences to unwittingly present to us the reality of their lack-lustre vision in terms which are both symbolic and frightful. This, they have positioned to obtain our sympathy. There is some eerie un-easiness about governance in our clime and about our leaders’ insipidity. The popular yearning for breaking away from the fetters of dull, boring and un-inspiring operators of a system that could otherwise be self-propelling and not needing the mischievous interference of neophytes is gradually gaining momentum.

The people’s extra-ordinary power of toleration or forbearance is being drained by the unrelenting impairment of their essence and the negation of the hopes and aspiration which were foretold at the beginning. They dread and decry the continuing head-long advance of public men into mediocrity, insensitivity and philistinism. The acquisition or possession of a profound sense of history is key to foresighted or cerebral leadership.

Rotimi-John is a lawyer and public affairs, commentator

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