Nigerians celebrate 51 years of independence

By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)

Nigerians gained their independence from Britain on October 1, 1960. Nigeria is one of the many countries from which our (Africans in the Diaspora) ancestors were taken (into enslavement in the West) during the Maafa. After centuries of enslaving Africans and profiting enormously from their labour the British abolished chattel slavery then began an exploitation of the Africans who remained on the continent, their land and whatever was found on and below the land.

Nigeria had been colonized by Britain since 1885 after a group of White men carved up the African continent during the infamous “scramble for Africa” following the Berlin Conference (November 15, 1884 – February 26, 1885). The British and members of other European tribes had been covetously eyeing the African continent way before the Berlin Conference. Since the Spanish and Portuguese began trading with Africans in the 15th century in the ports they named Calabar and Lagos, the aim was to exploit the people.

By the time the British became involved in what was to become the most egregious crime against humanity, the Spanish and Portuguese were building their empires on the backs of enslaved Africans. The British soon monopolized the brutal and inhumane practice of enslaving Africans and destroying their homes and communities. The following centuries saw the British building their empire on the coerced, unpaid labour of generations and millions of brutalized Africans. When the British eventually abolished chattel slavery on August 1, 1834 (August 1, 1838 in the Caribbean) they had caused untold emotional, physical and spiritual damage (still felt today) to Africans in Nigeria and elsewhere. Each group of Africans in Nigeria was touched by this barbaric European exhibition of greed and inhumanity.

There are more than 200 groups of people living in Nigeria, the three largest being the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo, with smaller groups including the Edo, Ijaw, Kanuri, Ibibio, Nupe, Igala, Jukun, Itsekiri, Urhobo and Tiv. – cite_note-NGeo-83#cite_note-NGeo-83 In her 1986 book The Ibo People and the Europeans; the genesis of a relationship – to 1906, Elizabeth Isichei writes: Iboland was one of the areas of West Africa most seriously affected by the slave trade. Ibos were exported as slaves throughout the whole period of the trade, from the first recorded Ibo slave – one Caterina Ybou, sent to San Thome – until the slave trade came to an end in the middle years of the 19th century. Over the centuries of the slave trade, Iboland lost large numbers of its strongest members, in their prime.

To their credit, the people of Nigeria resisted British occupation of their land when they realized the true intent of the interlopers. As usual, with all the European occupation of other people’s lands, they had first sent in their missionaries to convert the African people to Christianity. Amazing that these good Christians could not seem to live “Christ like” lives!

The people of the Aro Confederacy were one of the groups which resisted the British encroachment on their land. The British government had already annexed Nigeria using their tried and true methods for stealing and occupying land. They had done the trade thing, the Christianization thing and then finally on January 1, 1901 Nigeria became a British protectorate (just another word for thievery!) and part of the British Empire. However the Aro people in southwestern Nigeria refused to cooperate and become Christians; they were determined to preserve their culture and belief system.

The good Christian White people from Britain were determined to beat the Aro into submission even if it meant murdering some of them. The British army, populated by good Christian White men, attacked the Aro people on December 25, 1901 while their countrymen, women and children back in jolly old England and the rest of the British Isles were probably singing in church or at home depending on their level of piety: Oh Come All Ye Faithful or Good Christian Men Rejoice.

The Ayo people must have been very impressed at the level of dedication the British soldiers displayed in their determination to convert them away from their indigenous beliefs. Maybe the British soldiers even tried to coax the Ayo fighters into laying down their weapons and relaxing by singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” If they did, it did not work, the Ayo were determined not to surrender their belief and culture to live as British gentlemen, women and children.

The British army and government displayed such amazing Christmas spirit that when the Ayo-Anglo War ended in 1902 the leaders of the Ayo Confederacy were hanged.

It was not only the Africans who resisted British domination that were victimized; even those who cooperated with the British did not escape their treachery. King Jaja of Opobo had to learn about British treachery the hard way. After cooperating with them, including signing treaties, he was betrayed when he was invited for a social evening on a British ship and instead was kidnapped and exiled to the Caribbean. This happened in 1887 so there was no fear that he would be enslaved unless he was sold to Brazil where slavery was abolished in 1888. However, from 1887 to the time King Jaja transitioned while he was held prisoner in Barbados on July 7, 1891 he was assured by the British government that he would be returned to his home. Instead, the British transferred him from one Caribbean island to the next.
According to Sylvanus John Sodienye Cookey, author of King Jaja of the Niger Delta: his life and times, 1821-1891 published 2005, King Jaja arrived in Barbados on the British warship HMS Pylades: When the warship docked in Barbados on March 1, 1891 and Jaja appeared the black population at the quayside gave him an enthusiastic welcome. Interviewed later he sought to make the best of the situation by disseminating information relating to his capture and deportation as well as the latest promise of release which had turned to his being transferred from one West Indian island to another. The governor of Barbados Sir Walter J. Sendal, was sufficiently apprehensive that Jaja’s story might lead to hostile demonstrations by the black population to warn that it was “not desirable to prolong his residence.”

In spite of the oppression of being under British occupation for 60 years Nigeria, like every other colonized African country, eventually gained its independence.

On October 1, 2011 Nigerians will celebrate 51 years of Independence. Many of us in the Diaspora can also celebrate because even though we may not know definitively that our ancestors were Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba or some other group from Nigeria, the scattering of us throughout the West makes it very likely that at least one of our ancestors was taken out of that area during the Maafa.

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